|Rugby Championship Match||Best Bets
|Australia v New Zealand
|Australia +5.5 ($1.90)
Australia 1-12 ($3.50)
HT/NT – Australia/Australia ($4.15)
|South Africa v Argentina
|South Africa 13+ ($1.90)
South Africa 16-20 ($5.50)
Australia v New Zealand
Bledisloe Cup: 8.05pm (AEST), Saturday, August 20 at ANZ Stadium, Sydney
The Wallabies will attempt to alleviate a dismal Super Rugby campaign for Australian fans when they host the world champion All Blacks in Saturday night’s Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship opener.
Michael Cheika will name his Wallabies side later on Thursday, with Bernard Foley expected to retain the flyhalf duties and Quade Cooper vying for a reserve spot with Matt Toomua. Matt Giteau and Tevita Kuridrani are the likely centre pairing, while Will Genia should oust Nick Phipps for the halfback duties. Expect Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Drew Mitchell in the back-three, and a loose forward trio of Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper and David Pocock as Cheika reverts to his first-choice World Cup line-up.
Beauden Barrett has got the nod over Aaron Cruden for the All Blacks’ No.10 jumper, while Israel Dagg has been retained at fullback with Ben Smith named on the wing. Injuries to George Moala and Sonny Bill Williams sees Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa pair up in the midfield, and Nathan Harris starts at hooker with Dane Coles still battling injury in the only notable change to the forward pack.
The trans-Tasman rivals have met 155 times, with New Zealand winning 106 Tests to Australia’s 42 and seven games drawn. In Australia, the All Blacks lead the tally 48-25-6, and they hold a 4-2-1 advantage at ANZ Stadium. The Wallabies prevailed 27-19 at the ground last year, before the All Blacks turned the tables 41-13 at Eden Park a week later and 34-17 in the World Cup final at Twickenham.
Australia suffered a historic 3-0 series defeat to England on home soil in June, with the tourists prevailing 39-28, 23-7 and 44-40.
New Zealand downed Wales 3-0 in their home series in June, struggling to put away the underdogs in 39-21 and 36-22 wins in the first two Tests, before powering to a 46-6 win in the third clash.
Dan Carter was the All Blacks’ chief destroyer in the World Cup final, and heir apparent No.10 Beauden Barrett needs to impart the same influence – which he’ll find more difficult than he did when leading the Hurricanes to Super Rugby glory. Bernard Foley will be looking to put a subpar Super Rugby season behind him and rediscover his World Cup form.
Stats That Matter
Australia have won just one of their last 13 Tests against New Zealand. The last two matches between the teams at ANZ Stadium have featured a draw and a win to the Wallabies. Five of the seven Bledisloe Tests at ANZ Stadium have been decided by eight points or less. Australia has lost their last four Tests; New Zealand have lost just twice in their last 43 Tests. Three of the All Blacks’ last four wins over the Wallabies were by 13+ margins.
The influx of experienced Europe-based stars should ensure significant improvement on the Wallabies’ June form, while the early exit of the Australian Super Rugby teams has provided them with more time in camp to prepare for this blockbuster. The return of Pocock from injury is vital, while Giteau, Genia and Ashley-Cooper will take the heat off linchpins Foley, Folau and Hooper. The All Blacks could be vulnerable here, with only seven starters from the World Cup final backing up; the Wallabies could line up the same as they did at Twickenham 1-15. New Zealand have found their recent trips to ANZ Stadium tricky, with the slippery conditions ill-suited to their fast-paced game-plan. Australia will need a momentous defensive effort to knock of the world champs, but while New Zealand’s favouritism is unsurprising, the Wallabies won’t get an opportunity to catch the ABs any weaker. Stick to the 1-12 margins on a greasy night, and lean to the hosts with the start.
The Way It’s Shaping
Australia by 3
South Africa v Argentina
Sunday 1.05am (AEST), August 21 at Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
The Springboks and Pumas open their Rugby Championship campaigns in Nelspruit in a rematch of the 2015 Rugby World Cup third-place playoff.
Elton Jantjies will get the Springboks’ No.10 jumper after spearheading the Lions’ drive to the Super Rugby final. Fellow Lions backs Faf de Klerk, Ruan Combrinck and Lionel Mapoe should also retain their Test spots. Willie le Roux is missing from the squad, which could see Bulls star Jesse Kriel slot in at fullback.
The Pumas will be hoping to have inspirational captain Agustin Creevy back after he missed the end of the Jaguares’ Super Rugby campaign. The likes of Nicolas Sanchez, Joaquin Tuculet, Martin Landajo, Pablo Matera and Tomas Lavanini should form the nucleus of the line-up once again.
In 22 previous meetings, South Africa have prevailed 20 times and Argentina just once, with one Test drawn. The Pumas’ sole win came in Durban last year, 37-25, but the Springboks responded by winning 26-12 in Buenos Aries before taking the RWC third-place playoff match 24-13 in London.
South Africa edged Ireland 2-1 on home soil in their June series, recovering from a 26-20 loss in the first Test by winning the remaining two 32-26 and 19-13.
Argentina downed Italy 30-24 in June, before sharing a home series against France 1-all, winning the first 30-19 and going down 27-0 in the second.
The livewire Jantjies should have garnered plenty of confidence from a stellar Super Rugby campaign, and will be eager to pit his talents against wily Pumas No.10 Sanchez.
Stats That Matter
Five of the last six Tests between the nations were decided by 1-12 margins. South Africa have scored 22+ points in 20 of their 22 Tests against Argentina. The Pumas have scored 17 or less against the Springboks in the last 11 meetings.
Argentina have virtually all played together all season in the Jagaures Super Rugby team, while they’ve had a month-long preparation for this competition. But the bulk of the squad will need to rediscover their confidence after the Jaguares managed just four wins in 15 games. South Africa, meanwhile, should be spurred on by the Lions’ rousing Super Rugby charge, along with the Springboks’ efforts in coming from a Test down to win their series against Ireland. The hosts should have far too much firepower out wide, which complements their traditional strength at the set-piece and the breakdown. The Pumas will be formidable at home during the Rugby Championship, but a repeat of their Durban boilover is highly unlikely this weekend.
The Way It’s Shaping
South Africa by 18