A win for the south
IT WAS three from three for southern hemisphere rugby at the weekend. Australia over Wales, New Zealand over Ireland and South Africa over the Poms completed a dominant weekend for southern hemisphere rugby.
Especially comforting were the wins by Australia and South Africa. With limited preparation time, Australia was able to do enough to better the Six Nations champs. And likewise the South African win, coming against Six Nation runners-up, England.
But, the most impressive performance over the weekend was the one delivered by the All Blacks. Do they ever play badly? And do they ever play in an ordinary Test match?
They constantly drag the best out of their opposition on every occasion, and force them to play above their weight. Rather than the All Blacks dropping down to their opponent's level.
One of the issues rugby has (as I've mentioned on many, many occasions) is its lack of consistency in quality: as a spectator, you're overwhelmingly more likely to view a penalty, kick-fest rather than an exciting encounter. But, with the All Blacks, I can't ever remember witnessing a Barry Crocker.
Genia world class
WHILE our depth is a concern, Australia has a knack of developing world-class halfbacks, certainly over the past 20 years or so.
Nick Farr-Jones, George Gregan and Will Genia are not just the best halves in Australia of their era, but world's best players of their era.
Genia's made some questionable decisions early on with a few chip 'n' chases, when keeping the ball was the best option, but overall his passing was sound, with his running game quite spectacular. Nonetheless, have we ever witnessed a more dominant performance by a number 9?
He is a complete halfback, competent in attack and defence, and no doubt has the capacity to captain his country, should he be required.
I wish I had an answer as to why we consistently deliver world-class scrumhalves. Just glad that we do.
Evolution in "running lines" aids the halfback's running game
A highlight of the Wallabies versus Wales Test, and the code since it became professional, has been the improvement, and therefore, importance of the scrumhalf's phase-play running game.
As we saw on Saturday night, having Genia's running game as an attacking option provided numerous benefits to Australia's attack, one being variety. Another is attracting defensive attention which provides extra space out wide.
Phase-play scrumhalf running is, let's be honest, a complex animal.
With defensive lines only required to move back behind the line of the ruck/maul, the half's initial movement is invariably always sideways. He/she needs pace off the mark and runners (and both is even better) to make the option work.
I think the greatest enabling element of the nine's running game has been the understanding and application of running lines by supporting players.
Our halves have always been pretty quick off the mark. What hasn't always been available is runners hitting at pace and at holes in the defensive lines.
There were many examples on offer Saturday night, but Pat McCabe's work off Genia's run for his try is probably the perfect example of the improvement in rugby's "running lines".