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2016 Rugby Championship Outright Preview
Our rugby scribe gives his opinion on who will win the 2016 Rugby Championship.
The dust from the 2016 Super Rugby final has barely had time to settle at the Westpac Stadium and already were looking ahead to another major series between the Southern Hemisphere’s big guns.
So, domestic rivalries have now been set aside with former foes becoming colleagues once again, but which of these teams will gel and claim the 2016 Rugby Championship? We'll find out below:
To Win Outright
New Zealand 2/7 | South Africa 5/1 | Australia 11/2 | Argentina 50/1
If you look up the phrase “embarrassment of riches” in the dictionary you’ll find an image of a smiling Steven Hansen kitted out in his All Black tracksuit. Of course, the last statement is about as true as Kobus Wiese’s promises to his Mrs. to go on a diet, but the talent pool that Hansen has to choose from for the Rugby Championship is astounding. His opposition coaches could only wish to be in a scenario where they have the luxury of choosing between Beuaden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, and Lima Sop0aga for their fly-half role.
The fly-half position isn’t the only area where Hansen is spoiled for choice. Just take a look at some of the players he has at his disposal.
Props: Wyatt Crockett, Owen Franks, Ofa Tuungafasi, Charlie Faumuina, and Joe Moody
Hookers: Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, and Nathan Harris
Locks: Brodie Rettalick, Patrick Tuipolotu, Sam Whitelock, and Luke Romano
loose Forwards: Elliot Dixon, Ardie Savea, Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane, Liam Squire, and Kieran Read Scrumhalves: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perrenara, and Aaron Smith
Flyhalves: Aaron Cruden, Beuden Barrett, Lima Sopoaga
Centres: Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala, Anton Lienert-Brown
Wings: Waisake Naholo and Julian Savea
Fullbacks: Ben Smith and Israel Dagg
Missing Through Injury: Sonny Bill-Williams, Nehe Milner-Skudder, and Charlie Ngatai
Unlucky To Miss The Cut: Damian Mckenzie, James Louw, Victor Vito, Steven Luatua, Richie Mounga, and Glen Jackson ( Yes, he’s a referee but he put in such a great shift for the 'Canes with the whistle during the Super Rugby final that I thought Steve Hansen might be tempted to call him up)
Jokes aside, that is an extremely formidable squad. The players who missed the cut would walk into all the other Rugby Championship starting XV’s.
Having this much talent does mean that Hansen will have a few long nights of soul-searching ahead of him before his side kick off their campaign against Australia on the 20th of August. His biggest headache at the moment is probably who to select at ten.
While the New Zealand mentor has shown a lot of faith in Chiefs man Aaron Cruden, the sensational form of ‘Canes kingpin, Beauden Barrett, simply cannot be ignored. The lightening quick first five-eighth was the key man for the Hurricanes during their run to 2016 Super Rugby glory.
It would take a brave man to start Cruden ahead of Barrett, Steve Hansen is no stranger to making the hard decisions.
I must be honest here and admit that I really wasn’t impressed by the majority of the Springboks’ June Test series against Ireland. While it was great to see the Lions Super Rugby stars step up to the mark and essentially secure a series victory, I still felt there were far too many passengers aboard the SS Springbok and nowhere near enough dedicated crew members.
The main gripe I have with Coetzee’s Rugby Championship squad selection is the absence of Rohan Janse van Rensburg. Yes, he’s a young bloke but when you’ve got New Zealand rugby legends like Justin Marshall and Jeff Wilson comparing him to a young Ma’a Nonu, you have to think there’s something special about him.
I think Coetzee has missed a big trick in overlooking the Lions twelve. With Patrick Lambie out for the foreseeable future, Elton Jantjies will - barring injury - start every game in the Rugby Championship. And while the defensive side of Jantjies game has come on in leaps and bounds, he looks so much more assured with the hard hitting van Rensburg next to him. Factor in Damian de Allende’s horrific 2016 form and the combination play between van Rensburg and Lions colleague Lionel Mapoe and you’re really left to wonder what Coetzee’s reasoning for leaving out the young gun.
I highlight the South African midfield as it’s where I think the ‘Boks will be most exposed. We all know the quality New Zealand have in the centres and the Wallabies won’t be too shabby either with Matt Giteau likely to partner Tevita Khuridraini.
The Springboks will have to hope that Damian de Allende recaptures his 2015 form otherwise they could be in for a repeat of last year’s abysmal showing in the Rugby Championship.
The defending champions come into this one after seeing all of their Super Rugby franchises put in appalling displays during the 2016 edition of the tournament. The only real positive that came out of Super Rugby was Western Force fullback Dane Haylett-Petty. Despite Haylett-Petty’s misbehaviour in the Free State - where he decided a few plants needed some watering - the Force's young gun is still the flavour of the month "Down Under".
While Haylett-Petty’s youthful exuberance will be a massive plus for the Australians, Michael Cheika’s hopes will rest on the shoulders of his returning veterans. Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Will Genia, Quade Cooper, and Adam Ashley-Cooper have all returned to the Australian camp from their European.
While a few of the locals aren’t too happy about the return of these veterans, I can fully understand why Cheika has opted to bring them back. The Wallaby mentor recalled Ashley-Cooper, Matt Giteau, and Drew Mitchell to his 2015 Rugby Championship squad which proved to be a stroke of genius from Cheika as his Australian side went on to claim 2015 honours.
The Australia rugby landscape has changed dramatically since then, however, with a horrid June series loss to England and an appalling showing from the Australian Super Rugby franchises. The Wallabies are going to need their returning veterans to spark some life back into the side if they are to have any chance of defending their title.
After a disastrous start to life in Super Rugby for Los Jaguares, many people have written the Argentines chance of repeating their 2015 exploits off. This is a really absurd line of thinking, though, as the Pumas are a totally different kettle of fish to Los Jaguares. And if anything, the exposure to the world’s toughest franchise competition will have helped get the younger members of this Argentine squad acclimatised to the rigours of playing against the best in the business.
The Argentine ranks will be bolstered by the returns of winger Juan Imhoff and centre Marcelo Bosch. Imhoff enjoyed a stellar campaign for his club Racing Metro. The flying winger was on the scoreboard in both the French Top 14 semi-final and final. He will be looking to continue his great run of try-scoring form during the Rugby Championship.
While Bosch and Imhoff will add a bit of guile to the Argentine backline, Los Pumas' biggest strength will be their forward pack. Young forwards Facundo Isa, Pablo Matera, Thomas Lezana, Pablo Matera and Julian Montoya all impressed during the Jaguares Super Rugby campaign. These young guns will provide some added depth for the Argentines which will be crucial due to the amount of injuries that occur during this tournament.
Verdict: New Zealand 2/7
There’s no real value here but it’s the banker of the year. The All Blacks are a cut above anyone else in the tournament and I’ll honestly be surprised if they lose a game.