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Rugby Championship 2018: Team-by-team guide

17 august 2018 09:00

The return of the Rugby Championship gives fans of the sport a chance to see whether anybody can dethrone the All Blacks as the kings of southern hemisphere rugby.

The answer is 'no' more often than not but Australia, South Africa and Argentina, will all have their eyes on pulling off an upset or two to improve on their 2017 showings.

So how are they all shaping up ahead of Saturday's big kick-off?

Here we take a look at each of the teams, their key players and their chances of glory over the coming weeks.

 

NEW ZEALAND

Coach and captain

Steve Hansen has been at the All Blacks helm since 2012 and guided the team to five Rugby Championship wins and one Rugby World Cup in that time. With Kieran Read as skipper since that triumph in England three years ago, this is a tried and tested recipe for success.

Who's the key man?

Rieko Ioane may only be 16 matches into his All Blacks career but his record is frightening. The winger has crossed for 16 tries in that time, including seven in his last four games, and - since his debut - no player has touched down more in international rugby.

What happened last year?

A fifth win since the competition expanded to four nations in 2012, the All Blacks picked up try-scoring bonus points in all but two of their six matches.

What's expected this year?

It would take a brave person to bet against New Zealand coming out on top once more and they will be fully expected to do just that.

 

AUSTRALIA

Coach and captain

Australia were boosted in the build-up to their opener against the All Blacks by news that captain Michael Hooper had signed a new deal with Rugby Australia and the Waratahs through to 2023. Coach Michael Cheika needs his side to put up some kind of fight against New Zealand in this year's competition after being cut adrift in 2016 and 2017.

Who's the key man?

The return of David Pocock from his one-year sabbatical adds experience and quality to Australia and, after tuning up in a Wallabies jersey in the series defeat to Ireland in June, he should be ready and raring for his Rugby Championship comeback.

What happened last year?

Back-to-back defeats to New Zealand had Australia on the back foot from the off and they could only manage two wins across the tournament - both against Argentina. Bizarrely, the Wallabies' two clashes with South Africa ended in draws.

What's expected this year?

The expectation has to be that Australia will improve on their 2017 showing, but few will predict that they can do anything to unseat the All Blacks.

 

SOUTH AFRICA

Coach and captain

The Springboks are still in the early days of life under Rassie Erasmus, the director of rugby having expanded his remit in the wake of Allister Coetzee's departure in February. Siya Kolisi is the captain of a side that features plenty of leaders, including former skippers Warren Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth.

Who's the key man?

Full-back Willie le Roux provided 21 try assists for Wasps in the 2017-18 Premiership season - the mosts since Opta started collecting data in 2008 - and could hold the key to Springbok success over the coming weeks.

What happened last year?

Only a try-scoring bonus point separated Australia and South Africa in second and third last year. The undoubted low point for the Springboks was a 57-0 drubbing in New Zealand, but they put up a better fight on home soil to lose 25-24 against Hansen's men.

What's expected this year?

It looks likely to be another battle between Australia and South Africa for the runners-up spot, so the matches between the sides could be pivotal.

 

ARGENTINA

Coach and captain

The Pumas made a change following their June defeats to Wales and Scotland, replacing Daniel Hourcade with Jaguares coach Mario Ledesma. With a squad that takes its players mostly from the Super Rugby outfit - including captain Agustin Creevy - the move could prove inspired.

Who's the key man?

Emiliano Boffelli and Bautista Delguy scored 10 tries apiece for Jaguares in Super Rugby last season - the same amount as All Blacks star Ioane - and will be central to their team's hopes.

What happened last year?

After claiming one win in each of 2015 and 2016, Argentina took an unwelcome step back last year, losing all six of their matches to finish bottom of the pile.

What's expected this year?

Argentina will be expected to collect the wooden spoon once more. Ledesma's job will be to convince his players they can prove everyone wrong and improve what stands as a dismal record in the competition of won three, drawn one, lost 29.

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