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Underwhelming tournament comes to an end but leaves the Lions with food for thought

The inaugural Rugby Championship is over, and it leaves me in a bit of a confused state. For so many reasons it was a great tournament, not least due to the introduction of Argentina, yet for so many others it was simply a let down.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere we place Southern Hemisphere rugby on a pedestal. With good reason it must be said, as our results against the major nations of the Southern Hemisphere would suggest that they are far better than us. One win and a draw against Rugby Championship opposition in ten Tests on the summer tours rather underlines the point.

Watching the Championship though, it became hard to fathom how we had been so handsomely beaten by this same opposition. Where I had only a couple of months previously been salivating at the Australian backline and marvelling at the South African power, I found myself watching in recent weeks wondering how on earth the Australians were so short of creativity, how the South Africans could possibly be so one dimensional.

At times it was as though the All Blacks were simply being applauded as they marched towards the winners circle once again, such was the manner that they waltzed past the opposition. The slackness of play made me wonder, do we get so regularly turned over by these sides simply because we go into matches already beaten?

This tournament was about so much more than simply the skills on show though; this was the tournament where Argentina were finally accepted into the elite. They came oh so close to that victory that they craved, the draw with South Africa will be haunting them, but in just being there they were making a statement, being competitive was an added bonus.

Competitive they were though, only ever looking like the new kids on the block in their opening game against South Africa, where nerves clearly took hold, and in defeat at home to New Zealand where they tried to match the Kiwi’s expansive game and found themselves outclassed.

Outclassed by the Kiwi’s. An expression that every single fan the world over has had to become familiar with. The All Blacks moved to 16 Test victories in a row, two short of the record, and it is hard to see them being stopped in the Autumn Internationals.

The opposition may not often have been at their best, but the All Blacks never gave them a chance to be. This All Black side is quite simply just better than everyone else. Nothing could stop the juggernaut, not injury to Dan Carter, the international retirement of Sonny Bill Williams, nothing. They just replace class with class.

They are a pleasure to watch, and when you see tight five forwards flinging the ball around with ease, as theirs do, you realise why it is that they are so much better; they practice the basic skills better and more often that everyone else. Every player is capable of doing the job required of them, wherever they find themselves on the field.

The tournament as a whole then may have been a disappointing one in terms of competition, but to see Argentina involved, and the All Blacks running riot was a pleasure. The British and Irish Lions too will have looked on with great interest, and Warren Gatland was in Argentina last week to watch the Australians.

It is difficult to gauge where the Australians lie, they are in the middle of an injury crisis, and no side could cope easily with the loss of players like Horwill, Pocock, O’Connor and Genia, and with the likes of Cooper and Beale a mile away from top form their absence was felt even more.

What is certain though is that there is some unrest in the camp, it all started with the banishing of Matt Giteau from International rugby a couple of years ago, and was highlighted again with Quade Cooper complaining publicly on twitter about his game being restricted.

Robbie Deans is under a great deal of pressure, and will need a strong Autumn tour if he is to remain in the job for the visit of the Lions. Doubts remain over the solidity of the Wallaby tight five too.

Do not be fooled by all of this though, opposition have a habit of getting things just right ahead of a visit from the Lions and the Wallabies will be no different, at the moment though the signs are good for the men in red.

Onto the Autumn Internationals we go then, it will be over a year of continuous rugby for some of these Southern Hemisphere players. Perhaps I judge to fast.

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