The 2021 Rugby Championship was a solid display of what the Southern Hemisphere powerhouses bring to the table and their Northern Hemisphere rivals will have their hands full containing them in a couple of weeks. All being said and done, here's our 5 take-away's from this years competition.
1. Jordie Barrett is the premier fullback in World Rugby
The youngest of the three Barrett brothers, Jordie has surely cemented his place in the All Blacks starting 15 after putting together a string of strong performances throughout the Rugby Championship. If he wasn’t running the Wallabies and Los Pumas ragged on counter attack, he was diffusing aerial bomb after aerial bomb from the likes of Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard.
Fullback has been up for debate since the likes of Israel Dagg and Ben Smith retired, but Jordie is likely to only keep improving and should be backed to start the majority of the tests in the lead up to the 2023 World Cup. In addition to his aerial skills, powerful defensive game and pace out wide, he possesses an accurate boot off the kicking Tee, something the All Blacks used to great effect to topple the Springboks in the 100th test. As a side note, he is only 24 and is already the best in the business.
2. Los Pumas hard done by.
After a 2020 season which saw Los Pumas beat the All Blacks for the firs time, there were high expectations on the Argentinians to back up their performances from a year ago. However, one must take into account the extremely tough schedule they faced. They toured Europe, then travelled to South Africa for two games, before heading into the Australian bio-bubbles. The Pumas haven’t had a home game since 2019 and haven’t been home in months as they completed a full test calendar so far.
Add to this the disrespect the team received from SANZAAR in the staging of the competition’s promo-photo, where their captain was excluded and they can feel rightfully aggrieved at the way things went. They rallied valiantly in the 1st test against the All Blacks and fought hard in the 2nd test against the Wallabies but sadly couldn’t find their way to victory in the competition. Adding to their struggles, 6 of their players and two coaching staff were denied entry back into Queensland after a day trip to Byron Bay in breach of lockdown protocols. Hopefully 2022 will be a more promising year for them, with a return to playing in their home country too.
3. Winding back the clock.
It seems as though the inclusion of Morne Steyn and his match winning kick against the British & Irish Lions opened the flood gates for the return of players who many thought had had the curtain called on their international careers. However, as the old adage goes, form is temporary but class is permanent. The older boys have certainly shown they can still cut it at the highest level.
Just as Morne Steyn had sunk the hearts of British & Irish Lions fans with his match winning kick, so too did Quade Cooper as he slotted one over to beat the Springboks on his return to test rugby. Quade quickly became Australia’s premier flyhalf again and has since been joined in the squad by players of old such as Sean McMahon, Greg Holmes at the age of 38 and to a lesser extent James O’Connor. There are even talks now of a return for Kurtley Beale.
4. Officiating and rule changes
The match officials were under scrutiny again during the Rugby Championship and in my opinion rightly so. There is so much technology to assist them in making the right calls, that match defining decisions should be gotten right at this level of the game. Whilst I don’t support a public video review of the officiating, fans should be given better insights into the workings of World Rugby as they assess the post-match performances of the officials.
50-50 calls aside, those can be forgiven, it’s the consistency in what the referee’s call that is proving difficult for the players. It needs to be consistent at the mauls and scrums, what constitutes a high tackle for one team, must be the same for another. A charge down by Frans Steyn on Jordie Barrett can’t be a penalty, when a late hit on a kick from Faf de Klerk goes unpunished. A side entry from Laulala can’t give a penalty away, when Jasper Wiese can do the same and get away with it.
Not only does the refereeing need to be more consistent, but World Rugby needs to stop making unnecessary rule changes. Take the 50-22 rule for instance, it seems to confuse supporters, officials and players alike and only Frans Steyn seems capable of truly putting it to good use. Don’t fix what isn’t broken and rather apply the rules already in place, correctly.
5. The Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies are rightfully the world’s top 3 teams.
The All Blacks demolished the Wallabies, who in turn ran riot against the Springboks who ultimately won 1 and lost 1 against the All Blacks by the closest of margins. It was a great spectacle of varying styles of play and showed just how much the Southern Hemisphere still dominates the game.
The All Blacks won the Rugby Championship, the Springboks reclaimed their #1 ranking and the Wallabies showed a massive resurgence under Dave Rennie to win 4 games on the trot for the first time in ages. All three teams are set for a strong showing on the end of year tour and the Northern Hemisphere sides are going to have their hands full containing them. In addition to this, all three sides are also set to benefit from the return of star players such as Sam Whitelock and Cheslin Kolbe and Will Skelton to name a few.
Until next year...