The Rugby Championship Team Breakdown
The Rugby Championship Team Breakdown
The 2021 Rugby Championship is set to begin on August 13 when South Africa hosts Argentina.
While the Springboks are busy taming Lions in South Africa, the All Blacks, Wallabies, and Pumas are sharpening their respective edges in preparation for the 2021 Rugby Championship, set to begin on August 13 when South Africa hosts Argentina.
The build-up to this year’s championship sees a bit of deviation from years past, given the nature of the global pandemic and the British & Irish Lions tour. But ahead we press on with the Southern Hemisphere’s greatest competition, and the excitement is palpable.
If the 2020 Championship taught us anything, it’s that this tournament is wide open, and the margins between first and last are razor thin. The All Blacks may have taken home the spoils as the top team in 2020, but not before they tied the Wallabies and lost to the Pumas, perhaps indicating their invincible luster has worn down some in the post-Carter, post-McCaw era.
Another wrinkle to that 2020 competition was the notable absence of defending World Cup champs South Africa, who were unable to compete due to covid. Well, in 2021 the Boks are back, the Wallabies are hungry, and the Pumas know they can topple the mighty ABs - this one will be a doozie.
Here is the outlook for all four teams:
The Springboks face a challenging dilemma ahead. Presently entrenched in a heartstopping series with the British & Irish Lions, South Africa will have all eyes fixated on this weekend’s decisive third test with a series winner to be crowned at its culmination.
No more than 6 days after that, however, the Boks must shift their attention to Argentina and the Rugby Championship. Following three brutal matches against the Lions, the question will be, can South Africa hold up physically for an entire tournament? There’s no questioning the Springboks’ ability - South Africa still sits number 1 in the World Rugby Rankings - but given the fatigue that comes with taking on the touring Lions, they’ll have their work cut out.
Tactically, there’s no better mastermind in rugby than Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus, who has already led South Africa to a Rugby Championship and a World Cup title in his 3-year tenure. He looks poised to add a British Lions series win to that resume, and a second Rugby Championship may be enough to cement his legacy as an all-time legend.
Top to bottom, this South Africa team is stacked with talent, size, and physicality. They won’t ‘wow’ anybody with champagne rugby, but they know who they are and precisely how they want to beat you. The dogs up front (Trevor Nyakane, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Duane Vermeuelen to name a few) will dominate the set-piece and collisions. The kickers and distributors in the middle (Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard, Willie le Roux) will dictate the field position. And the finishers (Damian de Allende, Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, Cheslin Kolbe) will make the magic happen to score tries. Simple as!
These guys enter the fold as the favorites.
What is there to say that hasn't already been said about the All Blacks? How about this? Is New Zealand in danger of becoming a "finesse" team? When Covid disrupted world rugby and everything else, the All Blacks were coming off a disheartening loss to an efficient England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Since then they have lost for the first time ever to Argentina (who hadn't played at all in 13 months), following a loss to Australia. Stern tests have been hard to come by since then, with a canter vs a woefully overmatched Tonga XV, and two slightly tougher battles with Fiji. The domestic Super franchises almost swept their Australian counterparts in the Super Rugby Trans Tasman series, but is the crown slipping a little? South Africa is the World Champion and ranked #1, and there is less fear of the All Blacks than in years past.
That said, good luck to the team that underestimates New Zealand - they are stacked all over the field with world-class talent, and will be eager to re-establish themselves as world #1. Look for Brodie Rettalick at Lock to come back strong from his sojourn in Japan, and new blood Will Jordan and Caleb Clarke to run in some spectacular tries from out wide.
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Aussie rugby is going through a transitional period, and it remains to be seen which direction they will take. Accusations of mismanagement and finger-pointing at the top have left the Wallabies in a very uncertain state, and their finances took another hit in settling the Israel Folau fiasco. But there is a glimmer of hope in the rise of a successful generation of Aussie youth teams and a 2-1 win in a tremendous Test series with France over the last month. The trick will be to blend proven veterans like skipper Michael Hooper and Marika Koroibete with dynamic newcomers such as Noah Lolesio at fly-half, and back-rowers Harry Wilson and Rob Valetini. It won't be easy for the young Wallabies in the pressure cooker of The Rugby Championship, but it feels like a fresh start for Aussie Rugby.
The Pumas enjoyed a first-ever win against New Zealand a year ago, upsetting the All Blacks 25-15 under the lights in Sydney. The win came under trying circumstances, with the Argentinian squad unable to train for two weeks before the test per quarantine rules. Despite the lack of preparations, Argentina fronted up with a performance for the ages.
Since that special day, Argentina has drawn twice with the Wallabies, drawn once with Wales, beaten Wales, and been shut out by the All Blacks. Heading into the Rugby Championship - better prepared we might add - the Pumas know that stringing consistent results together is the key. Can they go where no Argie team has gone before and win the whole thing?
Keep a close eye on flankers Pablo Matera and Maros Kremer - especially if you’re an Aussie, Kiwi, or Saffer flyhalf. These members of the Argentinian demolition squad have that uncanny ability to disrupt an entire attack plan, by way of dominant tackles and pesky breakdown steals. In the wider channels, the ever-influential Nico Sanchez will pull the strings in the 10-shirt, looking to free up space for the dangerous weapons he has around him - notably center Jeronimo de la Fuente and winger Bautista Delguy.
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