It’s a truncated version of the Rugby Championship this year, with just three rounds of action, and the main interest lies in seeing how each team is shaping up ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
Can anyone beat the All Blacks to give the rest of the world some confidence ahead of September?
Will Argentina kick on from the Jaguares’ performances in Super Rugby, or will their poor international form continue?
How will Australia fare without star man Israel Folau? And will the Springboks continue to improve and build more confidence ahead before the big one?
Here are my predictions for Round 1 this weekend.
South Africa v Australia
The Wallabies have a poor record on South African soil, but they have named a near full-strength team for the opening clash at Ellis Park, with Folau and David Pocock the notable absences. The Boks, meanwhile, are sending their first-choice team to New Zealand for next week’s clash, with several understudies stepping into the breach for this fixture.
Much will depend on Elton Jantjies at 10, so proficient for the Lions but previously unable to translate that form onto the international stage. Perhaps a below-par club season will be the difference this time and he’ll fulfil his potential for the Boks?
It’s a monstrous pack, as usual, and I suspect they’ll win the battle up front, and combined with home advantage at altitude, I’m backing the Boks to win a tight one.
South Africa by 4
Argentina v New Zealand
This match should feature several players from the Super Rugby final a few weeks ago, and with home advantage for Argentina, they might just fancy their chances of a huge upset and confidence boost ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
There has been the odd match between these two teams recently where the Pumas have looked threatening, but then the All Blacks come through relatively comfortably in the end. The last 6 matches have been won by an average of nearly 23 points, and that’s probably not a bad pick with several of the Kiwi players pushing for RWC selection.
New Zealand by 23
Follow Hutch on Twitter: @Hutch_James