The Rugby Championship Preview: Can All Blacks Recover From Slump?


There is a lot to unpack from the mid-year international rugby tests, but every team doesn’t have much time to dwell.

More weeks after each team completed a grueling three-test series, play in this year’s edition of The Rugby Championship will begin as some hope to ride confidence to glory—or try and recuperate in quick fashion. The annual competition features South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.

2022 South Africa vs New Zealand All Blacks

New Zealand is the defending champion, but the All Blacks’ recent slide, losing four of their past five tests, means that there’s ample opportunity from the rest of the field to pounce on New Zealand’s misfortunes.

This year’s tournament is as wide-open as it’s been in years—and it also means the tension could be at a fever pitch.

Here’s a look at where each nation in the field stands prior to the August 6 start, streamed live on FloRugby.

South Africa

World ranking (as of 7/18): 3

The lowdown: Was it an absolutely perfect home series against Wales earlier this month? Well, considering the Springboks lost their first-ever game to Wales on home soil and got dumped out of the top spot in the World Rugby Rankings, not really.

But the defending world champions still won the series and had a calm and collected 30-14 triumph in the deciding match that was more lopsided than the score indicated. That confident finish to Wales’ visit is especially big considering other Rugby Championship nations did not have great home tours themselves. And the Boks are probably still the favorite to win their fifth Rugby Championship title, too.

Lock Eben Etzebeth, who put up a man-of-the-match performance in the third Wales test as he celebrated his 100th cap, has only won one Rugby Championship title (in 2019) and was part of the infamous 2015 side that lost to Argentina and “earned” the dubious Wooden Spoon.

This time around, Etzebeth and the rest of the Springboks seem to be better off, and with a world-class starting 15 that includes captain Siya Kolisi and fly-half Handre Pollard, South Africa will certainly be aiming to be on top of the pile once again.

New Zealand

World ranking: 4

The lowdown: Losing once at home is bad enough, but being defeated twice in a row by the same nation for your first home series loss in 28 years?

For the All Blacks, who were smacked around by Ireland the past two weekends for their first back-to-back defeats in New Zealand since 1998, sirens are screeching and coach Ian Foster is in boiling-hot water.

Technically, Foster is contracted until the end of next year’s Rugby World Cup in France, but if the poor performances (by New Zealand’s standards) continue into The Rugby Championship, he may not make it that far on the All Blacks touchline.

If there is a silver lining behind New Zealand’s current all-time low world ranking of fourth, it is that the country has the deepest talent pool in the world and can turn on the jets with its quality alone.

No. 8 Ardie Savea was one of the bright spots from Ireland’s visit, scoring three tries and nearly carrying his team back from the brink in the third test, all on his own. Furthermore, many players within the squad will be returning selections from the unit that went 5-1 and won the 2021 edition of The Rugby Championship.

There are standards to uphold in New Zealand rugby, and ensuring that standard means that the All Blacks must perform against their fellow SANZAAR sides. If not, significant changes could come swiftly.

Australia

World ranking: 6

The lowdown: The Wallabies are in a bit of a weird spot. On one hand, coach Dave Rennie’s team probably would have preferred not to lose a home test series to England.

But from another perspective, Australia also snapped an eight-match losing streak to the English with its 30-28 win July 2 in Perth and finally got one back on its former boss, Eddie Jones, who knocked the Wallabies out of the 2019 World Cup in the quarterfinals.

With New Zealand suddenly slumping, the door could be open for Australia to capitalize and win back the Bledisloe Cup against its noisy neighbors across the Tasman Sea for the first time since 2002.

2022 Argentina vs Australia

Considering that the Wallabies beat South Africa both times in last year’s Rugby Championship, as well, perhaps Australia is more of a dark horse to win its first title in the event since 2015.

The talent is clearly there, especially among those who starred for the Super Rugby’s Brumbies like hooker Folau Fainga’a and props James Slipper and Scott Sio.

However, keep a keen eye on how Rennie deploys fly-half Noah Lolesio—the 22-year-old Brumbies talent started all three test matches in place of the injured Quade Cooper, showing himself to be an effective playmaker that seemed to grow into the international game as the series went along.

Argentina

World ranking: 9

The lowdown: Speaking of former Wallabies coaches, Australia gets to see another one very soon on the Argentina touchline.

Los Pumas leader Michael Cheika, who took Australia to the 2015 World Cup Final, was hired on as Argentina boss after the resignation of Mario Ledesma earlier in the year. Chieka started his tenure strongly, beating Scotland twice for Los Pumas’ first home test series win in 15 years.

Argentina is undoubtedly talented and a deserved Tier 1 nation like the rest of the countries in The Rugby Championship, but Los Pumas have historically been undistinguished since joining the field in 2012. They’ve won just five matches overall while finishing in last place in eight of a possible nine tournaments.

Any Argentine victory against a SANZAAR nation would be rightly celebrated and would indicate that the players have adapted to Cheika’s philosophy at a rapid pace.

Still, any spot other than fourth would be a surprise, even with several studs in the fold like fullback Emiliano Boffelli, who had a monster series against Scotland that included a game (and series)-winning try past 80 minutes in the final test.

The opening match at home against Australia, likely Los Pumas’ best chance at a victory for the entire competition, will probably be telling as to whether Argentina is amid a push towards recognition as an elite rugby nation.

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