As we head into the opening round of The Rugby Championship this weekend we preview each of the four competing nations. New Zealand have dominated the tournament, winning five of the six incarnations since Argentina were added to the enlarged Tri-Nations in 2012, but can the Wallabies, Springboks or the Pumas break the All Blacks’ dominance this year?
The new-look Springboks come straight into the tournament from a confidence-boosting series victory over England in June. After a horror 2016-17 when they won just 11 of the 25 Tests they played under Allister Coetzee, new coach Rassie Erasmus has quickly transformed the squad both in mood and playing style. Erasmus is going back to the traditions of Springbok rugby – big brutal forwards to bash up the opposition and then speedy backs to cut them to shreds.
The former Springbok captain Eben Etzebeth has been out of action for nine months‚ after suffering shoulder nerve damage playing against Wales in Cardiff last November. His return brings a solidity to the set-piece and a physicality at the breakdown that was missing at times against England. On his day Etzebeth is as good as any lock in the world, including Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick. His combination with RG Snyman could be frightening.
Born and raised in the rugby heartland of the Eastern Cape, speedster Aphiwe Dyantyi represented Eastern Province U13 in 2007. However at Dale College, he was told he was too small to play for the 1st XV and gave up on the sport. Luckily for the Boks, and rugby in general, he took it up again after school and was scintillating for the Lions in Super Rugby this year, scoring seven tries, which led to his first Test caps against England in June.
The Boks are the one team in The Rugby Championship who may concern New Zealand as they have a pack that can genuinely outmuscle the All Blacks. Their scrum is at present probably the strongest in the world and with Etzebeth back in the mix, their lineout will also improve. Hooker Malcolm Marx is one of the most damaging ball-runners in the game and with pace to burn out wide, if the Boks pack can get some go forward, they will be hard to stop.
There is no shortage of pace, power and talent in the Springbok line-up but sometimes they play some very dumb rugby. They match up very impressively all across the park against most sides but technically they let themselves down, giving up needless penalties and yellow cards which turn the game. There is also question marks around their fitness as they tend to fade late in games.
After the demise of Coetzee’s tenure, the at times controversial Rassie Erasmus has finally been given the Springbok reins. Erasmus was a great thinker and innovator during his playing days where he was part of Nick Mallett’s record-breaking team from 1997 to 1998. After success with the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup and then the Stormers in Super Rugby he moved to Ireland, where he led Munster to runners-up in the 2016-17 PRO12. He began his reign with an impressive series victory over England.
WHAT THEY SAID
“I’m not worried about the pressures of not doing well because I love the Springboks too much to worry about that.
“I’m more worried about where we are going, with all things: building squad depth, trying to be a winning nation again and getting the transformation right. I’m more worried that those things might fall off track along the way if one is not successful.” – Rassie Erasmus, head coach
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RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD
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