For the second straight year, the Rugby Championship kicks off in the four-team format, as Argentina continue to look for their first win in the competition, while South Africa and Australia are hoping that something can be done against the uber-dominating All Blacks, sweeping their way towards the title last year.
It’s hard to see anyone but the All-Blacks as favorites, considering their successful rebound after the loss to England. Australia have a new head coach and a lot of new faces in a squad, so anything more than 3 wins is going to be quite surprising. South Africa are heading into the second tournament with Heyneke Meyer, and are hoping to do much better than last time, winning only twice.
For Argentina, anything but a six-loss sweep might be regarded as somewhat of a success. Fighting spirit can only take you so far, and their golden generation has gotten older, with some of its player either playing in Argentina or not finding a team, while the players coming up aren’t good enough or still not developed enough to be considered world class.
Argentina – Los Pumas
Hard to see a lot of reason for optimism coming from the South American team as they head into their second Rugby Championship experience, carrying a 0-1-5 record from last year, and unlikely to get a win this time around, unless the Australians have a completely shattered confidence. Their overall record against the Southern Hemisphere teams is four wins, 43 defeats and 5 draws. Since beating Wales in November, they’ve lost to France, Ireland and been beaten badly by England twice back in June.
Hookers – Agustín Creevy (Worcester), Eusebio Guiñazú (Bath).
Props – Marcos Ayerza (Leicester), Matías Díaz (Teque), Juan Figallo (Montpellier), Nahuel Lobo (Newcastle), Juan Pablo Orlandi (Bath).
Lock – Patricio Albacete (Toulouse), Manuel Carizza (No team), Mariano Galarza (La Plata).
Flankers – Julio Farías Cabello (Tucuman), Juan Manuel Leguizamón (Lyon), Pablo Matera (Alumni), Leonardo Senatore (Worcester).
Number 8’s – Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe (Toulon), Benjamín Macome (Tucuman).
Scrum-Half – Tomás Cubelli (Belgrano), Martín Landajo (CASI).
Fly-Half – Felipe Contepomi (Club Newman), Nicolás Sánchez (Bordeaux).
Centres – Marcelo Bosch (Saracens), Santiago Fernández (No team), Martín Rodríguez (Stade Francais), Gonzalo Tiesi (No team), Joaquín Tuculet (No team).
Wingers – Horacio Agulla (Bath), Gonzalo Camacho (Leicester), Juan Imhoff (Racing Metro).
Fullbacks – Lucas González Amorosino (No team), Juan Martín Hernández (Racing Metro).
Australia – Wallabies
A new head coach (Ewen McKenzie) and a lot of new faces in the squad, as Australia try to put the loss against the Lions behind them. They went 3 and 3 in the previous tournament, and anything above three wins will be considered a success considering the transitional state they’re in, not to mention if one of the wins comes over New Zealand. They have 88 wins, 148 losses and 8 draws against their rivals.
Hookers – Albert Anae (Reds), Saia Fainga’a (Reds), Stephen Moore (Brumbies).
Props – Ben Alexander (Brumbies), Sekope Kepu (Waratahs), Scott Sio (Brumbies), James Slipper (Reds).
Locks – Kane Douglas (Waratahs), Scott Fardy (Brumbies), James Horwill (Reds), Hugh McMeniman (Force), Rob Simmons (Reds).
Flankers – Liam Gill (Reds), Michael Hooper (Waratahs), Ben McCalman (Force).
Number 8’s – Ben Mowen (Brumbies), Jake Schatz (Reds).
Scrum-Half – Will Genia (Reds), Nic White (Brumbies).
Fly-Half – Quade Cooper (Reds), Bernard Foley (Waratahs), Matt Toomua (Brumbies).
Centres – Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs), Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies), Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies).
Wingers – Nick Cummins (Force), James O’Connor (Rebels), Joe Tomane (Brumbies).
Fullbacks – Israel Folau (Waratahs), Jesse Mogg (Brumbies).
New Zealand – All Blacks
The All Blacks bounced back quite well from their loss in England by sweeping France in June, including a 30-0 win. They swept the competition in the previous Rugby Championship, including a very impressive 32-16 win over South Africa on the road. They have a combined record of 162 wins, 75 defeats and 10 draws against their upcoming rivals.
Hoookers – Dane Coles (Hurricanes), Andrew Hore (Highlanders), Keven Mealamu (Blues).
Props – Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders), Charlie Faumuina (Blues), Ben Franks (Hurricanes), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Joe Moody (Crusaders), Tony Woodcock (Highlanders).
Locks – Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Luke Romano (Crusaders), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders).
Flankers – Sam Cane (Chiefs), Steve Luatua (Blues), Richie McCaw (Crusaders), Liam Messam (Chiefs).
Number 8’s – Kieran Read (Crusaders).
Scrum-Half – Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (Highlanders).
Fly-Half – Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Dan Carter (Crusaders), Aaron Cruden (Chiefs).
Centres – Ma’a Nonu (Highlanders), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes).
Wingers – Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Ben Smith (Highlanders).
Fullbacks – Charles Piutau (Blues), Israel Dagg (Crusaders).
South Africa – Springboks
While the Rugby Championship last year was a disappointing affair, being the only team to not beat Argentina twice, the Springboks followed that up with a good year, beating Ireland, Scotland and England on their European tour, followed by wins over Italy, Scotland and Samoa in the Quadrangular tournament. They have a combined record of 90 wins, 81 losses and 5 draws against their upcoming rivals.
Hookers – Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks), Chiliboy Ralepelle (Toulouse), Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs).
Props – Jannie du Plessis (Sharks), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Trevor Nyakane (Cheetahs), Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs), Gurthrö Steenkamp (Toulouse).
Locks – Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), Juandré Kruger (Racing Metro), Flip van der Merwe (Bulls), Franco van der Merwe (Lions).
Flankers – Willem Alberts (Sharks), Marcell Coetzee (Sharks), Siya Kolisi (Stormers), Francois Louw (Bath).
Number 8’s – Duane Vermeulen (Stormers).
Scrum-Half – Fourie du Preez (Suntory), Ruan Pienaar (Ulster), Piet van Zyl (Bulls), Jano Vermaak (Toulouse).
Fly-Half – Pat Lambie (Sharks), Morné Steyn (Stade Francais).
Centres – Juan de Jongh (Stormers), Jean de Villiers (Stormers), JJ Engelbrecht (Bulls), Jan Serfontein (Bulls).
Wings – Bjorn Basson (Bulls), Bryan Habana (Toulon).
Fullbacks – Zane Kirchner (Leinster), Willie le Roux (Cheetahs).