The All Blacks look set to cruise to this year's Rugby Championship title, while the Boks could face the ignominy of another last-place finish, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Perspective is required. Only two rounds have been completed in the Championship, but already there have been some decisive results. As it is, the All Blacks have breezed to back-to-back bonus-point wins over the Wallabies, and already enjoy a five-point buffer at the top of the standings.
Prior to the start of their campaign, New Zealand may well have considered Australia as their biggest threat to regaining the Rugby Championship crown, but last year’s World Cup finalists have proven to be no match for the peerless All Blacks.
In fact, where the Wallabies and Springboks seem to have regressed since last year’s World Cup, Argentina have sent out a resounding reminder that they are indeed a world force to be reckoned with, particularly at home.
The Pumas were extremely unlucky to not come away with a win over the Boks last weekend, but they promptly put that disappointment behind them and emerged as most deserved victors in Salta.
As illustrated by SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats, the Pumas enjoyed the better of possession (53%), made 467 running metres to 324 and 18 clean breaks to eight, while the Boks slipped 18 tackles.
All too easily, Argentina were able to expose the Boks’ disorganised defence, with new defence coach Chean Roux clearly still having a lot of work to do in order to establish some much-needed cohesion and understanding in the system.
It’s scary to think what sort of damage the All Blacks’ lethal counter-attacking runners will do if the Boks fail to shore up their defence and add much-needed improved accuracy to their out-of-hand kicking.
Problematically, it’s not going to get any easier from here for the Boks. They next travel to Brisbane to face the smarting Wallabies on 10 September, before moving on to Christchurch to tackle the high-flying All Blacks.
Based on their performances so far this season (not to mention a history of poor results in Australasia), it’s difficult to see the Springboks securing wins in either of those encounters.
Should that materialise, one can only imagine the state of mind the team might be in as they return for fixtures against the Wallabies at Loftus (1 October), and the All Blacks in Durban (8 October). It wouldn’t be far-fetched to suggest the clash in Pretoria is the only remaining one where the Boks might be considered as favourites to emerge victorious.
And while the Wallabies have yet to secure a single log point so far in the Rugby Championship, they should back themselves to secure victories in their home games against both the Boks and Argentina.
Meanwhile, if the Pumas remain competitive and perhaps bank a losing bonus point here or there, while picking up another win somewhere along the way, they could well end ahead of the Boks (as was the case last year).
Yes, it is still early days in the Rugby Championship, but there can be no denying that the All Blacks look simply unstoppable, while it does appear as if it could be an extremely long competition for the Boks to endure.
Photo: Juan Mabromata/AFP Photo