The Rugby Championship is back.
The Southern Hemisphere’s premiere rugby tournament returns this weekend and kicks off with a bang as the game’s most successful side New Zealand faces current world champions the Springboks in South Africa.
South Africa goes into the opener off the back of a series victory over Wales, while New Zealand comes in having lost a series at home to Ireland.
The All Blacks have lost four of their last five Tests, so will be itching to find some form under their newly revised coaching set-up.
In the second Test, Argentina will host Australia in Mendoza. Argentina start the tournament having won a series against Scotland, while Australia lost theirs to England.
Both of these teams will be looking to step up this week. Argentina failed to score any points in the Rugby Championship standings last year, so they will be looking to improve on that.
Australia will also be looking to fix issues of their own and get back to winning ways after their series loss to England.
South Africa vs New Zealand Rugby Championship Rd.1 Preview
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has made three changes to his starting team that ran out for their final Test against Wales for this opening Rugby Championship fixture against New Zealand in Nelspruit on Saturday.
Malcolm Marx will earn his 50th Test cap in Mbombela. Marx will run out at hooker in place of Bongi Mbonambi, while Faf de Klerk comes in at scrumhalf in a rotational switch with Jaden Hendrikse.
The only injury-enforced change is on the right wing, where Kurt-Lee Arendse will earn his second Test cap in place of Cheslin Kolbe, who is recovering from a broken jaw.
Both Mbonambi and Hendrikse will play off the replacements bench. The only other change is the inclusion of Salmaan Moerat (lock) in the place of Elrigh Louw (loose forward).
“One of the changes to the starting team were injury-enforced with Kurt-Lee coming in for Cheslin. With Malcolm, we feel it is a big occasion to play one’s 50th Test, so it will be good for him to start, while we believe Faf’s experience and style of play will complement our game against the All Blacks,” said Nienaber.
“These changes resulted in direct swaps to the bench for Bongi and Jaden, and with Salmaan covering lock we can either use Franco (Mostert) at lock or flanker, and we have Kwagga (Smith), who can also provide cover in the loose trio and even on the wing if needs be.”
Nienaber added: “We played two Tests with a similar team last month, and we feel this is the right squad for this specific challenge against New Zealand.
“The All Blacks are strong all around and they will come to Nelspruit desperate to avenge their series defeat against Ireland and to prove that they remain one of the powerhouses in world rugby, so we believe experience and physicality will be vital in this Test.”
Under fire All Blacks’ coach Ian Foster wrings the changes for the crucial Springboks clash in the Republic
Meanwhile, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has included Samisoni Taukei’aho in the run-on side at hooker, alongside tighthead prop Angus Ta’avao in a new-look front row.
New faces make up the front-row cover, with Tyrel Lomax and Ethan de Groot named for the first time in the 2022 international season.
The tight five welcome back lock Scott Barrett from injury, while Akira Ioane retains his spot at blindside flanker in the loose forward trio, alongside captain Sam Cane and Ardie Savea.
Another feature of the run-on side is the return of winger Caleb Clarke. Ruled out of the recent series due to injury, the 23-year-old will play in his first All Blacks Test since 2020.
“What a great way to start this year’s Rugby Championship. It’s always an exciting tournament to be part of,” Foster said. “This year’s draw means we have a massive challenge of two games here in South Africa.
“We have settled in well in Mbombela and are preparing for what is always an intense game against our old foe.
“Many of our squad are here in South Africa for the first time. This gives us another opportunity to add new experiences and grow our game.”
Matches played: 101
Won by South Africa: 34
Won by New Zealand: 60
Played in South Africa: 51
Matches played in South Africa and won by South Africa: 26
Match: South Africa v New Zealand
Date: Saturday, 6 August
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Kick-off: 12:05 ARG/17:05 RSA/ 01:05 AUS (Sun)/03:05 NZ (Sun)
Referee: Angus Gardner (AUS)
Assistant Ref 1: Luke Pearce (ENG)
Assistant Ref 2: Christophe Ridley (ENG)
TMO: Brett Cronan (AUS)
Damian Willemse; Kurt-Lee Arendse, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Jasper Wiese, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (capt); Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, SalmaanMoerat, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Jaden Hendrikse, Willie le Roux
Jordie Barrett; Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, David Havili, Caleb Clarke; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Ardie Savea, Sam Cane (capt), Akira Ioane; Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock; Angus Ta’avao, Samson Taukei’aho, George Bower
Replacements: Dane Coles, Ethan de Groot, Tyrel Lomax, Tupou Vaa’i, Shannon Frizell, Finlay Christie, Richie Mo’unga, Quinn Tupaea
Argentina v Australia Rugby Championship Rd.1 Preview
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has confirmed Jed Holloway will make his debut against Argentina in Mendoza as one of nine changes.
Holloway will start at blindside flanker alongside Michael Hooper and Rob Valetini in the opening round of the Rugby Championship.
The 29-year-old has been a revelation since returning from Japan, overcoming a calf injury that kept him out of the England series.
He is joined by Rebels prop Matt Gibbon, also in line for his debut via the bench.
Gibbon slots into the side after strong showings for Australia A, with Angus Bell (toe) and Scott Sio (neck/shoulder), ruled out.
“We’ve had a strong week of preparation over here in Argentina and we are highly motivated to put on a performance that makes our supporters proud back home in Australia,” Rennie said in a statement.
“It’s an extremely special occasion for Jed, Matt and their families and it’s up to the rest of us to make sure it’s a positive memory on their Test debuts.”
The Wallabies have received further boosts with Quade Cooper (calf) and Jordan Petaia (concussion) cleared to return.
Cooper slots into the halves alongside Nic White for his first Test of 2022, sensationally ruled out of the England series opener in the warm-up.
“Quade’s trained really well, his experience, the quality of his skill set is really evident when we train as well,” Rennie explained to reporters.
“The impressive thing about Quade last year was we had a plan going into the game and he implemented it really well and we’ve got a clear plan this time as well.
Los Pumas make several changes in a bid to bulk up their pack
Argentina’s coach Michael Cheika has made six changes to the pack he picked in last month’s series decider against Scotland.
Captain and hooker Juan Montoya return in a completely new front row while Cheika also made two changes in the back row and one at lock.
Cheika is expecting fireworks from both packs as he builds his team with one eye on next year’s World Cup in France.
“We’re still only one month together as a coaching team and playing group,” said Cheika.
“We’re focusing on ourselves and the combinations we have within the team, communication, game plan, technique is the most important thing in this game. The scrum, maul, ruck; that’s very important for our team.”
Asked if he had any specific goals for this tournament — in which Argentina have finished with the wooden spoon eight times in 10 previous participations — Cheika showed the Rugby Championship was secondary to his main target.
“The objective is very clear for us, it is putting the team in a situation where they can be competitive with all the big teams; top-ranked teams, middle-ranked teams and teams that are coming up because that’s what we will meet in the World Cup.”
Argentina lost every match in last season’s Rugby Championship and failed to even pick up a losing bonus point — their tightest game being a 15-point defeat.
Matches played: 36
Won by Argentina: 6
Won by Australia: 27
Played in Argentina: 16
Matches played in Argentina and won by Argentina: 4
Match: Argentina v Australia
Date: Saturday, 6 August
Venue: Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza
Kick-off: 16:10 ARG/21:10 RSA/05:10 AUS (Sun)/07:10 NZ (Sun)
Referee: Mike Adamson (SCO)
Assistant Ref 1: Karl Dickson (ENG)
Assistant Ref 2: Chris Busby (IRE)
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen (RSA)
Juan Cruz Mallia; Santiago Cordero, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo De La Fuente, Emiliano Boffelli; Santiago Carreras, Tomas Cubelli; Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer, Juan Martin Gonzalez; Tomas Lavanini, Matias Alemanno; Francisco Gomez Kodela, Julian Montoya (capt), Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: Agustin Creevy, Thomas Gallo, Joel Sclavi, Santiago Grondona, Rodrigo Bruni, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Tomas Albornoz, Matias Moroni
Tom Wright, Jordan Petaia, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Nic White, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (c), Jed Holloway, Matt Philip, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper.
Replacements: Lachlan Lonergan, Matt Gibbon, Taniela Tupou, Nick Frost, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, Reece Hodge.