The Rugby Championship 2022: What we learned

All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith celebrates a scrum win during the Bledisloe Cup/Rugby Championship.
Photo: PhotoSport / Brett Phibbs

The All Blacks’ home test schedule closed out with an emphatic 40-14 win over the Wallabies at Eden Park last night, which meant that the Springboks required a 39 point win over the Pumas this morning to take The Rugby Championship title.

The South Africans didn’t get it. So, after all the angst, the disappointing losses and talk of how this is the worst All Black team ever, they are now champions of southern hemisphere rugby yet again. The irony of this situation isn’t something Ian Foster is thinking about, who said he was just “enjoying the moment”. Is that a lesson to be learned perhaps for New Zealand rugby fans?

Here’s a few more things that we know after one of the most competitive instalments of TRC ever:

Ian Foster is quite good at beating the Wallabies – After three seasons, Foster’s All Blacks have beaten the Aussies six times, with one loss and a draw. One of those was a record margin of victory and another was the highest score ever against the Wallabies. Yes, that probably should have been another loss in Melbourne, but even though it was a wild finish his All Blacks still had to find a way to win off the unlikely chance they were presented with.

The other sides are inconsistent, too – Fresh off a statement win over the All Blacks in Mbombela, what do the Springboks do? Lose. What do the Pumas do after their first ever win in New Zealand? Get thrashed. What do the Wallabies do after their most complete performance of the year, against the Springboks in Adelaide? Go to Sydney and limp to a disappointing loss. This year’s championship simply came down to who could hold serve, which the All Blacks did.

If the All Blacks are playing on Eden Park, they can pretty much select whoever they want – A lot of questions were raised at Foster’s side that played the Wallabies in Bledisloe II, Taylor in at hooker, Jordie Barrett at 12, an old people’s home of a propping rotation, but really it didn’t make any difference. The last time the Wallabies won at Eden Park was the year that the original Top Gun movie topped the box office, and there is clearly a mental hurdle that affects them (and anyone else for that matter) when they play there. So really, Foster could have named himself in that side if he wanted to. There will be a few at NZR secretly hoping to find a way to just move the All Blacks to Eden Park permanently, given the record there.

All Blacks players perform the HAKA during the New Zealand All Blacks v Australia Wallabies.

All Blacks players perform the HAKA during the New Zealand All Blacks v Australia Wallabies.
Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

The midfield may well have found a solution – David Havili’s form at second five has mirrored the All Blacks’ up and down season, but his concussion-related stand down showed that the solution a lot of folks in Hurricanes country have been calling out for is not a bad one at all. Jordie Barrett’s hard-running injection into the midfield gave the All Black attack a sense of directness, freeing up space for Rieko Ioane and Will Jordan outside him.

The skipper doesn’t need to be an 80 minute player – Sam Cane was subbed and the world didn’t end. Then he missed the last test anyway and the All Blacks simply cracked on. It is clear that we’ve entered an era of the All Black captain watching the final stages from the sideline, which really is not a big deal, given that happens with Siya Kolisi in every test he plays. Co-sharing the captaincy isn’t new either, the All Blacks had five last year anyway.

Sustainability is the key – The win at Ellis Park should have been the turning point, but much of what the All Blacks achieved there was rubbed out a fortnight later in Christchurch when they lost to the Pumas. That wasn’t a surprise, the performance against the Springboks was very much one that fed off the South Africans’ predictability and so from there, the gameplan that the All Blacks have run has very much been about smoothing out the rough edges to make them a one-size-fits-all threat package. We saw it in Hamilton, then when they shot out to a big lead in Melbourne, but mostly in the win at Eden Park.

It still comes down to the Twickenham test – November 19 is the All Blacks’ date with destiny.

The last test of the year will give us a very clear indication of where they’re at as we head into a World Cup year, not least with where their opposition are as well. Remember: this time last year the All Blacks had won TRC and went on to record some big scores against Wales and Italy on the end of year tour. But it didn’t count for much after they’d visited Dublin and Paris.

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