Round 1 of the Rugby Championship this year was a little bit of a non-event. The two matches were incredibly one-sided, with New Zealand and South Africa pumping Argentina and Australia, respectively. That makes the first game this weekend especially exciting, with South Africa and New Zealand wanting to lay down a marker with a win over the other heading into France.
Here is a look at this week’s games with BetXchange.
New Zealand VS South Africa – Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
When: Saturday, July 15
The changes for each team in this game are fascinating. The All Blacks get their Crusaders players back, and with that comes a huge change in the No. 10 shirt. Damian McKenzie was as good as any player in a black shirt last weekend, but he has been dropped from the matchday 23 entirely to allow for the return of Richie Mo’unga. This means Beauden Barrett stays at 15, perhaps showing the All Blacks preferred hand before the World Cup.
There are four other changes, with Codie Taylor and Brodie Retallick back in the pack, while Mark Telea and Will Jordan coming onto the wings ahead of Caleb Clarke and Emoni Narawa.
South Africa sent 14 players ahead for this one in a stunning display of their overall strength gien how easily they handled the Wallabies. Ten of those 14 are slated to start here, though Eben Etzebeth is a doubt because of family reasons in what has to be seen as a huge blow given that this was to be the lock’s first match since April.
New Zealand was much better than I expected against an Argentina side that was not at the races. South Africa is a different proposition, and I think the ‘Boks have had this circled on the calendar for a long time. I expect them to out-physical the All Blacks and beat them as the underdog.
Australia VS Argentina – CommBank-Stadium, Sydney
When: Saturday, July 15
In a World Cup year, it is sometimes hard to understand exactly what each game means, especially for Eddie Jones’ Australia side, who persisted with a weird, kick-first tactic even when it wasn’t working. This might be a case of Jones – who was making his Wallabies coaching debut – just testing something with France in mind.
They will do so without their captain if they are to get their first win of the Rugby Championship. Michael Hooper is out of this one and will be replaced in the backrow by Fraser McReight. Samu Kerevi is also back in the side as he is named in the center.
Jones will go against an old foe in former Australia coach Michael Cheika. Cheika has also rung the changes, though his Pumas will look at their win by 31 points over the Aussies in San Juan last year for inspiration. Watch to see how Rodrigo Isgro – an Argentine sevens star who was impossible to tackle on that circuit – does in his debut on the wing.
As bad as the Aussies were last week in Pretoria, they were at least bad with a purpose. Argentina was just bad overall, and I don’t see how that flips in a week. Take the home side and the points.