The stakes are for high this final weekend of the Rugby Championship, with Australia staring down the barrel of an unprecedented finish at the bottom of the table as the key talking point. On the flip side of the coin Argentina are looking to seal their best ever Championship with a third win as they take on the Wallabies in Salta. However, the headline event is the showdown between South Africa and New Zealand in Pretoria with the All Blacks looking to take revenge after their shock defeat to the Springboks in Wellington last month. If you were of the betting persuasion you would no doubt be approaching this weekend’s fixtures with more than just a little trepidation as all four sides have EVERYTHING to play for.
New Zealand face their third game on the road this Championship with the satisfaction of a solid win over Argentina last weekend. South Africa meanwhile will relish the opportunity of seeking to make it two from two against the All Blacks in the thin air of the high veld in Pretoria. They weren’t quite at their best last weekend against a poor Australian side despite ultimately getting a comfortable win, and will know that they will need to ratch it up another few gears if they are to take the fight to New Zealand and come out on top a second time. Both sides are packing some bruising physicality and expect this match to be a punishing war of attrition.
Argentina know they need to up the ante after a fairly dismal performance against New Zealand last weekend. Their set pieces were poor and their general execution was not at the standard that has made everyone sit up and take notice so far in this year’s Championship. As they once more field their strongest team, one would have to argue that they will be very hard to beat in Salta and are unlikely to be as out of sorts as they were last weekend. As we have noted before they traditionally seem to fade out in these last two matches at home, making them that anomaly in world rugby – a team that tends to play better on the road than they do at home. Australia meanwhile know they have to win this match, and that they will face a very frosty return to the land down under should things not go their way on Saturday. Calls are already out for Coach Michael Cheika to start looking for alternative employment, but we still side with those who feel such calls are premature. Nevertheless, there is no denying that Australia are simply not firing as a unit and we will be fascinated to see if they find that missing chemistry on Saturday.
So here are the five key points for each match that we’ve been kicking around.
South Africa vs New Zealand
Saturday, October 6th
It would seem that Springbok/All Black clashes have once more become the stuff of legend after South Africa’s epic win over New Zealand last month. It was a well deserved victory and one which caught us totally by surprise. On this occasion you would think that home ground, much as it did last year in Cape Town, should provide another classic spectacle of Test rugby. Consequently, the anticipation and buzz around this game is akin to a World Cup final, as two of International Rugby’s greatest rivals prepare to battle it out.
Both teams are fielding power house sides, though there are still enough variables in both that we couldn’t help questioning some of the calls. New Zealand in our opinion still possess the greater strike threat, and much as it was in Wellington, South Africa will have to trust that their defensive abilities can once more measure up to the test. The battle of two bruising forward packs though is likely to result in the bench replacements coming on sooner rather than later. Brace yourselves – the impact of some of these collisions may be enough to shatter your TV screens.
How South Africa choose to manage their front row in terms of replacements will be key
We are delighted to see Steven “Ginger Ninja” Kitshoff get the starting berth at loosehead prop for this match. He is consistently one of our favourite Springbok players whose work rate is off the charts. It’s a testament to how good you are when your replacement is the legendary Tendai “the Beast” Mtawarira. Vincent Koch also needs no introduction off the bench at tighthead. In short, South Africa are packing a formidable starting and bench unit. Are Kitshoff and Marx going to be used to make the kind of impact at the start of the game that we usually see with Kitshoff off the bench? We’d argue yes, with Mtawarira and Koch to come in with some legendary defence when the game will really need to be tightened up in the final quarter. New Zealand have some fearsome talents of their own here, but if South Africa’s front row six really deliver on Saturday they could ultimately be the game changers many are predicting them to be.
Marx has to deliver at lineout time in one of the key battles on the field
Probably one of the most important aspects of Saturday’s match will be the lineout, and Marx simply can’t afford to have the kind of off day he has had at times in the Championship. He has two of the best lineout jumpers in the business as targets in the shape of Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert up against an equally fearsome unit in the shape of New Zealand’s Scott Barrett and Sam Whitelock. Marx will have to find his mark consistently, though he will take comfort in the fact that the towering figure of Pieter-Steph du Toit will also be a potential target. Lastly who is RG Snyman likely to replace when he comes off the bench? Definitely some fascinating contests here on Saturday.
Will that Springbok back row click and be good enough to contain New Zealand’s Shannon Frizell?
As we saw against Argentina, Frizell has X-factor written all over him for New Zealand and South Africa’s trio will really need to be sure of each other’s roles to contain him. Siya Kolisi needs to make the kind of metres that we know he is capable of from loose play while at the same time being a menace at the breakdown. Meanwhile Pieter-Steph du Toit and Francois Louw will have to match the physicality of Kieran Reid and Sam Cane, and once more produce the kind of defensive performance that was so key in Wellington. In short, South Africa will need to slow the ball down at the breakdown and really put Frizell under pressure.
Faf de Klerk needs to leave the kicking to Handre Pollard
Don’t get us wrong we think de Klerk is a FANTASTIC player, however, we have consistently been worried about some of his kicks in close play, as they have been rather risqué to say the least. He may be a great scrum half but when it comes to box kicking abilities, a Conor Murray of Ireland he is not. To that degree we can’t help feeling that up to now he has been rather lucky as his kicks have not cost South Africa. In a match that will be so keenly contested as this, then South Africa will want to hang onto possession rather than risk giving it away. Instead de Klerk should leave the kicking duties to Pollard who is likely to be in more space and have a better view of the options at hand.
Once again we have more questions than answers when it comes to the centres
OK we get it, we understand why Sonny Bill Williams is starting, as New Zealand will want the physicality he brings at centre for a match where bruising ball carriers will be at a premium. However, we can’t really understand why he is starting alongside Jack Goodhue. He is much more accustomed to playing alongside Ryan Crotty in an All Black jersey and for such a high stakes game we thought this would have been an obvious choice. Instead Crotty finds himself on the bench. Furthermore we are still not convinced by South Africa’s offering of Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel even though these two performed so well in the match in Wellington. We would have preferred to see Andre Esterhuizen somewhere in the mix for South Africa but he doesn’t even make the bench. Damian Willemse is on the bench and is this the right time to put the promising youngster under the spotlights in such a high stakes match for South Africa? Like we say, way more questions than answers for both sides in this part of the park on Saturday, so we are really looking forward to seeing what lessons are learnt by both sides.
After we got it so spectacularly wrong the last time these two sides met, you can perhaps understand the difficulty we are having in calling this one. The analogy we are using for this one is similar to Ireland’s two games against the All Blacks in 2016. Ireland beat New Zealand convincingly in Chicago, but then went on to lose to New Zealand at home in front of an expectant Dublin crowd. The lesson here? Nobody seems to be able to get back to back wins over the All Blacks even if they have the luxury of playing them at home. So on the basis of history, and the fact that this New Zealand side simply haven’t suffered two consecutive losses to the same side, for as long as we can remember in the recent past (well at least since 2011), we have to honor historical accuracy. As a result in one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes of the year, we are giving it to New Zealand by four points. For the sake of South African supporters who finally have something to get excited about, after a few lonely years in the wilderness, we hope we are proven wrong once again!
Argentina vs Australia
Saturday, October 6th
Australia head into this match with everything to prove, as a team of talented individuals which has consistently failed to deliver this Championship. Argentina meanwhile, despite faltering badly last weekend against New Zealand, will want to finish their campaign in style with back to back victories against Australia. Argentina are painfully aware that last weekend they were a shadow of the team that caused New Zealand such problems in Round 3. Argentina have proven that they can play as a team and produce spectacular results, while Australia have produced some moments of brilliance but they have been too few and far between, while at the same time they have rarely looked like a team who have studied the same playbooks prior to kickoff.
Argentina have kept it simple and as a result are playing much better rugby than they have for the last twelve months, as they have got the basics right and are not trying the kind of complicated and overly ambitious moves we saw so often in last year’s Rugby Championship. However, there are traditional strengths of their game that are creaking badly, most notably their scrum which was for the most part a shambles last weekend. Whether or not a week is sufficient time for Coach Mario Ledesma to fix some fundamental problems remains to be seen.
Australia on the other hand would appear to be trying to play the kind of over complicated rugby that failed so dismally for the Pumas last year. Their front five remains an area of serious concern and should Argentina have addressed their scrum problems this Saturday, then it is likely to be a long afternoon for the Wallabies in Salta. While Australia has a world-class back row contingent of David Pocock and Michael Hooper, the blindside flanker spot continues to be a weak link and up against a Pumas unit which is gelling exceptionally well indeed, it could mean that the whole forward platform for Australia could well continue to prove ineffective. Then there is the whole issue of the composition of the backs for the Wallabies but we’ll talk about that in a minute.
So without any further ado, here’s what got us talking in relation to this match.
A week is not a long time to fix Argentina’s scrum problems, but it still looks more settled than Australia’s
As mentioned above Argentina’s scrum has not been the much feared weapon it once was, and against New Zealand it was made to look decidedly second-rate. Still all was not lost as the return of Ramiro Herrera did bring some much-needed stability once more as on one or two occasions it actually held position as opposed to going backwards. However, as a former front rower himself, Coach Mario Ledesma knows that simply isn’t good enough if you are to seriously challenge the best in the world. Consequently, the best he can perhaps hope for in the space of a week, is that it simply becomes a stable platform on Saturday, as opposed to the devastating weapon it once was for the Pumas. A weapon it will become once more no doubt, but probably not this weekend. However, some much needed stability will at least give Argentina something to work with, especially as Australia don’t seem to be getting any traction here either.
They may have looked off the pace in Buenos Aires, but Argentina’s second row is to be feared
We have to confess to having been disappointed by Argentina’s performance here last weekend. However despite this, Guido Petti still managed to get honorable mention in the global rugby press. Consequently, although it wasn’t the unit that it could have been, it is still more than likely to cause a Wallaby outfit that is rather lacklustre to say the least all kinds of problems. To be honest, Australia’s second row, in their recent matchup on the Gold Coast, seemed capable of nothing more than attempting to niggle Pumas fly half Nicolas Sanchez in off ball moments by continuously ruffling his hair. We’d argue that Adam Coleman who returns for this match is better than that and will pose more of a threat, but Australia will really have to tidy up their game here if they are to be competitive with the Pumas duo in their own backyard.
Australian supporters can breathe a sigh of relief that the Kurtley Beale experiment is over
It just didn’t work, and it would seem that Coach Michael Cheika has realized that Beale is much more effective in the centre channels. Many people, ourselves included, suggested that Matt Toomua should have been starting at number 10, however Cheika has decided that it is time to resort to the tried and trusted figure of Bernard Foley, even though Toomua could fill in from the bench. In our opinion, Cheika is making the right call in doing so. Toomua will not be available to the Wallabies on a tough November tour of the Northern Hemisphere, and the role will be Foley’s. All the more reason to get Foley started once more in a tough encounter on the road as preparation for November.
Where was Nicolas Sanchez last weekend?
After being such a vital component of the Pumas renaissance under new Coach Mario Ledesma, we were really surprised to see him go missing in action against New Zealand last weekend. We are aware that the fly half is prone to the odd shocker and occasionally simply doesn’t show up. We hope that last weekend was his one wobble for the tournament and he will be back to his best this Saturday, even if the Australian second row focuses on rearranging his hair.
Moyano versus Folau – we can’t wait
We, like most Argentinian supporters, are delighted to see the return of Ramiro Moyano for the Pumas. We would have also liked to see Bautista Delguy back but will settle for Matias Moroni on the opposite wing. However, it’s Moyano up against Folau that could prove to be exceptionally rewarding for Argentina. We still hold that Folau is out of position on the wing, and in an already demoralised team, he is not the team player they need. Given Moyano’s ability to sidestep his way through defenders at will, Australia may once more pay dearly for having players out of position on Saturday. The only question remains to be seen how well Moyano stands up defensively if Foley starts peppering high balls down the right wing for Folau, as the Australian clearly has the height advantage. If this is Cheika’s tactic on Saturday and it pays off, then he will surely be given redemption but if it fails then he may well not be making the trip to Japan next year. However, it would be appear to be such an obvious tactic that it is highly unlikely that it will catch Argentina unawares, with the Pumas back row likely to give Foley very little opportunity to put it to use.
We find it really hard to believe that Australia are going to walk away with only one win in this year’s Championship, but by the same token the omens are clearly pointing towards it. If Argentina play like they did when they hosted South Africa at the beginning of the tournament; with the spark they showed in New Zealand and the calm efficiency they showed in Australia last month – then this match is clearly theirs for the taking. We continue to hold that Australia have a great team that just needs to click and once it does they will be a force to reckon with come the World Cup. Their Rugby Championship may end up being a painful learning curve, but there is still more than enough talent in this Wallaby squad to get them back on track in time for next year’s global showdown. Much like the Pumas, the Wallabies tend to peak at just the right time for the World Cup – it would just seem that Argentina have jumped the gun on them this year. Consequently, due to morale probably being at an all time low in the Wallaby camp, as well as being a long way from home, we think that Saturday is just too much of an ask for them against a highly motivated and well-drilled Pumas outfit on home soil. As a result we are handing this to Argentina by four points!
We included our good friends Steve and Gareth’s review of Round 5 from the 1014 on YouTube, so head on over to our TV listings page to catch it. Also this weekend they are doing a second screen commentary on the Springbok/All Black game with some big rugby personalities. So make sure you sync it up with your own broadcast of the game. What an epic group to have in your living room for the match!