R2 rebooted: All Blacks unstoppable, Pumas upset Springboks

The All Blacks ensured another dark night for the Wallabies at Eden Park and helped heap more pressure on coach Michael Cheika in a brilliant 40-12 demolition on Saturday. Fly-half Beauden Barrett was at the heart of the world champions' bonus-point victory, scoring a record-equalling four tries.

But there was an upset in Mendoza as the Pumas secured their first win under new coach Mario Ledesma, a 32-19 triumph over a disappointing Springboks side.

Read on as we jump into some of the storylines from the weekend's action.


Wallabies' tactics playing right into All Blacks' sweetspot

Not even the most positive of Wallabies fans would have dreamed about a victory in Bledisloe II, but what those in Australia did want to see was a response; a performance that pushed the All Blacks deep into the second half.

It didn't eventuate. Instead, the All Blacks did just as they had in Sydney a week earlier in striking immediately before and after halftime, brutally exposing the Wallabies on the counterattack.

And perhaps therein lies one of the Wallabies' biggest problems; their ball-retention, high-recycle game plan simply isn't working. The All Blacks are prepared to sit and wait for the right breakdown to attack an exposed ball-carrier or a simple handling error; then, in one swift movement, they surge up field with ease.

It might not be what Australian supporters want to see, but perhaps the Wallabies need to start playing without the ball a little more. The question is, though: do they have the necessary kicking skills to execute that strategy? It obviously affords the All Blacks greater opportunities to attack, too, but the theory is that the Wallabies' chasing line should be better prepared for an All Blacks' attacking wave than it currently is from turnover ball.

What the All Blacks have done so spectacularly in both Bledisloe Cup games, and far better than anyone else in the world, is turn turnover ball into attacking sequences and, more of often than not, points.

As soon as New Zealand affect a turnover, they usually throw one quick pass back to a member of the back three who enters the line at speed, or shifts it wider again to where a couple of exhausted Wallabies forwards are taking a breather. Once the gap opens up, the All Blacks flood through in support with the ball-carrier having options both inside and out.

It is beautiful to watch and has a brutally deflating effect on the opposition who've expelled vital energy building a phase sequence themselves, only to see the All Blacks sweep down field and score with little more than one break, a handful of passes and a flurry of support players.

There is no doubt Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is under pressure but it is clear that this is an All Blacks side playing at a level well beyond what his players are capable of under the current tactical strategy. The challenge is to come up with a game plan to close that gap as, at the present time, what the Wallabies are doing clearly isn't working.

Neck roll or unfortunate cleanout contact?

If there has been one bright spot for the Wallabies in two crushing Bledisloe defeats it has been the performance of David Pocock. Playing out of position at No.8, Pocock continues to be Australia's greatest threat at the breakdown.

What is worrying, however, is that the neck roll - which was once a firm focus of foul play - looks to have become another of rugby's grey areas. In the Tests in Sydney and Auckland, Pocock has been the subject of dangerous cleanouts where he is pulled out of the breakdown contest by players using his neck as a fulcrum.

This is not to ignore foul play on the part of the Wallabies, who were penalised by Wayne Barnes in Auckland for an off-the-ball hit and cleanout in separate incidents. But Pocock was on the receiving end of questionable cleanouts on multiple occasions in both Sydney and Auckland.

All Blacks prop Owen Franks was penalised by Barnes for a neck roll in Auckland, but the officials were comfortable it required no greater sanction.

The All Blacks are on the record as saying they recognise Pocock's "world class" breakdown skills, and that he is clearly a focus of their ruck defence. Following Saturday night's match at Eden Park, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said it was the fashion Pocock plays the game that is putting him at risk of injury, not the technique his side are using to remove the Wallabies No.8.

"It's no wonder he's got a sore neck. He's got his head over the ball 90 percent of the time and he's very very good at it," Hansen said. "To move him out, he's going to take some contact. He understands that, that's why he won't be complaining about it."

Pocock came in for similar attention during the Super Rugby season, one instance late in the year resulting in Hurricanes back-rower Gareth Evans receiving a warning from SANZAAR. Pocock touched on that fact again following Saturday's defeat in Auckland, but his response suggests he isn't entirely convinced the officials are getting the decisions right.

"You feel it after games and it's not something you probably want to think too much about," he said. "It'll be sore but hopefully it's nothing serious. It's something the refs had said they were going to really sort of look at. There's been some penalties ..."

Given Pocock's build, opposition players have very little surface area in which to latch on and affect a cleanout on the Wallabies back-rower. It's that fact that can see an arm end up on Pocock's neck; the challenge officials are facing is working out what is intentional and what is not.


Pumas bring the heat after Durban disaster

Argentina weren't going to be bullied like they were in Durban the week before. They weren't going to be cleaned out at rucks like wet rags, and their scrum removed the word 'reverse' from its vocabulary.

They brought back the original bad boy, flank Tomas Lavanini, who last year earned six yellow cards in the blue and white jersey of his country. Lavanini set the tone for their physical effort, throwing the ball in Boks enforcer Eben Etzebeth's face in the 10th minute of the match. Normally that is considered a big no-no, trying to intimidate a man whose biceps look like miniature versions of Table Mountain. But Lavanini and his teammates backed this up big time, as they absolutely clobbered the South African pack into submission.

It set the tone of their backs to run at their Springbok counterparts, who just had no answer to the speed and width the Pumas were playing with.

Fly-half Nicolas Sanchez probably played his best Test for his country, as he ran the show with his crisp passing, quick thinking and kicking. He managed a full house of points, as he scored a try, kicked a penalty and three conversions, as well as a drop goal.

The Pumas' forwards were spectacular on the day, it's just a pity they can't seem to produce these sorts of performances on a weekly basis.

Springboks still in twilight zone

After the series win against England, there was talk about a new dawn for Springboks rugby under the direction of Rassie Erasmus. The performances weren't perfect, but there were signs of improvement after two horrible years under Allister Coetzee.

However, after the pasting they took in Mendoza, it looks like the Boks are still very much in the dark.

For some reason the South Africans always struggle to get going in Argentina, but they were expected to beat the Pumas on Saturday after barely getting out of third gear the week before in Durban.

But the Pumas exposed some of the Boks' flaws, such as the current composition of the back-row, their defensive frailties and the form of the inside backs.

Bigger challenges are coming over the next few weeks against the Wallabies and the awesome, awesome All Blacks. The Boks' last four matches coincide with the start of spring in the southern hemisphere; they will be hoping it's the start of their new beginning as well.