The Rugby Championship Opening Weekend: Argentina, Australia and New Zealand

As tomorrow marks the opening tests of the 2016 edition of the Rugby Championship, it is only fitting to look over Argentina, Australia and New Zealand ahead of each of their first matches. You can find my views on the Springbok team to play tomorrow here.

Argentina, the relative newcomer to the Southern Hemisphere’s most prestigious annual international rugby competition, are the out and out underdogs ahead of the opening weekend. With the lowest overall international ranking out of the four nations competing in the tournament, Los Pumas will have a tough couple of weeks ahead of them.

Argentina recently disappointed in terms of franchise level rugby, as the recent inclusion of Argentine-based franchise, the Jaguares, into Super Rugby did not reap the rewards that Argentinian fans would have wanted. Despite being made up of nearly the entire Argentina national side, the Jaguares only managed four wins in their first season. The poor form of the international players would worry Daniel Hourcade (Argentina head coach), however in their recent matches against France, Los Pumas improved greatly from their form as the Jaguares.

Saturday’s match will also serve as captain Agustin Creevy’s 50th game in the blue and white hooped jersey. This will no doubt have a great effect on the Argentine attitude going into the match against South Africa, as the team would want to make it one to remember for their leader. Argentina would also be buoyed by their previous match on South African soil, as they managed to pull off a famous 37-25 victory over the Springboks at Kings Park in Durban.

Argentina have famously enjoyed set piece play, especially at scrum time, and their powerful forwards will be looking to dominate once more tomorrow. However, it is in the backline where I feel Los Pumas are at their most dangerous, as they boast pacy wingers, a powerful centre pairing, and the player with the most points in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Nicolas Sanchez. I predict an aerial battle early on, with the match opening up to more running rugby as the first half draws to a close.

Argentina will run out as follows:

  1. Francisco Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
  2. Agustin Creevy (Captain)
  3. Ramiro Herrera
  4. Matías Alemanno
  5. Tomas Levaninni
  6. Pablo Matera
  7. Juan Manuel Leguizamon
  8. Facundo Isa
  9. Martin Landajo
  10. Nicolas Sanchez
  11. Manuel Montera
  12. Juan Martin Hernandez
  13. Matias Orlando
  14. Santiago Cordero
  15. Joaquin Tuculet
  16. Julian Montoya
  17. Felipe Arregui
  18. Enrique Pieretto
  19. Guido Petti
  20. Javier Ortega Desio
  21. Tomas Cubelli
  22. Santiago González Iglesias
  23. Ramiro Moyano

 

Now onto the defending champions, Australia…

The Australian fans will be nervous heading into tomorrow’s clash with New Zealand, as the country as a whole has performed poorly as far as rugby is concerned this season. The Australian Super Rugby franchises suffered at the hands of their New Zealand and South African opponents, with only one Australian team making it through to the playoffs (# South African teams and 4 New Zealand teams made it). This run of poor form translated into a poor series against a visiting England side, which saw the Australians loose a home series for the first time, they lost 3-0 (It was also the first whitewash series defeat for either nation).

Head coach, Michael Cheika, is going with a fairly experienced side, and he can find comfort in the fact that a team similar team managed to make it to the World Cup Final almost a year ago. The only possible debutant in the 23 comes in the form of the promising and powerful young prop Allan Alaalatoa. Cheka has also once again opted for the widely successful two fetchers approach that he used in the World Cup, as he is staring with both Michael Hooper and David Pocock.

It will be interesting to see how the Australians will be able to bounce back from their loss earlier this season when they go up against the Rugby World Cup Champions tomorrow. The team to run out to face that challenge reads as follows:

  1. Scott Sio
  2. Stephen Moore (Captain)
  3. Sekope Kepu
  4. Kane Douglas
  5. Rob Simmons
  6. Ben McCalman
  7. Michael Hooper
  8. David Pocock
  9. Will Genia
  10. Bernard Foley
  11. Dane Haylett-Petty
  12. Matt Giteau
  13. Tevita Kuridrani
  14. Adam Ashley-Cooper
  15. Isreal Folau
  16. Tatafu Poloya-Nau
  17. James Slipper
  18. Allan Alaalatoa
  19. Dean Mumm
  20. Scott Fardy
  21. Nick Phipps
  22. Matt Toomua
  23. Rob Horne

Lastly a look at the current World Champions, New Zealand…

The rugby giants of the world have enjoyed a dominance over all facets of Rugby Union for almost a decade now, and have shown little signs of giving up their place as king of the hill. The New Zealand teams in this year’s Super Rugby competition outclassed almost every one of their opponents from start to finish. New Zealand dominated the playoff rounds of Super Rugby (despite the Lions beating 2 of the last 4 New Zealand teams to make it to the final), and ultimately the Hurricanes from Wellington were deserved champions. As a result of this domination by four out of the five New Zealand teams in Super Rugby, All Black head coach Steve Hansen will be very confident ahead the trans-Tasmin clash tomorrow.

It will also go in Hansen’s favour that during the recent test window, New Zealand whitewashed Wales 3-0 in a home test series. In that series, the All Blacks looked in complete control from beginning to end. New Zealand have also enjoyed dominance over Saturday’s opponents, Australia, with New Zealand winning 12 of the last 13 matches between the two rivals.

Hansen has chosen to reward the exceptional form of Beauden Barrett, arguably the best player in the world right now, with the starting no. 10 jersey. Barrett was outstanding in the playoff rounds of Super Rugby, and culminated his incredible run of form with a man-of-the-match winning performance in the Super Rugby Final.

New Zealand did suffer a set-back in their preparations, however, as Hooker Nathan Harris suffered a knee injury in training this week and will be out of action for the remainder of the season. This means that the young Codie Taylor will start tomorrow in his place, with the still not fully fit Dane Coles coming onto the bench (Coles injured his ribs in the Super Rugby semi-final and is still nursing them). This will have very little effect on the match I would imagine, as New Zealand has incredible depth in each position.

The run out team for the All Blacks tomorrow reads as follows:

  1. Wyatt Crockett
  2. Codie Taylor
  3. Owen Franks
  4. Brodie Retallick
  5. Sam Whitelock
  6. Jerome Kaino
  7. Sam Cane
  8. Kieran Read (Captain)
  9. Aaron Smith
  10. Beauden Barrett
  11. Waisake Naholo
  12. Ryan Crotty
  13. Malakai Fekitoa
  14. Ben Smith
  15. Israel Dagg
  16. Dane Coles
  17. Kane Hames
  18. Charlie Faumuina
  19. Liam Squire
  20. Ardie Savea
  21. TJ Perenara
  22. Aaron Cruden
  23. Julian Savea

Please feel free to comment.

 

PS. I just realised that the only captain in the Rugby Championship this year that is not a hooker is Kieran Read.

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