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Rugby Championship: Round Six preview

Updated: Friday, 05 Oct 2012 10:31 | Comments

New Zealand have won five from five
New Zealand have won five from five

By Warren Gatchell

South Africa v New Zealand: Saturday 4pm

The first time rugby's traditional foes met at the newly-built Soccer City Stadium, Soweto, was just a few weeks after the FIFA Soccer World Cup final in 2010. 

The All Blacks were comprehensively out-played for 70 minutes that day but all it took was one missed tackle by then captain John Smit, and the tourists sailed over for a try, their tenth Tri Nation's trophy already securely packed for the return journey home.

That match had little bearing on the year's ultimate winner yet the tension and rhetoric leading up to the Test from both sides could have fooled any onlooker into thinking it was a final.

Prior to the creation of the Rugby World Cup and IRB rankings, the winner of Springboks vs All Blacks Tests could lay claim to being the best in the world.

It's fitting that the demolition of Australia last week elevates South Africa to second in the rankings, with the All Blacks’ tournament-securing humbling of Argentina keeping them safe for the rest of the year at number one in the world.

Were it not for the history between these two teams you could argue this game is a dead rubber.

While the winner of this match will not change the name etched on the inaugural Rugby Championship trophy, the tourists won't be lacking any motivation.

Captain Richie McCaw will take a six-month sabbatical from the game to extend his playing career and will want to end the season on a high.

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP TABLE

There is also the record, jointly shared with the Boks, for 17 victories in a row against top tier rugby nations – New Zealand are currently on 15.

Boks coach Heyneke Meyer is equally keen to maintain his undefeated record at home in 2012.

A reverse here could stall the gradual momentum and confidence of this young team, especially considering there is a tour of Ireland, Scotland and England this November.

The task could have been made a little easier with Francois Steyn's 65-metre penalties on the Highveld but alas a three-month injury layoff has opened the door for Jaco Taute who starts in his second Test at centre.

Johan Goosen's also gets his second start at fly-half and is only up against the best no. 10 for a generation.

Dan Carter's ability to unlock defences and send his backline into space forces the opposition to rethink their game and we can expect to see the hosts to target the Crusaders man in an attempt to reduce his time in the option taking department.

Errant Boks kicking left 21 points on the field in Dunedin and then a further 16 points in Pretoria, any similar lapses in front of the posts would seriously undermine their chances.

The forwards won't get the same level of dominance they had against their New Zealand counterparts for a second time in a row, making the margins of this game very slim indeed.

"The key changes at 9, 10 and 13 for the last few games have added far more dynamism to the previous 'kick and hope' strategy."

On balance, the All Blacks are the better and more composed team, what they are up against is a young and talented Springbok side that is starting to grow in confidence.

The key changes at 9, 10 and 13 for the last few games have added far more dynamism to the previous 'kick and hope' strategy.

The travel factor from their previous match in Argentina coupled with the unique pressure of performing at altitude in front of nearly 90 000 spectators should be a few points too good for the newly crowned Rugby Championship victors.

Verdict: Springboks by 5.

Argentina v Australia: Sunday 12:10am

The Wallabies limp into Rosario, Argentina decimated by injury. The last match of the tournament will see them field a team largely composed of second string players.

Berrick Barnes and Adam Ashley-Cooper weren't fit to make the trans-South Atlantic trip due a punctured lung and concussion respectively, adding further pressure on what is at this stage a skilful but inexperienced backline.

The hosts have the advantage of fielding the same starting XV, and although the All Blacks managed to break the half century mark on the scoreboard, the Pumas looked dangerous for the opening stages of the game.

They even took an early lead with a try against the best defence in the competition.

Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe

They will need to take the positives from their attacking play and prey on the lack of cohesion within a Wallabies team that has had to call in emergency injury-enforced replacements to shore up their ranks and hasn't had the advantage of full contact training sessions in the build up to the Test.

Wallaby preparation will be a problem up against a Pumas side that is desperate for their first Rugby Championship win, and it's been an even longer wait since 1997 in Buenos Aires where they last tasted victory against the Green and Gold.

The tourists need to front up in a big way to avoid a fourth loss before their November tours and defeat would place further pressure and question marks around coach Robbie Deans’ future ahead of the Lions series in June.

The Puma forwards, led by Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, will hound a jet-lagged Australian pack that won't go down without a fight.

Home advantage backed up by a partisan and vocal crowd should be just enough for a historic, first-time win for the hosts.

Verdict: Argentina by 5

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