With the new Rugby Championship campaign upon us we have the lowdown on each team aiming to compete for the title.
From the star man to the strengths and weaknesses of each team, we have you covered.
Who do you think will win?
Coach: Daniel Hourcade
Last season record: Played: 6; Won: 1; Lost: 5;. Points For: 129; Points Against: 216; Points Difference: –87
Overall Rugby Championship record: 2012: 4th; 2013: 4th; 2014: 4th; 2015: 3rd; 2016: 4th
Championships won: 0
Star man: Nicolas Sanchez. The skillful playmaker is an astute distributor as well as deadly accurate when kicking for the poles. He’ll keep the scoreboard ticking over with penalties while also setting up five pointers.
One to watch: Marcos Kremer, The 20-year-old lock boasts a 1.96m, 115kg frame which he uses to impose himself on opposing teams. Made his debut off the bench last year but expect more from him this season.
Strengths: The Pumas have fast and athletic players spread across the park. They play an aggressive and exciting style of rugby and have the players to execute some extraordinary skills. A test involving Argentina is never dull.
Weaknesses: Argentina’s traditional strength has always been their set-piece and especially their scrum but in recent seasons Hourcade has taken them away from those pillars to develop a more mobile ball in hand approach. When it works it’s spectacular but often it misfires leaving them on the wrong end of big scorelines.
Verdict: The Pumas refusal to select overseas based players, like No8 Facundo Isa, means they miss out on some class they sorely require. They will be entertaining but as good as they are at scoring tries, they are just as poor at defending them.
Coach: Michael Cheika
Last season record: Played: 6; Won: 3; Lost: 3; Points For: 119; Points Against: 147; Points Difference: –28
Overall Rugby Championship record: 2012: 2nd; 2013: 3rd; 2014: 3rd; 2015: 1st; 2016: 2nd
Championships won: 1 (2015)
Star man: Michael Hooper. The new Wallabies captain is consistently Australia’s best player, anything good they do usually begins or ends with him.
One to watch: Izaack Rodda. The second row has been like a revolving door under Cheika, and the latest to get his chance alongside Adam Coleman is the rugged Reds 20-year-old.
Strengths: When they put it together the Wallabies can play some attractive rugby. With the forwards on the front foot and the backs getting some quick ball, Bernard Foley and Israel Folau can cause havoc in the opposing defensive line. Adam Coleman is an imposing presence at lock and is one of the few world class players in the current line-up.
Weaknesses: Far too inconsistent, lack of self-belief and bad option taking. Australian Rugby is a mess and the Wallabies reflect that. They might come up with a few good patches, like when they raced to a 10-0 lead over England in Brisbane last year, but then due to the three factors noted above, they fall apart – as they did in that Test, losing 39-28.
Verdict: Home wins over Argentina and South Africa and not getting flogged by too much by the All Blacks will be an acceptable result. Expectations are very low Down Under.
Coach: Steve Hansen
Last season record: Played: 6; Won: 6; Lost:0; Point for: 262; Point Against: 84; Points Difference: +178.
Overall Rugby Championship record: 2012: 1st; 2013: 1st, 2014: 1st; 2015: 2nd; 2016: 1st
Championships won: 4 (2012, 2013, 2014, 2016)
Star man: Take your pick – Brodie Retallick, Kieran Read, Beauden Barrett, Codie Taylor – and he’s just the reserve hooker! Theyhave stars all over the park.
One to watch: Ngani Laumape. In just his second year since switching from the Warriors, the Hurricanes outside back is fast and has an excellent eye for the tryline.
Strengths: Where do we start – the front row, the second row, the loose forwards, the halfs, the centres and the back three. That about covers it. The All Blacks are superb in every position and well deserve their world No1 ranking. The only team who can challenge them at the moment is England and they don’t play in the Rugby Championship.
Weaknesses: It’s unconfirmed but there are reports that they are actually human. Seriously, the Lions showed that with a big physical pack and committed defence the ABs can be rattled. The problem is they have the best pack in the tournament and once they get on top, good luck!
Verdict: Will cruise to their fifth crown in six years. They will be especially fierce against Australia – there is not a lot of love lost between the old enemies. The Boks may push them in South Africa, but even that is a remote possibility.
Coach: Allister Coetzee
Last season record: Played: 6; Won: 2; Lost: 4; Points for; 117; Points Against: 180; Points Difference: -63.
Overall Rugby Championship record: 2012: 3rd; 2013: 2nd; 2014: 2nd, 2015: 4th; 2016: 3rd
Championships won: 0
Star man: Malcolm Marx. The Lions hooker is mobile and skillful and solid at the set piece. Also has a regular knack of scoring tries.
One to watch: Andries Coetzee. 27 is late to make your Test debut but the Lions full-back is rewarded for consistent performances in Super Rugby.
Strengths: The line-out is impressive, led by stand-in captain Eben Etzebeth, and offers both a solid platform for attack and a good opportunity to attack opposition ball. The Boks also have pace outwide and if they get momentum can be difficult to contain.
Weaknesses: Inconsistency. The memories of last year’s disastrous season still cut deep and if the Boks start to lose parity upfront they can be quickly put on the back foot. Defensively they have a habit of falling off tackles and can surrender a lot of points.
Verdict: The Boks certainly look in much better shape than last year and on paper are the second best squad in the tournament but there is a big gap between them and the All Blacks.
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