World Rugby

The Rugby Championship Round 1 Recap: South Africa, Australia Roll

The Rugby Championship Round 1 Recap: South Africa, Australia Roll

The first round of The Rugby Championship each year usually provides a good barometer of where every team stands. South Africa and Australia won this week.

Aug 7, 2022 by Briar Napier
The Rugby Championship Round 1 Recap: South Africa, Australia Roll

The first round of The Rugby Championship each year usually provides a good barometer of where every team stands.

After the first two games, there are two squads in particular that have jumped out to the front of the pack.

There still are five more matchweeks to go, but SANZAAR's annual tournament has gotten off to an electric start. How the standings will finish by its conclusion still very much hangs in the balance, but Round 1 showed which nations hit the ground running from kickoff.

Below is a recap of the two games from the first weekend of play in this year's Rugby Championship - South Africa-New Zealand and Australia-Argentina. 

All matches are being streamed live on FloRugby.

New Zealand's Freefall Continues As South Africa Stomps Old Rival

Is there even a proper word or phrase to describe New Zealand coach Ian Foster's seat at this point? Sizzling? Scorching? Nuclear? 

Whatever the temperature of it may be, it just got a lot hotter after South Africa beat the All Blacks 26-10 in Nelspruit, South Africa - a result that looked more lopsided than the score indicated. 

The Springboks were fast and furious all night, striking first with a try through winger Kurt-Lee Arendse in the ninth minute, before they shut down nearly every New Zealand attack that followed for the remainder of the match. 

Handre Pollard's perfect boot throughout the night (6-for-6 kicking) helped give the home side a 19-3 lead with minutes to play, and though the All Blacks' Shannon Frizell crossed over in the 79th minute, just moments after Arendse saw a red card for taking out an airborne Beauden Barrett. 

The Boks' Willie le Roux scored his team's second try right before the final siren to really rub the result in. 

It was South Africa's first home win over New Zealand since 2014 and its biggest win over its rivals in 94 years. Considering that the Springboks have only won the Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship once since 2010, it was as good of a start as it could get this time around for the reigning World Cup champions. 

As for New Zealand, however, a nightmare slump continued. 

To put the All Blacks' dreadful run of form - now having lost five of their past six tests - into perspective, it marks just the fourth time in the country's rugby playing history that it has been on such a poor six-match run. 

The other occasions happened in 1928-1930 (one win, five losses), 1949 (six losses) and 1998 (one win, five losses). 

Currently sitting at a 64% winning percentage for his tenure, Foster officially has the lowest victory rate of any All Blacks coach who has managed in at least 20 tests, though he does have the benefit of being under a rugby union that isn't historically known for sacking coaches. The last occasion of this happening was with the firing of John Mitchell in 2003. 

However, with New Zealand sitting at the lowest rank in team history (fifth after Saturday) in the World Rugby Rankings era (since 2003) and in danger of going even lower, there is serious concern that Foster won't make it to the scheduled end of his contract, the conclusion of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. 

If the All Blacks don't live up to their lofty expectations, does Foster even make it out of this year's Rugby Championship with his job intact?

Australia Gets Better Of Former Boss But Doesn't Come Out Unscathed

Australia came into this year's Rugby Championship opener with a point to prove, and it wasn't just because it had a disappointing home series loss to England last month. 

It was mainly because the coach that took the Wallabies to the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, Michael Cheika, had been named Argentina's new boss earlier this year and was facing his home nation (and former place of employment) as a national team coach for the first time. 

Cheika didn't leave the Australia job in 2019 on the greatest of terms - poor runs of form and some strained player relationships played roles in that - but he did have some immediate momentum with Los Pumas on his side after a thrilling home series win against Scotland in July to kick off his tenure. 

With all of that history in the background, it made Australia's comeback 41-26 win Saturday in Mendoza, Argentina that much sweeter. 

The Wallabies trailed 26-17 with 20 minutes to play, but coach Dave Rennie's squad blitzed its way to 24 unanswered points in the final quarter through a trio of tries via a penalty, Folau Fainga'a and Len Ikitau to officially take the Rugby Championship standings lead ahead of South Africa after the first set of tests. 

The fightback was even more impressive considering that captain Michael Hooper made himself unavailable for the test due to personal reasons, but because youngsters, like his replacement at flanker, 23-year-old Queensland Reds standout Fraser McReight (who crossed over for his first Wallabies try in the 47th minute), decided to shine, Australia was able to nab a great victory in hostile territory against a familiar face on the opposing touchline. 

If there was one thing that could dampen the Wallabies' post-match mood at the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, however, it would be injury, and that's exactly what happened. 

Fly-half Quade Cooper, who already had missed the entirety of the England series due to being banged up, was ruled to have suffered an Achilles injury after he slipped on the turf, one that is reported to be severe enough for the 34-year-old veteran to miss significant time, and that's something that could prove critical with the next Rugby World Cup just over a year away.

Combined with Hooper's exit from the tour and the absences of center Samu Kerevi (knee), prop Scott Sio (neck/shoulder) and others, Australia is severely battered and bruised for the second test of the Argentina mini-tour next week in San Juan. 

But, if the replacements can rally to victory despite those ailments once again and get on a winning tear, maybe the looming showdown against South Africa later this month in Adelaide won't seem so daunting.