The 2017 edition of The Rugby Championship (TRC) really does seem a tantalising prospect. After the British & Irish Lion’s series draw with the World Champion All Blacks in June, it feels as though the Kiwis will finally go into a TRC campaign with a point to prove. It would appear that their air of invincibility has taken a slight dive, and it will be fascinating to see how the remaining Southern Hemisphere contingent of South Africa, Australia and Argentina approach their Test matches against Kieran Read’s men.
Steve Hansen’s boys will be positively heartbroken at not having beaten the British Lions. Many pundits were expecting them to “Blackwash” their European opponents, but this proved to be far from the case. Having already gone down to the Irish in Chicago last year for the first time in history, as well as having had England equal their record for successive Test match wins a few months ago, the drawn Lions series has led many to question whether the period of All Black dominance is finally coming to an end. Unfortunately for their Southern Hemisphere opponents in this season’s TRC, they may well adopt the attitude of a “poked tiger” and hit back with a vengeance in the Tests to come. I’m expecting them to hit back at their critics and claim another title.
While Allister Coetzee’s continued inclusion in the national set-up continues to raise eyebrows, the full-time appointment of Brenden Venter as a defence guru, as well as Rassie Erasmus’ arrival as SA director of rugby will certainly pay dividends in the long term. Indeed, the Springboks’ 3-0 series win over the French in June was a welcome improvement after the horror show of 2016, and all indications are that they will be competitive in the upcoming Rugby Championship. Let’s hope they can restore some pride in this campaign.
The Jaguares’ improved showing in Super Rugby this year is a good sign for their national team – especially since they are their national team in all but name! Daniel Hourcade will be pleased at the progression of his team, but will need to carefully manage what may be a severely drained outfit at the conclusion of TRC. Having already played a full Super-season, they may not have much fuel in the tank at the back-end of their campaign, but at least they will have consistency and familiarity in their favour. Los Pumas are getting better every year, and I’m backing them to claim bronze ahead of the Aussies this term.
With the Wallaby franchises performing so abysmally in Super Rugby this season, it is hard to see them challenging consistently for another TRC crown. Michael Cheika’s boys looked clueless in June, as two unconvincing wins (as well as a shock defeat to an under-strength Scotland side) meant they were always going to go into this season’s Rugby Championship low on confidence. And, with the Kiwi Super-sides having blanked their Aussie counterparts 26-0 in 2017, this has all the makings of a nightmare campaign for the men in Gold. I can only see them struggling.