Rugby Championship 2014: Round-by-Round Fixtures, Predictions and More

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistAugust 15, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 16: Captain Richie McCaw of New Zealand lifts the trophy after the QBE International match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium on November 16, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Phil Walter/Getty Images

Following on from last year's New Zealand triumph, the forces of Australia, South Africa and Argentina are once again mounting an assault on the Rugby Championship with 2014 glory in their sights.

The All Blacks face a tough test in retaining their title, but after going unbeaten in 2013, Steven Hansen's line-up looks to be in as glittering a form as ever.

The next six rounds of Rugby Championship competition will test just who of the Southern Hemisphere's giants currently reigns supreme, with a barrage of world-class fixtures on the schedule.

This year's contest is especially significant in providing another look at whose 2015 Rugby World Cup preparations are coming along smoothly and where those who are lacking need to improve.

2014 Rugby Championship Schedule and Predictions
Australia vs. New ZealandAugust 1611:05 a.m. BST/6:05 a.m. ETANZ Stadium, SydneyNew Zealand by 5
South Africa vs. ArgentinaAugust 164:05 p.m. BST/11:05 a.m. ETLoftus Versfeld, PretoriaSouth Africa by 20
New Zealand vs. AustraliaAugust 238:35 a.m. BST/3:35 a.m. ETEden Park, AucklandNew Zealand by 10
Argentina vs. South AfricaAugust 238:40 p.m. BST/3:40 p.m. ETEstadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, SaltaSouth Africa by 5
New Zealand vs. ArgentinaSeptember 68:35 a.m. BST/3:35 a.m. ETMcLean Park, NapierNew Zealand by 30
Australia vs. South AfricaSeptember 611:05 a.m. BST/6:05 a.m. ETPatersons Stadium, PerthSouth Africa by 5
New Zealand vs. South AfricaSeptember 138:35 a.m. BST/3:35 a.m. ETWestpac Stadium, WellingtonNew Zealand by 10
Australia vs. ArgentinaSeptember 1311:05 a.m. BST/6:05 a.m. ETCbus Super Stadium, Gold CoastAustralia by 25
South Africa vs. AustraliaSeptember 274:05 p.m. BST/11:05 a.m. ETNewlands, Cape TownAustralia by 5
Argentina vs. New ZealandSeptember 2711:40 p.m. BST/6:40 p.m. ETEstadio Ciudad de La Plata, La PlataNew Zealand by 15
South Africa vs. New ZealandOctober 44:05 p.m. BST/11:05 a.m. ETEllis Park, JohannesburgNew Zealand by 5
Argentina vs. AustraliaOctober 411:10 p.m. BST/6:10 p.m. ETEstadio Malvinas Argentinas, MendozaAustralia by 10
BBC Sport


Must-Watch Matchups

August 16, Australia vs. New Zealand

The opening fixture will see Australia and New Zealand stage their own homage to this year's Super Rugby grand final, where it was New South Wales' Waratahs who triumphed over Christchurch contenders the Crusaders.

Home fans at Sydney's ANZ Stadium can look forward to seeing a raft of in-form talents make up Ewen McKenzie's new-look side, which features Kurtley Beale at No. 10 and Nic White at scrum-half.

Ross Setford/Associated Press

Those two will deputise for absent Queensland Reds pair Quade Cooper and Will Genia, respectively, but by all rights, Beale has made the top playmaker role his own of late. Former 'Tahs attack coach Brian Melrose is quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald's Georgina Robinson as saying:

I watched him come through colts and first grade and now he's won the Super Rugby title. I only just said to a guy the other day that he will probably kick the winning goal in the World Cup next year, and we'll realise he's actually Dan Carter. He is a really good, all-round No.10, a quality player."

Beale's impact up against Aaron Cruden—Dan Carter is injured for the tournament's start—will be a major factor in the opening clash, but McKenzie also has other weapons burgeoning among his ranks.

Ross Setford/Associated Press

Nick Cummins' move to Japanese rugby means that Pat McCabe reclaims his place on the wing and Rob Horne occupying the other flank, while young Michael Hooper prepares to lead as captain once again.

This match will, of course, be of vital significance in deciding the trajectory of the remainder of the campaign, but New Zealand's squad, which hasn't changed much, if any, since last year's pristine record, will be a stubborn challenge to say the least.

Prediction: New Zealand by 5


September 6, Australia vs. South Africa

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - SEPTEMBER 28: Michael Hooper of the Wallabies in action during The Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Australia at DHL Newlands on September 28, 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Image
Gallo Images/Getty Images

Last year, this fixture looked like little more than a dead-rubber between two sides competing for second place, but neutrals can only hope that there's more on the line for Australia and South Africa this time around.

In the build-up to the competition, one of Heyneke Meyer's major concerns has been his midfield make-up, with JJ Engelbrecht omitted, Jaque Fourie injured and JP Pietersen having returned to Japan already.

The Score claims Jean de Villiers has given his coach a ray of hope, however, and it's just as well considering Damian de Allende and Jan Serfontein will need all the help their less-experienced minds can get:

Even with that enigma in the centres, however, the Springboks are notoriously well drilled in the work they do best, and the Wallabies' pack will be frustrated by a lack of ball at times.

This is an Australian team of extreme talents but still piecing its way together, and although South Africa aren't in their strongest light right now, their team discipline could make for a tight victory at Patersons Stadium.

Prediction: South Africa by 5


October 4, South Africa vs. New Zealand

Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

For good reason, the general population took to calling last year's rendition of this fixture simply as "The Match," and it didn't disappoint in terms of quality, excitement or frustration, depending on where one's allegiances lie.

The Springboks needed a very specific method of points victory at Ellis Park in order to prevent New Zealand from winning the 2013 Rugby Championship but a 38-27 victory left Hansen's men elated with their well-deserved success.

Again, injuries unaccounted for, the All Blacks will surely come to Johannesburg as favourites to take the points, with Dan Carter likely to have made his comeback from a calf bone injury at this point.

Even without their talismanic No. 10, however, Cruden wouldn't exactly be deemed as lacking in talent by any coach's standards, a depth that's become a trademark of Hansen's squad down the years.

Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

And that's what will ease New Zealand over the line, their ability to not only formulate a devastating XV, but to go entire tournaments with incredibly gifted line-ups that has each participant possessing the same desire for victory as the one before him.

Meyer is testing out some less experienced members of his roster this summer, and although the likes of Handre Pollard, De Allende and Cobus Reinach may be national stars in years to come, 2014 will not be theirs.

Prediction: New Zealand by 10


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