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.
The Rugby Championship, the annual tournament for southern hemisphere rugby supremacy, kicks off this Saturday in Sydney when the Wallabies take on the All Blacks.
Here we look at the big questions facing each team…
Can they attain magic two wins?
Daniel Hourcade’s side are in danger of plateauing after taking a single win in each of his first three seasons in charge and have yet to reap the expected dividend of having most of the squad also playing for the Jaguares in Super Rugby.
It is now 10 years since Argentina’s breakthrough third place at the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France and with the future of southern hemisphere up in the air, the Pumas could benefit from making a statement.
They have plenty of talent all around the park – from hooker and captain Agustin Creevy, to bad boy locks Matias Alemanno and Tomas Lavanini, to skillful midfielder Juan-Martin Hernandez. They just need to put it together on a week-to-week basis.
Will their set-piece return?
Teams feared facing the famed Argentina “badja” or eight-man shove. Whatever you did, you know you would have to deal with that and overcome the Pumas elsewhere on the park.
But that fear has dissipated and Argentina have fallen back to the pack at scrum time. Indeed if you had to pick the strongest pack in the Rugby Championship it would be New Zealand. Argentina have improved their all- round game but to be a real threat their ferocious scrum needs to make a comeback.
Can they keep it simple?
Ever since Michael Cheika was appointed as coach back in late 2014, he has spoken a lot about identity, “playing the Wallabies way”. “We want our fans to know who we are when we step on to the field.”
Three years later and Wallabies fans, and the rest of the rugby world, is still waiting.
It’s all well and good to be ambitious but you also have to know your limitations – and to be frank the Wallabies at this point simply don’t have the cattle to execute an attractive game plan.
It’s like watching a confused infant trying to paint a masterpiece – there is effort there (sporadically) but nowhere near the skill levels or precision needed to execute at anywhere near the level required.
The Wallabies need to go back to basics and stop trying to be the All Blacks – they simply are not good enough to play 15-man Rugby.
Will Kurtley Beale hit the ground running?
When Cheika won Super Rugby in 2014 with the Waratahs a crucial part of the puzzle was the creative playmaker. But ‘KB’ is rushing to be fit in time for the opener against the All Blacks in Sydney.
Beale injured his hamstring playing for Wasps in May before he returned to Australia but, such is his importance to the Wallabies cause, that he was still named in the squad. If fit, the 28-year-old is likely to rekindle his former Waratahs combination with fly half Bernard Foley against the world champions, giving Cheika a dual playmaking option.
How good can the ABs get?
For Test nations across the globe, the British and Irish Lions sharing the series with the All Blacks was a disaster. As thrilling as the series was and as magical to see both teams gathered together for a group photo at the end of the third Test, it was the worse possible result for upcoming opponents.
This was a series New Zealand was desperate to win and you could see in the end the pain etched into coach Steve Hansen’s face.
After winning a Rugby World Cup, numerous Bledisloe Cups and Rugby Championships, this was a career achievement he wanted to tick off on his CV – he was bitterly disappointed that he was not able to do that. As was his squad.
What it means is that any hint of complacency the All Blacks may have carried into this year’s Rugby Championship will have been banished.
The All Blacks feel their crown has been dented and they will want to send a strong statement that they are still No1 and the failure to win the Lions series was just a blip.
Will Beauden get his aim right?
When you are tinkering with perfection the margins are small. But one area where the All Blacks can improve is goal kicking. If, and it is a big if, the All Blacks do get into a shootout then Beauden Barrett’s occasionally wayward goal kicking could be an issue.
He missed some crucial kicks in the Lions series – three in the second Test and two in the decider – that would have given New Zealand the series. In Super Rugby he was even replaced as goal-kicker by his kid-brother Jordie.
But Chiefs sharp shooter Damian McKenzie will most likely be on the bench so if BB’s radar does go awry, help is close at hand.
Have the Boks banished 2016?
Last year was a nightmare for the Springboks, one of the worst on record for the proud rugby nation. They lost eight of their 12 Tests, including the last four on the trot.
The horror run included first ever losses to Ireland in South Africa, Argentina in Argentina and Italy anywhere – and their biggest ever at home, 57-15 to New Zealand in Durban.
The knives were out for Allister Coetzee in just his first season but after a protracted review and the coach’s repeated mea culpas he was given another chance, albeit with a greatly-revised management team.
This season Coetzee, a former Stormers coach in Super Rugby, has finally got the message and his squad has adopted the up-tempo, ball in hand style that has been so successful in Super Rugby for the last two seasons. He has jettisoned many of his previously favoured Stormers players and brought in a host of Lions including full-back Andries Coetzee, hooker Malcolm Marx, lock Franco Mostert, scrum-half Ross Cronje and (injured) captain Warren Whiteley.
The new approach worked well enough in June with three comfortable victories over France but the resolve will now be fully tested in the Rugby Championship.
Will the Boks tackle count benefit from the Venter effect?
Former Springbok, the ‘Mad Doctor’, Brendan Venter clearly has made a significant impact since joining the squad in May as defence coach. Organisation has improved dramatically as they were far more determined against France to play to the best of their abilities in the green and gold.
This was seen in the manner in which they defended across the series, even in the final game where nothing was at stake. But can they do the same when the All Blacks are throwing repeated phases against them.
New Zealand hooker Dane Coles has been ruled out of Saturday’s Test against Australia, with coach Steve Hansen confirming he is again suffering a possible head injury.
Soon after arriving in Sydney on Sunday afternoon, the All Blacks tweeted that Coles would not be considered for the Test, the first in the Rugby Championship.
Hansen said Coles left the field “as a precaution” during last Friday’s game against Counties Manukau and Taranaki in New Zealand, and would be assessed by the All Blacks medical staff while in Sydney this week.
Coles, with 49 Tests under his belt, is New Zealand’s first-choice hooker. But he missed most of the Super Rugby season and the three Tests against the British and Irish Lions because of concussion symptoms following a head knock in March.
His Wellington Hurricanes team-mate Ricky Riccitelli has been summoned to Sydney as a replacement.