The All Blacks will secure the Rugby Championship title after only four rounds if they claim five log points against the Springboks in Wellington, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The All Blacks thumped Argentina 46-24 in Nelson on Saturday. So much has been made of the Pumas’ attacking endeavour and fighting spirit, but they still conceded six tries and lost by a whopping 22 points.
The All Blacks went into that match without stars like Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Ryan Crotty, Liam Squire and Sam Cane. They should be close to full-strength – Brodie Retallick may miss out due to injury – when they host the Boks in Wellington this Saturday.
The All Blacks will be favourites to down the Boks and claim their sixth Rugby Championship title in seven years. They currently sit at the top of the standings with 15 points.
The Boks remain in second place with six points despite their 23-18 loss to the Wallabies in Brisbane. The Pumas and Wallabies are at third and fourth respectively, and both have four points.
The All Blacks could secure the title after just four rounds if they score a bonus-point win over the Boks in Wellington. That result would boost them up to 20 log points. It won’t matter if the Wallabies or Argentina win the game on the Gold Coast. The Rugby Championship race will be over as a contest.
A win against the Boks without a bonus point will take the All Blacks up to 19 points. In theory, the Wallabies or Argentina could finish level with New Zealand in that scenario by winning big in their remaining matches. They would also need the All Blacks to lose both matches on tour.
The All Blacks, however, have a very healthy points-difference at this stage (+75). Argentina (-22) and the Wallabies (-48) aren’t in great shape in that department.
The optimists will want to know what the Boks need to do to win the title from here. If the Boks manage to win their next three games without any bonus points, they will finish the tournament on 18 points. They will still come second in that scenario if the All Blacks beat the Pumas in Argentina.
The Boks shouldn’t be looking further than the next round in Wellington, though. No side bar the British & Irish Lions (2017) has beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2009. It’s been nine years since the Boks last tasted victory in that part of the world.
Indeed, the Boks would do well just to keep the All Blacks honest. The teams have met eight times in New Zealand since 2010. The average scoreline during that period is 33-11 in the All Blacks’ favour.
The Boks have failed to score more than 17 points in New Zealand during this time. They pushed the All Blacks close in Wellington four years ago, and lost 14-10. That is the closest they have come to prevailing in New Zealand since 2009.
Perhaps the current side will see that last result as a good omen. Then again, many of the players should have the 57-0 defeat in Albany fresh in their minds.
If the Boks play like they did in Mendoza or Brisbane, they will cop another 50-point hiding at the hands of their traditional foes. At best, the Boks will do enough to keep the Kiwis honest and deny them the chance to secure the title after only four rounds.
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