Rugby Championship 2019: Round 3 Preview
Australia vs. New Zealand
Venue: Optus Stadium, Perth
Date: Saturday, August 10, 2019
It is Bledisloe Cup opener week and it says plenty about the rivalry between New Zealand and Australia that the Rugby Championship Trophy plays second fiddle to the older trophy.
New Zealand have, frankly, owned this rivalry in recent times and Australia hasn’t claimed an overall Bledisloe Cup win since 2002. Part of the problem has been their slow starts in the series, with losses coming with scores of 42-8 (2016), 54-34 (2018), and 38-13 (2018) over the last three years.
New Zealand will have to win with a bonus point, and hope South Africa fail to win with a bonus point against Argentina, to retain the Rugby Championship trophy.
The biggest news Australia could have had for this game is that David Pocock has returned to the squad after being out of contention since early March with a calf problem. He is not expected to play in Perth, but his presence in the squad and his ability to help the other back rowers through and international Test shouldn’t be underestimated.
The other big news is that James O’Connor will make his first Wallabies start in six years as he pulls on the No. 13 jumper. The hope is that O’Connor will add some creative spark to the Wallabies flagging attack.
New Zealand haven’t looked like their all-conquering best so far in this tournament. That is fine with coach Steve Hansen, though, with his aim being to peak his player’s performance in Japan and not before.
The All Blacks will again run with Beauden Barrett at fullback, Ben Smith on the wing, and Richie Mo’unga at the pivot position on Saturday. It is something Hansen clearly wants to use as a strategy in Japan, so he is trying to give the lineup as much game time as possible together in order to get their decision making and timing to where it needs to be.
New Zealand are the better team here and both history and recent form point to the favourites winning this game. Having said that, they don’t appear to be a dominant force yet in 2019. Look for an away win with a margin in the 6-10 points (4.00 on BetXChange) or 11-15 points (4.50 on BetXChange) feeling reasonable.
Argentina vs. South Africa
Venue: Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, Salta
Date: Saturday, August 10, 2019
South Africa are top of the Rugby Championship table and can guarantee winning the trophy with a bonus-point win in South America. Whether or not that is a good thing depends on your belief in superstition, as no Tri-Nations or Rugby Championship winning team has ever gone on to win the World Cup that same year. After their draw with New Zealand, and there win over an impotent Australian attack, South Africa have put themselves in position to attack that narrative later this year.
Argentina, on the other hand, have no such issues with winning the trophy as they prop up the log with a pair of defeats to show for their campaign. It has been the same old story for the Pumas, with the fact they have a pair of losing bonus points – and just a -10 point difference – testament to them being close in every game without getting over the line.
Argentina coach Mario Ledesma is looking to go back to basics to bring the best out of his Argentina side as they continue their World Cup preparations. This is a country that has always been about big, technically proficient forwards, but that is something the team has gone away from in recent years.
The back play has improved, but it has only done so as the scrum has declined. This was very evident against Australia and it is something that Ledesma will be looking to fix against the powerful South Africans.
South Africa, perhaps predictably, have kept pretty much the same team for this clash. The changes to the team all come in the front row, where Tendai Mtawarir, Bongi Mbonambi, and Trevor Nyakane will pack down. The three front-rowers they replace – including Steven Kitshoff and Malcolm Marx – will look to add impact off of the bench.
Another player looking to provide instant spark will be scrum-half Herschel Jantjies. The two=cap Springbok has been the breakout player of the tournament, with incumbent No. 9 Faf de Klerk now having a perfect replacement to energize the team after 55 minutes or so.
South Africa are the favourites for a reason. Having said that, it is worth noting that Argentina could easily have beaten both Australia and New Zealand with a little more composure at key points in the game. Don’t expect a runaway win here, with South Africa by 1-5 or 6-10 points (both 3.75 on BetXChange) feeling in the right ballpark.