The eleventh edition of the Rugby Championship kicks off this weekend with matches in South Africa and Argentina. This will be a short, sharp competition with – as in all World Cup years – the four countries playing each other just one time each. That means there will be three games per country, so every match and every point matters more than usual.
Here is a look at this week’s games with odds from BetXchange.
South Africa VS Australia – Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
When: Saturday, July 8
History is not on Australia’s side here. The Wallabies have never won at Loftus, and while there is a fresh feel around this team thanks to the shocking appointment of Eddie Jones as head coach, it feels like this is way too early for them to turn that piece of history around.
The Rugby Championship is at an awkward time this year. The World Cup is so close that coaches will balance getting their key players minutes and keeping them healthy. They will also need to figure out how to work any potential World Cup bolters into their plans, making this one of the most important Rugby Championship’s in recent memory for the higher-ups at each nation.
South Africa is a menace at home. The defending World Cup champions intend to retain their trophy in France. They will be looking for a statement win here, and they play with a force at Loftus that is way more than the Wallabies will be able to handle.
Expect Australia to show glimpses. They will miss the perpetually injured Jordan Petaia – a player showing incredible form before his latest (wrist) setback – but Quade Cooper at 10 is always a good watch, and their wing pairing of Marika Koroibete and Suliasi Vunivalu is outstanding. Either way, the ‘Boks will have too much and win by double-digits.
Argentina VS New Zealand – Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza
When: Saturday, July 8
This is a massive tournament for the All Blacks. We usually roll into a World Cup with New Zealand on a long unbeaten streak and heavy favorites to win the comp. Instead, they have shown frailties that we don’t expect. Three defeats to Ireland. Defeats to France, South Africa, and Argentina. A draw from a huge position of power against England. This is not the same New Zealand we know, and they need a couple of statement wins in this Rugby Championship to get back the mystique they usually carry.
We know head coach Ian Foster is out after the World Cup. Not playing the South African teams in Super Rugby has led to the game in New Zealand becoming more finesse driven, meaning they struggle when fronted up against power teams. Power is what Argentina is going to give them, and this is going to make this opener a fascinating watch. This is even more true as the All Blacks will be without a number of their Crusaders’ players – their most technically powerful forwards – for this match.
Look for Julian Montoya and the rest of Los Pumas forward pack to go hard at New Zealand at the set piece. This team wants to win every scrum and lineout, and if they get a roll-on in Mendoza, they will feed off of the crowd’s passion. I think the All Blacks will win, but I wouldn’t be at all shocked if this finishes within a try, should a few bounces go the way of the Argentines early on.