The Rugby Championship is SANZAAR’s final dress rehearsal for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and it commences on Saturday when the Springboks host the Wallabies at Ellis Park (5pm) before the All Blacks take on the Pumas in Buenos Aires (8pm).
The Wallabies have only once beaten the Boks in the last five meetings between the teams and, though that record disguises a pair of stalemates in 2017, South Africa has won nine of 10 previous Tests against Australia at Ellis Park (the maiden loss came all the way back in 1963), and 13 of their last 16 matches against all comers at the venue.
While it’s been a bumpy 12 months for both sides, the Boks will go into the match with more momentum as a 50% win record during that period includes an inspiring win against the All Blacks in New Zealand; the Wallabies will hop on having won three of their last 10 Tests.
The Wallabies’ best player, Israel Folau is persona non grata at Rugby Australia and that has reduced some of the risk in Rassie Erasmus’ decision to deploy his front-line troops to New Zealand in anticipation of next week’s clash at the Cake Tin.
In terms of their Rugby Championship stats, the Boks will look to leverage their status as the competition’s most prolific tackle-and-turnover proponents (Pieter-Steph du Toit led the comp with 83 tackles) against a Wallabies outfit that ranks second for carries and linebreaks.
Erasmus will also be eager to use SA’s kicking game to confirm whether Australia have improved the comp’s least efficient lineout – Eben Etzebeth finished second for lineout steals in 2018.
The Pumas have not beaten the All Blacks in 33 Tests, and this week represents a golden opportunity to change that.
The defending champions have travelled to Buenos Aires sans the leading Crusaders campaigners that denied the Jaguares in the Super Rugby final. It’s a development compounded by Argentina reinforcing their Jaguares-laden ranks by calling the grizzled overseas contingent of Nicolas Sanchez, Facundo Isa, Santiago Corder and Juan Figallo.
Argentina finished 2018 with the best goal-kicking success rate (83%) and Sanchez topped the points-scorer’s list (67).
But a recording-breaking loss will nonetheless require something special as the All Blacks ranked first overall in 70% of key statistics in 2018.