5 things we might learn during Round Four
We are now, before the fourth round commences, officially halfway through the 2014 edition of The Rugby Championship, and theoretically all teams are still in with a good chance to win the title, despite many leaning towards the All Blacks.
Where are the Springboks at?
A heavy loss to New Zealand will not dislodge South Africa from second spot in the IRB rankings, but there is a little bit of a question mark – two tight wins against an improving Los Pumas and a last gasp defeat against Australia showed that the Springboks are not indomitable so far in 2014.
Their scrum has looked under pressure, even if it appeared to have been strengthened in Perth, while their traditional aspects, such as power in defence and unstoppable directness on attack, have not been as prominent as coach Heyneke Meyer would like.
The All Blacks have shown this year they may not always be on their game, but they have demonstrated that if they click they will tear any Test nation apart, so the score line after the international in Wellington will be very revealing – especially considering the recent one-sided nature of the rivalry.
Los Pumas on the verge?
The last time Argentina played in the Gold Coast they lost 19-23, with both sides scoring two tries apiece, one of six matches in The Rugby Championship Los Pumas have registered a losing bonus point against one of the top three nations in the world.
With a typically powerful scrum, causing issues for the All Blacks and Springboks no less, and a growing offence and one of the least decipherable defences in the game, has the Argentineans looking an enhanced side so far this campaign.
Rankings put Australia in third spot, so this is one of Los Pumas best opportunities, although Daniel Hourcades troops will be relishing home ties against the Wallabies and All Blacks during the closing stages of the tournament.
All Blacks inch closer to title No.13/three
The Springboks need to win this match according to Heyneke Meyer and Jean de Villiers, and the coach and captain have not minced words saying that if they want to challenge for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, they must defeat the All Blacks.
For the sake of The Rugby Championship, South Africa needs to become the first team since late 2009 to beat New Zealand in their own backyard, for victory would mean that Richie McCaw’s and his troops can place one hand on the trophy.
While they didn’t romp home against Argentina, the world’s best team rarely looked challenged, in contrast as to how Los Pumas pushed the Springboks, while the Wallabies draw in Sydney against the All Blacks was in hindsight the ultimate illusion, with the tournament’s best performance coming from the defending champions the following weekend.
Does Australia have too much depth, but no apex predator?
Quite unbelievably the Wallabies biggest issue seems to be the fact that Ewen McKenzie has too many options, something that might have seen incredulous some time ago, but Australia still seems to be seeking their first choice starting XV.
Still, for all the options, available and still to return, think the likes of Will Genia, Quade Cooper and David Pocock, there is some sting missing from Australia.
It is little wonder that Henry Speight is heralded as potentially an important part of the puzzle, adding serious punch to a team that prefers a mobile pack, and a backline that backs guile over brawn.
Still, a side that can bring Super Rugby’s most prolific defender in Matt Hodgson off the bench, as well as James Horwill, Scott Higginbotham and Kurtley Beale, is one with more than just one or two options.
Landscape remains the same…for now
The All Blacks are still to play away matches in Argentina and South Africa, and while their record suggests that they travel as well as they do when playing at home, if the draw in Sydney is to be held as a potential low point for the World Champion, it does in fact prove one thing (as it was proven by England in the first Test in June) – that New Zealand is not immortal.
Yet at this point they look like they continue to be the team to beat, for they have an annoying tendency (for their rivals at least) of backing up a poor Test performance (by their standards) with a game verging on the untouchable.
Round four is a great weekend for some real question answering, for a couple of upset losses in Wellington and the Gold Coast could firmly rattle the foundations of the old guard, with New Zealand and South Africa still the top two superpowers in the world.
The Rugby Championship News