With the 2018 Rugby Championship squads announced by South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina and Australia [SANZAAR], and fans will now start the yearly conversation – who should start?
With the rugby schedule set to begin next Saturday in Sydney, there is still nearly two weeks of training, trials and fitness programs to employ. Because the final measure; fitness, is the key to The Rugby Championship.
2018 Rugby Championship Squads Announced
After the elongated Super Rugby schedule has finally come to a close [February – August], the bodies and minds of those selected must be appraised. 46 players only just played their final game on August 4, so by the 18th of August, they must be repaired and re-energized for International Rugby.
NEWS #SanzarTRC Squads announced:@SuperRugby is done and dusted and now attention focuses on @SanzarTRC as @qantaswallabies @AllBlacks @Springboks national coaches announce their extended training squads.
Full squads: https://t.co/VFGQEE0K5J pic.twitter.com/bkgKatj7XI
— TheRugbyChampionship (@SanzarTRC) August 7, 2018
Sides have have been picked. That is both in the 30-plus group of players, but also by fans. All too often the fans picks are based on geographic or hereditary lines, but as much today is in the spread of people and immigrants who often choose their new home nation.
Ex-pat fans are now a large fan demographic. Saffa’s in Australia, Pumas fans in New Zealand – they will cheer, and sing, and dance, in a manner to make every leg as important as the old rivalries usually bring. So the home-and-away fixtures against each SANZAAR partner, is a fine time to celebrate.
South Africa – first match V Argentina
The Springbok squad annouced by Rassie Erasmus for the @CastleLagerSA Rugby Champs include three uncapped players in Cyle Brink, Marco van Staden and Damian Willemse, while Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth and Warren Whiteley are back from injury. #LoveRugby pic.twitter.com/ShF5OwRbvG
— South African Rugby (@Springboks) August 6, 2018
Always a challenge, however development is still the driving force for the Springboks. They will bring all their usual strengths; big forward pack, long kicking game, ruthless attitude. It is what head coach Rassie Erasmuss can create from his group which is the most interesting point.
Several returning players, and the continued captaincy of Siya Kolisi is where most will focus. Others might still ask ‘is Elton Jantjies the right first-five option?’ So with all that to consider, this might not be the year that the African start look to peak.
New Zealand – first match V Australia
Introducing the #AllBlacks squad for the 2018 Investec Rugby Championship
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) August 6, 2018
Coach Steve Hansen is now more fluent in ‘coach speak’ than he ever has been. Words like connections, belief and options have been mentioned, in his 2018 Rugby Championship squad.
Several injured players are named, with cover brought in for Dane Coles and Sonny Bill Williams. Made so that officially, they can be injected once Sonny Bill gains full fitness [replacing Ngani Laumape] and Coles can build-up with Mitre 10 Cup form. Hansen’s loyalty is a strength, although the conversation in New Zealand is of ‘when will Richie Mo’unga start his first test?’
That will not be in Sydney. The All Blacks must win the opening match, to be more assured of retaining the Bledisloe Cup – which has not been out of the their hands in over 13 years. So the First XV will run out onto ANZ Stadium in two weeks time…..fitness willing.
Argentina – first match V South Africa
— Los Pumas (@lospumas) August 6, 2018
Mario Ledesma takes a hold of the International ropes, and has the form and support to be more successful than ever. If Los Pumas can begin The Rugby Championship on the right foot, they could challenge in every single game.
What has all too often undermined the South American team, is consistency. If they travel to New Zealand and play well – even win – they must return to Buenos Aires, and continue to claim victories. One good match, does not win an TRC (or a Rugby World Cup for that matter).
Australia – first match V New Zealand
— Qantas Wallabies (@qantaswallabies) August 5, 2018
While playing better in the Super Rugby competition will have pleased Wallabies supporters, they are far from the finished article. An inter-franchise Aus/Super teams trial game will have been a good PR session, it is not clear how much head coach Michael Cheika will have gained.
His side play on confidence. So as they walk out to play the All Blacks, they need to feel they can win – and being the last International side to accomplish that [in Brisbane last year] is the one positive going for the Wallabies.
The fact Michael Hooper hasn’t been playing for some time, could be the one hindering factor. But Kurtley Beale is close to the best second five in the 2018 Rugby Championship, so this could be the chance to open the series with a positive result.
And rumour has it, that Cheika could break out some dance moves (like Scott Robertson) if he team becomes the first in many, many years to defeat the current World Champions in two successive game.
WARNING: Rumour is from Twitter sources, so maybe ‘fake news’.
The 2018 Rugby Championship has connotations well passed the end of the series. With 14 months until the pinnacle event of World Rugby, and these teams will have strategies and ‘grand plans’ to reach before then. Many plans and tactics can be utilized, players questioned and answers gained, over August and September.
So the questions include non-TRC topics. But that can all wait until the first kick-off Saturday week.
See the 2018 Rugby Championship schedule here.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images