The Super Rugby season has come and gone with the Crusaders reigning supreme in 2017, eventual Champions having beaten the Lions, 25 – 17 in Johannesburg two weeks ago. Test match rugby returns with the might of the southern hemisphere all in action this weekend with the Wallabies hosting the All Blacks and the Springboks taking on the Pumas. Since the inception of this tournament in 2012, New Zealand has one four of the five titles, including going undefeated last year. Early season form suggests that feat won’t be too far out of the Kiwis grasp this season either. Don’t forget to follow me (@S15_TheProfits) for game coverage, expert insight or just for a chat and fingers are crossed for a fascinating weekend of International rugby.
Best Bet 1: New Zealand -16.5 @ $1.93 – Bet365 (early twitter play)
AUSTRALIA ($7.00) VS NEW ZEALAND ($1.11)
Australia (2017): WLW
New Zealand (2017): WLD
Australia: Scott Sio, Stephen Moore, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Ned Hannigan, Michael Hooper, Sean Mcmahon, Will Genia, Bernard Foley, Curtis Rona, Kurtley Beale, Samu Kerevi, Henry Speight, Israel Folau
Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Lopeti Timani, Nick Phipps, Reece Hodge, Tevita Kuridrani
New Zealand: Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Liam Squire, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (captain), Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Ben Smith, Damien McKenzie
Replacements: Nathan Charles, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tunga’afasi, Luke Romano, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown
At this point in time, the state of the game in Australia quite frankly couldn’t be worse. The recent removal of a budding Western Force franchise from the Super Rugby competition, directly followed by the resignation of the ARU’s CEO, Bill Pulver has further tainted the reputation of the game we love. For a long time, the highly-paid handlers have shown no leadership and have lacked any real strategic direction to help propel the game to the heights it once reached. The correlation between the off-field antics and poor on-field performances can’t be overlooked and it’s time for a complete overhaul.
The Brumbies were the only Australian team to make the Super Rugby playoffs this season, but they didn’t last long getting eliminated by the Hurricanes in the first week. Wallabies coach Michael Cheika used this extra time as a second pre-season for his troops, with the intent of improving the squad’s fitness, skills and strength. Their performances in June against sub-par opposition were poor and bad enough that they were boo’ed off the field in Brisbane. Now they come up against the best team in the world who want to return to the winner’s circle after a tough series against the British & Irish Lions. Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has made a number of changes to the starting 15 that defeated Italy in June. Somehow Stephen Moore still features in the front row alongside Scott Sio and Alan Alaalatoa, with Brumbies lock Rory Arnold and Force second row Adam Coleman completing the tight five. Cheika has opted for Ned Hannigan at blindside flanker alongside captain Michael Hooper and number eight Sean McMahon. The Wallabies backline has more experience than the All Blacks with Will Genia and Bernard Foley look likely to settle as the halves pairing this season. Kurtley Beale has returned from a brief stint in England and has been recalled at inside centre to partner Samu Kerevi in the midfield. Former league convert and Kiwi-born Curtis Rona will be making his Wallaby debut on the wing despite rumours that he might be heading back to league next year. Henry Speight and the impressive Israel Folau complete the back three. The bench is an experienced one and Cheika will be turning to the likes of Tatafu Polota-Nau, Lopeti Timani, Reece Hodge and Tevita Kuridrani to inject some energy in the second half. How lock Rob Simmons and halfback Nick Phipps continue to get a run is beyond me.
New Zealand begin their two-year quest towards a third straight Rugby World Cup title with a match against the Wallabies on Saturday. They came up against a very strong British & Irish Lions outfit and suffered a few untimely injures and a moment of ill-discipline that effectively cost them a series victory. Four of their five teams qualified for the Super Rugby playoffs, with the Crusaders emerging victorious over a strong Lions outfit in Johannesburg for their eight championship. Steve Hansen has done a great job in blooding new players over the past couple seasons and he does a great job in giving players who are in form and opportunity. Hansen has surprised a few people with his selections this week, but given the depth of New Zealand rugby, he has still been able to name a very strong team. The tight five of Moody, Taylor, Franks, Retallick and Whitelock will cause problems for the Wallabies, but it is interesting to note that hooker Dane Coles is once again missing through concussion-related symptoms. Highlanders flanker Liam Squire has been selected ahead of Jerome Kaino with Sam Cane and captain Kieran Read completing the back row. Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett continue in the halves with Sonny-Bill Williams returning from suspension to partner Ryan Crotty in the centres. Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith have been picked on the wings with Super Rugby’s player of the year, Damien McKenzie set to wear the fullback jersey. The bench is a strong one with Highlanders flyhalf Lima Sopoaga in line to receive his eighth Test cap should he get some time off the bench. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a shuffle given the Aaron Smith situation in the media, so don’t be surprised if he is pulled out late with Tawera Kerr-Barlow taking TJ Perenara’s spot on the bench if that was to happen.
What better way for Australian rugby to salvage some pride with a rare win over New Zealand this weekend. Not since 2002 have the Wallabies tasted Bledisloe Cup glory and this is a coveted trophy that the All Blacks will guard with all of their power and might. The British & Irish Lions showed that you need to take the game to the All Blacks in both defence and attack, utilising a rush defence system to shutdown the All Blacks playmakers and by winning the physical battle up front allowing you to play with width and capitalise on counterattacking opportunities. Discipline is another huge factor in architecting an All Blacks demise. The British & Irish Lions possessed a handful of world 15 potentials and I just don’t think the Wallabies are quite there yet. Michael Cheika isn’t clear who his best team is and his over-reliance on out-of-form players makes it frustrating for Wallabies fans. My concerns are with the Wallabies lack of game time with many of their players not playing competitive rugby for over a month. Additionally, the Wallabies lack a decent boot in their back three and I expect the All Blacks to pin them in their own half all night. The Wallabies will certainly be up for this match in front of what will probably be a disappointing crowd, but once the All Blacks weather the home side’s initial onslaught, I can see things getting ugly for the Wallabies, further compounding their off-field and on-field issues.
Predicted result: New Zealand to win @ $1.11 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 1: New Zealand -16.5 @ $1.93 – Bet365 (early twitter play)
SOUTH AFRICA ($1.12) VS ARGENTINA ($6.50)
South Africa (2017): WWW
South Africa: Tendai Mtawarira, Malcolm Marx, Coenie Oosthuizen, Eben Etzebeth (captain), Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi, Jaco Kriel, Uzair Cassiem, Ross Cronje, Elton Jantjies, Courtnall Skosan, Jan Serfontein, Jesse Kriel, Raymond Rhule, Andries Coetzee
Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jean-Luc du Preez, Francois Hougaard, Curwin Bosch, Damien de Allende
Argentina: Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Agustin Creevy (captain), Enrique Pieretto, Guido Petti, Tomas Lavanini, Pablo Matera, Tomas Lezana, Leonardo Senatore, Martin Landajo, Nicolas Sanchez, Emilliano Boffelli, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Matias Orlando, Ramiro Moyano, Joaquin Tuculet
Replacements: Julian Montoya, Lucas Noguera, Ramiro Herrera, Marcos Kremer, Javier Ortega Desio, Tomas Cubelli, Juan Martin Hernandez, Matias Moroni
South Africa had a dismal 2016 and in fact, it was their worst on record since they entered the professional era, managing only four wins from 16 attempts. Despite this, coach Alastair Coetzee was entrusted to carry the team forward and his management team was restructured. The Springboks will take a lot of belief and confidence out of their 3-0 series whitewash of the French, but the true measurement will be based on how they compete the All Blacks and to a lesser extent the Wallabies and the Pumas. The Springboks head into this matchup without their inspirational skipper Warren Whiteley and a number of form Super Rugby players that in my opinion should’ve been picked. Flyhalf Elton Jantjies continues to come up short in the big games and with Handre Pollard still on the sideline, it might be time to give Sharks young-gun Curwin Bosch an extended opportunity in the front line. Looking at the team named by Alastair Coetzee, they are without Frans Malherbe in the front row, Coenie Oosthuizen has slimmed down and his playing some of his best rugby. Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert are a great locking combination and Jaco Kriel and Siya Kolisi will terrorise the visitors at the breakdown and in the loose. Interestingly, Cheetahs flanker Uzair Cassiem has been selected at number eight with his physicality and skills in the lineout a bonus. The Lions halves pairing of Ross Cronje and Elton Jantjies have been picked with the Bulls centre combination of Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel very capable centres. Courtnall Skosan has loads of gas on the wing and I’m not sure how Raymond Rhule’s place on the wing is justified, with Andries Coetzee a safe option at fullback. There is a lot of fire power on the bench and they will needed in what should be a physical match.
Ten years ago, Argentina finished third at the Rugby World Cup and the future of Pumas rugby looked extremely bright. It took five years to get an opportunity to join The Rugby Championship and in 2016, the Jaguares entered Super Rugby with high hopes. In all honesty, their International and Super Rugby form has been woeful with the Pumas only managing to win 3 matches from 27 attempt and the Jaguares haven’t done much better, failing to qualify for the playoffs in their two seasons with a winning percentage of only 36%. Personnel or natural talent has never been their issue, but rather their ill-discipline issues and ineffective implementation of a high-octane brand of rugby that has cost them dearly. It is a known fact that once the Argentinians pull on their blue and white national jersey that they lift their game, but they really need to start winning matches. Daniel Hourcade’s team is as expected with a powerful front row and physical locks. Captain Agustin Creevy is the heart and soul of the team and his dynamic style of play often sees him cross the chalk either running good support lines or at the back of a well-structured maul. Pablo Matera is a great back rower, but they are really missing the ball carrying ability of Facundo Isa who now plys his trade in Europe. Martin Landajo and Nicolas Sanchez are an experienced halves combination that play together at Super Rugby level, as do the centre pairing of Jeronimo de la Fuente and Matias Orlando. I am really excited about seeing Emiliano Boffelli, Ramiro Moyano and Joaquin Tuculet line up this weekend in the outside backs because they all have speed and a great deal of x-factor which could trouble the Springboks.
Like the Wallabies, the Pumas have had an extended period of time together preparing for the Rugby Championship. In 2015, Argentina secured their first ever victory over the Springboks in Durban (37-25) and they followed that up last year with another win in Salta. They will certainly believe that they can do it again, but they are coming up against a South African team that still has their backs to the wall after an embarrassing 2016. This is a game where the Boks need to make a statement and I think they will do just that, in a high-scoring victory over a spirited Pumas outfit in Port Elizabeth.
Predicted result: South Africa to win @ $1.12 – Sportsbet