What, you may ask, is the Rugby Championship? The short answer is that it is the Southern Hemisphere version of the Six Nations, albeit played over a greater distance and more time zones. It features the three traditional superpowers of rugby below the equator, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, plus new boys Argentina, who will be taking part for the second time. In essence, it is the tournament which everyone knew and loved as the Tri-Nations, but with extra Puma.
New Zealand won the first competition at a canter, winning all six games and conceding, on average, just eleven points per game. It is difficult to know what to read into their recent form, though, as thrashing France three times back in June scarcely amounts to much when you consider that the French were coming off a season where they finished bottom of the Six Nations for the first time since the 1950s and fielded weakened teams in every game.
There’s no doubt, though, that Ritchie McCaw’s men will be a fearsome proposition, boasting strength in depth at just about every position. This is borne out by their best betting odds of 4/11 with 888.com. In truth, there is rarely any value in backing the All Blacks early in a tournament, that tends to come later in the piece as they are proven not to be as strong as others think they might be. That seems to be your best tactic here when setting up your sports picks.
Australia, of course, are coming off the back of becoming the first side to lose a series to the British and Irish Lions since 1997. There was no shame in that, though. They were one Kurtley Beale slip away from winning the series and boast not only world class players in the likes of Will Genia and Israel Folau, but a truly inspirational leader in James Horwill.
It will be very interesting to see what sort of side new Wallabies coach Euan McKenzie sends out. His predecessor, Robbie Deans, had a near pathological aversion to (a) playing backs in their best position and (b) Quade Cooper. The feeling during the Lions tour was that the Australians probably couldn’t improve their pack of forwards all the while David Pocock was injured but their backs could be world class with a bit of common sense on the coach’s part. At 7/1, Ladbrokes might just be offering the value bet here.
Judging the Springboks is almost as hard as judging the All Blacks, but for a different reason. Although they ran out the victors in the four nation tournament which they played at home in July, it was hardly a convincing show. They only just beat an inspired but weak Scotland side, then were handed the final on a plate by an undisciplined (both tactically and physically) Samoan side.
To that extent, last year’s runners up remain something of an enigma, giving the impression that they are far less than the sum of their collective parts. There’s also a slight impression that in about ten of the fifteen positions on the field the Australians and particularly the New Zealanders will have a better player. They are second favorites at 11/2 at most online sportsbooks, but that isn’t an attractive price.
New boys Argentina were disappointed by their initial showing, in which they collected just one point from a home draw with South Africa in their final game. Don’t be deceived, though, by their poor performances in June, when they were twice thrashed by what was effectively England’s third team. They were missing plenty of their own big name players and should be much stronger for this tournament.
The Pumas’ big problem last year was turning pressure into points. A strong pack would enable them to get into good positions but they averaged fewer than 14 points per game. Even so, they kept Australia within seven points in both games and will hope to reverse that difference this year.