R5 review: Springboks hold off Wallabies, All Blacks bounce back

New Zealand have retained the Rugby Championship title for a third straight year, an 18-point win over Argentina taking them to an unassailable seven-point lead at the top of the standings.

South Africa are safe in second spot, too, following their grinding win at home to the Wallabies. The Springboks were forced to defend for much of the second half, just as they had in Wellington a fortnight ago.

That means there is only the wooden spoon to be decided in this weekend's closing round. That dishonour will go on the line when Argentina host Australia early Sunday morning [AEDT].

Read on as we break down some of the big talking points from Round 5.


Cut out the cut-out passes, Australia

They can be brilliant when executed correctly, putting a player into space for a line break or even creating a try as it did for Reece Hodge, but the fashion in which the Wallabies are currently attacking is forcing them into far too many cut-out passes.

And then there was Kurtley Beale's shocker on his own line after just 23 seconds, too. That ridiculous decision certainly had the Wallabies chasing the contest from the outset, but they continued to make it incredibly tough on themselves because of the huge depth from which they chose to attack.

Australia were so far behind the advantage line in Port Elizabeth that the Springboks' now-trademark rush defence was able to charge up and shut down any thought of a dangerous backline movement without any fear of change of angle or short kick, instead forcing the Wallabies ball-players into a long cut-out pass over the top.

There is no deception in Australia's attacking framework.

It's little surprise the Walabies' two tries came off the quick thinking of Will Genia who, in running flat at the line, found Hodge with a beautiful long pass and then put Marika Koroibete into the clear; a try the scrum-half finished off himself.

If Cheika is to persist with Beale in Mendoza, he must have his No.10 flatten up in attack. A better option would be to restore Bernard Foley to the starting side, he at least has the ability to play up at the line.

Meanwhile, assistant coach Stephen Larkham, the man responsible for Australia's attack, should have as many question marks over his position as every other member of this current Wallabies coaching panel.

Little blokes put in big shifts in P.E.

There were no shortage of tasty hits at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, as the Wallabies and Springboks pounded each other in defence all afternoon. Michael Cheika described the majestic soccer World Cup venue as cauldron, and the gladiators in gold and green certainly put on a show for the masses.

While there were gang tackles and fierce contests at the breakdown, some of the little guys on the field showed that they can also bump off would-be tacklers or make big hits of their own.

Michael Hooper and David Pocock were arguably Australia's best players on the night, as they put enormous pressure on the Springboks at the breakdown while also knocking back the South Africans' big ball-carriers in defence. Hooper, who had a gash above his eye after the match, also made a few excellent carries, while his work-rate was again out of this world.

Kolbe, who weighs just 77kg, also got stuck in on defence. The diminutive Springboks winger did miss a tackle that led to a Wallabies try, but he also nailed a few dominant hits and broke tackles when he had ball in hand. He looks more comfortable at this level with each passing Test.

Du Toit the destroyer as Boks wow fans

We have got no idea how many Red Bulls Pieter-Steph du Toit actually consumes before a Test match, or if he maybe consumes some sort of secret elixir, but the Springboks blindside flanker was again all over the park against the Wallabies.

Following his unbelievable performance against the All Blacks, in which he made well over 20 tackles, du Toit was again at the heart of the South Africans' physical rush defence. It has become a massive part of the Springboks' arsenal.

Du Toit again completed a plethora of tackles, as the Boks almost doubled the amount their Australian counterparts were asked to attemp. He was also a strong ball-carrier, putting his body on the line for another 80 minutes.

With South Africa's lock stocks full to the brim, du Toit is the man who should wear the Bok No 7 jersey at the World Cup. He is that work-horse in the back-row that gives coach Rassie Erasmus the opportunity to pick exciting players such a Sikhumbuzo Notshe or a Warren Whiteley at No 8.

It was the kind of individual performance the 42,000-strong crowd deserved. That figure is a testament to Erasmus and how he has reengaged this Springboks team with the public; but it's also because the people of the Eastern Cape are hungry for top-class rugby.

The home of black rugby has had many Tests over the last few years; the Boks remain unbeaten at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, too. But they need more over the next few years to grow the game in the region.

The Madiba magic is strong at that majestic stadium, and SA Rugby and the Springboks need to take advantage of that.


Home fires burn too brightly for Pumas

It's little wonder the Pumas seem to play better on the road against the All Blacks, as the pressure of hometown support clearly weighs on them back in Argentina.

The weekend's loss to New Zealand means the South Americans remain without a win against the giants of world rugby, despite many believing this was their best chance to date. There is no doubting the improvement in their game since Mario Ledesma's ascension to the top job, but until they are better able to manage their arousal levels and emotions, particularly when close to the try-line, they will continue to come up short.

Not only did Argentina gift the All Blacks two tries with a poor breakdown and scrum decisios, albeit with a touch of fortune on the part of the visitors, but overthrown lineouts close to the line and a general lack of patience meant the Pumas spurned several excellent try-scoring opportunities themselves.

It's unlikely the end result would have been any different, but it is clear that the level of expectation when playing in front of their passionate Buenos Aires supporters impacts on Argentina's ability to execute.

Still, the South Americans are trending in the right direction and can round out a solid Rugby Championship with a win over Australia in Mendoza. But looking a little further ahead, specifically to next year's World Cup, Argentina have two chief problems to address: The Pumas must rectify a shambolic set-piece and uncover a playmaker to succeed Nicolas Sanchez.

To think the once-mighty Pumas scrum has been reduced to cannon fodder is scarcely fathomable, but that is the predicament Ledesma finds his forward pack in. The Pumas front-row were again obliterated by their All Blacks counterparts, so much so that replacement New Zealand trio of Angus Ta'avao, Nathan Harris and Tim Perry came on and marched straight over the top of the hosts.

As for Sanchez, it is a shame that the Rugby Championship finale against the Wallabies will bring down the curtain on his Test career; that is unless Ledesma overrules his Union and suddenly deems it necessary for those players in Europe to be eligible once more. Sanchez has been enjoying his best Rugby Championship to date and again threatened to cut the All Blacks to pieces in Buenos Aires.

Should Sanchez go to Paris and dominate the Top 14 with Stade Francais, it may be that the fleet-footed playmaker returns to lead Argentina past England and France and out of a tough Pool C in Japan.

All Blacks call on experience, opportunity, for road win

After a couple of brain-fades against the Springboks, and an off night at the kicking tee from Beauden Barrett, the All Blacks were a far more measured unit in their win over the Pumas. As coach Steve Hansen said, the 35-17 win was certainly "better" than what they dished up at Westpac Stadium.

For starters, there were no risky quick lineouts nor the amount of handling errors they made in Wellington. But that didn't mean they put cue in the rack, so to speak, either, as a trademark Sonny Bill Williams offload and a sublime Richie Mo'unga grubber kick that put Anton Lienert-Brown over, can attest.

As for Barrett, he went four for four from the kicking tee, which will is of far greater significance than the fact there was none of the razzle-dazzle that saw him destroy the Wallabies in the opening two weeks of the tournament.

And then there was the performance of Ardie Savea, who was a late addition to the starting lineup at No.8 after Luke Whitelock was ruled out with illness. Savea might just be the toughest player to tackle on the planet, not so much because he hits the line at any great speed, but instead for his ability to shake a tackle that isn't 100 percent secured.

For the backs, the sight of Williams running freely in midfield will have come as great relief to Hansen. It was by no means the best performance of the code-hopper' career, but the fact he came through it unscathed, and produced the aforementioned offload, is cause for All Blacks comfort.

The same goes for Rieko Ioane, who bagged two tries in the 18-point win, and veteran centre Ryan Crotty. While both men returned from injury against the Springboks a fortnight ago, they weren't at their best. If fit, all three will be key elements of the All Blacks' World Cup defence in 12 months' time.

The more immediate task, however, is redemption against the Springboks at Ellis Park on Saturday.