As the Rugby Championship gets under way, the All Blacks travel to South Africa under major pressure, with head coach Ian Foster battling for survival; watch South Africa vs New Zealand from 3:55pm and Argentina vs Australia from 8pm live on Sky Sports Action on Saturday
By Brian Barry
Last Updated: 04/08/22 5:01pm
The All Blacks travel to South Africa for a two-game series to open the Rugby Championship, and the pressure is intense.
Off the back of a first home series loss since 1994 – as Ireland stunned their hosts in Dunedin and Wellington to edge the three-Test showdown – head coach Ian Foster is left scrapping for survival.
Four defeats in their last five Tests is simply not good enough, such are New Zealand’s lofty expectations.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson refused to guarantee Foster’s position beyond the two games against South Africa, in an interview with Newstalk ZB. And amid widespread calls in Kiwi media for a change of head coach a year out from the 2023 World Cup in France, it appears they have two ideal suitors in Joe Schmidt and Scott Robertson.
Such noise means the All Blacks are coming into the Rugby Championship amid considerable tension, and things are not going to get any easier as they face off against the world champions in their own backyard, live on Sky Sports Action on Saturday.
Nonetheless, such is the country’s standing in the sport, Foster’s charges start the campaign as tournament favourites in the eyes of the bookmakers, marginally ahead of the Springboks.
A loss in Mbombela on Saturday could spell further trouble for the beleaguered All Blacks, and that result could force a major rethink. An away win, however, could change their trajectory as they look to breathe fire into their season.
But Ireland exposed major weaknesses in the side last month and if New Zealand fail to paper over the cracks, the rest of the Rugby Championship field will look to further shatter the air of invincibility surrounding the All Blacks in the coming weeks.
Live Rugby Championship
August 6, 2022, 3:55pm
South Africa set for a gear change?
Upon reflection, South Africa’s series win over Wales went according to plan for the home side.
Although the Springboks dropped the second Test to the tourists, 12-13, it came after Jacques Nienaber had made 14 changes to the starting team. The big guns returned for the decider as they sealed a series victory on a comfortable 30-14 scoreline.
That degree of rotation against high-quality opposition is a major positive for the team, with the 2023 World Cup beginning to appear on the horizon.
Since winning the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan three years ago, the Springboks have been significantly disrupted due to the impact of the pandemic.
Following that final win over England in Yokohama, they had to wait 20 months for their next Test. But they have found their feet once more.
In the previous World Cup cycle, it was year three when they began to raise the tempo. From there, it was a steady crescendo to the showpiece tournament in the Far East.
They will be looking to move on a similar trajectory once again. And what better way to start the Rugby Championship than with a statement victory over the All Blacks?
A win would offer real momentum, and lay down a significant marker against a team they could potentially face at the quarter-final stage in France next year.
Argentina and Australia bid for the perfect start
The Pumas enter Saturday’s showdown against Australia with momentum, after a late, late Emiliano Boffelli try edged their series decider against Scotland.
With Michael Cheika at the helm, Argentina are looking to close the gap to the southern hemisphere’s big guns.
Although they did not quite build on their historic first win over New Zealand in 2020 the following season, Argentina are still moving forward. Cheika has once again teamed up with Pumas legend Felipe Contepomi, who joined the coaching staff after a successful spell with Leinster.
And the duo will be hoping to build on the Scotland victory when Cheika’s native Australia come to town.
The Wallabies are in need of a big win themselves. Following the disappointment of their home series defeat to England, Australia are gunning to get back on track.
Dave Rennie has been overseeing a steady revival in fortunes since taking charge, but Australia are still not quite back at the top table.
Nonetheless there is no denying that Michael Hooper and co have made serious inroads since their disappointing showing in Japan.
A kind 2023 World Cup draw opens up major opportunities for Australia, as they find themselves on the opposite half to the world’s top four ranked sides for the quarter-finals. And they will believe there is a platform to make real inroads.
But for now, they will concentrate on the weeks ahead. And an opening weekend win over Argentina would allay fears of the wooden spoon, paving the way for having a crack at the Springboks and All Blacks across four home matches.
Live Rugby Championship
August 6, 2022, 8:00pm
Watch South Africa vs New Zealand from 3:55pm and Argentina vs Australia from 8pm live on Sky Sports Action on Saturday.