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Talking points ahead of final round of Rugby Championship

Talking points ahead of final round of Rugby Championship

Steyn

The most unpredictable Rugby Championship in history will draw to a close this weekend with all four teams mathematically still in the title hunt.

Realistically, it will come down to New Zealand and South Africa, as most would have predicted before the tournament started, but only after some major twists along the way.

With the Bledisloe Cup already secured thanks to the dramatic win in Melbourne, Ian Foster’s All Blacks will now hope to clinch the Rugby Championship title at Eden Park, where they are unbeaten in 28 years.

A bonus-point win over the Wallabies would give them the best possible chance of taking the crown, but the Springboks will have their destiny in their own hands when they host Argentina later in the day.

Currently the teams are both sat on 14 points, with the All Blacks 13 points better off in points difference.

Australia, on 10, and Argentina, on 9, are also theoretically still alive with the potential for all four teams to have won three, lost three by the end of the Championship.

Can New Zealand finish the job?

It is testament to the All Blacks’ enduring legacy that even in what has been one of the most challenging years in the country’s rugby history, they are still favourites to take the Rugby Championship title.

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Jordie Barrett’s last-gasp try in Sydney means that they currently top the table, and the versatile three-quarter will have an important role to play in a new position in Auckland. With David Havili and Quinn Tupaea both absent, Barrett has shifted to inside centre, with brother Beauden coming into the new-look backline at full-back.

Sam Whitelock takes over the captaincy in the absence of Sam Cane but the return of Ardie Savea should boost a back row that also sees Dalton Papalii get a shot from the off.

The Wallabies, still smarting from that Melbourne loss, have made just two enforced changes, Harry Wilson coming in for the injured Rob Leota, with Rob Valetini shifting to blindside, while Cadeyrn Neville takes over from Matt Philip in the second row.

And after a stunning 24-point comeback fell just short last Thursday, Dave Rennie’s team will be eager to dent New Zealand’s title bid in revenge.

Will Steyn guide South Africa to the title?

The big question for South Africa will be how they cope at fly-half, with Damian Willemse the latest player to miss out.

He had already been forced into an unfamiliar role with Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies absent and now it is up to veteran Frans Steyn to take the reins.

The two-time World Cup winner does not lack for experience, but he has not started a Test at fly-half in more than a decade.

South Africa will have the advantage of going into their clash with Argentina in Durban knowing exactly what they need to do.

The last-minute try in Argentina from Malcolm Marx kept their destiny in their own hands but it is also true that for a time, it looked like Argentina would come back and win that match, let alone give up the bonus point.

Argentina

Los Pumas are bottom of the Rugby Championship table as it stands, but are aiming for three wins in a single edition for the first time ever.

With the competition’s top points scorer Emiliano Boffelli and the return of the prolific Juan Imhoff on the wing, they will not lack for confidence.

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