After the opening weekend of this year's Rugby Championship, the writing is already on the wall that this could be the closest competition of its kind so far.
New Zealand have dominated the field in recent years, and although the weather played its role in the result, a 12-12 draw in Sydney last Saturday laid the foundations for a tighter 2014 rendition.
Similarly, South Africa didn't trample over Argentina as some would have supposed, and the South Americans' clinching of a losing bonus point brought its share of positive connotations.
The first round changed the landscape of what might be expected of each team for the remainder of the tournament. We provide predictions for the schedule to come, along with discussion on what may be expected of Saturday's second-round matchups.
|Fixture||Date||Time||Venue||TV Info||Live Stream||Prediction|
|New Zealand vs. Australia||August 23||8:35 a.m. BST/3:35 a.m. ET||Eden Park, Auckland||Sky Sports 3 (UK), SuperSport 1 (RSA)||Sky Go (UK), SuperSport Stream (RSA)||New Zealand by 8|
|Argentina vs. South Africa||August 23||8:40 p.m. BST/3:40 p.m. ET||Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, Salta||Sky Sports 3 (UK), SuperSport 1 (RSA)||Sky Go (UK), SuperSport Stream (RSA)||South Africa by 5|
|New Zealand vs. Argentina||September 6||8:35 a.m. BST/3:35 a.m. ET||McLean Park, Napier||Sky Sports 3 (UK), SuperSport 1 (RSA)||Sky Go (UK), SuperSport Stream (RSA)||New Zealand by 26|
|Australia vs. South Africa||September 6||11:05 a.m. BST/6:05 a.m. ET||Patersons Stadium, Perth||Sky Sports 3 (UK), SuperSport 1 (RSA)||Sky Go (UK), SuperSport Stream (RSA)||South Africa by 4|
|New Zealand vs. South Africa||September 13||8:35 a.m. BST/3:35 a.m. ET||Westpac Stadium, Wellington||Sky Sports 2 (UK), SuperSport 1 (RSA)||Sky Go (UK), SuperSport Stream (RSA)||New Zealand by 12|
|Australia vs. Argentina||September 13||11:05 a.m. BST/6:05 a.m. ET||Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast||Sky Sports 2 (UK), SuperSport 1 (RSA)||Sky Go (UK), SuperSport Stream (RSA)||Australia by 18|
|South Africa vs. Australia||September 27||4:05 p.m. BST/11:05 a.m. ET||Newlands, Cape Town||Sky Sports 2 (UK), SuperSport 1 (RSA)||Sky Go (UK), SuperSport Stream (RSA)||Australia by 5|
|Argentina vs. New Zealand||September 27||11:40 p.m. BST/6:40 p.m. ET||Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, La Plata||Sky Sports 3 (UK), SuperSport 1 (RSA)||Sky Go (UK), SuperSport Stream (RSA)||New Zealand by 14|
|South Africa vs. New Zealand||October 4||4:05 p.m. BST/11:05 a.m. ET||Ellis Park, Johannesburg||Sky Sports 2 (UK), SuperSport 1 (RSA)||Sky Go (UK), SuperSport Stream (RSA)||New Zealand by 6|
|Argentina vs. Australia||October 4||11:10 p.m. BST/6:10 p.m. ET||Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza||Sky Sports 2 (UK), SuperSport 1 (RSA)||Sky Go (UK), SuperSport Stream (RSA)||Australia by 14|
Round 2 Fixtures
New Zealand vs. Australia
Not often in the past 18 moths will Steve Hansen have held much apprehension heading into an international fixture, and with good reason considering the recent form of his New Zealand side.
However, there's a certain duty on this All Blacks side to perform at Eden Park this Saturday, having last lost to the Wallabies at their Auckland fortress back in 1986, a record they'll, of course, want to keep intact.
This year's Bledisloe Cup stands as another prize up for grabs for these two teams, running in tandem in terms of importance with the Rugby Championship.
While Ewen McKenzie has named an unchanged squad from the one that drew at ANZ Stadium, Hansen's most noticeable changes come in the centres, with Conrad Smith and Ryan Crotty replacing Malakai Fekitoa and Ma'a Nonu, respectively.
OptaJason illustrates just how much returning veteran Smith enjoys playing against the Wallabies, and his comeback will be welcomed with open arms by team-mates:
4 - @AllBlacks' Conrad Smith has scored four tries against Australia, against no other nation has he scored more often. Welcome.— OptaJason (@OptaJason) August 21, 2014
New Zealand are a side resplendent with spiritual fight and determination as much as they are physical talent, and it can often be that their surroundings see the best (or worst) come out.
That potential wasn't demonstrated in Sydney's wet atmosphere, but with the weather allowing for a larger involvement of the backs, Eden Park's record should remain intact.
Prediction: New Zealand by 8
Argentina vs. South Africa
As was the case in Australia, Pretoria's rain also made running of the ball difficult at Loftus Versfeld last Saturday, but the sun of Salta should present Argentina and South Africa with a brighter opportunity in Week 2.
Who will win in Salta?
However, with Heyneke Meyer's backs therefore looking to ship it wide on a more frequent basis, it could actually be the case that the hosts perform with less hope than they did in enemy territory.
It's been a trademark of the Pumas' play in recent years to open with a passionate start, especially on home turf, but as the games wear on and genuine quality rises to the top, their shortcomings become all the clearer.
Daniel Hourcade's task in ensuring the exposure of those weaknesses is as minimal as possible. With the return of Juan Martin Hernandez at inside centre this week, the Pumas' coach has one major boost, Ben Coles of Planet Rugby noting how rarely the injury-prone utility has been seen in national team colours of late:
Juan Martín Hernández out for Argentina against South Africa. He's close to mythical status.— Ben Coles (@bencoles_) August 16, 2014
Meyer possesses a potentially devastating back three in the forms of Willie Le Roux, Bryan Habana and Cornal Hendricks, the latter two each having a significant impact on the 13 points their side did manage to claim last Saturday.
The conditions will be as significant to those as much as any other in their hopes of breaking enemy lines, but a supreme focus will also be on young Handre Pollard, retaining his place at No. 10 as Meyer places his faith in the worldly starlet once more.
Prediction: South Africa by 10