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Southern Hemisphere giants gear up for Rugby Championship return

Southern Hemisphere giants gear up for Rugby Championship return

Southern Hemisphere giants gear up for Rugby Championship return

The biggest competition in the Southern Hemisphere gets under way on Saturday, with plenty of intrigue surrounding the 2022 Rugby Championship.

To say it starts with a bang is an understatement, as world champions South Africa welcome holders New Zealand to the Mbombela Stadium for the 102nd meeting between the two giants.

Argentina then face Australia in Mendoza as former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika looks to get one over his countrymen, who head into the opening day with a litany of injuries.

By the end of September, we’ll know if the All Blacks’ grip on the Rugby Championship, after winning seven of the last nine competitions, will finally be loosened and which team will head into the 2022 Autumn Nations Series in the best shape.

Let’s take a look at the four teams who will be battling it out…

New Zealand

Rarely will a New Zealand side have entered a Rugby Championship under such scrutiny, but an almost unthinkable run of four defeats in five games means the pressure is on the All Blacks to perform.

Ian Foster’s side endured a disappointing 2021 Autumn Nations Series, losing against Ireland and France, and suffering a first-ever series defeat against the Men in Green, on home soil to boot, was not in the script, either.

On the back of such a run, opening their campaign with back-to-back fixtures in South Africa is hardly ideal, but a wounded New Zealand have so often been a dangerous beast.

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New Zealand Rugby have kept faith with Foster and captain Sam Cane and despite their recent struggles, they still have considerable strengths up front in back rower Ardie Savea and second-row pillars of strength Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the scrum, Rieko Ioane and Will Jordan are lethal runners in open field, making the All Blacks an outfit who are still capable of striking from anywhere.

While them lifting the trophy at the end of competition is not the foregone conclusion it perhaps once was, New Zealand will be men on a mission to re-establish their dominance and lift themselves from the unfamiliar position of fourth in the World Rugby rankings.

South Africa

South Africa’s 2021 Autumn Nations Series ended with them being narrowly defeated by England, who gained a modicum of revenge on the Springboks for the 2019 World Cup final.

Their summer series against Wales was just as closely fought, with the two teams trading last-gasp victories before the Boks proved too strong in the deciding Test, winning 30-14.

Hosting an out-of-sorts New Zealand first up is a prospect supporters in Mbombela and Johannesburg will surely relish, as South Africa look for a first Rugby Championship triumph in three years.

Head coach Jacques Nienaber has arguably the most feared pack of forwards in world rugby at his disposal, with the ‘Bomb Squad’ not giving opponents a moment’s piece at the scrum through the 80 minutes.

The likes of Eben Etzebeth, Bongi Mbonambi and captain Siya Kolisi will never take a backward step, which gives a great platform for powerful centres Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am and waspish winger Cheslin Kolbe to profit from.

Eben Etzebeth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Africa’s rise back to the top of international rugby may have been a swift one under Rassie Erasmus and Nienaber, but they’ll now want to show they are the Southern Hemisphere’s new dominant force.

Australia

It has been seven years since Australia’s last triumph in the Rugby Championship, but their hopes of matching the class of 2015 have been hit by a string of injuries that have prevented them from building any real momentum.

Having gone through the 2021 Autumn Nations Series in a weakened state, there was no sign of the Wallabies’ luck changing during their 2-1 summer series defeat against England.

David Rennie’s charges did at least show plenty of spirit in the first Test at Perth, as they shrugged off the red card shown to Darcy Swain and injuries to Quade Cooper, Tom Banks and Alan Ala’alatoa to run out 30-28 winners.

Quade Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, they will be without one of their star performers of that series during the championship after centre Samu Kerevi injured his ACL while playing for Australia’s Sevens team at the Commonwealth Games.

Thankfully for the Wallabies, fly-half Cooper is available again after the calf injury that kept him out of the series against the English, while captain Michael Hooper remains as influential as ever.

Tighthead Taniela Tupou continues to make dents, while battering ram winger Marika Koroibete is often unstoppable when he gets up a head of steam, but bodies are otherwise thin on the ground for Rennie.

Argentina

The dramatic summer series victory over Scotland, sealed by Emiliano Boffelli’s last-second try in the deciding Test, was just what Argentina needed as they looked to put a disappointing 2021 Autumn Nations Series behind them.

While the Pumas were victorious at Italy, they were defeated 29-20 by France and dispatched 53-7 by Ireland – all after finishing last year’s Rugby Championship without a win.

They are, however, adapting to having most of their best players plying their trade around Europe again and having an experienced international operator in charge in Cheika should allow them to rebuild momentum.

It was he who led Australia to their last Rugby Championship title in 2015 and it is against the Wallabies who Argentina will look to end a run of 11 straight defeats in the competition.

Beating the Scottish was a step in the right direction and as well as Bofelli, who has become increasingly influential, the Pumas can call upon talent such as Julian Montoya, Pablo Matera and Santiago Cordero.

Gallo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheika has been charged with maintaining Argentina’s habit of peaking at World Cups and a much-improved display in a competition they have tended to struggle in would be the perfect base to build from.

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