The Rugby Championship is nearly over already, with the Southern Hemisphere giants going at it for only one more action packed rounds. In all honesty, it is hard to know what to make of the Rugby Championship 2015, given that the focus for all teams is the Rugby World Cup. This means that we should expect to see some testing of new combinations and fresh faces included in teams to see if they sink or swim, while there will be a fine line between blooding players and resting them.
It is crazy to think that given the intensity of test matches between the best teams in the world including the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies, we would see players being blooded or new combinations. The traditionalists probably struggle with this concept, but the bigger picture is a Rugby World Cup starting soon.
Interestingly, most fans and teams know not to read too much into this condensed version of the Rugby Championship, but there are such high expectations on the All Blacks for example, that they will have to be careful to tread that fine line between winning and experimenting. This competition will be fast paced with only three matches for each team, so one defeat could be all it takes to eliminate a team from winning the championship. No team has ever won both The Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup in the same calendar year.
There are some interesting selections across the teams for Round 3. For the Wallabies the main talking point is the selection of both David Pocock and Michael Hooper in the same starting team, with Pocock starting in the unaccustomed role of Number Eight. Usually if a team starts with two openside flankers, they are both on the side of the scrum. Could this be the key to beating the All Blacks? The Wallabies are also starting with French based pair Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell in their backline.
For the All Blacks, Nehe Milner-Skudder gets a test debut on the wing against the Wallabies, while Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams earn recalls to start in the backline.
The Springboks have named Jean de Villiers in their team to play the Argentina Pumas. This represents the celebration of recovery from injury for De Villiers who has returned early to captain the team against Argentina. There will be pressure on De Villiers to shine, given how effective Jesse Kriel and Damian De Allende were in the midfield against the All Blacks.
The Pumas side hasn’t been named, but watch for them to look to save face in this game, as they have really struggled in the Rugby Championship 2015.
The Rugby Championship Round 3
Australia vs New Zealand
The top two teams in the Rugby Championship 2015 play in a winner takes all battle in Sydney. The Wallabies would be upset winners if they were to take this game and win the title.
The Wallabies received a favourable draw for The Rugby Championship 2015, hosting both the Springboks and All Blacks. This could play a crucial role in improving their chances of winning.
It will be interesting to see how the move by the Wallabies to start usual openside loose forward David Pocock at Number Eight will go. It is a bold move in such an important test match, but shows how despite being a Rugby Championship decider, the real goal is Rugby World Cup glory.
Can Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell handle the All Blacks? They have been playing Europe for a while, so it will be a fast paced test for them too.
Is Michael Cheika onto something with his selections?
The All Blacks’ selectors have stuck to their word and will start young Nehe Milner-Skudder on the wing for his test debut against the Wallabies in The Rugby Championship decider. Last week we saw Lima Sopoaga and James Broadhurst debut in the win over the Springboks and it shows not only confidence by the coaching staff, but also the depth in New Zealand as the conveyer belt keeps producing great players to make other nations envious.
Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams start in a near full strength team, with plenty of experience and the return of Ben Smith to his usual fullback position and “The Bus” Julian Savea starting on the wing. The All Blacks will have a totally different look next week with, most likely, less at stake and a rematch with the Wallabies.
These two teams drew their last game here, while the All Blacks haven’t lost their last five tests in Sydney, and hold a 31-19 head to head lead. No one can deny that the Wallabies have their best shot at winning the Rugby Championship for the first time, while they won the Tri Nations in 2011 which was also a Rugby World Cup year, which bodes well for Saturday, although given that they lost in the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup, then it is hardly ideal in the long term.
The mighty All Blacks hold a 48-24 head to head lead against the Wallabies in Australia, but in the last 12 matches in Australia, the home team has won three, while there have been two draws and some very close wins for the All Blacks.
My pick: All Blacks by 6 points
Fantasy Rugby picks: (Wallabies):David Pocock, Stephen Moore, Bernard Foley, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Israel Folau.
All Blacks: Kieran Read, Brodie Retallick, Dane Coles, Ben Smith, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Nehe Milner-Skudder.
Springboks vs Pumas
The Pumas have lost both of their matches in The Rugby Championship 2015 and face the harsh reality of travelling to South Africa for their final game. In actual fact, the Pumas have been competitive for periods against both teams, but were ultimately found wanting for eighty minutes.
The Springboks and Pumas both love the forward exchanges at the toilet.
The hosts welcome back Jean de Villiers to partner the impressive Damian de Allende. This midfield should have a field day against the hapless Pumas, while players like Jesse Kriel and Willie Le Roux could also benefit.
The Springboks have won eight from eight in this fixture in the past. The Springboks have recorded some massive wins, including a 73-13 win two years ago.
It is going to be enough tough challenge for the Pumas, who aren’t quite as competitive in 2015 as they would have liked.
My pick: Springboks by 21 points
If you are playing fantasy rugby then back the Boks! The Springboks should be too strong for the Pumas and watch for Willie Le Roux, Damian de Allende and Handre Pollard reap the rewards.
Fantasy Rugby picks: Springboks – Bismarck du Plessis, Marcell Coetzee, Schalk Burger, Eben Etzebeth, Handre Pollard, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Willie Le Roux, Bryan Habana.
Pumas (Not named yet) Agustin Creevy, Santiago Cordero, Facundo Isa – if playing.
Who are you picking to win the Rugby Championship Round 3 games?