Fixtures this weekend
South Africa vs Australia – Cape Town
Undoubtedly the fixture of the weekend, as these two sides slug it out to see who really is the second best team in the world after the All Blacks. With the All Blacks most likely clinching the Championship this weekend in Argentina, this match is about standings and developing both national teams for next year’s World Cup. In this regard I commend Heineke Meyer’s selection. He has boldly chosen to blood younger players for whom this kind of big game experience will be invaluable in preparing them for the Rugby World Cup next year. Furthermore in two standout selections he has chosen to continue to favour Jan Serfontein over Damien de Allende at centre and made the bold move of selecting the uncapped Teboho Mohoje at flanker over Schalk Burger.
In the latter selection there has been much talk in the press, mainly outside of South Africa, as to whether this has been based on colour or ability. As far as I am concerned this is insulting to both South African rugby and Teboho himself. While I can understand some in the media jumping to the conclusion that Mohoje has been selected on the basis of color as he is an uncapped Springbok for such an important game, it is nevertheless irrelevant. Were the media asking the same question of white uncapped players at the start of the Championship? For all intents and purposes South Africa has lost the Rugby Championship and as a result the priority is now to use such big games to develop the talent for next year’s World Cup. On the basis of this and Mohoje’s form with the Cheetahs then his selection is more than justified. Let us ignore this pointless debate about the status of the colour bar in South African rugby and instead focus on where the Springboks need to look for a side capable of bringing home the Webb Ellis trophy next year and how to develop the players to do this.
Australia come to Cape Town with a new found sense of confidence that mirrors their initial strong showing against the All Blacks in the first round of the Championship. Despite the schooling they received from the All Blacks in Auckland in the second round of the Championship they have shown that they have a talented side capable of producing results when it matters, as shown by the at home wins against Argentina and South Africa. However if we look closely at those wins, it is evident that this side although talented can be beaten. Let’s face it Australia were lucky to win in Perth against the Springboks, and had South Africa hung on to the ball more, played a smarter tactical game and not been victims of a questionable refereeing decision the score line would not have been in Australia’s favor. In the match against the Pumas, another 5 minutes and the score would have been at least a try if not an outright win for the Pumas as they stormed back against Australia in the second half. Therefore we are looking at a side that JUST wins matches and this in the long term against quality opposition will not be good enough if Australia want to live up to their claim that they are the second best team in the world.
South Africa on the other hand I think will begin to gel and start to get consistently better provided players and management can come to agreement on an effective game plan. If Meyer can stick with a consistent selection in the next few matches that blends new talent and experience, there is no question in my mind that South Africa will be the team to challenge in next year’s World Cup after the All Blacks.
So in short, my prediction is a gruelling encounter that runs close for the first 60 minutes, but with a passionate crowd in Cape Town, I see the Boks pulling comfortably ahead in the last quarter leaving Australia with too many question marks. The weather is expected to be good and with two teams having the ability to play great running rugby, it should be a fast paced game. Either way an exciting contest looms!
Argentina vs New Zealand – La Plata
For everyone who is a Pumas supporter, this match is regarded with some degree of trepidation. In last year’s Championship, after an impressive opening four games the Pumas looked set to continue this form at home in their final two games. Although no one expected them to seriously challenge the All Blacks, everyone was convinced that their last game against Australia would be the definitive match for them where they would take their first win in the tournament. Sadly their last two games at home last year were a total anticlimax and the Pumas exited the Championship with a whimper, with many arguing that their last game against Australia was their weakest performance of the whole Championship.
So this year we watch with bated breath. The Pumas although having no wins so far to show for their efforts this year in the Championship, have played some superb rugby. These last two fixtures at home should be the catalyst to allow them to show the world that they mean business next year at the World Cup. The game against New Zealand will be challenging and given the All Blacks superlative form, no one expects them to win but if they can run the All Blacks close and take this momentum into the game against Australia the following weekend a victory is surely there for the taking.
As for New Zealand, for them the rest of the Championship is merely a formality in terms of silverware on offer as they have for all intents wrapped up the tournament. They have unquestionably been the form team and deserve the title of Champions. However, they will still want to put in a good performance in Argentina as the two teams will be opponents in the pool stages of next year’s World Cup, and the All Blacks are very aware that Argentina will be an even better team by that stage. Furthermore a good effort in Argentina will help New Zealand face South Africa in Johannesburg next week, which is already being billed as one of the games to watch this year. Therefore New Zealand will seek to show that the loss of Aaron Cruden this weekend and his replacement by the exceptionally capable Beauden Barrett means that the All Black machine can easily weather the odd PR mess up and lack of team discipline as they simply have so much depth to call on.
So on the table at the end of the day for both teams is the need to put in a good showing regardless of positions in the Championship. For Argentina it will be to prove to their adoring fans that the hard work of August and September has developed a Pumas side for the rest of the rugby world to reckon with, while for New Zealand it will be consolidation of the world’s best side and to maintain their unstoppable momentum for the curtain call clash with South Africa next week. Let’s hope both sides can deliver!