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The Panel: Biggest questions facing every team, players worth a closer eye in TRC

5th July, 2023
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5th July, 2023
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We’re back on Thursdays with a new name and a similar format to the last few seasons, but with the same motivation: to tackle all the tricky questions that need answers about our team and the international game.

And first up – it’s a warm welcome back to the panel’s Argentinean correspondent. Nobes is back with us through The Rugby Championship and all the way to RWC! Wonderful to have you back on board mate, really looking forward to your insights and observations of Los Pumas throughout.

So, here we go again. A shortened Rugby Championship in the hope everyone can get to France unscathed, so they can then start the all-important pool stage form to qualify for the knockout stage.

It sounds so simple when summarised in a single sentence.

But so many questions need answers before then, and like all good things in the controllable and uncontrollable world of international rugby, not all of the questions that will be answers are known yet. Unknown unknowns, in the words of a former American President (and gym buddy of one of us on this panel – true story!)

Here on the Panel, it’s our duty to identify a few of those questions.

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And let’s start keeping an eye on some players, while we’re at it.

Question 1: What question(s) does your team need to answer in this first round of The Rugby Championship?

Nobes
How nice is to be with you again, the reality is that I missed you and I was very happy when I received Brett’s email inviting me to this panel one more time. I hope to be of help.

The main objective of Los Pumas for the Rugby Championship is to be able to come up with the list of players who will go to the World Cup in France.

Since the disappearance of Jaguares, the players emigrated mainly to the Northern Hemisphere, and they find themselves playing for the most part in different teams from the Top 14 in France and the English Premiership.

Others established themselves in different teams in the United Rugby Championship, a couple in Super Rugby and in the case of Pablo Matera, in Japan.

Faced with this panorama, Michael Cheika has the challenge of implementing a game system with players who come from different systems with different functions.

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The most complex thing will be to find the fine-tuning of an effective defensive system and making the players adapt quickly and be able to perform their duties properly. Nothing easy with just a couple of weeks of practice with players who come from different places and who perhaps play in other positions in their respective teams than they would in Los Pumas.

Argentina coach Michael Cheika with team captain Julian Montoya. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The 48 designated players will have in their mind to fill a spot in the final list for France, but on the other hand we know the Rugby Championship is very challenging in taxing players’ bodies and an injury can leave them out of the World Cup. The risk/reward equation will be a challenge for each of the players, and I am sure it will be in their minds.

We hope that this weekend Los Pumas, with some absences, will be up to the task of facing a solid team like the one that New Zealand will present.

Brett
There are two obvious questions for the Wallabies, and we might get a glimpse of both this weekend at Loftus.

1. What does an Eddie Jones Wallabies side look like in 2023?

The leaks are sneaking out, an old Wallabies tradition now, and we’ll get the on-paper answer around 5pm AEST this afternoon, when Jones names his first side of his second coming.

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But what will it look like? It’ll be physical, I think we all know that, he loves a big ball-carrier and he’ll need a couple this weekend. And how smart will it be?

He told Harry and me on the pod the other week that his side couldn’t just play smart rugby, but the smartest.

So he’ll want adaptability but he’s not a fan of multi-phase anymore, so he’ll want a strong and clever kicking game. And now he’s spruiking this ‘Australian way’ myth as well. So strap in, Wallabies fans, this could be anything.

2. Who fits into an Eddie Jones Wallabies side in 2023?

And by flow-on, how many of them will be playing at Loftus on Saturday? My guess is less than 23.

Digger
So many questions I am looking forward to seeing answered after some mixed results in recent times. It’s difficult to really settle on one – the loose forward mix, halves and bench composition, centres, will the mid-season revival of sorts from last season continue on into this season?

Lots to ponder but if there is one stand out for me, it will be their defence.

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The current top ranked sides have all picked apart the All Blacks defence in the recent past (and that horrible last 10 against England) and New Zealand will not give this World Cup a decent shake if they cannot get their defence on point, so that will be my big question to have answered first game up.

Geoff
Nobody wins a World Cup without an unimpeachable set piece and slabs of grunt up front.

The big question the All Blacks need to answer first up, is that whatever brilliance they can conjure from the back, whatever happens in broken play, their mission for this season is to impose themselves physically, play directly, win collisions and dominate the breakdown.

Playing too much towards the sidelines in Mendoza will not only bring them problems against Argentina, but set a concerning tone for the rest of the year.

I’m not sure the Wallabies have too many questions to answer first up.

Eddie Jones has a new squad and a blank slate to reveal what type of rugby his team will be playing.

I suspect there’ll be a whole lot more questions in the wake of whatever happens in Pretoria.

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Wallabies coach Eddie Jones. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Harry
Round One of The Rugby Championship doesn’t crown the champion but in a truncated version of the tourney, it can knock you out.

But the Springbok coaching duo has a deep belief that 2019’s lesson was to marshal forces, build methodically to a slow peak, focus on depth and rest by splitting the squad to cut travel by half and let’s be honest, not worry about any other trophy than the one Sir Bill Beaumont talks to at night.

So, a win in Pretoria is not as vital as it should be for a Bok team protecting a fortress and a 100 percent record.

Still, there are questions on the table and they can be referenced by numbers: 4, 5, 6, 9, and 10.

No, these are not the numbers of the MCC rules of ethics currently being ripped apart by England’s cricket team, patrons, public, prime minister and pundits.

Munster locks Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman will likely face European club rivals from France: they’d be seen as a step below on the pay sheet, but this time they will be behind rock hard Bongi, Ox and Frans, or equally tough replacements. Kleyn is going to need to surpass Marvin Orie to have a clear path to be the fifth Bok lock.

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The battle of the locks will be box office and all the coaches will be looking closely.

Similarly, backup openside (6 in South Africa) is a shootout between muscleman Marco van Staden and the old trickster, Deon Fourie (who can also feed lineouts).

Wallaby Allan Alaalatoa and Springbok Steven Kitshoff head to head. (Photo: Getty Images)

Finally, the halves have an ideal chance to state their case to be in the 33.

The Boks need to cross off a few names: that’s the question.

Question 2: Which player from your team are you most looking forward to tracking through the 2023 season?

Nobes
As for players to follow, there are several situations that for different reasons are unknown to me, some new players and oldies that return from different injuries that will surely have playing minutes to try to convince the coaching staff that they deserve to be on the final list to travel to France.

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Argentina had a great year playing the game of seven and the coaches summoned two interesting players from there: Luciano Gonzales, a true gladiator who could play centre to gain the metre with his physical power.

The other player would join the positions of the back three. Rodrigo Isgro could make his debut next weekend against the All Blacks. Very confident from the air and with a powerful kick. But both have very little experience in the game of 15.

The return of Santiago Chocobares will also be interesting, coming from a prolonged injury but who has already played several games for the Top 14 champion Toulouse, scoring a try in the final.

Mateo Carreras as winger comes from a phenomenal season in the Premiership with super explosive tries and will try to win a place in a position where Los Pumas have a lot of firepower.

The biggest unknown is presented in the key position of scrum half. Gonzalo Bertranu and Tomas Cubelli have not had many playing minutes due to different injuries; the third option will be out of the field for a while for the same reason, and Michael Cheika has called on Juan Ignacio Inchauspe, who was employed in the Yacare XV team of the SLAR.

All eyes will be on the duo that should lead the team since it is where Los Pumas present the greatest difficulties and are without many options. I assume that Santiago Carreras will remain as fly-half and is the player to watch in my opinion.

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Brett
I feel like it’s a matter of when, not if we get to see Tom Hooper and Carter Gordon in gold, and I’ll be keen to see both in action. But I’m really interested in seeing Nick Frost on the international stage again.

He started last season’s internationals as a July series bolter and finished it starting four of the five games on the Spring Tour, then followed it up by having his best season for the Brumbies by some margin.

In this current Wallabies squad, he’s one of only four locks, all of them more experienced than him, but his raw talent and potential means he’s absolutely in the mix to starts Tests in this Rugby Championship.

His game has evolved nicely in the last 18 months, and I just want to see how he different he looks in his 10th Test Match vs his first nine last season.

Digger
Two players in particular I enjoyed watching this past Super Rugby season was Cam Roigard and Luke Jacobson and I was rapt they both made it into the All Blacks squad. I look forward to watching both hopefully make a real fist of their international opportunities to come.

It will also be very interesting to track positional questions, such as the loose forwards and centres, who they settle on in problematic areas in recent seasons and how they manage the ‘utility’ and ‘playmaker’ roles.

Plenty to keep an eye on.

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Cameron Roigard of the Hurricanes

Cameron Roigard will make his All Blacks debut. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Geoff
I’m interested in the progress of Cam Roigard.

With TJ Perenara fading off the scene, back-up halfback is a position of concern for the All Blacks and Finlay Christie, while having his moments, doesn’t appeal as being sufficiently robust for the more attritional contests.

Roigard is a different build and as a player fits the modern, Dupont-styled halfback template. My suspicion (or is that hope?) is that he will quickly establish himself in the match day 23.

It’s a similar story for the Wallabies with Carter Gordon.

Having urged caution all year around bringing him on too quickly, the fact is that he is there now, only a Quade Cooper calf-twinge from having control of the reins of the Wallabies. He’s a quick learner, and a terrifically robust player, but the fact is there will naturally be errors made along the way.

It’s how quickly he bounces back from those, and maintains the trust of the Australian fanbase that will make the difference.

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Harry
The Bok I am most looking forward to seeing live in Pretoria, and in the rest of 2023 is the athletic, versatile, increasingly bold Damian Willemse.

He is projected as the new Frans Steyn for the 2023 campaign, but more aerodynamic. If late tries are on, it’s likely Willemse will be involved.

OVER TO YOU:

What does your country need to address this weekend in TRC Round 1?

And which player are watching to break through this year?

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