R3 review: All Blacks see off Pumas, Wallabies edge Springboks

It was a tale of two totally different encounters during Round 3 of the Rugby Championship.

In Nelson, the Pumas again demonstrated their improvement under Mario Ledesma in pushing the All Blacks right through to the final minutes of an entertaining nine-try Test.

But it was anything but entertainment in Brisbane a couple of hours later, as the Wallabies and Springboks turned on a dour spectacle on a humid Queensland night.


Frizell fires in run-on debut

Having opted to rest Beauden Barrett, Liam Squire, Sam Cane and Aaron Smith, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen wanted to see just what a number of fringe All Blacks could offer at Test level.

But he must have been questioning that call when Brodie Retallick, Ngani Laumape and Ben Smith all left the field inside 10 minutes. Smith, who has battled a string of concussion problems in recent years, thankfully returned; but it was anything but an ideal start for the world champions.

Enter Shannon Frizell. Making his first run-on start, Frizell became the focal point of the All Blacks' play as he mixed surging runs with neat short passes at the line. The 24-year-old Tasman product finished the Test with 15 runs for 63 metres, three clean breaks, five tackle busts and added a further 18 tackles in defence. He capped a marvellous performance with a try in the 74th minute.

In the corresponding Test last year it was Vaea Fifita who announced himself to international rugby with a breathtaking solo try against Argentina. But Frizell's performance was infinitely more complete.

It is little wonder Hansen brought him into the All Blacks frame for the June series against France, despite his lack of game time for the Highlanders. Frizell clearly has the all-round game to be a Test rugby star with one pundit in New Zealand already likening him to an All Blacks great.

"Now and then you have a moment when you see the future because of something in the past. It happened from Nelson on Saturday night," the New Zealand Herald's Chris Rattue wrote.

"I saw the brilliant future of the All Blacks, because I saw a player who reminded me of the legendary Michael Jones. His name is Shannon Frizell, and before the 24-year-old ran out of puff he carved Argentina up."

Frizell didn't even have a Super Rugby contract when Fifita tore down the sideline for his try against the Pumas in New Plymouth last year. But two excellent campaigns with Tasman in the Mitre 10 Cup, and a series of eye-catching performances for the Highlanders, Hansen couldn't ignore the Tongan-born back-rower's claims.

The point Rattue makes about Frizell "running out of puff" isn't without merit either. What won't help the 24-year-old's development is the fact he is stuck behind regular All Blacks No.6 Liam Squire at the Highlanders as well; if he's to develop into a Test regular Frizell needs to be starting far more regularly at Super Rugby level.

But there is plenty of time for that to be sorted out, too. For on an occasion when the All Blacks could have let a flurry of injuries disrupt them, the fact a Test rookie simply rolled up his sleeves and went to work shows why they are the envy of the rugby world.

Mo'unga not so magnificent

Just like Frizell, Crusaders ace Richie Mo'unga was also making his first run-on appearance in the famous black jersey. But unlike his rookie counterpart, Mo'unga didn't experience a similarly glorious night in Nelson.

Having missed touch from a penalty kick early on, an error he repeated again in the first half, Mo'unga quickly discovered the difference between Super Rugby and the Test arena; most tellingly that the time and space he operated in at the Crusaders this season was in short supply against the Pumas.

It will also have those calling for his inclusion ahead of Beauden Barrett retreating somewhat. There is no doubting that Mo'unga is an excellent back-up for Barrett, but there is plenty for him to work on before the conversation about him usurping the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year can even begin.

Mo'unga won't have been helped by the fact inside centre Ngani Laumape left the field early with injury, leaving Anton Lienert-Brown to again play a lengthy role off the bench. But the Crusaders star certainly looked a little rushed at times, his decision-making suffering as a result.

"Everyone wants to go out there and be the best player on the park," Mo'unga's Crusaders skipper and All Blacks teammate Sam Whitelock said. "I think with Rich, it was great. He backed himself, he wasn't afraid to tell us forwards what to do, and when to do it.

"It's great when your tens are like that. Richie's done that for the last couple of years with the Crusaders. Here in the All Blacks, we need him to do that again, and he really started that way. It was good to know he has the confidence to say what he wanted and drive the team round."

Whitelock was never going to throw his teammate under the bus, but you can guarantee Hansen will restore Barrett to the starting line-up for this weekend's visit of the Springboks. Mo'unga's time will come a little further into the future.

Pumas trending upwards with an upset on offer

They may not have got the victory, but the Pumas showed more than enough against the All Blacks to suggest they can head to the Gold Coast and break their duck against the Wallabies on Australian soil.

Argentina have never beaten the Wallabies Down Under, but they will arrive at Cbus Super Stadium with confidence in the knowledge that they are attacking far more clinically than Michael Cheika's outfit. The Pumas broke down the All Blacks' defensive line both with flashes of individual brilliance and concentrated phase build-up.

And while the Wallabies are battling uncertainty around who their best No.10 option is, the Pumas are finally seeing the very best from veteran fly-half Nicolas Sanchez.

The 29-year-old playmaker was superb for the second-straight Test, Sanchez backing up his match-winning performance from Mendoza against the Springboks with a 14-point effort against the All Blacks in Nelson.

Crucially, Sanchez doesn't seem to be as prone to panic as he has been in the past. He has always had the ability to break the line through footwork and sleight of hand, but he now also understands the value of patience and that it isn't possible to produce a match-turning play at every opportunity.

Sanchez kept the Pumas in the match with a try immediately after halftime and while the All Blacks continued to keep the visitors at bay, the Pumas No.10 helped ensure the world champions could be anything but comfortable until the final five minutes. He finished the 46-24 defeat with 13 runs for 45 metres, with three clean breaks and five tackle busts.

If Sanchez can repeat his two most immediate Test performances, the Pumas will go a long way to defeating the Wallabies on their own patch for the first time. The No.10 is getting plenty of assistance from a brilliant back three, too.


A good day to do some gardening

After the magnificent clash between the All Blacks and Argentina earlier in the day, the Wallabies and the Springboks dished up the worst match of the 2018 Rugby Championship so far, in Brisbane. It was bit like having your chocolate pudding and then trying to wash it down with a lovely bunch of broccoli.

The skill in Saturday's first match was magnificent, with the Pumas showing how much they have improved and the New Zealanders displaying their ability to win comfortably, even when the opposition are playing out of their skins. The running was decisive, the passing crisp and the collisions brutal.

In Brisbane, however, Australia and the Springboks produced a dire, error-strewn affair, which also seemed to affect referee Glen Jackson, who contributed to the stop-start match with a few glaring mistakes of his own.

The Springboks were the main culprits, as they displayed the skills and decision-making of six-year-old kids, instead of well-paid athletes.

Pruning the roses or painting the house could have proved to be a lot more entertaining than the drab rugby match.

Erasmus doesn't trust some of his fringe players

The official word from Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus was that hooker Bongi Mbonambi was replaced in the 34th minute in Brisbane because he "emptied the tank" - he was tired. And, it had absolutely nothing to do with an overthrow minutes earlier close to South Africa's line that led to a try for the Wallabies.

Right ...

This is the same Mbonambi who started for the Boks in the first two matches of the June series against England - on the Highveld no less - and produced top performances in the absence of Malcolm Marx. He did this after playing less than 90 minutes of rugby for the year leading up to the series.

Poor scrum-half Embrose Papier has only played six minutes - at wing - in the first three Rugby Championship matches, even though Faf de Klerk hasn't produced the same sort of form that he showcased against England.

Wallabies show a bit of backbone in the last quarter

Pre-match withdrawals of Israel Folau (ankle) and Adam Coleman (personal reasons) and David Pocock (neck) gave the Springboks a real chance to improve their terrible record in Brisbane. And, as bad as they were on Saturday, they still had a chance to win the match in the dying minutes.

However, the Wallabies dug deep on defence at the death to win the match. They also kept the Boks scoreless in the second half after conceding a rather simple maul try, which would have given the South Africans a great deal of confidence.

But the Australians weren't pushovers upfront either, they actually won a couple of penalties at scrum time and also put a lot of pressure on the South Africans' lineout, which led to a 75 percent success rate for the visitors.

But it was hardly vintage Wallabies, and the pressure is still squarely on coach Michael Cheika's shoulders to find a way to match the All Blacks. This match, as ugly as it was, should be good for team morale going forward, though.