Almanac Rugby – Lions tour ends, Bledisloe begins

International rugby kicked off in 1871 when England traveled to Edinburgh for a match against the Scots. The Calcutta Cup, as the rivalry was to become known, presaged a tradition that would be replicated in other sports spawned from the green fields of the Old Dart, particularly association football and cricket.



While some diehard fans cling to the tradition of the Calcutta Cup, it has largely been absorbed into the transnational competition that we know as the Six Nations of today.



The greatest international rivalry for the past century or so has been the Bledisloe Cup. No other nation on nation contest quite matches it, despite the protestations of South African fans about their battles with the All Blacks. The only thing that has come close to it has been the regular tours of the Britsh and Irish Lions of the great Southern lands every four years.



On Saturday, the Bledisloe combatants resumed hostilities in Auckland while the Lions finished their tour of South Africa. The Eden Park contest proved to be a great showcase of the game. The other, less so.



In Aaron Smith’s milestone 100th test, the All Blacks made a lot of uncharacteristic errors to allow the Wallabies to get into the game. The visitors made a fair fist of using the ball in hand and competing on even terms in general play. Soft skill errors weren’t being punished because the hosts were coughing up their fair share of the ball too.



A nice move put Kellaway over in the 35th minute and many fans on this side of the ditch enduring lockdowns could see a way of breaking our Eden Park hoodoo. The relentless AB pressure got them a try on the halftime siren to swing momentum back their way.



As feared, it was a different NZ team early in the second half. Controlling the tempo of the game, they cashed in with three additional tries in thirteen minutes. Game over.



Like they had done in the French series, the Wallabies showed a lot of character to play with gusto and flair in the last ten minutes to get two more five-pointers and close the gap to a respectable margin. The final scoreline of 33-25 reflects the fact the better side won but the Wallabies can take heart that having to do it all over again on Saturday at Eden Park is perhaps not as daunting as we may have feared.



The third and final test of the Lions tour of South Africa was a very different kettle of fish. The stats sheet says that the Springboks should have lost this game. Their turnovers and missed tackles alone should have translated to around a ten-point buffer for the tourists, rather than a three-point win. Alas, the Boks have mastered a game style that can mask these failings. Constant negative play and intimidation at the breakdown allow their golden boot in Morne Steyn to kick them to glory.



For their first major hit-out since winning the World Cup, the record books will show the Springboks won the series against the Lions – something neither the Wallabies nor All Blacks were able to achieve in their last attempts. On paper that looks impressive but it won’t win them any new fans, though, that’s for sure.



Next weekend, the Rugby Championship takes centre stage in world rugby with the second Bledisloe and the Boks hosting Los Pumas from Argentina. Our amigos from South America were the spark last year for the tests played in Australia.  This punter is certainly hoping they can pull off an upset.



Speaking of upsets…Wallabies by two. Go you good things.




The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in 2021. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE



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Grew up playing the rugby codes in suburban Sydney. Moved to Melbourne during the Carey era so becoming a Shinboner was the natural call. Still love the game they play in heaven. Took an interest in MLB a few years back and have become infatuated with America's pastime.

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