Inaugural champions: New Zealand won the first Rugby Championship, taking the trophy in La Plata, Argentina

By Alan Dymock

AS OUTSIDERS we can analyse and chirp and break down what we can of the Rugby Championship from our cosy hemisphere, perhaps tainted by a little bit of northern bias. So how about some southern words on the matter, huh? Here are some snippets of what is being said in the build up to tomorrow’s first round of games.

Argentina

Best-selling newspaper Clarin simply asks: “How do the Pumas play without Fernández Lobbe? That’s one of the great dilemmas that will be unveiled soon.”

Juan Imhoff, quoted in the sports pages of La Nacion: “Right from the head we have different objectives. We want to win. This is a team looking to win at all costs. The Rugby Championship does not allow you to spare, that’s what I felt last year.”

Marching for a win: Can Argentina win in the Championship?

Written in the Tiempo Argentino publication: “Tomorrow’s game will be part of Nelson Mandela Day Celebration, a tribute to the former president and Nobel Peace Prize [winner]. However, for the Pumas [this] will not be the first time in a tribute to Mandela. In 2008 [they] played for the 90th birthday of [the] South African leader and took a beating: 63-9.”

Australia

John Connelly, quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald: ” [Izzy Folau] has to work a lot harder off the wing, he’s got to learn to go looking for it if it’s not coming to him.

”League had an issue with him in terms of working off his wing and looking for the ball as well. No one will beat him in the one-on-one battle, he’s the best in the world there, but if [the ball is] not getting out to him he doesn’t see it.”

Spiro Zavos, writing for The Roar: “The front five is where the worry is for the Wallabies. McKenzie has picked two props who are good around the field, except when the scrum is packed down.

“And Rob Simmons is surely a Reds (or former Reds) coach’s pick. Simmons has tried to show some mongrel in his play this season, but it does not come naturally to him.”

Lote Tuqiri, quoted  in The Australian: “It [the Bledisloe Cup] will be a cracking game. Link [Ewen McKenzie] has put together a great team. They haven’t won since 2008 and I was playing in that game in Sydney. I reckon they’ll get up and do it again, but not by much.”

New Zealand

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Wynne Gray, writing for The New Zealand Herald: “Three survivors return on each side from the last 2008 Wallaby coaching handover when Robbie Deans’ new group cleaned up and a similar emotional thread has attached itself to McKenzie’s mob. Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore and Ma’a Nonu stack up against Stephen Moore, James Horwill and Adam Ashley-Cooper from the clash five years ago.

“Not much in that you’d say but the 874 combined caps among the All Blacks should deliver a stronger response than the Wallaby eagerness.”

Liam Napier, writing for Rugby Heaven: “It’s ironic that, while nobody wants Ma’a Nonu at Super Rugby level, New Zealand says a silent prayer he is not injured against the Wallabies in Sydney.

“That’s because our depth at second five-eighth is distressing.”

Toby Robson, writing for the Dominion Post: “Suddenly the Bledisloe Cup is up for grabs.

“Any doubt about the difficulties facing the All Blacks in Sydney on Saturday disappeared late yesterday [Thursday] afternoon when blindside Liam Messam was scrubbed off the team sheet…It will all add to a Wallabies confidence already being fed by the arrival of new coach Ewen McKenzie.”

South Africa

Brandan Nel, writing for SuperSport: “[In June] The Boks scored no fewer than 17 tries against Italy, Scotland and Samoa as their attack took shape and they looked dangerous with ball in hand.

“Considering that the All Blacks scored just seven tries in three tests against France, who have lost to all three of the Boks’ June opposition in the last 12 months, there is reason to be confident.”

Marco Botha, writing in Die Burger: “The Pumas play against a more well-rounded team than last year, especially two players who give the team another dimension to their game: Francois Louw and Willie le Roux.

“The Springboks played Argentina last year in Mendoza without a recognized fetcher or tackler and that dismal game was finally shared 16-16. Louw has since had a big influence on the team. Also Le Roux proved in the June tests to be someone who does not necessarily score tries, but who has a rare virtue to create space and, therefore, tries.”

Jon Cardinelli, writing in SA Rugby magazine: “…exposure to top-flight rugby will ensure that the Pumas remain competitive at Soccer City, but they will need to be more threatening than competitive if they hope to succeed where other Argentina sides have failed.

“They come into this clash without their talismanic leader and openside flank Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, who has been ruled out of the game with a calf injury. All the talk in the build-up has been about adapting to the new scrum laws, but it is at the breakdown where the game will be won and lost.”

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