Monday, 12 August 2013

Rugby Championship Preview

Here it is, the competition featuring the best 3 sides in the world, and a vastly improving Argentina is upon us again, and this year's edition is set to continue the excitement of last year's tournament. Argentina are already seeing the benefits of top quality opposition year in year out, and have named a stronger squad this year in the hope of finally getting a win they deserved last time out.

A major thing to look out for is how the packs adapt to the new experimental scrum laws, which adopt a pre bind before the hit.

from thepundits.co.za

New Zealand

Head coach Steve Hansen's selection is telling. The omission of Piri Weepu, who was the saviour in the World Cup, was retained despite his poor form last year, and had redeemed himself this year is huge. The accompanying reason not only tells of how New Zealand plan to dominate teams, but hints at a forward thinking team destined to entertain while conquering the world.

Ben Smith from Radiosport.co.nz

Those familar with Super Rugby will be salivating at the prospect of Ben Smith getting quality service, and we saw a glimpse of the devastation he can cause when playing against France in June.

In other squad news, an upcoming move to France sees Rene Ranger sit out, which is hugely dissapointing, just as he was fulfilling his enormous potential, while Ryan Crotty is rewarded for his fine end of season form at the expense of Francis Saili, who has an ankle strain.

I found the New Zealand squad a tad unbalanced, especially in the backs, where there is only 3 established centres, two recognised wingers, but 3 scrumhalves, 3 outhalves and 3 fullbacks.

Dane Coles(26) will hope to establish himself as New Zealand's first choice hooker, with both Mealamu (34) and Hore (34) approaching the end of their careers. Although I suspect that this year's competition is just a little bit too soon for Rhys Marshall (20).

The second row battle will be fierce, and an indicator for years to come as all of Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano are young (22,24,27), had great seasons and are world class.

The balance of the back row will be interesting, with Richie McCaw only just back, while Sam Cane is the heir apparent, although he's been out of sorts this season. Kieran Read is world class from No.8, while Liam Messam covers 8, and will be finally hoping to convert his outstanding Super Rugby form to the international stage, with Steven Luatua and Jerome Kaino (from much further back) lurking in the background.

Aaron Smith (24) , TJ Peranara (21) and Tawera Kerr-Barlow (22) are set to battle for the 9 jersey for the next decade. These three players are extremely talented and aside from Australia, would nearly walk into any side in the world. Each of the three are New Zealand quality, they are just extremely unfortunate that they are born into the same era as each other.

Speaking of unlucky, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett are two excellent outhalves, who will forever be unfavourably compared to a one in a few generations Dan Carter. While neither will ever reach Carter's heights, it may be found that one of the two will be crowned second best outhalf in the world next year when Carter decides to have a well-earned rest.

Imagine a back three that included Hosea Gear, Charles Piutau and Zac Guildford. A salivating and frightening prospect right? Now think that all of those three will not be in the New Zealand XV, with Gear who scored 8 tries this season, and Guildford not even in the squad, such is the strength in depth of this side.

Dagg is coming into magical form, Smith has been magical for over a year now, and Julian Savea is a machine on the left wing. Omnious signs for New Zealand, who should win this competition at a canter. I'd expect a slip up or two away to Australia and/or South Africa, but no more. #BringBackBlesidoe will have to wait another year.

Key Player: Kieran Read
One to Watch: Ben Smith /Steven Luatua

Squad:

Hookers: Dane Coles, Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu;
Looseheads: Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Tony Woodcock;
Tightheads: Charlie Faumuina, Owen Franks;
Locks: Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Samuel Whitelock;
Blindside: Steven Luatua, Liam Messam
Openside: Sam Cane, Richie McCaw (captain);
Number 8: Kieran Read;
Scrumhalves: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith;
Outhalves: Beauden Barrett, Daniel Carter, Aaron Cruden;
Inside Centres: Ma'a Nonu, Ryan Crotty;
Outside Centre: Conrad Smith
Winger: Julian Savea;
Fullbacks: Israel Dagg, Charles Piutau, , Ben Smith .

Australia

In the midst of an upheaval, you would be forgiven for discounting Australia's prospects completely.

Ewen McKenzie's first squad, while remaining a tad bias and loyal to his Reds players, was also an indicator of his thoughts. McKenzie is known for giving youth it's chance, and this can only benefit Australia in the long run. Benn Robinson's surprise omission was the biggest shock, meaning that one of James Slipper or Ben Alexander will move from the tighthead side, although Scott Sio's impressive season could be rewarded with a start for the 21 year old. In any case, being amongst the squad, and in the 23 will be huge experience for Sio.

Polatu Nau's injury is beneficial to the Wallabies, as Stephen Moore is a world class hooker who was sometimes inexplicably overlooked for TPN under Deans.

Rob Simmons and Kane Douglas will battle it out for the second lock spot beside captain James Horwill, while Hugh McMenamin and Scott Fardy are most likely competing with each other over a potential second row/ blindside bench cover spot.

The humongous and fascinating tussle between Liam Gill and Michael Hooper starts here, with Hooper somehow winning Australian Super Player of the Year despite (in my opinion, being the 3rd or 4th best performing openside in Australia this season). Not to see he's not an outstanding player, just that Australia have an embarrassment of top quality opensides at their disposal.

Jake Schatz will provide cover for Ben Mowen to kick on from an impressive debut series against the Lions. Jake White has done wonders for developing Mowen in his short time at the Brumbies.

An interesting point of note is the confirmation that Nic White has moved ahead of Nick Phipps in the fight for Will Genia's deputy. It will be interesting to see if he gets any gametime at all, as coachs of Genia are inclined to give him 80 minutes every week.

Quade Cooper is vital to Australia's fortunes. from theguardian.co.uk  
Photograph: Rob Griffith/AP
Quade Cooper will be vital to Australia's fortunes. If he performs well, Australia have the potential to push New Zealand for the title, and if he doesn't, Australia could be nervously looking over their shoulders at bottom spot. The inclusion of Bernard Foley and Matt Toomua should hopefully end the failed experiments of putting James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale at the pivotal position of outhalf, of which neither are capable.

Beale is rested, which is a great move, as rugby needs a clear minded Kurtley Beale to weave his magic. This leaves one of O'Connor (hopefully not), Jesse Mogg or Israel Folau at fullback. Given that the named wingers are Joe Tomane, it's likely one of, if not both, Folau and O'Connor are named on the wing, with Mogg at 15.

This leaves the continued partnership of Lealiifano and Ashley Cooper in the centre.

On paper it's an exciting team, almost their strongest save for a few injuries to key players like Ioane and Higginbotham, but this Australia team should at least finish second.

Key Player: Will Genia, Quade Cooper (for reasons mentioned above)
One to Watch: The starting fullback, whomever it may be.

Squad:

Loosehead: Sio, (Slipper/Alexander)
Tighthead: Alexander, Slipper, Kepu
Hooker: Moore, Fainga'a, Anae
Lock: Horwill, Simmons, Douglas,
Blindside, McCalman, Fardy, McMenamin,
Openside: Gill, Hooper
8: Mowen, Schatz;
Scrumhalf: Genia, White,
Outhalf: Cooper, Toomua, Foley
Inside Centre: Leali'ifano, O'Connor
Outside Centre: Ashley-Cooper, Kuridrani,
Wingers: Tomane, Cummins,
Fullbacks: Folau, Mogg

South Africa

If it hasn't been made clear already, I don't fancy South Africa's chances. They may be 2nd in the world, but with a  huge number of their players leaving, a lot more injured, and their proven Super Rugby teams floundering this year, this could be a difficult year for them.

The Springbok pack, with the loose forwards in particular don't look as strong as they could or should be. The continued absence of Heinrich Brussouw is mystifying, and the exclusion of the 4 top performing loose forwards in South Africa namely Lappies Labuschagne, Philip van der Walt, Wimpie van der Walt and Brussouw borders on the insane. Meyer has pinned his selection to his favourites like Willem Alberts, much like our own Declan Kidney used to do.

The options at loosehead look promising, but it's a cause for concern should Jannie du Plessis get injured, given that Coenie Oosthuizen, while outstanding in the loose, has had limited exposure in the tight side of the scrum.

Three exciting selections in the backline reward Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht for fine seasons, even if Robert Ebersohn and Johann Sadie could be forgiven for feeling a little hard done by.

photo Gallo images
But to me, the most exciting selection is that of my favourite player, Willie le Roux. A winger who plays at first receiver, le Roux is in my opinion, the most exciting player in the world, and would be worth watching South Africa alone. Interesting to see how he does against the organised defense of New Zealand.

A final point of note is the inclusion of Fourie du Preez, a former holder of the tag "world's best scrumhalf". With Ruan Pienaar and Jano Vermaak performing well, it'll be intriguing to see if du Preez has an impact like George Smith on his return from Japan, or one like Rocky Elsom.

Key Player: Whoever is selected at outhalf.
One to watch: Willie le Roux / Coenie Oosthuizen

Squad:

Looseheads:  Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Gurthrö Steenkamp
Tighthead: Jannie du Plessis;
Hookers: Bismarck du Plessis, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Adriaan Strauss
Locks: Eben Etzebeth, Juandré Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Franco van der Merwe
Blindside: Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Siya Kolisi;
Openside: Francois Louw
8: Duane Vermeulen
Scrum-halves: Fourie du Preez (SA Tests only), Ruan Pienaar, Jano Vermaak Piet van Zyl (Overseas Tests)
Fly-halves: Pat Lambie, Morné Steyn
Inside Centres:  Jean de Villiers (c), Jan Serfontein
Outside Centres: Juan de Jongh,, JJ Engelbrecht,
Wingers: Bjorn Basson, Bryan Habana, Willie le RouxFullbacks: Zane Kirchner;

Argentina

Argentina come into this year's competition buoyed by impressive results following last year's competition, and the realisation that this could be the year where they finally could secure some wins, after pushing South Africa and Australia all the way.

Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe from espn.co.uk
This is one of the strongest Argentina squads in a long time, and they will be hoping to give Felipe Contepomi a perfect sendoff. Hernandez, Lobbe and Albacete will be central to their fortunes, and home shocks are always on the cards.

The world discovered how potent their backs are, with Imhoff in particular, impressing against Wales last November.

Their current world ranking of 10th is deceptive, and with impressive showing from their youngsters in the JWC in the last number of years, Argentina will soon be a force to be reckoned with at this level. In fact, this 26 man squad features two 20 year olds, back rower Pablo Matera, and 130 kg prop Matias Diaz.


Key Player: Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe
One to watch: Pablo Matera

Full-backs: Juan Martín Hernández, Joaquín Tuculet
Wings: Horacio Agulla, Lucas González Amorosino, Gonzalo Camacho, Juan Imhoff
Centres: Marcelo Bosch, Felipe Contepomi, Santiago Fernández
Fly-half: Nicolás Sánchez
Scrum-halves: Tomás Cubelli, Martín Landajo
Back-row: Juan Fernández Lobbe, Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Pablo Matera, Leonardo Senatore
Second-row: Patricio Albacete, Manuel Carizza, Julio Farías Cabello, Mariano Galarza
Props: Marcos Ayerza, Matías Díaz, Juan Figallo, Nahuel Lobo
Hookers: Agustín Creevy, Eusebio Guiñazú

FANTASY:

Get involved in the best way to Follow Rugby, in the fairest possible  fantasy system around.

Same as the Super Rugby fantasy, which was a big success, with a number of high scores, and the final result decided on the tackle count.

This is will be a short competition, with Rugby Championship lasts only a few weeks.

Rules:
Playing 1 - 60 minutes1
Props that play more than 60 minutes4
Hookers, locks and backrowers that play more than 61 minutes3
All other positions playing more than 61 minutes2
For each try scored by a prop or hooker15
For each try scored by a lock or backrower12
For each try scored by a scrum-half, fly-half, centre or outside back10
For each try assist5
For each try save5
For each conversion2
For each conversion miss-1
For each penalty goal3
For each penalty miss-1
For each drop goal3
For each drop goal miss-1
Yellow card-5
Red card-15
For each run1
For each tackle bust2
For each offload1
For each linebreak5
For each linebreak creates3
For each error-3
For each tackle made by a prop or hooker2
For each tackle made by all other positions1
For each tackle miss-2
For each lineout take on own throw1
For each lineout steal on opposition throw4
For each lineout error, includes not straight, throw error or jump error-3
For each tight head won, awarded to entire front row7
For each tight head lost, awarded to entire front row-3
For each pilfer4
For each turn over forced3
For each penalty - long arm-4

Classic League Code 707-3422 or click
Head to Head League Code: 707-3661 or click 

SuperBru:

For those who prefer to pick who wins and by how much, Super Bru is an easy way to do that. Join Tiptackler's league

http://www.superbru.com/rugbychampionship/pool.php?p=11100459
Pool name: SANZAR-gentina

Pool code: swansent