The Rugby Championship 2014 – Week 1 Preview

With the Super Rugby season culminating two weeks ago with a magnificent Final played out between the Waratahs and the Crusaders in Sydney, rugby fanatics are in for a treat as we embark on the third edition of The Rugby Championship. Traditional rugby fans know that nothing compares to Test Match rugby. The Rugby Championship contains the three top rugby union teams in the world in the All Blacks, South Africa and Australia, with the Argentinians also providing tough opposition from time to time. The action kicks off this week in Sydney with the Bledisloe Cup on the line before we head to South Africa where the Argentinians have been busy preparing for a physical encounter.

The ITM Cup, New Zealand’s provincial rugby competition also kicks off, as does the Currie Cup (South Africa) and the National Rugby Championship in Australia. Much like last year, my main focus will be on The Rugby Championship and I will select matches from other tournaments where I see valuable betting options available, As always it was a pleasure catching up with a few of you on Twitter, but for the newcomers, don’t forget to follow me (@S15_TheProfits) for game coverage, expert insight or just for a chat and fingers are crossed for another fascinating weekend of rugby.

Best Bet 1: New Zealand -3.5 @ $1.90 – Sportingbet (early twitter play)

More plays will be released on twitter

Australia ($2.50) vs New Zealand ($1.55) 

Test Match rugby returns to ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday afternoon when the reigning Champions, the New Zealand All Blacks cross the ditch to play a Wallaby team quickly growing in confidence. Australia head into this matchup on a seven match win streak, the longest since their 1999/2000 10-game stretch. In June, the All Blacks three nil series win over a gallant England outfit propelled them to equal a tier-one record of 17 consecutive victories, so a lot rests on Saturday night’s matchup. Both teams will play the return fixture in Auckland next weekend, with the third Test scheduled for one of the All Blacks least favourite grounds, Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane in October. This is without a doubt, Australia’s best chance to regain the Bledisloe cup for the first time since 2002, but the odds are against them as last year the All Blacks comfortably won all three fixtures, including a 47 – 29 romping in this corresponding fixture.

Australia

The mood is a positive one in Australian rugby at the moment and the Wallabies will be buoyed by their three nil Test series win against a despondent French outfit in June and the Waratahs inaugural Super Rugby win against the perennial super powers, the Crusaders. Ewen McKenzie has done a great job behind the scenes in his first year in charge, but he knows until his troops start beating the All Blacks consistently, the pressure will begin to slowly mount as it has done so many times before.

One thing Ewen McKenzie has done since he took over the helm is to select players on form, and this is evident with seven Waratahs in the starting fifteen for this clash. In what is a revamped starting line up, the Wallabies know they will be targeted up front, as it has been their ‘soft underbelly’ for many years. James Slipper (Reds), Nathan Charles (Force) and Sekope Kepu (Waratahs) will pack down in a front row that has never played together before, but admittedly they have done exceptionally well for their franchises this year. There is no room for former Captain James Horwill in the second row, with Sam Carter (Brumbies) and Rob Simmons (Reds) chosen to start, with the rampaging Will Skelton named on the bench. Scott Fardy (Brumbies), Captain Michael Hooper (Waratahs) and Wycliff Palu (Waratahs) form a balanced back row and these three players will be in charge of nullifying the All Blacks weapons at the breakdown.

Nic White retains the halfback jersey and the selection of Kurtley Beale at flyhalf instead of his Waratahs teammate Bernard Foley came as somewhat of a surprise, not only because Beale will be playing ‘out of position’, but the fact that Bernard Foley is in career-best form. Perhaps McKenzie doesn’t have the faith in Foley yet to ‘throw him to the wolves’, but the reliance of Beale and Nic White to take over the goal kicking duties is not something I have a great deal of confidence in playing against the world champions. Additionally, All Blacks Coach Steve Hansen admitted being quite surprised by the selection of Beale and his take on things leans towards it being a political ploy to keep Beale from switching codes to rugby league. Matt Toomua (Brumbies) and Adam Ashley Cooper (Waratahs) form an exciting centre partnership, however, they will have their hands full coming up against one of the biggest centre pairings in world rugby. Rob Horne and Pat McCabe are two of the strongest defenders in the Wallabies, however, their selection on the wings came as somewhat of a surprise as well. It says to me that the Wallabies expect the All Blacks to target them on the flanks, but neither Horne or McCabe possess the speed to cause the All Blacks a great deal of headaches out wide. The dynamic Israel Folau holds one of the keys to a Wallabies victory this weekend and it will be interesting to see how he performs with so many superstars named in their opposition and against a game plan that will include subduing him. The Wallabies bench certainly isn’t the strongest they have ever named, however, with the likes of Skelton, Higginbotham, Phipps, Foley and Kuridrani, there is enough talent there to make an impact late in the match.

New Zealand

The All Blacks have an extremely prosperous brand that has been built on the back of consistency and success over many years. They have one of the highest winning percentages for any team in world sport and subsequently, an aura has been created that has many of their opposition mentally defeated before the match even begins. Every year, the All Blacks have to contend with an exodus that sees a number of their stars heading abroad to chase the financial riches that the Northern Hemisphere rugby competitions have to offer. However, to the credit of the NZRU and their highly effective developmental programs, they consistently manage to field a team that strikes fears into the eyes of their opponents. Looking at last two Rugby Championship campaigns, the All Blacks have an impeccable record having gone undefeated in twelve matches and they have racked up 379 points at just over 31 points per game. But with success comes added pressure and even greater expectation, but early analysis and expert predictions suggest that the Kiwis are on track to take out this year’s title and consolidate their position at the top of the world rankings heading into the 2015 showpiece.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen named his team to play the Wallabies on Thursday, with three changes to the side that faced England in the third Test in June. In the front row, Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders), Dane Coles (Hurricanes) and Ben Franks (Crusaders) will pack down, being supported at scrum time by the best second rowers in the business at the moment, Brodie Retallick (Chiefs) and Sam Whitelock (Crusaders). Jerome Kaino (Blues) has been picked ahead of Liam Messam at blindside flanker and he will join the dangerous duo of captain Richie McCaw (Crusaders) and Kieran Read (Crusaders) in the back row. Aaron Smith (Highlanders) retains his stranglehold on the number nine jersey in New Zealand and his partnership with Aaron Cruden will be key to controlling the match. Ma’a Nonu (Blues) needs little introduction and Malakai Fekitoa has been drafted into the midfield with Conrad Smith sent home to be with his wife for the birth of his first baby. Hurricanes wingers Cory Jane and Julian Savea find themselves in the black jersey once again and will be keen to perform against their biggest foes. Ben Smith (Highlanders) has been selected at fullback over Israel Dagg in Izzy Dagg’s first demotion since gaining the fullback jersey in 2011. Smith’s form has simply been too hard to ignore, although some may have thought that Smith could’ve have played on the wing. On the bench, Kevin Mealamu and Ben Franks will be joined by potential debutant Joe Moody in the front row. Steven Luatua and Sam Cane make up the remaining forward reserves with TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett and Ryan Crotty rounding out an impressive team.

Prediction

All eyes will be on the venue previously known as ‘Stadium Australia’ in what has been billed as the biggest fixture of the year so far. The All Blacks need no introduction and the Wallabies under new coach Ewen McKenzie, have been building nicely with the 2015 Rugby World Cup slowly appearing on the horizon. The Wallabies squad has been picked on form and not necessarily combinations, which I see as potentially being an area that All Blacks will exploit. This match will be vital to Australia’s chances of ending New Zealand’s eleven-year grip on the Bledisloe Cup given the remaining fixtures to come, but it is hard to bet against a team that has achieved everything the game has to offer. In saying that, it will be one hell of an encounter.

Predicted result:  New Zealand to win an arm-wrestle @ $1.55 – Sportsbet

Best Bet 1: New Zealand -3.5 @ $1.90 – Sportingbet (early twitter play)

South Africa ($1.02) vs Argentina ($15.00)

South Africa and Argentina will open their Rugby Championship accounts on Saturday night on the Highveld at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. South Africa are coming off seven successive victories including good wins over Wales, Scotland and a World XV in June, whereas the Argentinians have lost 11 of their last 12 fixtures, including three home matches to Ireland and Scotland just a couple of months ago. The Springboks have never lost to the Pumas and they won this corresponding fixture last year 73 – 13 in a match that really exemplified the ground that Argentina still has to make up to match it with the powerhouses of the Southern Hemisphere.

South Africa

The Springboks have been on a near impeccable run over the past twelve months making positive strides and blooding youngsters that will bode well for them in the seasons to come. South Africa are well known for their one-dimensional game plan of playing ten man rugby, however, in June they scored more tries than any other nation and when their backs were given the license to roam, they showed their skills and made other teams pay. Fans in the republic are quietly confident about where the Springboks are heading, but much like the Wallabies, until they can find that All Black winning form again, they aren’t going to be getting much praise from their hostile fans. Having lost last year’s tournament by the finest of margins the Springboks will be well aware that they need to get off to a fast start and five log points are required from this test and at least another four next weekend in Argentina.

Coach Heyneke Meyer named his squad on Wednesday evening and it is one that looks very promising. As always, the forward pack is uncompromising with the Sharks trio of Tendai ‘the beast’ Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis leading the charge from the front row. Bakkies Botha and Lood de Jager form an interesting, but large second row combination, with Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermuelen named in the back row. The loss of the general Fourie du Preez to injury a couple of month ago was a big one for the Boks, given his astute game management and his ability to read the game. It has been interesting to watch when he has been substituted, because although Ruan Pienaar is a great player, he is simply not in the class of one, FDP. Handre Pollard has been selected for his second test after a solid appearance in New Zealand for the South African Under 20 team and his promising debut against Scotland. The fact that Pollard has been selected over Morne Steyn shows his potential and it is good to see Meyer backing his youngsters who aren’t proven yet at this level. Jean de Villiers returns at inside centre and will wear the captaincy armband and he will partner Springbok debutant Damian de Allende in the centres. The latter was one of the Stormers shining lights in this year’s competition and his height, size and speed are things that coach Meyer looks for in a centre. Bryan Habana, Cornal Hendricks and Willie le Roux form a potent back three and the ‘Argies’ will be well aware that they will need to kick accurately or things could well and truly open up.

Argentina

In all honesty, Argentina should be fairing a lot better than they have been over the past 18 months, however, they generally time their run towards the Rugby World Cup pretty well, as they did in New Zealand in 2011. Argentina made a dreadful start to their 2014 season loosing twice at home to Ireland and once to Scotland, however, they have recently beaten French Top 14 club Grenoble in two warm-up matches. Grenoble and South Africa don’t belong in the same sentence, but they will be better prepared than they were last season. In saying that, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia have all improved on last year’s campaigns, so unless the Argentinians play out of their skins and don’t suffer too many injuries, this could be another tough campaign for them.

Argentinian coach Daniel Hourcade has announced his squad to play in his first Rugby Championship having taken over from Santiago Phelan at the culmination of last year’s tournament. Besides the unavailability of flyer Juan Imhoff, Hourcade has selected a near full-strength squad for what promises to be a stern test against the Boks at altitude. Hourcade has gone for a front row composition of Marcos Ayerza, Agustin Creevy and youngster Ramiro Herrera. Worcester Warriors hooker Creevy has been entrusted with the captaincy duties over Argentina’s best player Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, which comes as somewhat of a surprise. Mariano Galarza, who stands at 2.03 metres will be joined by Racing Metro lock Tomas Lavanini in the second row. The back row consists of Pablo Matera, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and the 50-plus capped Juan Manuel Leguizamon. Martin Landajo and Nicolas Sanchez form a minute halves combination, but they both possess great pace so the bulky Springbok forwards will need to have their wits about them. Juan Martin Hernandez and Marcelo Bosch form an experienced centre combination, and Horacio Agulla is joined by promising youngster Manuel Montero on the wing, with Joaquin Tuculet who plays his rugby for Bordeaux Bègles, at fullback.

Prediction

All signs point towards a pretty one-sided fixture in Pretoria this week. Despite a poor Super Rugby showing, the South African Test team was dominant in 2013 and has been so far this year, with their only two slipups being against the pace-setting All Blacks. Argentina have continued to struggle, not only in this competition, but against other tier one nations and I certainly get the impression that the gap in class will once again be illuminated on a balmy evening in the nation’s capital.

Predicted result: South Africa to win comfortably @ $1.02 – Bet365

Please Note:
All of the above are the opinions of the author and are not recommendations or advice. The author may not be taking every bet listed above. Bet at your own risk.
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Author

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Glenn

Glenn has followed rugby union for 19 years and has expert knowledge on the game freely committing to over 500 viewing hours a year. Having played with and against some current Super Rugby players and International superstars, he understands the game, the players and the laws inside out. Having been born in South Africa, spent time in New Zealand and currently living in Australia, Glenn lives and breathes rugby. With so many different tournaments happening around the world simultaneously and the addition of Rugby Sevens to the Olympic program, there are always plenty of healthy betting options available. An obsession, a passion, call it what you will, Glenn enjoys sharing his insight, opinions and predictions with anyone who wants to listen.

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