Southern Hemisphere Tests
ABs wrestle back momentum; Boks' big call emerges
Andy Withers
August 17, 2015

So the rugby world is back on its axis, with New Zealand and South Africa having avenged last week's shock losses to Australia and Argentina respectively. Both victors won easily, each clearly the better team on the paddock to be sure, but it's equally fair to suggest both were perhaps flattered in victory.

New Zealand 41-13 Australia

The All Blacks delivered a huge helping of humble pie both to the Wallabies, for daring to believe they could regain the Bledisloe Cup after their comprehensive victory in Sydney seven days previously had poked the bear, and to the pundits such as your author who wondered if they had been winning despite themselves. They turned in a powerful and ruthlessly efficient performance to mark Richie McCaw's record-breaking 142nd Test appearance; but for all that efficiency and purpose, it's easy to forget that Australia, with a team selection described by Greg Growden as the most preposterous Australian line-up he has seen in 33 years of covering the Wallabies, were playing well and had quieted the passionate crowd when they were pressing hard on attack deep inside New Zealand territory before the All Blacks secured a turnover at a breakdown.

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Kieran Read should have been penalised for attempting to pull down a maul from an offside position, but he got away with it - as the best players often do - and the All Blacks went boom, boom from the breakdown, with Julian Savea breaking, Ma'a Nonu straightening, Dan Carter showing some footwork and Dane Coles showing gas aplenty to score the opening try of the game and regain the momentum they would never again relinquish.

The hosts led 13-6 at half-time but the floodgates opened after Nehe Milner-Skudder showed brilliant footwork and delivered a perfectly timed pass to Aaron Smith, who was stopped only by a high tackle that brought about a penalty-try for New Zealand and a yellow card for Quade Cooper. The All Blacks then showed their class to put their undermanned rivals to the sword, while Australia showed their failings as their hosts went up another gear or two, before Ma'a Nonu crossed again against a full complement of Wallabies and Israel Folau grabbed a super solo consolation try.

Ma'a Nonu picked up a double as the All Blacks piled on the pain © Getty Images

The All Blacks were magnificent (and every other adjective that has been used to describe their performance, but can they improve again? (Do they have to improve again to win the Rugby World Cup?) It's possible, but this was all but their No.1 team and this might have been their peak performance for the season. It's worth noting that any team often has only one such performance a year, when they excel, when everything sticks and absolutely everything runs their way. The All Blacks now have to perform at a World Cup outside New Zealand, and they are unlikely to be tested unduly before the quarter-finals at least. Still, they are deserving short-price World Cup favourites and you'd still rather be Steve Hansen than any other Test coach in world rugby.

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Are the Wallabies as bad as the result suggests? Almost certainly no, and perhaps we might be advised to remember simply what went wrong (and occasionally right), understand the lessons imparted and otherwise expunge the result from our collective memory for they had been on a steep upward curve and delivered a lesson to the world with their performance in Sydney.

Argentina 12-26 South Africa

South Africa showed an intensity and physicality they lacked in Durban seven days before, while Argentina simply weren't the same team, and much can be attributed to the team's respective playmakers.

Patrick Lambie, replacing Handre Pollard, directed the Boks beautifully behind a pack that most certainly wasn't always in the ascendancy, while Nicolas Sanchez tried manfully but simply lacked the attacking thrust and instincts of Juan Manuel Hernandez, who was selected at second five-eighth before withdrawing with a stomach bug. Sanchez is a kicker and nothing much else; he hasn't shown any of the form he produced in last year's Rugby Championship. South Africa survived an early scare when Juan Imhoff broke through the defence only to be felled by backtracking Eben Etzebeth, but they subsequently dominated the game and restricted the Pumas to only long-range attacks.

Argentina 12-26 South Africa (Australia only)

The visitors, meanwhile, scored two tries in five minutes in the first half, through Bryan Habana and Lwazi Mvovo, and that was game over. The Boks could have / would have / should have won more comfortably, but errors in execution and patience cost them - and still there is a doubt about them being one-dimensional. Heyneke Meyer now has a key selection to make between Lambie and Pollard, and what to do when captain Jean de Villiers is fit once again for Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel are certainly a top midfield pairing.

Argentina, meanwhile, were the minimalist opponents who faced New Zealand and Argentina rather than the dynamic side that trumped the Boks in Durban. Is it as simple as suggesting: No Hernandez No Hope? Their hopes of progressing to the knock-out rounds of the World Cup rest solely on their pool game against Tonga, and they are no certainties to beat the Sea Eagles on this display.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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