Saturday 27 September 2014. 16:05 BST. On the other side of the planet, the penultimate round of The Rugby Championship kicks off. The Springboks battle it out against the Wallabies, with the Green and Gold looking to notch up a first win on South African soil in three years, and a first win in Cape Town in twenty years. They don’t. Jean de Villiers and Co seal a comfortable enough win and look forward to the following week’s showdown with New Zealand at Ellis Park. Five hours later, the All Blacks secure the pivotal victory away to a spirited Argentina (a nation they’ve never lost to) to once again lift the Championship trophy.
So, that pretty much wraps this weekend’s international action up then.
But does it? Here’s how the table looks with two rounds of the tournament to go.
Is there any reason to believe that Round Five will go any other way than that described above? In Mendoza, anything other than a New Zealand victory looks very unlikely. Steve Hansen’s men have played themselves into a very strong position by extending their incredible run of home victories to 36 matches in recent weeks (the last being a close affair against the Springboks, won by a deft pass from Kieran Read to Richie McCaw). The only crumb of comfort for the Argentinians is that they will be playing the match on home soil. But even then, things don’t look promising for Los Pumas. Their last victory at home was in June 2013 and came against lowly Georgia, and they’ve not won a game in the tournament since joining the old Tri-Nations and creating The Rugby Championship in 2012. But in their last home match they only narrowly lost out to the mighty South Africans (eventually losing by just 2 points) and they’ve got to win that first game so time right? Mmmm. Red Rugby doesn’t think so. We just can’t talk ourselves out of an All Black win. Mainly because, the last time they lost away was back in December 2012 in THAT game against England. A Kiwi win it is. The trophy will be once again draped in black.
Where there is more chance of an upset is in Cape Town. The reverse fixture in Perth was a close affair and we expect that to be the case on Saturday. Yes, the Australians got thumped in their only other away fixture so far this year (51-20 against those pesky All Blacks) but Ewen McKenzie will be targeting this game away from home. Why? Because the New Zealanders are just a cut above the rest at the moment. The real battle Down Under is for second place among the SANZAR countries. The Wallabies for a while (especially last year) looked like they were going off the boil. But there have been some encouraging signs of recovery this season. Furthermore, their Super Rugby sides have had one of their best campaigns for a while, with the Waratahs being crowned champion club of the southern hemisphere. That Waratahs side now forms the backbone of the Wallabies outfit and will be difficult to sweep aside. The Springboks, however, are creaking: uncertain victories over Argentina; a loss against Australia and (last round) a display against New Zealand that would suggest their mentality is not quite right at the moment. They seem to be buckling under pressure. There were several occasions in Wellington where the Boks had numerous phases on the All Black try line. But they could not convert that dominance into points. When it mattered, they came up short.
So are Australia and South Africa two sides going in different directions, and meeting somewhere in the middle? Time will tell. All we would say is, if you’re desperate to stick a tenner on an upset this weekend, back the Wallabies.
Or, for a (probably) comprehensive summary of this weekend’s Rugby Championship action, read that opening paragraph again on Monday morning.