R1 rebooted: All Blacks thrash Wallabies, Springboks down Pumas

The opening round of this year's Rugby Championship went as expected, with the All Blacks and Springboks downing the Wallabies and Pumas respectively.

But the two victors didn't have it all their own way, the All Blacks and Springboks both trailing on the scoreboard at halftime.

Read on as we wrap up some of the major storylines from the weekend.


How could the Wallabies' set-piece be so bad?

The Wallabies have endured some awful outings at set-piece in recent times but given their strong finish at the crucial restart in the third Test loss to Ireland, few people would have expected the disaster Australia endured at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.

Tatafu Polota-Nau's first two lineout throws were picked off by the All Blacks jumpers and it didn't improve from thereon out.

Lineout throwing has long been the weakness in Polota-Nau's otherwise strong all-round game and the question had to be asked post-match of Michael Cheika had the coach rushed the veteran rake back too soon, rather than looking to Brandon Paenga-Amosa - who started all three Tests against Ireland - or Folau Fainga'a who is yet to debut at international level.

After Polota-Nau left the field things in no way improved on Tolu Latu's throw; the All Blacks finishing with seven steals or disrupted Wallabies lineouts.

"Nah, it's not like he arrived today," Cheika responded when asked if Polota-Nau had enough time to prepare. "He's been here for two weeks; had plenty of practice. It wasn't just him, it was Tolu as well, with the lineout combination. I thought he [Polota-Nau] actually did pretty well; first game of the season, he was right in it."

Another week on the training paddock might help to improve things but the All Blacks will again fancy their chances at lineout time in Auckland this Saturday.

Their scrum dominance, however, might not have been so clear; at least in Cheika's eyes anyway. The Wallabies hadn't been helped by the late withdrawal of reserve prop Taniela Tupou and the absence of regular loosehead Scott Sio. Waratahs prop Tom Robertson had some good moments in broken play, but was under heavy pressure at scrum time.

"The calls were a bit, sort of, weird; the scrum was dropping to the ground, it could have been anyone," Cheika said of the six scrum penalties that went the All Blacks' way.

"I'm not sure why the calls went against us there, they've got a reason for it...we went backwards in one which wasn't good, we got caught in a bit of strife there, in a bad position, where we missed the strike.

"But apart from that, I thought, especially considering we had late changes; we lost Scotty [Sio] and Taniela [Tupou] in the mix; I thought we handled that pretty well."

If they are to be even the slightest of chances of ending their 32-year hoodoo at Eden Park, the Wallabies will need to improve considerably at set-piece. That may include handing Tupou a maiden run-on start, particularly if Sekope Kepu is ruled out with what looked like a nasty eye injury.

Wallabies forwards coach Simon Raiwalui has his work cut out regardless.

A new marker set for lifting tackles

After an incident-heavy June series, it was almost inevitable the officials would see an early test of their foul play tolerance in the Rugby Championship.

And so it came in Sydney in just the fourth minute, Wallabies fullback Israel Folau on the end of a lifting tackle from All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo. It was clear Folau had been taken through the horizontal, but the Australian may have helped Naholo avoid a yellow card by breaking his fall with his left arm.

Given the inconsistencies from the June Test window, the majority of the pro-Australian home crowd were still disappointed referee Jaco Peyper didn't produce a yellow card. The South African found an unlikely ally in Wallabies coach Michael Cheika post match, though, a result few would have seen coming given skipper Michael Hooper's on-field remonstrations during the match.

"Oh, no, no I don't think so," Cheika responded when asked if he thought Naholo's tackle had warranted a yellow card. "He [Naholo] didn't have any intention; sometimes it happens, mate. That's luck.

"I think intent is important and I didn't think he had intent, it was just the way he made the tackle and flipped up. We got a penalty. Move on."

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen agreed with Cheika's summation.

"I thought it was a fair tackle, personally," he said. "I think Israel jumped a little bit in the air into the tackle; this is my point about the game being fluid, sometimes things can't be avoided.

"And I thought the referees and the touch judges tonight were very, very good. I think Jaco had a great game in the semifinal of Super Rugby and he's continued that form into this game of really refereeing well."

With no post-match citing or warning, it appears SANZAAR is comfortable with the ruling, too.

No matter which side of the fence you saw Naholo's tackle from, the key thing now is that similar tackles are ruled in exactly the same fashion; that being that should a player break their own fall or come down on the upper arm or shoulder, despite being taken beyond the horizontal, a penalty will suffice.

It might not par to hold your breath on that one, though.

Retallick peerless; history books included?

It takes some performance that, on a teammate's 100th cap, you're able to steal the limelight. But that's exactly what Brodie Retallick did to locking partner Sam Whitelock, the 2014 World Rugby Player of the Year a deserved Man of the Match in Bledisloe I.

The Chiefs lock, who against the Waratahs earlier this year served a reminder of what makes him the game's premier tight forward and, arguably, best forward in the game full-stop, was unstoppable yet again on Saturday night.

Retallick produced an early turnover, was a general nuisance on the Wallabies' lineout throughout, made 10 tackles and a forwards-high 63 metres from 11 runs. But it was a cheeky dummy to Bernard Foley, and subsequent coast to the tryline, that perhaps sets him above other great locks, even if it prompted skipper Kieran Read to quip Retallick might have been a "wee-bit tired" for seagulling out by the touchline so often.

Retallick's performance nonetheless prompted stuff.co.nz writer Mark Reason to pen a piece saying the All Blacks lock had surpassed Wallabies great John Eales as one of history's all-time great second-rowers.

"The New Zealander has all of Eales' skill with a few added horsepower," Reason wrote. "The 27-year-old is just now coming into the prime years for a lock forward and we are blessed to be witnesses at the spectacle. Retallick dominated the men in green and gold. Retallick dominated them in the lineout, he dominated them in the scrum and he dominated them in attack and defence."

In other words, it was a show of utter supremacy.

Wallabies fans will clamber to the fact Eales was Australia's Test skipper, who lifted the Bledisloe, World Cup and Tri Nations crowns, kicking match-winning conversions along the way. But it's hard to argue with Reason's sentiments; Retallick is a tight- and loose- forward rolled into one with the neat touches of an inside back and enough toe to eat up metres in the clear.

He is head and shoulders above any current Wallabies lock, that's for sure; and will be out there again this Saturday ready to wreak havoc once more.


Springboks' forwards almost unstoppable ...

Los Pumas coach Mario Ledesma is hoping the Springboks' forwards will be under the weather this coming weekend in Argentina following the hammering his team copped up front in Durban.

The South Africans didn't have the greatest day in the lineouts, but they pretty much bulldozed the Pumas in the scrum and at the breakdown.

"We stood up, but it was like a dam wall. They kept hammering away and something had to give," Ledesma said.

"They built up momentum, and I stopped counting their tries. We will have to address our problems at the set-pieces and rucks, but how do you stop them? I don't know. Maybe they will get sick or something!"

The Springboks' big men were also awesome with ball in hand, especially the returning Eben Etzebeth, who didn't look like a man playing his first competitive rugby match in nine months. Etzebeth made metres every time he got the ball in his hand, while he also pulverised every Argentine running down his channel.

The botched lineouts, though, will be a big concern for coach Rassie Erasmus, as it cost them many attacking opportunities in the Pumas' 22. The Boks need to take advantage of such attacking situations to put teams away.

Pumas' defended well ... but still conceded six tries

Argentina's line speed was really good in Durban and they forced the Springboks backs into making a lot of hurried and inaccurate passes. However, they still conceded six tries at Kings Park.

It could have been more had the Boks actually executed properly on the day and took advantage of the some of the front-foot ball their forwards provided.

Los Pumas need to up their work-rate on defence, because tougher assignments against New Zealand and Australia are still on the way. You can't make those sorts of errors and expect to compete on an equal footing with the Boks and the All Blacks, who have the firepower to burn teams.

However, the way they put the Boks under pressure is a big positive. If they can find a way to compete in the collisions in Mendoza, they could cause an upset this weekend.