Rugby Championship: What we learned of All Blacks, Springboks, Australia, Argentina ahead of key Autumn Internationals | Rugby Union News


South Africa centre Lukhanyo Am, New Zealand wing Will Jordan and Australia wing Marika Koroibete were three of the standouts from the 2022 Rugby Championship

South Africa centre Lukhanyo Am, New Zealand wing Will Jordan and Australia wing Marika Koroibete were three of the standouts from the 2022 Rugby Championship

This November’sĀ autumn internationals may show where the current balance of power lies between Northern and Southern hemisphere rugby. Below, we profile what we learned from the most-recent Rugby Championship…

All Blacks pinch tight title; Foster lives to fight another day in coaching hotseat

They may have pinched the tightest Rugby Championship title in years, but New Zealand will have finished their campaign in perhaps the weakest state any previous winner has.

New Zealand destroyed Australia at Eden Park in Round 6, setting them on course for the title

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New Zealand destroyed Australia at Eden Park in Round 6, setting them on course for the title

New Zealand destroyed Australia at Eden Park in Round 6, setting them on course for the title

They began the tournament with a convincing 26-10 loss away to South Africa in Mbombela, lost 25-18 at home to Argentina for the first time in Round 3, and but for an extraordinary piece of officiating by French referee Mathieu Raynal in Round 5, would have lost to Australia in Melbourne too – and that having led by 18 points in the second half of that Test.

'I've never seen anything like it' - the All Blacks beat Australia in dead time in Round 5 after a controversial decision by referee Matheiu Raynal - watch it unfold in full here

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‘I’ve never seen anything like it’ – the All Blacks beat Australia in dead time in Round 5 after a controversial decision by referee Matheiu Raynal – watch it unfold in full here

‘I’ve never seen anything like it’ – the All Blacks beat Australia in dead time in Round 5 after a controversial decision by referee Matheiu Raynal – watch it unfold in full here

Highlights of the Bledisloe Cup clash between Australia and New Zealand at the Marvel Stadium in Melbourne in Round 5 - the game of the tournament this year

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Highlights of the Bledisloe Cup clash between Australia and New Zealand at the Marvel Stadium in Melbourne in Round 5 – the game of the tournament this year

Highlights of the Bledisloe Cup clash between Australia and New Zealand at the Marvel Stadium in Melbourne in Round 5 – the game of the tournament this year

In among their performances and defeats over the last year or so, head coach Ian Foster has seemingly come close to the sack a number of times, only to just survive, and with this trophy success he continues to remain in situ.

The positives will be that they bounced back from each of those disappointing performances with much-improved displays – beating the Boks 35-23 in Johannesburg in Round 2, hammering the Pumas 53-3 in Round 4 and putting the Wallabies to the sword 40-14 in Auckland in Round 6.

After losing to South Africa in Round 1, New Zealand secured a superb victory over the Boks at Ellis Park in Round 2

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After losing to South Africa in Round 1, New Zealand secured a superb victory over the Boks at Ellis Park in Round 2

After losing to South Africa in Round 1, New Zealand secured a superb victory over the Boks at Ellis Park in Round 2

The current All Blacks side may not hold the capabilities of even a couple of years ago, and they aren’t close to being one of the greatest New Zealand sides of all time, but they retain a most threatening counter-attacking and free-running ability to score tries.

The All Blacks reacted to defeat at the hands of Argentina by putting 53 points past them in Hamilton

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The All Blacks reacted to defeat at the hands of Argentina by putting 53 points past them in Hamilton

The All Blacks reacted to defeat at the hands of Argentina by putting 53 points past them in Hamilton

In Will Jordan, they have one of the premier wingers in world rugby, while Caleb Clarke has shown his superb pace and power this year on the opposite side.

Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, David Havili, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga and Aaron Smith also remain a stellar group of attacking backs, but they are underpowered in the forwards, particularly in the front-row.

Ardie Savea has had an exceptional summer at No 8, but other back-row standouts have been few and far between, while their first-choice second row pairing of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick have barely played together, with the latter regularly out through injury.

New Zealand’s Autumn International fixtures

Saturday, October 29 Japan vs New Zealand Kick off TBC
Saturday, November 5 Wales vs New Zealand 3.15pm
Sunday, November 13 Scotland vs New Zealand 2.15pm
Saturday, November 19 England vs New Zealand 5.30pm

At their best, they remain capable of beating anyone in the world – as results in the Rugby Championship have proven – but they have also proven eminently beatable: Ireland have defeated them three of their last four meetings (one in Dublin last November and twice on Kiwi soil in July), while France caught them last autumn too.

Ireland's claimed a historic Test series victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand back in July

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Ireland’s claimed a historic Test series victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand back in July

Ireland’s claimed a historic Test series victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand back in July

This November, New Zealand will avoid France and Ireland, playing Japan, Wales, Scotland and England, and their clash at Twickenham on Saturday November 26 is their big one – indeed, it’s one Eddie Jones and co may target for a potential marquee win too.

New Zealand head coach Ian Foster was pleased to see his side end the Rugby Championship in positive fashion thanks to their thumping win over Australia

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New Zealand head coach Ian Foster was pleased to see his side end the Rugby Championship in positive fashion thanks to their thumping win over Australia

New Zealand head coach Ian Foster was pleased to see his side end the Rugby Championship in positive fashion thanks to their thumping win over Australia

Am, Pollard’s crucial importance to South Africa; Huge Springbok confidence misplaced?

South Africa may be the defending World Cup champions, but they were not good enough this year to beat a very inconsistent All Blacks side to the title – and that despite playing New Zealand at home in both games.

The confidence within Springbok management and the supporter base is enormously high, ever since controversial director of rugby Rassie Erasmus led them to World Cup success in Japan, and followed it up by winning a quite dreadful series against the British & Irish Lions in 2021, filled with public referee complaints and intimidation, poor standard of play and zero atmosphere in empty stadiums.

Yet, their summer performance in a 2-1 series success over a very average Wales side – who were off the back of a fifth-placed Six Nations finish and defeat to Italy – was hardly convincing, and nor were their displays across the Rugby Championship.

The high of a Round 1 win over the All Blacks was flattened by a comprehensive loss at home to the same opposition a week later, where a golden chance to bury the All Blacks as far as the title and confidence was concerned slipped by.

The Springboks began the Rugby Championship positively by beating New Zealand

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The Springboks began the Rugby Championship positively by beating New Zealand

The Springboks began the Rugby Championship positively by beating New Zealand

Round 3 saw them fall to a really poor 25-17 defeat to Australia in Adelaide, with only two converted tries in the final five minutes adding respectability to the score-line.

They recovered to win Tests in Sydney and Buenos Aires in Rounds 4 and 5, but conceding three tries at home to the Pumas in their final clash was always likely to leave them struggling as far as the title went, as they failed to register a bonus-point win (Rugby Championship rules meaning sides must score three tries more than their opponents).

South Africa beat Argentina in Round 6, but the concession of three tries meant they could not take the title

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South Africa beat Argentina in Round 6, but the concession of three tries meant they could not take the title

South Africa beat Argentina in Round 6, but the concession of three tries meant they could not take the title

Centre Lukhanyo Am and fly-half Handre Pollard are key to the success of their side, and their absences have been keenly felt, with depth behind them not at the same level.

South Africa don’t look particularly fearsome at present, but their scrum and driving maul remain extremely difficult to contain. Discipline against the Boks is hugely important, as denying them entries into the 22 is the No 1 route to success.

In truth, the overwhelming confidence that exists around them appears misplaced, and fixtures to come against Ireland and France in November will provide an interesting gauge.

South Africa’s Autumn International fixtures

Saturday, November 5 Ireland vs South Africa 5.30pm
Saturday, November 12 France vs South Africa 8pm
Saturday, November 19 Italy vs South Africa 1pm
Saturday, November 26 England vs South Africa 5.30pm

There is no nation or coaching group that blames referees for defeats more than South Africa, but there is a lot more to their losses than the officiating. The next year or so leading into the 2023 World Cup in France is the time to truly prove they are the best in the world.

Inconsistency remains Wallabies’ biggest thorn

Australia may not possess either the power of South Africa or the ruthless attacking efficiency of New Zealand, yet they finished the 2022 Rugby Championship feeling they let a chance for the title slip somewhat.

Inconsistency remains the major thorn for Dave Rennie’s squad, as they played well enough in the tournament to beat each and every team, but ultimately ended it with just two wins.

Australia's Dave Rennie admits New Zealand were far superior to his side as they were well beaten at Eden Park in the final game

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Australia’s Dave Rennie admits New Zealand were far superior to his side as they were well beaten at Eden Park in the final game

Australia’s Dave Rennie admits New Zealand were far superior to his side as they were well beaten at Eden Park in the final game

Australia captain James Slipper was 'gutted' with his side's performance in Round 6

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Australia captain James Slipper was ‘gutted’ with his side’s performance in Round 6

Australia captain James Slipper was ‘gutted’ with his side’s performance in Round 6

A strong start saw them pick up victory over Argentina in Mendoza, but they followed that up with a costly 48-17 loss to the Pumas in Round 2, where they were firmly second best.

They responded to that defeat with a superb showing in victory over the world champion Springboks in Adelaide, but a week on succumbed 24-8 to the Boks in Sydney, as they failed to back up performances.

Australia were much the better team as they beat South Africa in Adelaide in Round 3

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Australia were much the better team as they beat South Africa in Adelaide in Round 3

Australia were much the better team as they beat South Africa in Adelaide in Round 3

One week on, and the Wallabies could not back up their display as they lost to South Africa in Sydney

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One week on, and the Wallabies could not back up their display as they lost to South Africa in Sydney

One week on, and the Wallabies could not back up their display as they lost to South Africa in Sydney

The game of the tournament in Round 4 saw them fight back from 18 points behind against the All Blacks to lead into the last minute, only to throw things away when Bernard Foley hesitated over a penalty kick from hand near the goal-line, was brutally punished by referee Raynal, and the visitors pinched the win through Jordie Barrett at the death.

Again, a week on, they couldn’t repeat their efforts as New Zealand strolled to a 40-14 win, and with it the title.

July was much of the same story for the Wallabies in their Test series against England, as they were not only inconsistent week-to-week, but inconsistent within games as well.

They fought back with 14 men to pick up victory in the first Test, but they could not match that in Tests two or three as they fell to defeats against Eddie Jones’ charges.

Australia’s Autumn International fixtures

Saturday, October 29 Scotland vs Australia 5.30pm
Saturday, November 5 France vs Australia 8pm
Saturday, November 12 Italy vs Australia 1pm
Saturday, November 19 Ireland vs Australia 8pm
Saturday, November 26 Wales vs Australia 3.15pm

Australia have suffered badly through injuries too, it must be said, but at present, they look behind the likes of France, Ireland, England, New Zealand and South Africa in terms of ability – notwithstanding the fact they recently beat England and South Africa, and should have beaten the All Blacks.

They have also given themselves the most gruelling November schedule of any nation, playing five games where they will face Scotland, France, Italy, Ireland and Wales. Getting some consistency to their performances will be the No 1 goal.

Cheika making Argentina a force again before World Cup?

This time 12 months ago, Argentina were coming out of the 2021 Rugby Championship having lost all six fixtures to the Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies – and having lost them badly too.

Defeats came by comprehensive margins, losing by 20 points and 19 points to South Africa, 39 points and 23 points to New Zealand, and 19 points and 15 points to Australia.

Thereafter, they headed into last year’s autumn internationals where they lost to France, beat Italy and then suffered a demoralising 53-7 defeat to Ireland in Dublin.

March 2022 saw former Australia head coach Michael Cheika join the fold, however, and their improvement under the Australian has been big.

Argentina’s Autumn International fixtures

Sunday, November 6 England vs Argentina 2.15pm
Saturday, November 12 Wales vs Argentina 5.30pm
Saturday, November 19 Scotland vs Argentina 3.15pm

In July, they secured a 2-1 series victory over Scotland, beating them comprehensively in the first, losing badly in the second, and stealing victory at the last in the third to secure the series.

The 2022 Rugby Championship saw them begin with a 41-26 defeat to Australia in Mendoza, where a series of late tries saw the game slip away from them and suggested there was still a lot to improve on, but Round 2 saw them turn it all around.

The Pumas showed their improvement and abilities by battering Australia in Round 2

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The Pumas showed their improvement and abilities by battering Australia in Round 2

The Pumas showed their improvement and abilities by battering Australia in Round 2

A fabulous 48-17 win over Australia was then followed up by a historic 25-18 victory over the All Blacks in Christchurch – winning a Test on Kiwi soil for the first time.

Australia ran away with victory vs the Pumas in their opening game of the tournament this year

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Australia ran away with victory vs the Pumas in their opening game of the tournament this year

Australia ran away with victory vs the Pumas in their opening game of the tournament this year

A 53-3 humbling to the All Blacks followed in Round 4, before two chaotic clashes against South Africa in the final two rounds brought two defeats, but performances were much-improved on a year ago, and it was just the second time since the Pumas joined the Rugby Championship in 2012 that they finished with two wins.

“There were two (other) games that we could have won, against Australia (also at home) and last week (at home against South Africa). I’m not happy with the results, but as a team we are improving,” Cheika told media following the Rugby Championship.

“It’s difficult to say this because I don’t want to give the impression that we are only going to compete and nothing else. We need to win, we played well and we were able to do it.

Argentina stunned New Zealand by beating them in Christchurch in Round 3

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Argentina stunned New Zealand by beating them in Christchurch in Round 3

Argentina stunned New Zealand by beating them in Christchurch in Round 3

“In general we have increased the level of our game, but it’s time to believe that we can win more often against the best teams in the world. It’s very important to take these learnings into November.

“At one point the referee told Julian (Montoya, Pumas captain) he has empathy for him. We don’t need empathy, we need respect. It is very difficult to win games when decisions are made like this.”

Cheika is on a mission to put respect back on Argentina’s name, and judging by the start he has made this year, he’s well on course for it.

Argentina captain Julian Montoya put the Pumas' Round 4 win in New Zealand down to hard work and not a one off 'magic moment'

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Argentina captain Julian Montoya put the Pumas’ Round 4 win in New Zealand down to hard work and not a one off ‘magic moment’

Argentina captain Julian Montoya put the Pumas’ Round 4 win in New Zealand down to hard work and not a one off ‘magic moment’

They face England, Wales and Scotland this November, and will be targeting at least two victories – which would send a further signal out the Pumas are on the march back.

Historically, Argentina have struggled through the year before peaking for World Cups, making semi-finals in 2007 and 2015. Could Cheika be building for that again?





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