The Rugby Championship starts this weekend with a condensed version in order to fit it into the hectic schedule of 2015 before the Rugby World Cup, but who will win the Rugby Championship 2015? You can't help but think that The Rugby Championship is simply an appetizer, to the Rugby World Cup.
We can expect to see plenty of revamped squads as the results of the Rugby Championship become secondary to the Rugby World Cup preparation as teams look to rest some players, while getting others into some much needed form.
This has started already with some of the players named for the All Blacks to play Argentina, not being the best available. Stars like Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Julian Savea, Sam Whitelock and Dane Coles are all missing from the All Blacks squad. They are given rests after their hectic Super Rugby seasons, while their places are taken by players who need valuable gametime to regain form like Israel Dagg, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock.
Expect plenty of this from the other teams too. Interestingly, no team has won The Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup double in the same year. This record sits poorly with the All Blacks especially, given their dominant record in the tournament, yet the one Rugby World Cup year they didn't win the Rugby Championship, they won the Rugby World Cup instead.
While it is expected that the likes of Argentina probably can afford to experiment in the Rugby Championship because nothing is expecting of them, it is more difficult for the All Blacks who have the expectation of fans that they will not only win the Rugby Championship, but they should win the Rugby World Cup. It creates an enormous balancing act for the selectors.
Australia and South Africa have the edge in the Rugby Championship 2015 with two home games, while New Zealand hosts Argentina in their only home game, so defending their title could be tougher than expected. Each team plays each other only once in 2015, meaning that one loss will probably be the end of the championship hopes for each team.
The Rugby Championship 2015 will be a balancing act for coaches, but you get the feeling that the main focus of teams is the Rugby World Cup 2015 and given the limited other opportunities for match practice before the tournament starts in September, the Rugby Championship will probably be more of an excuse for some gameplay, rather than being about winning the championship trophy.
The winner of the Australia vs South Africa game in Round 1 will challenge the All Blacks for the trophy. Plenty will depend on who both the Springboks and Wallabies pick in the Number 10 jerseys.
Who will win The Rugby Championship? Can the All Blacks do The Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup double?