Who ‘wants’ to win the 2019 Rugby Championship

The Rise of the Second row/Flanker
PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - SEPTEMBER 29: Ball carrier Pieter-Steph du Toit of South Africa during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Australia at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on September 29, 2018 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Not to ask a redundant question but, the 2019 Rugby Championship appears to be the one that most of the competing SANZAAR nations are not entirely focused on. Not a case of which team will win, more so a ‘who wants to win’ this year’s schedule.

From the feedback and interviews with the leading nations of International rugby, you get the sense that the quadrangular tournament between South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina [SANZAAR] is secondary to other goals.

With team’s announced for both fixtures of Round One of The Rugby Championship, many would assume that the motivation is to win the Championship. Of course, a victory will be part of the normal expectations. Yet, listening to the comments and examining the sides selected, and it could be more a case of who ‘wants’ to win the 2019 Rugby Championship.

The head coaches for Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand have elected to either leave at home, rest, or over-train some members of their squad. Plans that have some teams announcing their first-choice lineup, are matched with sides hampered by unavailability or even, sending players away to ‘prepare for the next round’.

Who ‘wants’ to win the 2019 Rugby Championship

Considering head coaches forethought, planning and the many expressions that the 2019 Rugby Championship is ‘only one step on the road to Japan’ gives the impression is not a primary goal.

An odd resolution, although Argentina unquestionably has chosen to focus 100% on the opening match against NewZealand.

Conversely, the All Blacks are without the majority of the Super Rugby winning Crusaders team – apart from Sevu Reece, who debuts in the match played in Buenos Aires.

It is becoming clear though, that the importance of this year’s reduced format has impacted on motivation – and may likely affect 2019 results.

SANZAAR stated in their media release that ‘due to Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan (Sept 20 – Nov 2) The Rugby Championship comprises just three rounds in 2019 with each team playing each other home or away, as opposed to playing each other home and away. There are two additional matches following the three rounds to ensure each team has a minimum of two home matches – but they are not part of TRC and considered RWC pre-tournament matches.

It is an admission that the competition has been supplanted by the major goal (for some). That may be to the detriment of the 2019 title, yet it could either help – or hinder – several nations in their goals for September.

Meet the teams: Argentina v New Zealand

South Africa v Australia

Who ‘wants’ to win is usually a proactive statement.

Yet with many top names missing, first-pick players not called upon, and self-limitations applied, how aggressively teams apply themselves in this competition can be questioned.

In years past, reducing the strength of your national side so far out from the Rugby World Cup would be questioned. Yet with the more focused preparation and strategies of 2019, they are very different from previous seasons.

If the post-professionalism era has shown one constant, it is that the demands of domestic competitions mean that national head coaches have more to consider than just the test in front of them.

Many probables impact Rugby Championship preparations

It used to be ‘next game is your biggest challenge’. But no, for the 2019 Rugby Championship, not all teams want to ‘lay their cards’ on the table. Some look to play coy, say that they have rested players and selected debutants in a “risk and reward scenario”, as Steve Hansen has declared his round one team choices.

A bluff? Not, because players join their RWC squad if not coming off a full schedule of games, with a few needing extended time away from contact (to rebuild their stamina). Some others need to heal injuries and to find their fitness levels. So running at 100% might be too much to ask [now].

Argentina are the exception, and for That they go into the 2019 Rugby Championship as favourites.

Explaining that you are ‘limited by an extended Super Rugby season’ is a half-truth. The season had no breaks; as they have had in the past. But that is not just due to the World Cup – TRC coaches best not have their excuses too close at hand, because not selecting at 100% and suffering a loss now could be a self-inflicted wound. That is as much because exposing your strengths too early, would be unwise.

Although, that consequence has always been something coaches have had to encounter. Any notion of a weakened International team, can put planning ahead of outcomes. And recent descriptions of the importance of the 2019 version of TRC (Rugby Championship) is not complimentary. Steve Hansen quoted as saying, “Whilst you’ve got to look at the here and now, you’ve got to take the future into consideration.”

Squad selections and player development a factor in Round One

Risk management, player development and looking ahead are phrases that rugby fans have to get used to. Especially if you are a Springboks supporter.

In saying that, congratulations must go to every player who is given a chance to debut for their country. This article takes nothing away from the opportunities that player’s like Springboks Rynhardt Elstadt, Wallabies Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, and Luke Jacobson for New Zealand have been given.

Yet in reality, South Africa’s choice to advance some players to New Zealand, a week ahead of their round two clash is bizarre. This ‘B’ side will face the Wallabies, who themselves been impacted by injuries, whilst preparing for the match in Johannesburg.

But still, it all seems to be ignorant of where fans place importance on a Test match. Risk should not be a primary decision making factor. The Springboks recent record is poor, with losses at home only consolidated by an emphatic win last year in Wellington. To ‘possibly’ sacrifice a result at Ellis Park, for a stronger side to meet the All Blacks at Westpac Stadium is unpopular. Rassie Erasmus has a plan but, at what cost?

History may judge that by the time the two Southern Hemisphere heavyweights face off in the opening pool game of the Rugby World Cup, that resting players in round one of the 2019 Rugby Championship was a great call. Yet it is reticent of the current competition.

SANZAAR should be concerned. Possibly, the outcome is that in 2023, there is no Rugby Championship. Because a watered-down championship; all directed towards the ultimate RWC goal, gives a bad impression.

Should Argentina come out strongest this year, with a glorious maiden win a possibility over the All Blacks, some think that the New Zealand management team will arrive back in Auckland, and simply claim ‘we took the risk, and paid the price….but no matter. The World Cup is the prize we want the most’.

For fans, that would feel repugnant. And for The Rugby Championship [contest], it will be a very real shame.

 

“Main photo credit”

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