DAN LOMBARD

The inaugural Rugby Championship was a success with Argentina joining South Africa, New Zealand Australia in the expanded version of the former Tri-Nations.

New Zealand remained unbeaten in the tournament to win the competition as Australia finished second, while South Africa and Argentina finished third and fourth respectively.

South Africa had a mixed first season in the expanded Tri-Nations tournament. The Springboks beat Argentina and Australia convincingly at home, but drew to Argentina in Mendoza, and lost to Australia in Perth. The Springboks lost both their matches against the All Blacks.

South African coach Heyneke Meyer has been criticised by several former players and rugby experts for his team’s performance, partly because of his inclusion of inexperienced players. Former Springbok coach Jake White was quoted in Beeld as saying that Meyer’s coaching style is not one which is going to help the Boks achieve any success.

Johan Goosen, Elton Jantjies and Jaco Taute all made their debuts for the Springboks during the tournament, but did not play prominent roles as the new combinations battled to perform on the field.

Meyer was also criticised for not dropping flyhalf Morné Steyn early in the tournament. Steyn struggled with form, but was not dropped until the Boks’ second-last match of the tournament. In a few matches in the tournament, South Africa lost by less than the number of points Steyn missed through poor kicking, including the 22-11 loss against New Zealand in Dunedin, when Steyn missed eleven points.

Springbok players Bryan Habana and Francois Louw enjoyed good form during the Championship. South Africa’s most-capped wing Habana scored seven tries in seven matches, including a hat trick against Australia at Loftus.

Defending World Cup champions New Zealand won their 16th consecutive match when they beat South Africa at the FNB Stadium in the last round of the competition. The match was also Richie McCaw’s 100th test victory, out of the 112 Tests he has played. Australia’s campaign was blighted by injury, having lost many key players, including Quade Cooper, Will Genia, James Horwill, David Pocock and James O’Connor, before the start of the tournament. After failing to secure the Bledisloe Cup against New Zealand, Australia went on to beat Argentina twice and South Africa once to finish second. Although Australia and South Africa were tied on points, Australia won more games, giving them second place on the log.

Australia’s performance in the competition has increased the pressure on coach Robbie Deans as the Wallabies have struggled to perform at a high level consistently during 2012. Deans has been criticised for his coaching technique, most notably by Quade Cooper. In September, the Queensland Reds player made himself unavailable for Wallaby selection and criticised the national team on Twitter. Cooper called the environment within the Australian national side “toxic”.

Argentina did not manage to secure a win in the competition. However, the Pumas were able to hold South Africa to a draw, and only lost by seven points in both matches against Australia. Stand-out players for Argentina were captain and loose forward Juan Martin Fernandez, prop Rodrigo Roncero and flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez. Despite finishing bottom of the log in their debut season, Argentina will be pleased with the performances they put in.

Image: www.espnscrum.com

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