Who's going to come out on top in this year's Rugby Championship? We take a look at the contenders
2018 Rugby Championship Preview
With the culmination of the Super Rugby season, the number one rugby union competition in the southern hemisphere is about to begin – the Rugby Championship.
We run the rule over each team – their strengths and weaknesses, and how they look going into the competition. Legends of the game also weigh in on their respective teams.
Coach – Steve Hansen
2018 Form – Played 3, won 3 (all against France)
Strengths – Number one ranked team in the world, world-class players across the pitch, and their strength in depth is astounding. Most of the squad know what it takes to win at international level and experience is always important. Finally, despite the scorelines, they were well tested by France in the summer.
Weaknesses – Because they are the best team in the world, occasionally the All Blacks are prone to complacency. Some of their big players are coming back from injuries – Brodie Retallick, Dane Coles and Sonny Bill Williams for example. Additionally, will the players coming in from the Crusaders be tired? They have had a long season getting to the Super Rugby final once again and could be fatigued going into the Rugby Championship.
One To Watch – Rieko Ioane
Could be several players in this spot, but it’s hard to look passed Rieko Ioane. He always looks to attack, whilst also being deceptively strong and devastatingly quick.
Related: Rieko Ioane on why he’s like “a kid in a candy store”
Christian Cullen on the All Blacks: “New Zealand rugby is on a bit of a high right now. I think they’ve got all the cups at the moment with the sevens and the women. New Zealand rugby is always going to be strong, over the years when someone leaves, when a Dan Carter leaves or a Richie McCaw leaves, there is always someone that can step up and that’s always been a strength.
“In Super Rugby, New Zealand has one of the hardest conferences. I think four of the teams made it into the play-offs and that just shows you how strong it is. Playing those derby games it’s tough for the players but it’s good to get the younger boys in the competition. Some of them are almost like Test matches – that’s how tough they are.”
Forwards: Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris, Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Jackson Hemopo, Shannon Frizell, Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Luke Whitelock.
Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo’unga, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Sonny Bill Williams, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith.
Coach – Michael Cheika
2018 Form – Played 3, won 1, lost 2 (all against Ireland)
Strengths – They will be battle hardened following the highly competitve Test series against Ireland, while David Pocock and Michael Hooper are a troublesome pair at the breakdown. Australia are always a significant test for any team.
Weaknesses – Could be limited in creativity outside of Israel Folau and Kurtley Beale, and their young pack needs more experience.
One To Watch – Taniela Tupou
A 20st man mountain, Tupou made his debut for the Wallabies against Scotland last year and has put in good performances to make sure he remains in the Australia set-up. Still only 22, the prop is one for the future.
George Gregan on Australia: “They just had a really tight series with Ireland in June, an awesome series, and both teams scored 55 points, so they played some really good rugby in there, but at times they just haven’t found that consistency in winning and that’s really really important.
“I like what they’re doing with the tight forwards. It’s a good young pack and the set-piece was pretty good. The lineout needs a bit of improvement, but I was really happy with the way they attacked. They’ve got some really positive signs in that regard.”
Forwards: Jermaine Ainsley, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Folau Faingaa, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper (captain), Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, David Pocock, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda, Pete Samu, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, Caleb Timu, Lukhan Tui, Taniela Tupou.
Backs: Tom Banks, Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete, Jack Maddocks, Billy Meakes, Sefa Naivalu, Jordan Petaia, Nick Phipps, Joe Powell, Curtis Rona, Matt Toomua.
Coach – Rassie Erasmus
2018 Form – Played 4, won 2 (both against England), lost 2 (once to Wales, once to England)
Strengths – Super Rugby finalists the Lions are strong and their players will form a big part of the squad. They are always physically demanding to play against and have confidence following their series win against England.
Weaknesses – Rassie Erasmus is still settling in as coach and they haven’t beaten New Zealand or Australia since Round 5 of the 2016 tournament. Some big players like Eben Etzebeth and Warren Whiteley are returning from injuries so may take time to get up to speed.
One To Watch – Faf de Klerk
A constant threat on the edges of the scrum or breakdown, de Klerk was a huge factor in South Africa’s series win over England in June. His game management is solid because he is more than capable of speeding up or slowing down the pace of play. His box-kicks are usually pinpoint too. However, he’s unlikely to play in all South Africa’s games as Erasmus looks for a compromise with his club, Sale Sharks.
Victor Matfield on South Africa: “We’re better off than a year back, there’s a lot of improvement in that England series but there is still a lot of work to be done.”
Fourie Du Preez on South Africa: “The previous two years it’s been really bad, the first XV has been in quite a transition, but I am personally quite positive about South Africa’s chances.”
Forwards: Cyle Brink, Jean-Luc du Preez, Thomas du Toit, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi (captain), Francois Louw, Wilco Louw, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Franco Mostert, Tendai Mtawarira, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Marvin Orie, RG Snyman, Akker van der Merwe, Marco van Staden, Warren Whiteley.
Backs: Lukhanyo Am, Ross Cronjé, Faf de Klerk, Aphiwe Dyantyi, André Esterhuizen, Elton Jantjies, Jesse Kriel, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Lionel Mapoe, Lwazi Mvovo, Embrose Papier, Handré Pollard, Ivan van Zyl, Damian Willemse.
Coach – Mario Ledesma
2018 Form – Played 3, lost 3 (twice to Wales, once to Scotland)
Strengths – Jaguares, their Super Rugby side, showed improvement this year and if they can take some of that attacking threat into this tournament they will cause opponents problems. Plus, they are starting to select overseas-based players again, which gives them more experience and depth.
Weaknesses – Head coach Daniel Hourcade resigned following the June Tests and has been replaced by Jaguares head coach Mario Ledesma. He knows the players well but does he have enough time to implement significant changes? The Pumas were poor in June, lacking creativity in attack and missing their usual strength up front, so big improvements are needed if they are to be competitive.
Related: Mario Ledesma new Argentina coach
One To Watch – Emiliano Boffelli
A prodigy from a young age, Boffelli was thrust into the national set-up early on. He has represented his country at U20, sevens and Test level, and has great vision and huge kicking capabilities.
Mario Ledesma on Argentina: “We need to get back to the fundamentals of our game. Good defending wins games.”
Forwards: Marco Ciccioli, Lucas Favre, Santiago García Botta, Santiago Medrano, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Mayco Vivas, Juan Pablo Zeiss, Agustín Creevy (captain), Diego Fortuny, Julián Montoya, Matías Alemanno, Ignacio Larrague, Tomás Lavanini, Franco Molina, Guido Petti, Rodrigo Bruni, Santiago Grondana, Marcos Kremer, Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Pablo Matera, Javier Ortega Desio.
Back: Gonzalo Bertranou, Tomás Cubelli, Martín Landajo, Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, Nicolás Sánchez, Jerónimo de la Fuente, Bautista Ezcurra, Santiago González Iglesias, Matías Moroni, Matías Orlando, Sebastián Cancelliere, Bautista Delguy, Ramiro Moyano, Emiliano Boffelli, Juan Cruz Mallía.
2018 Rugby Championship Fixture List
(All times are UK & Ireland)
|18 Aug||10.45am||Wallabies vs All Blacks||ANZ Stadium, Sydney|
|18 Aug||4.05pm||South Africa vs Argentina||Kings Park, Durban|
|25 Aug||8.35am||All Blacks vs Wallabies||Eden Park, Auckland|
|25 Aug||8.10pm||Argentina vs South Africa||Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza|
|8 Sep||8.35am||All Blacks vs Argentina||Trafalgar Park, Nelson|
|8 Sep||11am||Wallabies vs Springboks||Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane|
|15 Sep||8.35am||All Blacks vs South Africa||Westpac Stadium, Wellington|
|15 Sep||11am||Wallabies vs Argentina||Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast|
|29 Sep||4.05pm||South Africa vs Wallabies||Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth|
|29 Sep||11.40pm||Argentina vs All Blacks||Estadio Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires|
|6 Oct||4.05pm||South Africa vs All Blacks||Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria|
|6 Oct||11.40pm||Argentina vs Wallabies||Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, Salta|
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