It is surely in deference to New Zealand’s historical domination of the competition, having won 18 of the 26 trophies dating back to the inception of the Tri-Nations in 1996.
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We will find out quickly whether or not the odds-makers are on the money.
Ian Foster’s side open the tournament with back-to-back road games against world champions South Africa in Mbombela (August 7 AEST) and Johannesburg (August 14).
Australia, meanwhile, open their campaign away to Argentina on the same dates in Mendoza and San Juan.
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WALLABIES: Australia is in a familiar position, having played some excellent rugby at times against England yet ultimately coming up short in a 2-1 home series loss.
Coach Dave Rennie has reacted by calling Rory Arnold, Jock Campbell, Lalakai Foketi, Fraser McReight, Matt Gibbon and Irae Simone into his squad.
The loss of Samu Kerevi (Commonwealth Games) and Angus Bell (toe injury) will hurt for the tour of Argentina, who are now coached by former Wallabies boss Michael Cheika.
Cheika has already coached against the Wallabies as an assistant to Mario Ledesma but this will be his first crack at it in the top job.
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“I’m not certain of the role Cheik played (previously), how big a role it was,” Rennie said.
“Certainly Cheik, the team he coached here in Australia (2014-19), they wanted to keep the ball and use the ball and it looks like they’re kicking a bit more now than when he was coaching the Wallabies. But they’re a team that’s very good, they fill the field and I know Cheik will have a big defensive focus around that.
“So there’s not a lot of obvious space, most of it is through the middle… defensively they’re very good, so I’m sure he’s had an influence there.”
ALL BLACKS: It has been a tumultuous time across the ditch as New Zealand grapples with the aftershocks of a historic 2-1 series loss to Ireland.
Coach Ian Foster has kept his job, much to the public’s frustration, but assistants John Plumtree (forwards) and Brad Mooar (backs) have not.
Crusaders assistant Jason Ryan will assume control of the forwards while Foster himself is taking control of the backs with assistance from former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.
“We’ve still got a strong belief in the direction we’re going and just because it didn’t come together as quickly as we wanted, it’s not the first time we’ve been slow starters in July. I hate saying that, but it is reality,” Foster said.
“We’re a wounded All Blacks team and we’ve got a job to do over there and we actually want to play a game that New Zealanders are proud of…
“We’re going to South Africa, Two tests over there, we’ve got some players in this group that haven’t even been to South Africa with the All Blacks, yet alone Super Rugby.
“We’ve got to really quickly get focused on the gains we want.”
SPRINGBOKS: South Africa have slipped to third on the world rankings behind Ireland and France but remain a formidable force with a simple but brutally effective game plan.
The Springboks beat Wales 2-1 on home soil in July and the second Test loss came as coach Jacques Nienaber experimented radically with his selections.
Nienaber has bolstered his squad for the Rugby Championship with World Cup-winning stars Duane Vermeulen and Frans Steyn adding 134 caps of Test experience.
Former Springboks coach Nick Mallett can’t see the All Blacks winning in South Africa.
“Have New Zealand got two tightheads and looseheads capable of lasting 80 minutes against the South African pack? I don’t believe they have,” Mallett wrote for Sport24.
“The ability to stop South Africa playing decent rugby starts at scrum time where you have to stop them winning penalties, and I’m not sure that New Zealand can do that given how they struggled against Ireland…
“South Africa have so much quality in the tight five, and the All Blacks just don’t match up there. New Zealand’s loose trio is made up of openside flankers and a mobile No.8, and Ardie Savea is the best of the bunch. He should be playing openside in place of Sam Cane, in my opinion, who I don’t think is playing well enough to justify his position in the side even if he is a good captain.”
PUMAS: Michael Cheika’s reign as Argentina coach got off to a winning start by beating Scotland 2-1 in a home series in July.
It was the first Pumas series win in 15 years and the first against Scotland since 1994.
The third Test win was thrilling, as Emiliano Boffelli scored the match-winning try with the final play in front of a raucous, sellout crowd of 30,000 at Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades.
“It’s just starting, there’s no getting carried away here,” Cheika said.
“We’re building something that we want to be at a high level later on.
“We loved winning the series, I haven’t won the series (against Scotland) before, and the first ever Test match here at this stadium. To put Argentina’s name on that is really important for the boys. A few of our players are from here and a few of our past players.”
WALLABIES: Michael Hooper (c), Rory Arnold, Pone Fa’amausili, Folau Fainga’a, Nick Frost, Matt Gibbon, Jed Holloway, Rob Leota, Lachlan Lonergan, Fraser McReight, Matt Philip, David Porecki, Pete Samu, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Darcy Swain, Taniela Tupou, Rob Valetini, Harry Wilson, Jock Campbell, Quade Cooper, Lalakai Foketi, Jake Gordon, Reece Hodge, Len Ikitau, Marika Koroibete, Noah Lolesio, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Irae Simone, Suliasi Vunivalu, Nic White, Tom Wright
ALL BLACKS: Sam Cane (c), Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Samisoni Taukei’aho, George Bower, Ethan de Groot, Aidan Ross, Nepo Laulala, Angus Ta’avao, Ofa Tuungafasi, Fletcher Newell, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Tupou Vaa’i, Shannon Frizell, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Ardie Savea, Hoskins Sotutu, Finlay Christie, Folau Fakatava, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Stephen Perofeta, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Rieko Ioane, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Quinn Tupaea, Jordie Barrett, Caleb Clarke, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Will Jordan, Sevu Reece
SPRINGBOKS: Siya Kolisi (c), Thomas du Toit, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Frans Malherbe, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Joseph Dweba, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Salmaan Moerat, Ruan Nortje, Marvin Orie, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Elrigh Louw, Evan Roos, Kwagga Smith, Jasper Wiese, Duane Vermeulen, Rynhardt Elstadt, Deon Fourie, Franco Mostert, Faf de Klerk, Jaden Hendrikse, Herschel Jantjies, Grant Williams, Elton Jantjies, Handre Pollard, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Andre Esterhuizen, Jesse Kriel, Warrick Gelant, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Frans Steyn, Damian Willemse
PUMAS: Julian Montoya (c), Matias Alemanno, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Gonzalo Bertranou, Emiliano Boffelli, Rodrigo Bruni, Santiago Carreras, Lucio Cinti, Santiago Cordero, Agustin Creevy, Tomas Cubelli, Jerome de la Fuente, Thomas Gallo, Francisco Gomez Kodela, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Santiago Grondona, Juan Imhoff, Facundo Isa, Marcos Kremer, Tomas Lavanini, Juan Cruz Mallia, Pablo Matera, Santiago Medrano, Lucas Mensa, Matias Moroni, Matias Orlando, Joaquin Oviedo, Lucas Paulos, Ignacio Ruiz, Nicolas Sanchez, Joel Sclavi, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Benjamin Urdapilleta, Mayco Vivas
THE SCHEDULE (all AEST)
Sunday, August 7
South Africa vs New Zealand, Mbombela Stadium, 1.05am
Argentina vs Australia, Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza, 5.10am
Sunday, August 14
South Africa vs New Zealand, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, 1.05am
Argentina vs Australia, Bicentenario Stadium, San Juan, 5.10am
Saturday, August 27
Australia vs South Africa, Adelaide Oval, 3.30pm
New Zealand vs Argentina, Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch, 5.45pm
Saturday, September 3
New Zealand vs Argentina, FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton, 5.05pm
Australia vs South Africa, Allianz Stadium, Sydney, 7.35pm
Thursday, September 15
Australia vs New Zealand, Marvel Stadium, Melbourne, 7.45pm
Saturday, September 18
Argentina vs South Africa, Estadio Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires, 5.10am
Saturday, September 24
New Zealand vs Australia, Eden Park, Auckland, 5.05pm
Sunday, September 25
South Africa vs Argentina, Kings Park, Durban, 1.05am
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