AUCKLAND, NZ – Hope you all enjoyed the week off from The Rugby Championship. Around the world there was a bunch of rugby action, which you can read about here for a global recap and here if you’re into the French domestic scene. The All Blacks, Wallabies, Springboks and Pumas all used the week off to fine tune their systems for a pretty crucial round as the teams swap opponents for matches in NZ and Australia. Before we have a look at this week’s action, it’s time for a couple of:
One name who will be missing from the team sheets is Wallaby utility back Pat McCabe, who was forced into a shock mid-season retirement after it was revealed he fractured his vertebrae in the last test match against the All Blacks. This straight up sucks for a a guy who was respected by all as a no-nonsense player who had had an outstanding season in Super Rugby. McCabe had previously injured his neck twice before and this latest set back was devastating enough to force him to pull the pin on his career. Good luck for the future, Pat.
The big talking point out of the NZ domestic competition, the ITM Cup, this week is a suspension handed down to Waikato and Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna for shoving ref Glen Jackson out of the way while defending his line. Big Ben will get five weeks to think about what he’s done in a pretty unprecedented ruling, at least here in NZ. Have a look at the incident here, what do you think? Fair or foul? Jackson was in a very bad position and probably won’t be won’t be making that mistake again, but pushing him over was probably the dumbest thing seen on a rugby field for a long time. Honestly I’m surprised Tameifuna wasn’t given the rest of the season off.
I can’t say I keep up with much Currie Cup rugby, the top domestic comp in South Africa, so this try took a couple of weeks to come to my attention. But man, this is so awesome I had to share it with you. Western Province fullback Cheslin Colbie completely shreds the Northern Transvaal defense with some of the best footwork you’ll ever see:
Right, on to the test matches. The action kicks off on Saturday night here in NZ in the city of Napier, where the All Blacks will go into battle against Los Pumas at McLean Park. #NZLvARG
The Argentines are yet to beat the All Blacks, but had their best ever result ever back in 1985 when they managed a 21-all draw in Buenos Aires. The tour was a hastily arranged one by the NZRU, who had been planning on touring South Africa but had it blocked by legal action by the anti-apartheid movement. I’ll cover more of this when the All Blacks take on the Springboks.
Since then the closest result was a 20-17 loss in 2001, with the All Blacks needing a try in the dying stages to snatch what would have been a famous victory. Ironically the try was scored by fullback Ben Blair, who will hardly go down in history as a name most NZ rugby fans would revere as a great player.
The last two games between these two sides on NZ soil were both played in atrocious conditions and ended in comfortable but fairly forgettable wins for the home side. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the weekend is looking pretty bleak and there’s every chance this game may go the same way.
This match sees one big change in the All Blacks lineup, with the coveted first five jersey getting given to Beauden Barrett for the first time. While Barrett has started two of his 20 tests, they were both at fullback. He comes in for an injured Aaron Cruden, although there was every chance he was going to be given this test match anyway. For those unfamiliar with him, his running game is what has got many excited as he has no qualms about taking the ball to the line and offers a seemingly more physical presence than Cruden. Another change sees Israel Dagg return to the fullback position and Ben Smith shift out to the wing. Dagg has been a bit of an enigma this season, going missing for the Crusaders till late in their campaign where he did enough for a recall to the All Blacks. He gets a chance to show his wares on the field where he first made a name for himself with Hawkes Bay. If the predicted rain does arrive, look for the forwards to control possession to give Barrett a decent platform to kick often. The All Blacks will take the opportunity to use this test to work moves off set piece, given Los Pumas susceptibility in this area. Ma’a Nonu’s return will see him do a lot of work up the middle and probably end up kicking a fair bit too, while Julian Savea will be a constant threat on the left wing. The big test is up front, where the All Blacks would’ve taken a keen interest in Los Pumas demolition job of the Bok scrum in the last two tests. The full team is:
All Blacks: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Bench: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
Los Pumas biggest test will probably be containing the All Blacks loose forwards and it’s in those positions they’ve made changes of their own: Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe replaces injured blindside Pablo Matera and Leonardo Senatore starts at number eight. The tight five will be fairly confident as a result of their afore-mentioned heroics, however the key to an unlikely victory will lie in their halves. First five Nicolas Sanchez has been in sensational form so far in the comp and will need to have the game of his life and will need halfback Martin Landajo to probably have his too. Argentina, like most teams that play the All Blacks, firstly need to actually believe they can win otherwise this will be a wasted trip. The full team is:
Los Pumas: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Lucas González Amorosino, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Bench: 16 Matías Cortese, 17 Luca Noguera Paz, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Rodrigo Báez, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Santiago González Iglesias, 23 Juan Imhoff.
Prediction: Both these sides were very good in their last outings, but the main difference is that the All Blacks laid waste to the Wallabies and Los Pumas still managed to lose to a very poor Springbok team. Even if the rain does come down, this should be a comfortable win for the home side. All Blacks by 20.
Man to watch: Beauden Barrett has a chance to stake his claim for the future of the All Black 10 jersey. His goal kicking and tactical play will need to be spot on to win him favour with the selectors.
The big match of the weekend is over in Perth straight after, where the Wallabies welcome the Springboks to Patersons Stadium. #AUSvRSA
This one is crucial of the survival of the Wallabies in the tournament, a loss here would see them embarrassingly fall off the pace after only three rounds. Like the All Blacks, they’ve made a change at first five, however Kurtley Beale has very much been dropped for Waratahs hero Bernard Foley. He’s joined by fellow New South Welshman Nick Phipps inside of him, but the real crisis is at hooker, where James Hanson gets a start for the injured Nathan Charles, making him the third choice player in that position so far this year. Tevita Kuridrani comes into the centre position, pushing Adam Ashley-Cooper out to the wing and Captain Fantastic Matt Hodgson of the Force gets a spot on the bench and will receive a deafening ovation from his home crowd if he takes the field. The full team is:
Wallabies: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper.
Bench: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 James Horwill, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Matt Hodgson, 22 Nic White, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Going back to the drawing board would be an understatement for the Wallabies after their drubbing two weeks ago in Auckland, it’s probably more fair to say they looked up drawing board in the dictionary and started from there. Like Barrett, Foley will be wanting to keep the first five spot for as long as he can so expect a similar sort of approach from him. Of course, expect the Wallabies to utilize Israel Folau early and often, he was their best by a long way in the last test.
Meanwhile the Springboks are very much in a mindset that they can’t get much worse, despite somehow winning their last two matches. Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira gets a start to shore up their front row that was systematically dismantled by Los Pumas, but Bismarck du Plessis pays the price, getting replaced by Adriaan Strauss. In yet another change in the number 10 jersey, experienced campaigner Morne Steyn gets the nod over youngster Handre Pollard. The full team is:
Springboks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (capt), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Bench: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Damian de Allende.
The Springboks simply need to start playing as a team and pretty quick if they are to have any chance in this game. Their normally reliable set piece has deserted them and they’ve had to rely on individual brilliance and a healthy dose of luck for their results so far. Perth has been historically a friendly city for them to play in and they did defeat the Wallabies in both matches last year, so at least they have a bit of history going for them. Plus winger Bryan Habana will be playing in his 100th Test, making him only the fourth Springbok in history to reach this milestone. The others are Victor Matfield (113), John Smit (111) and Percy Montgomery (102).
Prediction: Very tough to call, mainly because these teams are so much more capable of what they’ve shown so far. However, I think it’s the Aussies who would’ve benefitted from the week off the most and should get up in close one. Wallabies by 3.
Man to watch: Bernard Foley has made no secret that he’s unhappy at being overlooked for the first two tests in the first five jersey, so expect a huge game out of him.
There it is folks, we’re cocked, locked and ready to rock for another week in The Rugby Championship. Any thoughts on the predictions?
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