AUCKLAND, NZ – A week off in The Rugby Championship meant that the All Blacks, Wallabies, Springboks and Pumas got a chance to reset and look forward to the final stretch of the competition. The All Blacks currently lead and are firm favourites to retain their crown, which they have held for the past three years. However, it hasn’t been all plain sailing for them on the bye week, as you’ll read about in my…
The big talking point here has been the drunken antics of All Black first five Aaron Cruden, who hit the beers a bit too hard last weekend in Auckland. Cruden slept in and missed the flight the next day to Argentina, causing coach Steve Hansen to drop him from the squad entirely for the next two matches against Los Pumas and the Springboks. The general feeling here is one of disbelief, Cruden hardly seems the type to do something like this, so suspicion has been running rife that Beauden Barrett spiked his drink.
The main news out of South Africa is the talk of implementing racial quotas into the Springboks from next season onwards. This has had an unfortunate twist on the selection of Cheetahs flanker Oupa ‘Tebo’ Mohoje, a black player, as a replacement for the injured Francois Louw. A lot of media reports have stated that coach Heyneke Meyer’s hand was forced, which is a little foolish as Mohoje has been in the Springbok squad all year and is definitely there on merit. Hopefully this doesn’t mean that the same questions are raised about black players getting selected in the future.
Kickoff for the weekend is at Newlands in Cape Town, where the Springboks welcome the Wallabies. #RSAvAUS
The Boks will be more than happy to be back home, where they’ll be looking for revenge for their rough one-point loss to the Wallabies back in round 3. This is a must win game for them if they want to force the next test against the All Blacks into a playoff for the title like last season (however they are also relying on Los Pumas either beating the All Blacks or keeping the score low). As noted above, Mohoje has come in for Louw, but another big change sees Francois Hougaard start at halfback for the injured Ruan Pienaar. He’ll look to link with the rapidly improving Handre Pollard at first five. The Boks have gone old-school in the locking department, with veteran Bakkies Botha coming onto the bench and his old mate Victor Matfield starting. The team is:
Springboks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 HandrË Pollard, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Tebo Mohoje, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 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 Bakkies Botha, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 JP Pietersen
Meanwhile, the Wallabies hooking crisis has not gotten any better, with 5th choice Saia Fainga’a getting the cursed number 2 jersey for this test. Other than that it’s a mostly unchanged lineup for the visitors, whose last performance against Los Pumas could be charitably described as ‘patchy’. To be fair, the Wallabies have never really looked like hitting top gear so far in this comp, their win against the Boks in Perth was very lucky. They’ll need to have their best performance to avoid copping a Bok backlash in this match. The team is:
Wallabies: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Bench: 16 James Hanson, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 James Horwill, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Nic White, 22 Kurtley Beale, 23 Rob Horne.
Prediction: The Boks are always far more threatening when they play at home and a big crowd in Cape Town will spur them on to victory here. If the Wallabies don’t assert themselves early, they could be on the end of a flogging. Springboks by 16.
Man to watch: Bok fullback Willie le Roux has been a bit quiet while his wingers Bryan Habana and Cornal Hendricks have had the limelight. Look for him to inject himself a bit more on the counter-attack.
The other match of the weekend sees Los Pumas host the All Blacks at Estadio Ciudad de La Plata in Buenos Aires. #ARGvNZL
Los Pumas come in with a mostly unchanged team that had a strong finish last time out against the Wallabies. They’ll be buoyed by their fightback in that test and their creditable performance in Napier against the All Blacks, but history points to a comfortable All Black victory. While most would pick the Argentine’s best chance to get off the mark in The Rugby Championship would be at home, their record against the All Blacks on home soil is pretty poor. The team is:
Los Pumas: 15 JoaquÌn Tuculet, 14 Juan Imhoff, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan MartÌn Hernandez, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan MartÌn Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Benjamin Macome, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 AgustÌn Creevy, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Bench: 16 MatÌas Cortese, 17 Lucas Noguera Paz, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 MatÌas Alemanno, 20 Rodrigo B·ez, 21 MartÌn Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.
The All Blacks, on the other hand, have had their most disrupted buildup to a test in a while. Aside from the Cruden comedy/drama, hooker Dane Coles will be out of the lineup as he is back in NZ with his wife and newborn baby. This means a huge call up for Nathan Harris from the Chiefs, who is added to the bench and veteran Keven Mealamu gets the start. Harris will most likely make his debut as Mealamu’s legs will need to take a rest if he’s to start next weekend in Johannesburg. Malakai Fekitoa comes in to second five for Ma’a Nonu, who is out for the remainder of 2014 with a broken arm. This game is also notable for captain Richie McCaw equalling the All Blacks all-time appearance record of 133, held by the legendary Sir Colin Meads. The team is:
All Blacks: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Bench: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Cory Jane.
Prediction: Despite the disruptions, the All Blacks should take this one running away. They’ll pick up where they left off in Napier and Wellington and look to score four tries and wrap up the title a week early. All Blacks by 20.
Crucially, the weather forecast for both matches this weekend is for sunny weather (does it ever rain in Argentina?), so the handling errors that have been rife in the comp so far will hopefully be at a minimum. All Black games in Argentina are a rare treat for fans back here as the kickoffs are at a generous 10-11am Sunday morning our time, which means we can watch the game while having breakfast. And maybe a beer, but probably not as many as Aaron Cruden.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.