The 2017 Rugby Championship kicks off this weekend and last year’s winners New Zealand will go into the campaign as heavy favourites.
South Africa showed promising signs against France in June. Australia will look to re-emerge after a patchy June series.
Argentina will want to start gaining more positive results to prove their worth. Here are the key matches for each team in this competition.
For the Pumas to be competitive they will need to target one away win. Only one of their three wins in Rugby Championship history has been an away win (37-25 over South Africa in 2015).
A key match will be when they travel to Canberra to play Australia on September 16.
A win would be their first on Australian soil since 1983. Before they play Australia the other key match for them will be hosting South Africa in the second round.
Having beaten the Springboks in two of their last three clashes, the Pumas will be confident.
Mixing their strong scrum with their elusive backs and playing for the whole 80 minutes will determine how well they perform in the series.
For the Wallabies to reinstall faith in the gold jersey they will need to win back the Bledisloe Cup, something which has eluded them since 2003.
Their best chance will be on August 19 when they take on the All Blacks in Sydney.
Australia will go into this match knowing New Zealand’s record at ANZ Stadium versus the Wallabies is eight wins, seven losses and a draw.
This shows us that this is a hard venue to win at.
A win will make the return leg in Dunedin a week later an enthralling battle.
Then assuming the All Blacks maintain their strong record at home in Dunedin the third Bledisloe Test (outside of the Rugby Championship) will be a decider in Brisbane.
Like the Wallabies, the All Blacks will need to win in Sydney. Due to no Australian Super Rugby team beating a New Zealand team in 2017 many are predicting an All Black win.
A loss will see many New Zealand rugby fans consider this a national disaster.
Keep in mind the All Blacks have not had a victory in their last two Test matches with a loss and a draw to the British and Irish Lions.
The trip to Argentina will be an important test in terms of developing some younger All Blacks.
Coach Steve Hansen has mentioned the possibly of resting some experienced players for the South African match in Cape Town.
An inexperienced All Blacks side will face a tough encounter against an Argentinian team looking for their first ever victory against the world champions. This match will be beneficial in building for the 2019 World Cup.
The Springboks may indirectly benefit from the exclusion of the Western Force from Super Rugby. They travel to Perth to play the Wallabies on September 9.
There is talk a number of staunch Western Australian fans will boycott this match to express their feelings towards the Australian Rugby Union for axing the Force.
With a large South African community in Perth this will have a feel of a “home” game for the Boks. They will look to produce a classic against the All Blacks in Cape Town.
Tests between these two in South African in recent times (excluding 2016) have been exciting close battles such as the 2013 encounter in Johannesburg. This match could possibly determine the final outcome of the whole competition.
Full fixtures for the competition can be found here.
Many will expect this competition to be a lot tighter than last year’s edition. The teams that win their key matches will lay a good foundation to be a title contender.
Carlin Crossan, Pundit Arena
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