RATHBONE: Rugby Championship shapes as an awesome series
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New Zealand's Piri Weepu (centre) stands as he leads the Haka before the start of the match. AAP Photos
Argentina’s introduction into the competition has added spice to what was becoming a dated Tri Nations. In recent years the Argies have shown that on their day they’re able to claim the scalps of the best in the Northern Hemisphere.
The challenge they face will be lifting their game to compete with the three southern hemisphere heavyweights. There can be little doubt that the championship will boost the standards of rugby in Argentina to new heights.
Which brings us to the form of the Wallabies, Springboks and All Blacks.
The Wallabies were pushed hard by Wales, survived an almighty scare two weeks in a row and have yet to consistently produce the type of rugby that captured the Tri Nations last season. But the Welsh series has produced some encouraging signs.
David Pocock has shown his leadership metal and it’s been impressive, it’s clear that the group respect him greatly and he’s exhibited calmness under pressure that is a fine cue for what is still a young international team. Leading the team has clearly done nothing to hamper the effectiveness Pocock’s play. He has been simply outstanding.
With our forward pack relatively settled and with many big names due to return from injury it will be interesting to see how Robbie Deans and his selectors juggle the composition of our backline.
Our current selections have limited our ability to play with the type of width that best suits our style. JOC is a key figure in addressing this and ensuring he receives plenty of ball in play making positions should be a priority.
Our lack of depth means that to be competitive in the RC we cannot afford a litany of injuries in the later part of Super Rugby. Injury free and with our best on the park we’re a great chance to stick some silverware in the cabinet in 2012.
South Africa showed against England that they will adopt an aggressive and typically Springbok style of play. The power running of their forwards dominated England and though lacking in subtlety the effectiveness of such raw physicality cannot be ignored.
The Bok backline is dominated by names that have been around for some time and while vastly experienced it appears to lack the penetrative qualities their AB or Wallaby counterparts. At home the Boks will be brutal but could well fail to deliver on the road.
Unsurprisingly, the All Blacks will enter the championship as the frontrunners.
Their punishing deconstruction of Ireland reminded all that this AB team is still ranked number one in the world. The backline depth in NZ is astonishing and injury to Dan Carter has done little to unsettle the AB juggernaut.
If there is a current weakness in NZ rugby it’s in the possibility that they may fail to identify their premier combinations. Sometimes choice is a double-edged sword, and no coach has more difficult choices than Steve Hansen.
So whilst there is still the small matter of Super Rugby to focus on it’s exciting to begin to preview some classic match-ups due in August.
Former Wallaby Clyde Rathbone has returned to Super Rugby with the ACT Brumbies, following an injury-forced retirement from all forms in 2009. He writes guest columns for The Roar, and will blog his journey back to professional rugby in 2013.