Round 2 of the Rugby Championship takes centre stage this weekend, as the second instalment of the most mouth-watering fixtures in international rugby play out.
It’s a repeat of the Round 1 fixtures with New Zealand taking on Australia and Argentina facing off with South Africa but all four nations come into the round with a huge point to prove.
Here, we take a look at the Rugby Championship standings and preview the upcoming action this weekend.
New Zealand vs. Australia
Australasia’s overlords of rugby played out a fantastic Test match in Round 1, with the 12-12 draw in torrid conditions summing up exactly why both teams are to be feared in the Rugby Championship.
The Wallabies came into the game as underdogs as New Zealand chased their 18th-straight Test victory, but they had the All Blacks’ backs against the wall for large spells of the match in Sydney.
They’ll look to bring such form to Eden Park in Round 2, but as CommentaryBoxSports revealed, they need something special to beat the Kiwis on their own turf:
Auckland has been very kind to the All Blacks down the years, but if Steve Hansen’s side perform as they did at the ANZ Stadium, then a big shock could be on the cards.
That’s something that Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie hopes will happen on Saturday evening, and he’s decided to lead with the same squad he chose in Round 1 in his bid for victory.
Recently speaking with Georgina Robinson of The Sydney Morning Herald, McKenzie said that the much-improved weather conditions will help his players, who fully deserve another crack at the All Blacks:
We were impressed with the pressure we were able to apply in the opening Test and, despite some errors, were pleased with the intent of the group to continue attacking despite the poor weather conditions. I imagine both teams are excited by the prospect of a dry evening in Auckland on Saturday night, which will have an influence on the way the game is played. For us, we know we need to be more clinical in certain areas, but overall we feel the same group of guys deserve the opportunity to have another crack.
However, you get the sense that Australia’s dominance in Round 1 will have riled the All Blacks, and they may be subject to a backlash of sorts.
First five-eighth Aaron Cruden was the only man to get on the scoresheet for New Zealand with four penalties, but the rest of the squad looked rather out of ideas in the wet conditions in Sydney.
Several points now must be proved, and with generous conditions expected in Auckland, the stage is perfectly set for the All Blacks’ stars to do just that.
Argentina vs. South Africa
South Africa began their Rugby Championship campaign with victory over Argentina at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium, but there was enough encouragement in the visitors’ performance to suggest that a reverse of fortunes is within the realms of possibility.
The South Americans have improved dramatically since the last Rugby Championship, where they lost by 60 points to the Springboks, going down 13-6 this time around.
Ruan Pienaar scored the only try of the game just two minutes into the tie, and while Argentina were always playing catch up, they dominated for large spells.
The Pumas will take a lot of encouragement and confidence into Round 2 in front of their home crowd, and while South Africa are superior on the personnel front, pure passion and spirit could take Argentina over the line.
That’s something that fly-half Nicolas Sanchez is hoping for, as he recently said that the Pumas’ stock is rising with every performance—reported via Rugby365:
We have a feeling we are gaining more and more respect with each passing game. We put South Africa under a lot of pressure and could have tied the game in the last minute. But we are going to have to double that effort, because we know South Africa will re-double their effort in Salta.
Similar to the All Blacks, the fact that the Springboks avoided defeat in Round 1 is one of the few positives they can take from the game, and a big step-up is required.
However, as Sanchez said, Argentina will also need to up their game on Saturday to find their way to victory, setting up another mouth-watering tie.
As Round 1’s dramatic ties came to a close, we were left lamenting the end of two matches that summed up why rugby can be such an exciting sport. Luckily, then, we get to do it all again on Saturday.