By Alan Dymock
AFTER A brief hiatus the Rugby Championship is back, fizzing and spurting with all the energy of a hand grenade in a firework factory.
After two rounds we already know that the big showdown is yet to come, with round four of the competition on September 14 kicking off with New Zealand versus South Africa at Eden Park. However, round three features two stonkers (they’re all stonkers, right?) with the All Blacks hosting the Pumas and the Wallabies welcoming the Springboks to Suncorp.
New Zealand have seen players drop in and out of their squad, but they had never looked weak enough to succumb to the Wallabies during the two Bledisloe rounds and now Dan Carter returns to man the rudder. With Francis Saili replacing Ma’a Nonu at inside centre and Charlie Faumuina coming in at tight-head prop there are subtle changes for New Zealand, but nothing too alarming.
They face an Argentina team aching from their experiences against South Africa. They will feel better about their showing in round two than they did about their hammering in round one, but they have still made several changes with Juan Martin Hernandez reinstated at full-back and Felipe Contepomi sitting on the bench. They may have lost Leonardo Senatore for nine weeks thanks to the No. 8 nibbling on a Springbok, but the return of captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe can only be a positive. Of course, they still face a sheer cliff-face in Auckland.
South Africa have banded back together after their two wins against los Pumas and are set for the Wallabies, but several players including Bryan Habana have flown to Europe and back in their week off to play in the Top 14, racking up something similar to 20,000km on their way to Brisbane. Disruptive, certainly, but with Will Genia thrust into captaincy after James Horwill pulled-up with a hamstring strain it means that Ben Mowen is the man bossing the forwards while Genia has the task of offsetting hard workers and brutally honest team men like Adam Ashley-Cooper and Nick Cummins with free spirits Quade Cooper and James O’Connor. They should string some impressive, sweeping phases together but the the grunt and spit of the South Africans could see Australia wilting near the end of play, despite how much traveling has been endured by the Boks.
When you’ve got Bismarck du Plessis starting and Adriaan Strauss ready to enter the fray you know there will be no chance of South Africa meekly lolloping away from snarling Australians at the breakdown. There will be a contest, but South Africa should land a wet slap in the last quarter. Aussie hopes are pinned on snake-dancing away from that.
Israel Folau; Nick Cummins, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Leali’ifano, James O’Connor; Quade Cooper, Will Genia (c); Ben Mowen, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy; Kane Douglas, Rob Simmons; Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Subs: Saia Fainga’a, Scott Sio, Ben Alexander, Ben McCalman, Jake Schatz, Nic White, Matt Toomua, Jesse Mogg.
Zane Kirchner; Willie le Roux, JJ Engelbrecht, Jean de Villiers (c), Bryan Habana; Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar; Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw; Flip van der Merwe, Eben Etzebeth; Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: Adriaan Strauss, Gurthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Juandre Kruger, Siya Kolisi, Jano Vermaak, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein.
Israel Dagg; Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Francis Saili, Julian Savea; Dan Carter, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Steven Luatua; Samuel Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Charlie Faumuina, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Subs: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Jeremy Thrush, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau.
Juan Martin Hernandez; Gonsalo Camacho, Marcelo Bosch, Santiago Fernandez, Horacio Agulla; Nicolas Sanchez, Martin Landajo; Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Pablo Matera, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (c); Julio Farias Cabello, Manuel Carizza; Juan Figallo, Eusebio Guiazu, Marcos Ayerza.
Subs: Agustin Creevy, Nahuel Lobo, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Mariano Galarza, Benjamin Macome, Tomas Cubelli, Felipe Contepomi, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.