The four giants of Southern-hemisphere rugby union kicked off this year’s Rugby Championship last weekend, and it was a blistering opening round of matches.
And with the Rugby World Cup just over 12 months away, this year’s Rugby Championship will see all four nations looking to lay down markers before the battle for the William Webb Ellis trophy begins.
We’ve taken a closer look at how the week one action in the Rugby Championship unfolded.
Springboks Pile on the Pressure
This year’s championship kicked off with the Springboks facing a struggling New Zealand side in Nelspruit, and the pressure was ramped-up on All Blacks coach Ian Foster after South Africa blew away the visitors 26-10.
Handre Pollard topped the scoreboard for the Springboks with 16 points, slotting over three penalties, one drop goal, and converting tries from winger Kurt-Lee Arendse and Willie le Roux.
South Africa dominated from the kick-off, pinpointing the New Zealand line-out as an area of weakness, and Arendse’s opening try set the tone for the rest of the match.
Discipline was also crucial – the visitors conceding 12 penalties to South Africa’s seven.
The only positive for the All Blacks was a late try from Shannon Frizell, but the result saw New Zealand fall to the fifth loss in their last six matches, with many now calling for head coach Ian Foster to step down.
A home series defeat to Ireland saw New Zealand head into this clash as the underdogs, and a positive result is now needed from the All Blacks this weekend when they take on the Springboks again, this time in Johannesburg.
Wallabies Outclass Pumas
Australia got their Rugby Championship campaign off to a winning start with a 41-26 victory over Argentina in Mendoza despite losing their talismanic captain Michael Hooper just 48 hours before the match.
Hooper cited not being in the correct mindset heading into the match, and he is now set to miss an undetermined number of games. Wallabies coach Dave Rennie will have been concerned with the loss of Hooper, but he will also take hope from the fact his side still sealed victory despite missing their back-row star.
The Pumas put in a solid first-half performance, going in at the break 19-10 up, thanks to tries from Pablo Matera and Juan Martin Gonzalez. And the second half got off to a disastrous start for the Wallabies when they lost fly-half, Quade Cooper, to injury.
However, Australia showed their class by taking advantage of Argentinian ill-discipline with winger Jordan Petaia, flanker Fraser McReight, hooker Folau Fainga’a and centre Len Ikitau all crossing the whitewash in the second half to seal a comfortable victory for the visitors.
The duo will clash again in San Juan next Saturday, where Pumas coach Michael Cheika will be looking to take revenge on his homeland, also knowing that victory coupled with other results, could see Argentina top the Rugby Championship table after two rounds of matches.