There's hardly anything between the four sides after the opening two weeks of the Rugby Championship with Argentina only a solitary point ahead of the rest of the pack due to their mammoth 48-17 victory over an injury-ravaged Wallabies side this past weekend.
New Zealand 3/10
South Africa 7/2
You have to feel for Dave Rennie at this point. The Wallabies mentor can’t catch a break when it comes to injuries with star centre Samu Kerevi sustaining a serious injury and then Quade Cooper rupturing his achilles during the first Test against Argentina.
To compound matters, Michael Hooper did one of the bravest things a rugby player could do and pulled out of the tour on the eve of the first Test due to mental health issues.
With his squad looking more like an infirmary ward rather than a rugby side, can Rennie’s men still mount a title challenge? Sadly, I think not. Had they been at full strength I think they would have bagged the win in Argentina which would have set them up really nice for a tilt at the Championship with their fixtures run-in a rather kind one.
A now very munch second side will face two tough weeks against a fired-up Springbok outfit and then they will make the daunting trip over the Tasman to face an All Blacks outfit that are looking to put their horrific start to 2022 behind them by sealing yet a further Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship.
So Ian Foster has managed to keep his job until the close of the 2023 Rugby World Cup thanks to his side’s 23-35 victory over the Springboks in Round 2.
Having lost their Championship opener 26-10 to the South Africans – this was the All Blacks’ heaviest defeat to their arch-rivals since the 1920’s – Foster needed a response and his side produced the goods with wholesale changes the main reason for improvement.
In all honesty, Foster is still a man living on borrowed time. The All Blacks have lost three of the five games they have played in 2022 which is simply unacceptable to the New Zealand public.
So how will the All Blacks fare during the rest of the Rugby Championship? I think it totally depends on what Foster does with his backline. Richie Mo’unga showed what he can bring to the table during the second Test against the Springboks with the Crusaders man playing a pivotal role in the 12-point victory.
He also made David Havili look like an actual inside centre rather than a utility back who has been thrust into the role with limited international experience in the position.
While it is a hard choice to leave Beauden Barrett on the bench, I think it’s one Foster has to go with if his side is to retain the Rugby Championship title.
Well, Los Pumas finally put in 80 minutes of solid rugby this past weekend and they were well-rewarded, scooping up a bonus point win over an admittedly weakened Wallaby side. The victory has left Los Pumas top of the pops as the teams descend on Australasia.
While the win was a massive one for the Argentines, it’s debatable whether it’s just papering over the cracks or if it’s actually them starting to make progress under the stewardship of Michael Chieka.
Their next few games against the All Blacks will be the real acid test for the South Americans. I personally think they will really struggle in New Zealand.
They’ve had success in recent years in ‘the land of the long white cloud’ but they are taking on an All Blacks outfit that well and truly still have their backs against the wall.
Jaques’ and Rassie’s experiments backfired in the second Test and the knives were well and truly out with the South African rugby press having an absolute field day after the Boks 23-35 loss in Round 2 against the All Blacks.
Most sports journalists have the memory of goldfish, however, and the Boks historical 26-10 win the previous week was well and truly forgotten exactly a week after the final whistle went at the Mbombela Stadium.
I think it was some smart work from the South African coaching unit to make a couple big changes for the second clash against the All Blacks. While Joseph Dweba struggled at hooker, it will have been a vital experience for the former Cheetahs man who knows he will have to up his game tenfold in order to book himself a seat on the plane to next year’s World Cup.
Another one of the experiments that was heavily criticized was bringing Duane Vermeulen back into the starting XV after the veteran eight had been sidelined for a number of months.
It was a necessary experiment in my opinion as the Boks know what they are getting from Jasper Wiese and throwing young Evan Roos into that cauldron would have been pretty unfair.
So what are the South Africans chances of winning the Rugby Championship? While three of their four remaining games are on the road they are still in with a good shout.
If they can beat an injury-ravaged Wallabies in Rounds 3 and 4 then they are in with a real sniff. It could well come down to bonus points, so the Springboks will need to start bagging five-pointers in their upcoming games.
Verdict: South Africa 7/2
The Kiwis are simply too short to back at this point and I reckon they may struggle against what will be a more galvanized Wallabies side during the final two weeks of the tournament. If the Boks can pick up a couple of bonus point wins in Australia then they will be firmly in the driver’s seat headed into their final two clashes of the tournament which are a home and away fixture against the Argentines.