New Zealand and South Africa go into the third round of matches unbeaten
New Zealand v Argentina (New Plymouth 7.35pm local, 8.35am BST)
New Zealand began to justify their tag as strong favourites for this year’s tournament beating Australia home and away in rounds 1 and 2, following their 54-34 win in Sydney with a 35-29 win in Dunedin. The Dunedin match was an all time great, as New Zealand were behind with a couple of minutes left on the clock and they had already comeback once from 17-0 down in the first half. A late Beauden Barrett try sealed the win by a much closer margin than everyone expected.
This may not be a vintage New Zealand team yet. Midway between the four year cycle between world cups they are integrating some younger players and dealing ith the retirements of an experienced core but their tremendous attacking talent gets them through. A measure of the “growing pains” the team is going through is that they conceded 84 points in their six Rugby Championship games last year, and have already conceded 63 after their two games so far games this year.
The Argentinians lost both tests against South Africa to start the competition 37-15 away and then 41-23 at home.
Since their introduction into the tournament in 2012, they’ve not finished better than fourth spot except in the shortened format of 2015. They have the players to hurt any side but it’s lack of consistency and the nerve to hold out for wins where they must improve.
They gained just one victory in 2016, which came against South Africa in Round 2 when they ran out 26-24 winners. However then came four successive losses to New Zealand and Australia
They boast a strong set-piece with Agustín Creevy at the forefront while the locks, back-row and half-backs are also solid. On paper their squad is capable of squeezing a win against any side on their day, but it would be a huge surprise if they got a result here
That is reflected in odds for this game. New Zealand are 1/33 favourites, Argentina 25/1 and Argentina +30 at 10/11 is widely available on the points handicap.
I am going to take a chance on Argentina +30. New Zealand will win but +30 is a massive margin for a side that is conceding points as New Zealand did against Australia.
Australia v South Africa (Perth, 6pm local,11am BST)
The Springboks entered the 2017 Rugby Championship with modest optimism. They have improved a great deal since last year’s disastrous season. They claimed a 3-0 series victory over a weakened French side in June, and the bulk of their squad is made up of Lions players that went to a second successive Super Rugby final.
In the Rugby Championship last year they won two of their six Tests. They suffered two massive losses against the All Blacks and a first-ever defeat to Argentina. Later in the year they lost to England, suffered a first-ever loss against Italy and finished with a loss against Wales. Defence was a major issue, as well as organisation and tactics on attack.
2017 has seen the Springboks get off to a fantastic start. In the series against France defensive organisation was dramatically improved. In attack, the resurgence of our forward pack’s efforts in cleaning out rucks and securing clean ball has allowed the half back combination of Cronje/Jantjies to flourish. This combined with set plays brought in by coach Smith should give a talented backline far more of a chance to make an impact against any side in this year’s Rugby Championship.
The Springboks won both tests against Argentina to start this competition 37-15 at home and then 41-23 in Argentina and will be expecting to finish second in the championship, winning their home games and competing with Australia in this game away from home.
Australia were 40-6 down in their first game against New Zealand and only lost 54-34 as they threw caution to the wind and attacked as New Zealand took their foot off the gas. Then in round 2 in Dunedin they went 17-0 up, went behind early in the second half but came back to lead with three minutes to go before finally losing to a late try. 35-29 was a far narrower loss than everyone expected
It was a re-affirming performance from some of Australia’s stars such as Folau, Hooper, Foley and Genia confirming that Australia have talented players, albeit the team is in a transitional phase midway through the four year world cup cycle.
Since losing the 2015 World Cup final to New Zealand, Australia have won fewer than half of their Tests and this match will go someway towards telling if they are recovering consistently.
Bookmakers expect this to be a very tight game. Australia are narrow favourites 5/6 outright and -1 on the handicap at 10/11, South Africa are available at 11/10.
The game will be won or lost up front, a traditional South African strength where the visitors will be looking to deny the Australian backline quick ball
Also note that the game is in Perth, four hours less travelling time than playing on the East coast of Australia for the South Africans.
I like South Africa to win this match narrowly, and they can be backed to win by 1-10 points at 13/5 with Betfair Sportsbook