Rugby Championship Round 2: Retallick injury a result of festering problem

The Rugby Championship will go down to its closing round after the All Blacks and Springboks played out a 16-all draw at the weekend.

Both teams remain in contention for the title, as do the Wallabies, who held off Argentina to triumph 16-10 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

Read on as we break down some of the big talking points from the weekend's action.


Brodie Retallick looked to be in serious pain when he trudged off Westpac Stadium midway through the second half on Saturday night. Thankfully, some 12 hours later, it was confirmed that the All Blacks lock had suffered no serious damage and remains a reasonable chance of playing at the World Cup.

You want to see the world's best players take part in the game's global showpiece and that's exactly what Retallick is; All Blacks fans from one end of New Zealand will have breathed a collective sigh of relief on hearing the lock's diagnosis on Sunday.

They could also afford to chuckle at Steve Hansen's classically dry response to a question posed by one of the reporters at Sunday's news conference.

"Should RG Snyman have been cited," one journalist asked in referencing the player whose side-entry clean-out had put a cat among the All Blacks World Cup pigeons.

"No, no, no; it's a big boys' game," Hansen replied.

Who knows whether Hansen would have taken the same humorous line had Retallick been ruled out for the World Cup then and there, such is the lock's importance to the defending champions' tournament defence.

But then there is the fact that his players are, like so many others in the game right now, guilty of similar clean-outs that have the same force and angle to cause a similar injury to the one Retallicks suffered.

In fact, you only have to go back a week to the third minute of the All Blacks' victory over Argentina to find a clean-out from Retallick himself that was far more dangerous as the lock careered in from a position that was more on the Pumas' side of the ruck than New Zealand's.

Players are far more vulnerable to hits from the side and thus the law exists that any player who joins a ruck must do so "through the gate."

It's a problem Ben Ryan, coach of Fiji's Olympic gold medal winners, has been on about for some time; the Englishman taking to social media to again vent his sizeable frustration while watching the 16-all draw from Wellington.

Ryan is right that the change must come from the top, so the onus is on World Rugby to provide a clear statement as to exactly how the referees will control the breakdown, keeping a close eye on side entry in particular, at the World Cup.

There was a clear focus on neck rolls and low-diving cannonball tackles at the 2015 tournament and players soon learned that if they were to try either they would soon be spending 10 minutes in the sin-bin.

The same scenario needs to happen at the breakdown this time around, the game can ill-afford an avoidable injury like Retallick's on its grandest stage.

What of the Mo'unga-Barrett double-act, then?

It wasn't a raving success, but the first sighting of Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett as a playmaking double-act showed just enough promise for it to be reprised in the coming weeks.

There were certainly elements of rust, particularly on the part of Mo'unga whose first two kicks were charged down as he soon learned Super Rugby's time and space don't exist at Test level, but Barrett's threat from the back could be vital in helping New Zealand unlock rush defences at the World Cup.

And that's exactly what happened to create the All Blacks' only try on Saturday night, scored by Jack Goodhue, when the fullback ran onto a sublime cut-out pass from Sonny Bill Williams after Springboks winger Makazole Mapimpi had shot in to try and shut the play down.

Barrett's pace burned the chasing Springboks defenders and then all that was required was a simple draw-and-pass on Willie le Roux to Goodhue, which the All Blacks fullback handled with ease.

As for Mo'unga, he appeared far more settled in the second half and took over the goal-kicking from Barrett after the All Blacks No. 15 had earlier missed two penalties.

What may hurt Mo'unga's development at No. 10 is the fact that Sonny Bill Williams won't head to Perth, meaning the Crusaders No. 10 will have a different player outside him, and possibly also inside him at scrum-half, when the All Blacks face the Wallabies in Bledisloe I.

Williams, meanwhile, was solid in his return from injury, the pass for Barrett's break showing he is far more than just a battering ram with a dangerous offload.

But the Mo'unga-Barrett double-act might be more about maximising the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year's attacking threat; his 87 run metres, two clean breaks and six tackle busts suggest it's a trial that deserves a repeat dose.

Kolbe shows rugby remains a game for all sizes

What a breath of fresh air it is to see a pocket-rocket like Cheslin Kolbe assert himself on a Test match like he did at the weekend, not just in attack but also with devastating accuracy on defence.

In an era when players are bigger, faster and stronger than ever, Kolbe, at just 171cm and 73kg, is proof that there is still a place for smaller, lighter players whose gifts are speed and footwork rather than raw brawn and power.

Kolbe's role in this current Springboks set-up is incredibly important, too. Given South Africa's rush-defence strategy, Kolbe must time his spot tackles perfectly but then also be prepared to return to his wing immediately and make a follow-up tackle if the situation arises.

And that's exactly what happened on several occasions with powerhouse All Blacks winger Rieko Ioane, who Kolbe helped keep to just 22 metres in Wellington. The Springboks winger chopped him down time and time again and, incredibly, completed 13 tackles. Of the other three wingers on the paddock, the next highest was four.

But he also outjumped the taller Ioane to catch a box-kick, had Owen Franks clutching at thin air with a beautiful step, before providing the break and kick that saw Herschel Jantjies cross for a try that would tie the match with Handre Pollard's conversion.

He also felt the full force of a Retallick hit, but quickly jumped back to his feet and went back to work.

Ultimately, Kolbe was nothing short of sensational on Saturday night and he clearly has the game to be one of the star attractions at the World Cup later this year.


Ball-carriers at last have Wallabies going forward

Marika Koroibete, Samu Kerevi and Isi Naisarani have seemingly all but secured their places in the Wallabies' first-choice backline for the World Cup, the trio at last giving Australia the kind of ball-carrying that bends defensive lines.

While the Springboks can afford to have a pint-sized player like Kolbe in their line-up, and watch him flourish due to their big forward pack that does the hard work elsewhere, the Wallabies have long lacked ball-runners who can achieve a similar result.

But just two Tests into his international career, Naisarani looks to be that player up front for the Wallabies. At No. 12, Kerevi has made the most of his two games at his preferred position.

Koroibete, meanwhile, gives Australia speed on the edge, something he used to burn through a gap that led to the Wallabies' only try, and also hurried back in cover defence when the Pumas had success on the counter.

Each player, however, also has weaknesses that must be ironed out before the Wallabies' World Cup opener on September 21.

For Kerevi, ball security and defence should be the focus after he again dropped a trio of balls cold and slipped off a couple of tackles; though his defence was an improvement on the Springboks Test that saw him miss four tackles.

Koroibete remains a liability when he looks to kick and needs to improve his passing skills while Naisarani must be mindful of going a step too far in contact. The No. 8's leg-drive is undoubtedly one of his strongest assets but that is tinged by the need to ensure he gets to ground and doesn't commit a maul turnover as has been the case in each of his first two Tests.

Back-to-back Bledisloe Cup Tests will be the true indicator of the trio's value, but all signs are trending upwards right now.

Pumas' Springboks encounters are vital

Argentina aren't far away, that Mario Ledesma can be sure of.

Having gone down to the All Blacks by just four points before the weekend's six-point loss to the Wallabies, the Pumas have proven they have the game to mix it with anyone come the World Cup.

But it's vital they win at least one of their back-to-back Tests against the Springboks, and in doing so work out how to close Test matches out.

The Pumas have, essentially, lost that winning feeling.

Ledesma will lament a number of final passes that hit the deck against the Wallabies after they made 10 clean breaks and were able to bust tackles and offload at a greater rate than their opponents.

But 30 turnovers are far too many at the game's highest level; 19 and 13 turnovers for the All Blacks and Springboks from Saturday's earlier game reflecting the improvement that's required in the Pumas' game.