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Your regular Monday round-up following the fourth round of the Rugby Championship
Fans of The Rugby Championship will be treated to some rare midweek action when round five kicks off in Melbourne on Thursday.
Australia host New Zealand at Marvel Stadium tomorrow for the first of back-to-back Bledisloe Cup ties, before Argentina host South Africa in Buenos Aires on Saturday.
In what has been an incredibly close tournament, all four teams are still well in contention to win The Rugby Championship 2022 title when the final matches are contested on 24 September.
The All Blacks lead the standings heading into the penultimate round, but their lead over the Springboks, Wallabies and Los Pumas is just a solitary point.
Australia begin round five third in the standings, below second-place South Africa on points difference, and will be keen to leapfrog the visiting All Blacks with victory in Melbourne.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has made eight changes to his starting line-up for Thursday’s match, handing fly-half Bernard Foley a first start since 2019.
Scrum-half Jake Gordon will line-up alongside Foley, while Lalakai Foketi comes into the centre and Andrew Kellaway returns at full-back.
Up front, David Porecki is given the nod at hooker, while Jed Holloway moves to the second row to partner Matt Philip. That means there will be an all-new flanker partnership in Melbourne as Rob Leota is handed the number six jersey and Pete Samu comes in at seven.
“It's great to have Bernard's experience and he brings plenty of voice and passion for the gold jersey,” Rennie said.
"New Zealand showed their class in a massive win over Argentina last week and will come to Melbourne full of confidence.
"We're well aware of the opportunity in front of us over the next fortnight and we're extremely motivated to make the most of it.”
The All Blacks have not played Australia in Melbourne since July 2010, when they won 49-28 at the same venue that will host Thursday’s match.
Sam Whitelock, who was a replacement 12 years ago, is the only survivor from that test and will line up alongside the returning Brodie Retallick in the New Zealand second row.
The only other personnel change to the side that beat Argentina in Hamilton comes in the back-row where Hoskins Sotutu comes in at number eight. Scott Barrett, meanwhile, switches from second row to blindside flanker.
New Zealand have had possession of the Bledisloe Cup since 2003 and are the current Rugby Championship holders, and coach Ian Foster is not keen to relinquish either crown.
“We are incredibly driven to keep hold of this [Bledisloe Cup] trophy which means so much to both countries,” Foster said.
“And when you factor in how tight this year’s Rugby Championship is, all signs point towards another great Test match here in Melbourne.”
Argentina stand on the verge of a momentous achievement as they prepare to host South Africa in Buenos Aires on Saturday.
Having already beaten the Wallabies and All Blacks during The Rugby Championship 2022 they would complete a memorable sweep were they to secure another victory this weekend.
🇿🇦 The Bok starting lineup for Saturday's crucial #CastleRugbyChampionship Test against the Pumas is unchanged— Springboks (@Springboks) September 13, 2022
🗣️ “They are a passionate rugby nation, and the Pumas will never give an inch”
🔗 Team announcement: https://t.co/yrb3sJNhgx#StrongerTogether #StrongerForever #ARGvRSA pic.twitter.com/NpgDxlnJMD
The Union Argentina de Rugby have been forced into a late venue change ahead of the match, which will now take place at Estadio Libertadores de América.
Los Pumas are currently bottom of the standings but level on points with their visitors and Australia, and only a point adrift of the All Blacks.
Coach Michael Cheika has been able to recall several players to his squad for the back-to-back matches against the Springboks, including former captain Agustin Creevy.
If called upon on Saturday, 94-times capped Creevy would set a new appearance record for Los Pumas, moving one clear of former team-mate Nicolas Sanchez.
Points difference means the Springboks are the All Blacks’ closest challengers heading into round five and coach Jacques Nienaber has named an unchanged starting line-up for the match against Argentina.
South Africa beat Australia 24-8 in Sydney last time out, the Springboks’ first away win against the Wallabies since 2013, and the manner of the victory has provided a boost ahead of back-to-back matches against Los Pumas.
The only changes to the 23-player squad that lined up against Australia come on the bench, where Elrigh Louw, Faf de Klerk and Andre Esterhuizen are all included.
“It’s always tough to play in Argentina,” Nienaber said. “They are a passionate rugby nation, and the Pumas will never give an inch. They also draw a lot of energy from their enthusiastic home crowd, so we are expecting a huge battle.
“They place a lot of emphasis on their physicality and their set pieces, and they have skilful backs as well, so they will test us in all departments.”
He added: “We know the magnitude of the challenge ahead and that it will take nothing less than our best efforts for the full 80 minutes to register a victory on Saturday.”