The Rugby Championship 2016 a beginners guide:
Start: 20th of August 2016.
Finish: 8th of October 2016
Location: The Southern Hemisphere
To those new, welcome. To those returning, welcome back – Keeping it simple, the Rugby Championship pits Four Rugby Nations against each other. Everyone plays each other twice, once at home and once away, and the team with the most points at the end takes home the cake.
Those in the know could sum up the coming competition with “Super Rugby form doesn’t equate to RC form” But that’s a little easy. It also doesn’t provide you with much insight. So below I have outlined very briefly what makes these four rugby behemoths tick and why they all have a good chance of smashing any of the others about the park.
Fresh off a disappointing (albeit somewhat expected) initial surge into the Super Rugby format with their ’Jaguares’ franchise, Argentina will still be as powerful as ever. Making vast improvements following their 2011 inclusion in the Rugby Championship, I feel they will account for at least one of the three teams this year – and it will most likely take place in their backyard. Don’t take the world rankings as scripture; Argentina (9th) drew with South Africa(3rd) in just the Pumas second game involved in the revamped Championship. 2012 saw their first victory in the competition over Australia and 2015 saw them topple South Africa in South Africa, no easy feat for any top side.
From occasional pests with a mighty scrum to genuine contenders with strike power coming out their ears, Argentina are ever on the up. If you like pretty playing kits, pretty men and pretty rugby – Los Pumas might be for you. Vamos!
Players to watch;
Agustin Creevy – The burly Hooker and Captain of the Pumas has a surprising skill set to unleash during a match. Capable of carrying hard, offloading in the tackle, running mobile lines and leading from the front – he continues to impress with his passion and ability. He also has a hilarious Instagram account.
Santiago Cordero – What a name. That should honestly be all the reason you need to keep an eye on Cordero, but the sprightly winger has buckets of pace and an eye for the try line. One of the subtle components of playing Wing in rugby is being in the right spot at the right moment, something Cordero does consistently well.
New Zealand (All Blacks):
Current World Champions. Dressed like a storm and about as amicable on the field, New Zealand will go in as favourites to win it – as they usually are. Often lacking a discernible weakness and with a ridiculous bench to call on they will be hard pressed to be beaten, although they will not have the luxury of battling in their Eden Park fortress this year. New Zealand haven’t lost at Eden Park since 1994, but will instead play their matches in Christchurch, Wellington and Hamilton for 2016. With star midfielder Sonny Bill Williams injuring himself at the Rio Olympics playing Sevens, the centre pairing looks a more likely target for teams to focus on – but expect whoever fills that jersey to be equally frightening.
Players 1-23 play expansive, high-tempo rugby that is both a joy to watch and nigh impossible to stop once it gets rolling. But they are, after all, only human and have a history of slow/rusty starts to games. Look to the opening match against a hurting Australian side – if there is any team to undo New Zealand, it’s the clever players in gold who love the underdog scenario.
Players to watch;
Beauden Barrett – One of the form players in Super Rugby 2016, this year might be his time to take the mantle as the starting 10 for NZ. Barrett’s mind-boggling pace and power have been utilized off the bench to great effect since his inclusion in 2012 – many fans wondering if he was the new “Super Sub” for years to come, never nailing down the starting spot in part because of his utility ability (say that ten times). 2016 might well be his year – the tyro is now a tyrant for anybody unlucky enough to mark him.
Kieran Read – The All Blacks Captain and everyman. Read does it all, run, kick, chase, tackle, steal, hit, defend, offload. Numerous winning plays have come from this mobile Number 8 taking 2-3 defenders into contact and lobbing the ball with one of his enormous mitts to a free attacker to his side. Nothing seems to unseat him and he often runs the Championship his way.
Resplendent in canary yellow (Australian gold). This year Australia hosted England for a 3 match series. A series to haunt Australian Rugby fans for years to come as England outplayed, out-thought and even out-media-ed their hosts. You could be excused for thinking Australia, after this and some lacklustre performances in their Super Rugby teams might be in a “rebuilding phase” – an affectionate term used when teams have a lot of work to do. Alas, Australia is far from easy-pickings. They have an excellent coach, intelligent players and a real physical presence throughout the field – their forward pack, once seen as ‘soft’ now has a real element of steel and coupled with some stellar weapons like Israel Folau, they can and will unlock your defence.
The Wallabies backed into a corner is a fight nobody wants; they’re tenacious and willing to suffer for their team. They will enter this year’s Championship with something to prove and they have the players with the skillset to grind you into the dirt.
Players to watch;
Israel Folau – Yep, the man is a freak. Tall and powerful, running like a gazelle. Invariably beats the first defender, extraordinary in the air, a real physical threat and has the ability to open the game up with a sniff. If you’re ever lacking a game-plan, “Get it to Folau” is never a bad idea.
David Pocock – A one man army. Pocock in his element can control an entire game by stifling attacking opportunities, stealing the ball outright or shifting momentum. Very much a different player to Kieran Read of New Zealand, despite both sometimes playing in the 8 jersey, but watch him get over the ball and see how he dictates proceedings. He’s held up as the shining light of morality and anything he does wrong must be the other guy’s fault because when you chain yourself to a fence for conservation your heart is the right place.
South Africa (Springboks):
Remember at the start I said Super Rugby doesn’t dictate Championship form? I hope I’m wrong in this case. The Lions, one of South Africa’s franchises, marched their way to their first Super Rugby final just three years after being relegated from the competition entirely. This march was accented with free flowing style, hard-hitting men and a willingness to shake off the mentality that often pervades South African rugby, where they would grind away for penalties and their sharpshooter of the decade would slot goals for an ugly victory. This is a pretty narrow description from me, and certainly, doesn’t encompass all that is South African rugby – but it’s been a part of it long enough to have me excited to see something different.
Things have changed over the years but expect a little extra bump in the direction of ‘exciting’ rugby with the inclusion of the Lions members into the fold. Some things will remain, South Africa will be big, South Africa will hit hard, South Africa will have a beer with you after the game. But now it appears they will have the players to hustle you around the park if beating you senseless doesn’t quite get the job done.
Despite Australia being closer to NZ (both style and geographically), the rivalry between South Africa and New Zealand is hard to ignore – generally when these two play you are seeing a game to remember.
Players to watch;
Faf de Klerk – Great name, greater player. The diminutive halfback joined the Springboks in 2016 and assisted his Lions squad in storming their way to the Super Rugby Final – watch for sniping runs and bullet passes characteristic of a smaller player, but coupled with thunderous defence and an eye for opportunity. A seriously dangerous player to account for.
Eben Etzebeth – I once called him a walking bar-fight. Which is a little harsh, as I think it would take more than a bar full of people to take him down. One of the enforcers in the already intimidating South African side, and at just 24 years old he has many more teams to lay waste to. Playing in one of the Lock positions, when not aggressively defending he is a core component of the engine room – ensuring a clean and stable platform for his team to attack from.
That’s it, you now have a brief understanding of the teams competing and some of the key players. Here’s to another fantastic tournament!
Written by the one-eyed Kiwi – Foveaux