Despite losing at home to South Africa last time out, the All Blacks still hold a commanding six-point lead over the Springboks as the Rugby Championship enters its penultimate round. If the world champions respond to their setback in Wellington with a victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires, South Africa will need to win well against Australia, and with a bonus point, to keep the title race alive going into the final round of fixtures on Saturday 6 October. Such an outcome would set up a grandstand finish as South Africa meet their great rivals in Pretoria on the final weekend, while Australia and Argentina could be left in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon if results go against them this weekend.
We take a look at the team news from both Rugby Championship fixtures and how they might influence the World Rugby Rankings as well as the Rugby Europe Trophy match between Czechia and Poland.
WATCH: The Springboks will honour the legacy of former President Nelson Mandela who would have turned 100 this year, when they play the Wallabies at @NMB_Stadium on Saturday. #NM100#BeTheLegacy#LoveRugbypic.twitter.com/9XLRX6JoHs— South African Rugby (@Springboks) September 27, 2018
SOUTH AFRICA (5) v AUSTRALIA (7)
Wing Cheslin Kolbe, a try scorer in South Africa's epic 36-34 win over the All Blacks a fortnight ago, and number eight Sikhumbuzo Notshe make their first starts for the Springboks. The inclusion of Kolbe on the right wing and Notshe in the pack, as a replacement for the injured Warren Whiteley, are two of four personnel changes to the Springbok starting team that won in Wellington. Jesse Kriel, who started at right wing in Wellington, moves back to outside centre and is set to partner the strong running Andre Esterhuizen in a revamped Springbok midfield as a result of the injuries to Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am. Up front, there is a rotation at loose-head prop between Tendai Mtawarira and Steven Kitshoff, who on this occasion will provide impact off the bench. The rest of the starting line-up is unchanged, with Mtawarira set to make his 106th test match appearance for the Springboks on Saturday.
Michael Cheika has handed a first start to giant tight-head prop Taniela Tupou – nicknamed the ‘Tongan Thor’. Tupou's selection is one of four personnel changes to the starting XV from the team beaten at home to Argentina on the Gold Coast a fortnight ago. Lukhan Tui (family) and Pete Samu (knee injury) both remained in Australia, with Ned Hanigan replacing Tui at blindside flanker. Skipper Michael Hooper returns from a hamstring injury to start at openside and David Pocock is back at number eight. Adam Coleman is the final change to the run on team, partnering Izack Rodda in the second row. Scott Sio wins his 50th Wallabies cap at loose-head.
- South Africa have won just one of their last six games against Australia, despite leading on four occasions in that time.
- However, the Springboks are unbeaten in five matches at home to the Wallabies, restricting the visitors to 10 points or fewer in all those games except the last encounter which ended 27-27.
- The Springboks have never lost at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in five previous outings, winning four and drawing the other.
- South Africa need five tries to reach 200 in tests against Australia
- Australia have lost their last three games on the road, a further setback this weekend will equal their longest losing streak in away test matches since 2008/09.
- Eben Etzebeth will play in his record 37th consecutive test match in this tournament.
Having traded places a fortnight ago, there is the capacity for the same to happen again if Australia bounce back from their home loss to Argentina on the Gold Coast and win in Port Elizabeth. Victory will send them back up to fifth with South Africa dropping down to seventh. The Springboks could fall as low as eighth if they are well beaten and Argentina somehow put the All Blacks to the sword. Just over ninth-tenths of a point are up for grabs for a big Springboks win, but that wouldn’t be enough to move them any higher than their current position of fifth.
ARGENTINA (9) v NEW ZEALAND (1)
Ramiro Herrera returns to the Los Pumas set-up in a team showing only minor changes from the one that won in Australia in round four. Prior to this weekend, the tight-head prop's last appearance for his country was almost exactly a year ago to this day, also against the All Blacks in Buenos Aires. There is also one change, forced by injury, in the backs where Bautista Ezcurra will feature at inside centre in a new midfield partnership with Jeronimo de la Fuente. Matias Moroni will shift to the left wing in place of Ramiro Moyano, who is sidelined by a rib injury.
Sonny Bill Williams returns to the All Blacks midfield for the first time since the summer as coach Steve Hansen rings the changes for the trip to Buenos Aires. Williams has recovered from injury and illness to line up at inside centre with Ryan Crotty moving out one spot to number 13. Also in the backline, TJ Perenara will start at scrum-half in what will be his 50th test in the black jersey, with Aaron Smith moving to the bench. Ben Smith moves to full-back from the right wing to accommodate the return of Waisake Naholo. Richie Mo'unga and Anton Lienert-Brown provide back cover from the bench, while Damian McKenzie has not been considered due to a family bereavement.
In the forwards, Ofa Tu'ungafasi moves to the starting tight-head position, in place of Owen Franks, and rookie Angus Ta'avao is set to make his All Blacks test debut from the bench. Shannon Frizell is at blindside flanker and Luke Whitelock at number 8. The squad will be captained by 103-cap second-rower Samuel Whitelock, with regular captain Kieran Read rested.
- Argentina are searching for back-to-back home wins for the first time since 2016, after beating South African 32-19 in round two of The Rugby Championship
- New Zealand will be out to avoid consecutive losses for the first time since 2011, after falling to a 36-34 defeat to the Springboks in the last round.
- If Argentina score 20 points or more, they will have done so for five matches in a row – a sequence not matched in six years.
- New Zealand have yet to lose a scrum in this tournament with 22 won out of 22, while Los Pumas have won only three-quarters of ball on their own put in.
- Argentina have scored the most first-half points (65) of any team this tournament
It is not possible for New Zealand to gain any rating points in victory due to the sizeable gap between themselves and Los Pumas. However, the All Blacks' long, unbroken reign at the top, which is now approaching nine years, will be over if they are badly beaten by Los Pumas; the loss of three rating points for a defeat of more than 15 points would put them below Ireland. A win or a draw for Argentina would lift above France and into eighth place. If they win and Australia lose badly against South Africa, the gap between themselves and the Wallabies will be down to just half a point. Alternatively, if Los Pumas win by more than 15 points and Australia lose, regardless of the margin of defeat, they will overtake the two-time world champions.
CZECHIA (32) v POLAND (35)
- Czechia finished in third place and Poland fifth in last season’s Rugby Europe Trophy
- Czechia won the last meeting 19-14 in October 2017
- Czechia have won their last eight tests at home dating back to October 2015
- Each side has won six matches and there has been one draw in the 13 meetings between the nations
- Poland only lost by a couple of points to Portugal in their last international back in March
Any form of win for Czechia will lift them above Korea and into 31st place. A beaten Poland will stay 35th but lose just over four-tenths of a rating point. Poland will climb above Czechia and Lithuania and move into 33rd place if they come away from Zlin with a victory
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