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The Rugby Championship Week 3: Someone clone the trophy

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Expert
7th August, 2019
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3188 Reads

It’s the final week of The Rugby Championship for 2019, and though it’s not the biggest fish in the rugby pond this year, the interesting thing is that three quarters of the field can still reel it in this weekend.

South Africa currently sit one point clear of New Zealand on top of the table, with Australia a further two points behind again. Only Argentina can’t win it, while the Wallabies can both lift the trophy or run last.

So with three possible winners going into the final round, will The Rugby Championship trophy be in Perth or in Salta for the presentation? And I’m sure the answer will be both, but then the question will be who gets the replica and who gets the real thing?

The same applies to the tipping panel. Yes, we’re not making much of tips through TRC this season, but the current standings are such that all five of us can win it outright, share the title, or run last. So we all know what this means: four of us won’t be making much of tips next week, but one of very definitely will be!

But we won’t decide this until after the round of non-TRC games next week. So just re-cork the champers for another week.

WEEK 2: Brett 1, everyone else none. Just wanted to mention that again.

OVERALL: Digger, Harry, Geoff, Brett 2; Nobes 1

For the final week of The Rugby Championship, I put this question to the guys.

QUESTION: Above all else, what do you want to see from your respective teams in this weekend’s final game of The Rugby Championship?

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Digger
Third game into the season, what I really want to see is – as Ian Foster himself stated – a polished performance. Though it is hard not to see further teething issues this Saturday if the rumours are true that we will witness another halves, loose forward and midfield combination lining up, even though they will all probably encompass the best available players.

A controlled, direct performance with ball in hand and a clear definable strategy will be what I am looking for, and I’m hoping to avoid those feelings of further experimentation while watching the action unfold in Perth.

Though I am eager to see if some of the new rumoured tactics will be unveiled, which I suspect with all the focus around Barrett and Mo’unga on the field, will be to play off Aaron Smith, a back-to-the-future-type secret move sure to bamboozle, while it will be interesting to see how the engine room fares without Retallick against what I suspect will be a highly motivated Wallabies side.

TIPS: New Zealand, South Africa

SURE THING: Perhaps a romantic notion, but given the recent passing of Sir Brian Lochore, I expect a highly motivated and top notch performance from the All Blacks this weekend given Lochore’s standing within the NZ game and the positive influence he had with so many involved within not just this group, but with so many in the game. RIP Sir Brian.

Harry
The Boks need better production from the back three as a unit. This is also a great chance to progress toward knowing if Fulsome Full-Figured Frans Steyn is the starting 12 or player 23 or the unlucky last man cut.

I’m looking for an injury-free chukka by the starters, massive scrum dominance and reward, and sharper line-out calls and throws. I don’t want to see any mauls. I prefer to practice back-line double blinds.

Also, I want to see more of Cobus Reinach, at the base.

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Finally, if we can win big, so be it, but no need to chase the game. Rehearse a quarter-final approach.

TIPS: New Zealand, South Africa

SURE THING: If Steve Hansen wins The Rugby Championship with his top 23, and Rassie Erasmus loses it with a B team, Shag will say a habit of winning is the most important factor for RWC success. If it’s the reverse, he’ll say it was not imperative to win.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen smiles at a press conference

(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Geoff
What I’m looking to see from the Wallabies in Perth is a sense that instead of being reactive to the All Blacks, they are capable of playing the match on their terms – and here’s the kicker – not for patches of the game, but for all 80 minutes.

They can achieve this by mastering their set piece (so far so good), staying connected and accurate in defence (also promising), and maintaining accuracy and competitiveness at the breakdown throughout the whole game (still a work in progress).

With Sam Cane and Ardie Savea likely to be paired up for the ABs, the Wallabies – all the way from one to 23 – can’t afford to clock off at a single breakdown, or they risk losing that initiative.

As for the All Blacks, I’m expecting more fluidity to their play, which should come as a result of the front-foot ball that Savea will help provide. Richie Mo’unga has huge shoes to fill at No.10, but he’s a beautifully balanced player with superb passing skills. Time to show this on the big stage.

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TIPS: New Zealand, South Africa

SURE THING: In a show of loyalty to Twiggy Forrest and Global Rapid Rugby, the Perth crowd will start streaming out of the stadium after 70 minutes, muttering about how ridiculous it is that SANZAAR and World Rugby are still blindly clinging to the old-fashioned notion that a rugby match should last for 80 minutes.

Nobes
For starters, I would like to see a good set piece.

Scrum has been a nightmare in recent years and the line that was showing signs of strength was fragile the last game against the Wallabies. The Boks have a powerful scrum and good line and maul when Malcolm Marx throws the ball well. I think it is an interesting challenge, but if Los Pumas want to win or be competitive these two points must improve urgently.

Malcolm Marx battles the Wallabies.

Malcolm Marx is a key man from the Springboks. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

It would also be interesting to see a few minutes at stake Benjamin Urdapilleta facing a team that will surely defend by affixing the play makers of Los Pumas and see how he reacts to this type of defense since he is a player accustomed to having more time for decision-making in Europe.

The defense of Los Pumas must also improve and not allow South African backs to find spaces because they easily gain the line of advantage by speed and physical power. Anyway, I expect an improvement in almost every aspect of the game.

TIPS: New Zealand, Argentina

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SURE THING: The Wallabies are going to play their best game of the year, but they won’t win.

Brett
Following on from Tuesday’s column, and thanks to all of you for cracking into a great number of really interesting discussions about Wallabies combinations, it would be really nice to see some semblance of combination shining through in the way the Wallabies play.

To do that, that means we’re going to need to see a largely unchanged side named later this morning, and that would certainly be a good thing. It’s going to be crucial that the back row and midfield continue to build as units, and the more they play together, the better. Obviously.

Interestingly, as I write this, there is already strong suggestion that the drums that started beating for James O’Connor after his 12-minute cameo off the bench in Brisbane have been heard, with the prodigal Mancunian tipped to be named in the centres. And I can’t imagine that Samu Kerevi will be dropped, so it would seem that after being the designated decoy for two weeks, Tevita Kuridrani will also be the designated scapegoat.

And I said that open-minded about O’Connor having an impact for the Wallabies, so there’s no greater chance than in a Bledisloe Test in Perth. Imagine that – years after making a bit of a dick of himself and allegedly dropping the old “don’t you know who I am?” at Perth Airport, a Bledisloe win might ensure a warm reception in that same building on Sunday morning.

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Wouldn’t that be something.

TIPS: Australia, Argentina (because I’m going to win this, baby)

SURE THING: If as few changes emerge in the Wallabies team as appear likely as I put all this together, the selectors might just attain something previously thought impossible: due credit for sticking with and building on what was a solid win over Argentina in Brisbane. And who’d have thunkit after the Johannesburg loss?