The first set of fixtures are over and done with which means new match-ups and some new faces.
Here are a few intriguing head-to-heads that could determine the outcome in the next set of Rugby Championship fixtures.
New Zealand Vs Argentina
Santiago Cordero Vs Nehe Milner-Skudder
This could be a whole lot of fun. Two of the best hot steppers in world rugby come face-to-face.
Both men are capable of ankle-snapping steps off either foot at serious pace, making them genuine threats in broken play. The way they can change direction without taking their foot off the gas is extremely difficult to defend one-on-one.
Their highlight videos are displays of jinking, dancing, popping runs that get the fans out of their seats. What makes this battle all the more intriguing though, is that both are coming into the side cold.
Both will be feeling immense amounts of pressure and both are in the midst of a slight career dip. Will either of them have the confidence to take a risk?
Milner-Skudder, hasn’t played in an All Black jersey since the 2015 World Cup, and Rieko Ioane’s scintillating performances mean he can’t put a foot wrong against Argentina if he wants to keep the youngster out of the side.
Equally, Cordero was another superstar at the Rugby World Cup, but has failed to really kick on in Super Rugby with the Jaguares.
Cordero is often tempted to run from deep which is one of his strongest attributes, but on occasions his love of running the ball has resulted in isolated turnovers when he should have repressed his ambition for control and territory.
I wonder if the All Black’s may target him as a weakness in defence and under the high ball as a result of his size as well.
The stakes are high here, and a bad performance could push either winger down the pecking order. Whoever can rediscover their attacking verve quickest could win this battle of the steppers.
Dane Coles Vs Agustin Creevy
To my estimations the two best hookers in world rugby. Concussion troubles aside, Dane Coles has been the form hooker of the past two to three years.
His scurrying runs in the wide channels and skillset that most half backs would be proud of make him a real try scoring threat, despite having the number 2 on his back.
We might even get a vintage Coles grubber kick at some point. His speed off the mark always seems to surprise opposition defenders who are fooled by his deceiving stature.
Codie Taylor has deputised brilliantly and Coles needs to show that he has been picked for his current form, not for his reputation. He will be facing a slab of gnarled, grizzled Argentinian beef.
Agustin Creevy’s hunched shoulder and long arms are typically seen clamping over isolated runners and effecting turnovers.
The inspirational Argentinian captain is a master of the breakdown and uses his past experience as a blindside flanker to navigate rucks expertly. He has an uncanny knack of knowing when to commit to a turnover and when to resist unlike the rest of the Argentinian forwards who suffer from indiscipline.
Equally, he loves steering the driving maul from lineouts, even touching down multiple times against the All Blacks in the past.
If this game is expansive, with the ball being flung out wide early, it is likely Coles will be dominant in this contest, as he loves to get his hands on the ball and get involved in build up phases.
However, if this turns into a dogfight in the close exchanges with Creevy disrupting and slowing the ball down, expect him to have more influence despite the final score.
Australia Vs South Africa
Sekope Kepu Vs Tendai Mtawarira
Two veterans with contrasting reputations. Although the crowd would do anything to see ‘The Beast’ carry like he did in the days of old, Mtawarira has accepted a different role within the squad as he has aged.
Nowadays he is rock solid at set piece and is quite content clearing out rucks whilst Jaco Kriel, Eben Etzebeth and Malcolm Marx shoulder the burden of carrying.
His experience in the side is a massive bonus as well. The Argentinian front row had all sorts of problems with Mtawarira and clearly the Australians are concerned.
The grunt he gets from Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit cannot be underestimated and I fear Sekope Kepu does not receive quite the same support.
It almost seems like groundhog day mentioning another weak Australian set piece display, unfortunately it cannot be ignored.
Kepu himself has been brought in to replace the less experienced Allan Alaalatoa who looked too raw against the All Blacks. This will certainly be a ploy to reduce the penalty count, as Michael Cheika will be hoping Kepu can count on his vast experience to avoid falling for any of Mtawarira’s traps at scrum time.
However, although Kepu has definitely improved his scrummaging under Argentinian Mario Ledesma’s tutelage, he is still best known for his rumbles in the loose.
At his bull like best he can be very hard to bring down, but if he can’t at least reach parity in the scrums he won’t get a chance to make dents in the Springbok defence.
So, we have one man cornering a scrum that looked rock solid and another brought in as precaution to cement a wobbly one.
Whoever can provide the more stable platform can allow the rest of the team to execute their jobs on the front foot. Of course the referee will be key. The first to concede a penalty could suffer at the hands of the ref all afternoon.
Michael Hooper Vs Siya Kolisi
Although they will be wearing different numbers on their backs, these two will be burdened with ensuring the other doesn’t get their hands on the ball.
The two scrum-halves Will Genia and Ross Cronje will be relying on these two to inhibit the other from disrupting quick, clean ball at the base of the rucks.
Both are the sort of players who rely on their incredible work ethic and stamina to counter ruck when opposition packs become complacent securing their own ball.
Kolisi forced penalties out of both the Argentinian’s and the French earlier on in the summer by powering through the gate and making the half-back’s life absolutely miserable. What’s more, defensively he has great technique when clearing out and managed to nullify Creevy and Pablo Matera in the second Test against Argentina.
This will be key against Hooper, who himself will be searching to create chaos for Cronje.
Hooper is in many regards a very similar player to Kolisi. His terrier like energy and rabid ferocity taking the ball into contact trumps Kolisi ability to carry just, but on defence it is hard to split the two.
Sean McMahon and Rory Arnold fronted up in the second Test against the All Blacks, this will be essential if Hooper is to be allowed to concentrate on his battle with Kolisi.
If he feels he needs to carry to often it could force him to abandon his breakdown responsibility, as we saw in the abysmal Australia performance in the first Test. Kolisi is certainly riding on a confidence high after receiving so much praise for his role in both the Stormers and Springboks squads.
Hooper on the other hand has had a forgettable season with the Waratahs and will want to prove that he is still one of the form flankers in world rugby.
Expect to hear the commentators mentioning both men frequently in defence. Two competitive work horses who will be out to minimize the other’s prominence and influence in the game.
Max Hamid, Pundit Arena
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