Rugby Union Expert & Columnist
Stuart Barnes' talking points: All Blacks, Rassie Erasmus, Danny Cipriani, Mathieu Bastareaud and more
Last Updated: 10/09/18 6:22pm
Stuart Barnes looks at the gloomy, the cheery, the deflating and the brilliant from another weekend of packed rugby union action.
1. There are the games in which New Zealand play and there are the rest. The speed and ambition of their game is, I believe, redefining rugby union.
The days when a 70-point Test match was seen as a bit of a basketball match are over. Attack is in the ascendancy. The Kiwis are playing at a pace where even their skill levels are being tested; it makes for errors but when they get it right the opposing defences are overrun.
If you can't beat them, join them. Argentina did just that Saturday morning and while losing the match, they made a major leap in the quality of performance from their win against South Africa. The Pumas need to address their scrum. Do that and keep Nicolas Sanchez fit and they will go a long way in Japan.
2. Maybe it was the proximity of the Australia v South Africa game to the other one; it did not appear to be the same sport. Australia had some crucial - and late - injuries but this does not explain the discrepancy between the matches.
In the defence of both struggling teams, some games you have to win, full stop. This was one of them. Having been run over by the All Blacks, Brisbane was barely half full. Australians like to win, ergo the 'Anyway Anyhow' rule was provoked.
Luckily the opposition was an equally tentative South African team who are not even half as good on the road as they are at home.
3. And now I read Rassie Erasmus stating he might need a win in Wellington to keep his job as Springbok coach. If that is the case this goes down as one of the shortest reigns in history. In an age when patience of clubs and countries are being tested I do understand why the South African boss would say such a thing.
He has a long contract and will be given a decent run at the post. These are early days for him. He also said New Zealand is an easier game for which to prepare because of low expectation levels. That is true.
If the defence is as fragmented as it has been throughout his reign to date, a half century of points is likely unless Wellington unleashes one of its wet and windy specials.
4. There was a time when New Zealand versus South Africa was THE game. It's still big when the venue is South Africa but in Wellington most neutrals will tune in to see whether the All Blacks can provide their usual brand of brilliance.
In some way I am more intrigued by the game on the Gold Coast. Australia will have to take it to the Pumas in the scrum; who would have believed that? Mario Ledesma goes back to an old coaching haunt with a new and exciting team of flyers.
Defeat will be a set-back after Nelson for the one team. It is something Australia dare not contemplate. Another 'AA' day beckons for the Wallabies.
5. Switching hemispheres, let's focus on ...another Argentine. Santiago Cordero has added an attacking edge to Exeter's game. Fabulous feet and a willingness to keep the ball alive rather than go to ground. He adds a different and exciting element to the Chiefs.
Given a fit Cuthbert, Nowell and Cordero, the South American is my number one choice. Fortunately there are plenty of match opportunities for all of them. It's been an impressive start to the campaign with a perennial old favourite of mine, Matt Kvesic, particularly good.
6. On a more deflating note, I thought JP Doyle got it all wrong in Sale on Sunday. He allowed far too much leeway for defensive teams at the breakdown near their own try line.
His cry of 'let it go' is a vital few seconds of reorganisation time while his refusal to use yellow cards for cynical offences near the try line suggested empathy for the team with negative intentions.
He was not the only referee showing a soft side to desperate defences. Maybe some administrators have come up with instructions to limit the number of yellow cards. Teams seeing this example set will push the boundaries until the cards come. The defensive teams will be the ones to prosper. Lord...
7. A cheerier note. Danny Cipriani came up with another wonder pass as well as a more traditional try scoring delivery at the Recreation Ground. He deserves to be in pole position for the England fly-half jersey.
Manu Tuilagi scored a 50-metre blockbuster against Newcastle. He is being touted for England already. Let's wait, please. Right now, Henry Slade is creating an interesting case to continue as 13 in the autumn internationals.
8. The headlines in the PRO14 belonged to the Scarlets who beat the double champions Leinster in West Wales. It was the club/provincial game of the weekend in Britain and Ireland but my PRO14 team of the week has to be Benetton who beat the Blues to make it two from two.
I might be wrong but I do not think any Italian team has ever made such a start. The team from Treviso are picking up where they finished last season. A cause to celebrate.
9. I was fortunate enough to call Toulouse's second win of the season. Two things stood out. The huge influence of Jerome Kaino - the way he played and the example set by the 35 year old for the 40 minutes he played (and the slump that set in when he took his place on the bench) and the wonderful angles of the Toulouse backs.
The back three roamed around the five-metre line like the glory days of Poitrenaud, Clerc and Heymans. It's been too long since we saw such counter attacking from Toulouse.
10. And to finish on a gloomier note...what was Mathieu Bastareaud thinking on Sunday?
I defended him against what I thought was a hasty and hysterical reaction last season but this red card against Castres was the result of an action that was nasty, potentially dangerous and stupid. Just when things were picking up for France...