As we head into the opening round of the Rugby Championship this weekend we preview each of the four competing nations. New Zealand have dominated the tournament winning five of the six incarnations since Argentina were added to the enlarged Tri-Nations in 2012, but can the Wallabies, Springboks or the Pumas break the All Blacks’ dominance this year?
The All Blacks. Just saying the name can send a shudder up the spine of the most confident opponent. Not only are the All Blacks the best team in the world, as they have been for many years, but they also play the most attractive style – a blend of highly skilled 15-man rugby characterized by fast ball movement combining backs and forwards seamlessly, dominant set-piece, precision and execution at the breakdown and making the right decisions. They are No.1 in the world for good reason.
One of the most intriguing back stories in the lead up to the All Blacks opening match of the Rugby Championship this Saturday has been the debate in New Zealand over who should wear the No10 jersey – Beauden Barrett (right) or Crusaders playmaker Richie Mo’unga. Barrett has worn the crown of the world’s best player for the last two seasons but so good has Mo’unga’s form been in Super Rugby this season, leading the Crusaders to the title, that the calls for change have been growing. Every nation wishes they had these problems.
The young Chiefs playmaker is the perfect utility player for any team. Potent in attack whether at flyhalf or fullback, McKenzie has devastating pace, an eye for the gap and superb distribution as well as a first class kicking game. With McKenzie in his squad it gives the All Blacks so many options as he can slot in at flyhalf or fullback and take over goal kicking duties and do all three superbly.
Where do you start? The All Blacks are superb in every department, with Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick dominating the lineout, a quality back row of Sam Cane, captain Kieran Read and Liam Squire and a scintillating backline from scrumhalf Aaron Smith right through to Rieko Ioane on the wing.
Few and far between. There is a theory that if you can dominate the All Blacks up front they are beatable – but just try to dominate them upfront. They have a world class front row in Owen Franks, Dane Coles or Cody Taylor and Joe Moody plus Whitelock and Retallick completing the tight five. Even if they do take a backward step in the first scrum, which happens from time-to-time the All Black pack will adjust and soon gain dominance.
There is an interesting question around Steve Hansen. Is he merely the coach of the best team in the world or are the All Blacks the best team in the world because he is the coach? There is no doubt he has managed the All Blacks superbly since he took over from Graham Henry in 2012 with a winning record of 91.17 percent (76W, 3D, 6L). Its not his fault he has such extraordinary talent at his disposal.
WHAT THEY SAID
“We’ve just got to go and re-capture the Bledisloe Cup and the attitude has to be ‘take it’ rather than expect it to happen.”
“We’ve got a lot of proud about what’s been done in the past but at the same time you’ve got to go and earn it, earn the right to put a hand on it. Even if we win this week it doesn’t mean we’ve won it.” – Steve Hansen, coach
W W W W W
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD
Know more about Sport360 Application