2017 saw the All Blacks predictably retain the Rugby Championship, even doing so with two games to spare after the Wallabies and Springboks couldn’t find a way to beat one another in two consecutive tests. Meanwhile, Los Pumas bumbled their way around for six losses, none of which could be described as thrashings – but could never be described as close either.
Let’s have a look at the highs and lows of the tournament:
- All Black depth – The champions finished the competition literally at the end of their depth chart: an untested propping duo, David Havili having to play the entire second half, Damian McKenzie instead of Ben Smith or Jordie Barrett, Tawera Kerr-Barlow unexpectedly having to close a tight game out and Scott Barrett having to partner Sam Whitelock in the second row after Brodie Retallick’s absence.
- Michael Cheika should pay a bit more attention – Israel Folau, already unpopular due to his confusing tweet about same sex marriage, didn’t help himself in Bloemfontein when he yanked the flowing locks of Dillyn Leyds in a tackle. Wallaby coach Cheika didn’t help matters either with this take on the incident which was clearly given without him actually bothering to watch a replay. The cringing, ‘please stop talking/you’re embarrassing us’ look from Michael Hooper speaks volumes.
- Wallabies and Boks showing some backbone – Both teams copped 50 point hidings from the All Blacks, with the Wallabies suffering that indignity in front of their own fans. A week later they managed to almost pull off an incredible victory in Dunedin, only thwarted by an even more incredible last minute try by Beauden Barrett.
- Hidings – However, the 54-35 flogging in Sydney and 57-0 apocalypse in Albany did nothing for the competition’s credibility other than showcase some highlight reel material.
- This try by Vaea Fifita – The most notable ‘out of your seat’ moment of the whole tournament.
- The Argentine national anthem – Their team might not be up to much, but the Argentineans certainly have the most entertaining pre match tradition. Their match in Buenos Aires featured a group of guys beatboxing the first instrumental part, while the next game in Mendoza had a bloke with a classic ‘80’s mullet singing the tune.
- Aaron Smith – The All Black halfback has been through a lot, but it hasn’t stopped him from returning to career-best form in this tournament. His performance in Sydney may well be his greatest ever in the black jersey, and followed that up with efforts that have settled any debate about him and TJ Perenara’s claims to the number nine jersey.
- Marika Koroibete – There was a lot of conjecture around the former Melbourne Storm winger’s move to union, given the somewhat unsustainable model of simply taking rugby league players and offering them a spot in the Wallabies without seeing them play a game. However, Koroibete has lived up to expectations, scoring a double against the Boks and picking up another try in Mendoza.
- Malcolm Marx – The Bok hooker’s performance against the All Blacks in Cape Town wasn’t just a hugely inspiring jolt back to relevance for a proud rugby nation, but also a massive turnaround personally. In the Albany disaster, Marx’s lineout throwing made people wonder if he’s been drinking heavily pre game, and majorly contributed to handing the All Blacks all the ball they needed to shoot out to a big lead.
- Whinging about the ref – Let’s get one thing straight: the colour of the card given to Damian de Allande made no difference whatsoever to the outcome of the Cape Town game. It was, however, a clear cut penalty any day of the week and that’s what put the All Blacks into an insurmountable position. Blame the rules if you want, but Jerome Garces did what they said because that’s his job.