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The Rugby Championship Week 1: Blow out the cobwebs

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Expert
17th July, 2019
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Super Rugby is done, and the tipping panel’s attention now becomes international – and with far bigger fish to fry with a Rugby World Cup rapidly approaching.

We’re going to do things a bit differently during The Rugby Championship, but we’re quite sure you’ll still come with us each week and help percolate the ideal two-day lead-in to Test rugby each weekend throughout the tournament.

Tipping won’t be a huge focus – and no, not because of our Super Rugby form – but we will keep track of how we’re going. And we’re all going to be parochial anyway, so there won’t really be any surprises each week.

The format for the panel is going to be similar, therefore, but different. We will still offer tips, and we will still throw up our Sure Thing each week, too.

And though we won’t be calling for your help to select The Crowd’s TRC tips each week, we’d still love to hear who you’re backing via the comments below.

But each week, we’ll tackle a single question or a theme coming into each weekend. And I’m really looking forward to getting into the discussion that we’ll kick off each Thursday. So this is what I’ve put to the guys this week:

QUESTION: What are you most wanting to see from your respective team in this weekend’s first Test of 2019?

Digger
The most interest for me with the All Blacks this weekend is across three areas.

The first one is how the locking combo works with two key players unavailable in Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett, and the second is the loose forward makeup and how they fare without Kieran Read at 8 (not to mention the lineout, a key Puma strength) and who gets first crack at blindside.

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Finally, I’m really curious to see how young Josh Ioane, assuming he gets to play handles his opportunity to cement the third first-five spot looking forward to the World Cup.

The boiler room that is Buenos Aires against what I expect to be a cohesive and well drilled Puma side will provide some fantastic indicators and hope to see a few newbies will show they are up to the challenge.

TIPS: Fairly difficult to go past both New Zealand and South Africa this weekend but I do think the Wallabies can give this a fair shake as they seem too in World Cup years.

SURE THING: If a tie should occur then it will be just a tie, though I fully expect a drop goal attempt from Beauden Barrett will deflect of Brodie Retallick’s head and over and will be subsequently awarded 5 points, not 6. And this time, everyone will be laughing.

Captain Sam Whitelock of New Zealand All Blacks runs against France.

What will Sam Whitelock’s absence mean for the All Blacks? (AP Photo/David Rowland)

Nobes
The most important thing for the Pumas in this Rugby Championship is to continue growing in the game the Jaguares showed us this year.

What I would most like to see is a substantial improvement in the scrum that has been the Achilles heel of both the Super Rugby final played in Christchurch and most of the tournament.

It is true that there is an improvement compared to previous years but if at the franchise level it was a problem at Test level it is a bigger problem. The arrival of Juan Figallo and Ramiro Herrera from the northern hemisphere should solidify that formation.

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The second and most difficult aspect to improve is that of the bench. At the Super Rugby level, the Jaguares usually tend to be superior but at the level of selections the quality of the players that are not in the initial XV is inferior due to the unequal depth of players of the other participating nations.

Agustin Creevy of the Argentina Pumas

The Pumas. (AP Photo/SNPA, Ross Setford)

The arrival of Nicolas Sanchez also should give the team a plus in commanding Los Pumas as he is the most experienced player the Argentines have in that position.

If the Pumas manage to improve those aspects and keep the game shown by Jaguares during the Super Rugby, I think they are in a position to have a very good tournament which would be very important in view of the final goal that is the World Cup in Japan.

For the game against the All Blacks my biggest worry is the mental and physical fatigue the players may have after going all the way in Super Rugby and the very little time they had to prepare for this game.

In terms of the game itself I think that Los Pumas may have an advantage in the front eight due to most of the Crusaders are resting, but if you go name by name of the players in the backline it is a scarred thing for any defence. It looks that we may have some rain and it also should be a factor to consider.

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Los Pumas have never won against the All Blacks and this could be their big opportunity. So, I will go with the home team.

With respect to the other game in South Africa I think the Wallabies will have a hard time against the Springboks unless the stolen wallet is recovered. Jokes apart I feel it is too soon for the Wallaby coach to assemble the team he wants, and he had very little time so far.

I expect their game to improve as the tournament develops. So, I will tip the home team here also.

TIPS: SOUTH AFRICA, ARGENTINA

SURE THING: TMOs all over the place.

Harry
Rassie Erasmus knows squad depth will win or lose the Rugby World Cup; no team will have the luxury of health, and everyone in the knockouts will have a few second or even third stringers playing those critical moments to stay alive.

So, he and we will be looking at the understudies at opensider, scrum half, centre, and fullback; and how well “backups” can combine at set piece and in defensive systems.

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If Faf goes down, who is our 9? Can Marco Van Staden be a bigger Brussow? Is Andre a giant playmaker or an ox? And so on.

The Bok starters will already be in Wellington, for the most part. So, Rassie has his experiment poised.

TIPS: BOKS, ALL BLACKS

SURE THING: The breakdown will not be well-policed, at all. Free-for-all!

Geoff
What I want to see most from the All Blacks this week is the newer players making a statement right from the get-go.

World Cup spots aren’t yet guaranteed, and it is critical that the new contenders adjust quickly to the pace of Test rugby and show that they can contribute positively if they happen to be thrown in at short notice into a World Cup elimination match.

As far as the Wallabies are concerned, I’m looking for evidence that their defensive structure has been simplified and is executed with precision, by whoever takes the field at Ellis Park.

The Wallabies are going nowhere at the World Cup except straight home, if wingers continue to be caught in no man’s land in the defensive line, or are subject to ‘in game beep tests’ for the sake of trying to paper over other frailties.

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Tatafu Polota-Nau playing for the Wallabies

Tatafu Polota-Nau of Australia (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

TIPS: There are a lot of unknowns around selection and the vastly different preparations, but is hard to go past New Zealand and South Africa.

SURE THING: The South Africa versus Australia match will be tied at full-time and again after extra time. SANZAAR will decree that the winner will be determined by the total amount of money in the players’ wallets, gifting the game to South Africa when Taniela Tupou isn’t able to contribute to his team’s cause.

Brett
What I wanted to see first and foremost this weekend from the Wallabies to see how they harnessed the strong late-season form of a number of players, and not just the Brumbies contingent.

This news from Johannesburg, coming through as I put the panel together last night was somewhat alarming on that front, therefore…

The official word came through shortly after, that Sio and Lealiifano were among six players coming home early for a variety of reasons ranging from injury to playing for clubs and wetting a new baby’s head.

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Jack Maddocks, Rob Valetini, Marika Koroibete and Tom Robertson are the others to depart early, while Waratahs prop Harry Johnson-Holmes went the other way to provide extra prop coverage.

But my point stands; a lot of Australian players ended the Super Rugby season in solid form, and it will be intriguing to see how they’re used.

Where does Liam Wright fit into the grand scheme of things, given the very possibility that we are rapidly approaching – or may even have reached – Wallabies life without David Pocock? If Samu Kerevi is not the first player picked at the rest of the Wallabies backline built around him, who is?

The Wallabies selection announcement, slated for this evening Australian time, has just become all the more curious with last night’s squad-trimming news.

TIPS: Australia can absolutely win this, and there may be no better time to correct the record that shows no Wallabies team has won at Ellis Park since man walked on the moon. And New Zealand, probably.

SURE THING: Much teeth-gnashing and fist-shaking at the realisation of what Christian Lealiifano’s injury means for the Wallabies midfield.

Digger Nobes Harry Geoff Brett
RSA v AUS RSA RSA RSA RSA AUS
ARG v NZL NZL ARG NZL NZL NZL
Overall 0 0 0 0 0
This week 0 0 0 0 0

Who have you got, Roarers? Who gets your tip this weekend?

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