Rugby Union

Australia may have won the Rugby Championship but every team has learnt a lesson

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The Southern Hemisphere's Rugby Championship concluded on the weekend with two shocking results after a tournament to give plenty of food for thought.

Australia have taken the title for the first time since the last run-in to a Rugby World Cup and Argentina cemented their most historic win with an impressive physical display. But what will the rest of the world take from the last four weeks?

The results mean nothing

Every team will be wanting to build momentum over the summer and the losing sides will have plenty to ponder ahead of rematches this coming weekend, but that being said; the score lines from several matches tell a different tale to the reality.


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Are Australia now the best side in the world? Are South Africa the whipping boys of the south? Are Argentina a real threat in 2015? Meaning no disrespect to the Pumas, but I think no to all the above.

The performances mean little

This was by a wide margin the most vulnerable New Zealand have looked for multiple years. They will never field a bad side but this championship was a low point for Steve Hansen's tenure.

You have to believe they will be firing on a least one more cylinder come the knockout stages of the World Cup. Although it will give the other top nations heart to see them pushed to the limit and beaten in consecutive weeks.

South Africa were arguably the better side in their first two outings despite late losses. They were fielding a very young team which seem not to know how to seal a win at test level quite yet.

That will be a major concern moving forward, and the capitulation against Argentina will do nothing to assuage this. But taking everything in isolation, it looked like they had the reigning World Champions' number; they just dialled it wrong. Things will be different in the Autumn.

Impressive young talent

New Zealand fielded the two form attacking threats in Super Rugby for international debuts to great effect. Unfortunately the phenomenal Waisake Naholo's injury will keep him out of the Rugby World Cup, but the sensational footwork of Nehe Millner-Skudder will provide a more than suitable replacement.

Despite a lack of experience contributing to South Africa's worst ever Rugby Championship, the individuals they have introduced to the international arena will have also put defence coaches on notice.

Lood de Jager stood out ahead of his more esteemed lock partner Eben Etzebeth showing his ball carrying threat near the line. Damian De Allende was a wrecking ball all tournament and his new centre partner/wing Jess Kriel showed that he is here to stay.

"The rest of the world now knows who Jesse Kriel is " Bob Skinstad.

Australia have no idea what their best back-line is... and it doesn't matter

With the sensible re-inclusion of Matt Giteau into the squad, the selection headaches for Michael Cheika are extensive; but probably not too troublesome. With three or four players who can all play fly-half or centre, the possible combinations are many.

All with slightly different attributes, but all such fantastic individual talents that it doesn't seem to cause too much disruption. Israel Folau at full back is the only guaranteed position, and Adam Ashley-Cooper's strike rate is making sure there is always space for him somewhere.

The gap is closing

It is harsh to compare the two tournaments given the different formats of timing and travel, but the overall standard of the Six Nations Championship was higher than their Southern contemporaries this year in my opinion.

Where the top nations in Europe displayed progress and consistency in attack and defence, the top two in the world showed cracks that have been inconceivable for the last two years. South Africa have now won only four of their last 11 matches, losing four in a row for the first time since 2010.

They have subsequently slipped to fifth in the IRB World Rankings. And any loss for New Zealand is newsworthy. Especially this loss where they weren't facing a team that was rampant from the start, like their other two losses since 2011, but simply seemed unable to reach that higher gear that takes them 14 points away in the blink of an eye.

They showed against South Africa that they still have the nous to win the close ones, but their stuttering performances will make Ireland hard to overlook as potential favourites for the big one.

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