With the Rugby World Cup just a year away, it’s time for teams to stop tinkering, nail down their selections and look at building some momentum. There aren’t many matches for each side before the showpiece event gets underway in Japan, and the Rugby Championship should be fascinating in that context.
The New Zealand teams dominated Super Rugby, and the All Blacks will always be the team to beat, but if South Africa, Australia and Argentina can be competitive, we should be set for a thrilling World Cup once you add Ireland, Wales, England and France into the mix as contenders.
Here are my predictions for Round 1 of the Rugby Championship.
Australia v New Zealand
The Wallabies always have sufficient quality in the backs, where we’ll see the likes of Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau, with Bernard Foley pulling the strings. Up front is where the issues usually lie, but with David Pocock and Michael Hooper set to be reunited in the back row, the Wallabies will be a force in the breakdown against any team.
The tight five is also looking slightly more competitive, but it lacks the quality of the All Blacks and Springboks, and there’s only so much making up that the rest of the team can do.
The Wallabies won their last test against the All Blacks, and their Super Rugby sides claimed a few kiwi scalps during the season – unlike in 2017 – but you still can’t pick them to win. As the first match of the tournament, New Zealand will be at full strength and determined to lay down a marker – the best team in the world should beat a side that lost a home series to Ireland in June.
New Zealand by 16
South Africa v Argentina
The Pumas were absolutely dreadful in June, losing twice to an understrength Wales team and then being dismantled by Scotland, all at home. It’s something of a mystery how that happens during the best-ever Super Rugby season for the Jaguares, consisting of largely the same personnel.
Meanwhile, the Springboks will be brimming with confidence after their series win over England, and they look more like they know what they are doing under coach Rassie Erasmus. The two matches against Australia will provide a measure of how far they have come – or how far England have fallen – and those games will probably decide second and third on the table.
South Africa by 23
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