Two Trophies on the Line for Old Rivals

When Australia play New Zealand in Sydney on 8th August it won’t just be the Bledisloe Cup on the line. It will also be the decider for the 2015 Rugby Championship after both countries made it two wins out of two at the weekend. The teams could hardly be more closely matched in the table as,with both teams having picked up a bonus point against Argentina, only points difference separates the sides, with the Wallabies having an advantage of one point.

Australia avenged their 2014 defeat in Mendoza by recording a 34-9 victory in the same city on Saturday, though the match was not a completely one-sided affair. The first half was tightly contested with the Wallabies going into the break 8-6 ahead thanks to a try by Joe Tomane. The Pumas were unable to breach Australia’s defence as their only reward in the match was three penalties by Nicolas Sanchez. This allowed the visitors to pull away in the second half, but they needed two tries in the final three minutes by Tevita Kuridrani and Adam Ashley-Cooper to match the bonus point New Zealand had earned against Argentina a week earlier.

Australia will now have the opportunity to end a run of 10 winless matches against New Zealand (eight defeats and two draws), since a 25-20 victory in Brisbane during the 2011 Tri Nations. However, they have come close to ending that run in the All Blacks’ previous two visits to Australia. It finished 12-12 in Sydney in last year’s Rugby Championship before New Zealand edged the Wallabies 29-28 in a Brisbane test match in October.

The All Blacks can expect a tough match in Sydney, but they came through the sternest of tests in Johannesburg on Saturday. For the second week in succession South Africa led a Rugby Championship match going into the final 10 minutes, but like the 24-20 defeat against Australia in round one, they could not hold on. The match started at a frenetic pace and the Springboks bounced back from conceding a third-minute Lima Sopoaga penalty to score a try from Willie le Roux, with Handre Pollard kicking the conversion and a penalty.

That should have been enough for South Africa to claim a half-time lead, but right on the whistle a converted try by Ben Smith levelled things up at 10-10. Early second-half tries by Jesse Kriel and Dane Coles moved the score to 17-17, before a Pollard penalty restored the Springboks lead. However, the home side’s late fragility was evident again as with five minutes remaining Richie McCaw marked his 140th cap with a try, converted by Sopoaga, to give the All Blacks a late lead they never relinquished as they went on to triumph 27-20.

Despite back-to-back late defeats South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer believes he has seen enough from his team to suggest they can lift the World Cup later this year, but he will want to avoid the Rugby Championship wooden spoon before then. They play Argentina in Durban on the same day the Wallabies and All Blacks will fight it out for the title at ANZ Stadium.

By Grant Fisken

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