It has been a while since I last had goose bumps at the start of a rugby series.
While the Rugby Championship is far from ideal, it is a great deal more exciting than the poorly designed Super series we just suffered through.
Although last year’s competition was very much an abbreviated one, the challenge for the Boks this year should not be to move one up from stone last, but really to challenge the firm favourites, New Zealand. On Saturday, we will get some idea of how they plan to do it.
Rather than gaze into my personal crystal ball, which has become a bit murky with the passage of time (and consumption of wine), I share some interesting statistics on the four sides, gleaned from the New Zealand Herald.
- Between Australia (2011 & 2015) and New Zealand (2010, 2012, 2013 & 2014), they have won the last six editions of The Rugby Championship; Australia are aiming for back to back titles for the first time since 2000-2001.
- The All Blacks lost just one of their last 13 against Australia (W10, D2); their 10 victories in that run have come by an average margin of 16 points.
- New Zealand lost just one of their last six at ANZ Stadium (W4, D1), whilst Australia have lost seven of their last 10 at the same venue (W2, D1).
- Steve Hansen’s side won their last 11 on the bounce by an average margin of 27 points; only South Africa have managed to finish within 10 points of the All Blacks in that time.
- New Zealand have not lost their opening fixture of The Rugby Championship since 2005 (v South Africa), winning nine and drawing one since then; overall the All Blacks have won 17 of their 20 opening matches (D1, L2).
- The All Blacks scored at least one try in each of their last 25 games, the longest current run in Test rugby after Fiji’s run of 34 games came to an end in June against Japan.
- Australia lost their last four Tests in a row and have not lost five on the bounce since a run of seven consecutive defeats in 2005; the fifth defeat in that run came against New Zealand.
- The Wallabies are just 35 points away from scoring their 2000th in the Tri Nations and The Rugby Championship; the All Blacks (2564) were the first team to pass the 2,000 point mark, in September 2012 against Argentina.
- Julian Savea scored 39 tries in 43 games for New Zealand, and one more try would make him just the fifth All Black to reach 40 Test tries (Doug Howlett – 49, Christian Cullen – 46, Joe Rokocoko – 46 & Jeff Wilson – 44).
- South Africa is aiming to win The Rugby Championship for just the fourth time with their last tournament victory coming in 2009.
- Argentina has won just once in 22 attempts against the Springboks (D1, L20), however that win came in last season’s competition.
- Although Los Pumas won just two of their 21 Rugby Championship games, both victories came in their last four games; Argentina will be aiming for back to back victories in the competition for the first time.
- The Springboks lost their last three games in the competition and will be aiming to avoid four consecutive defeats for the first time since 2011.
- South Africa will be playing at the Mbombela Stadium for just the third time; they won both previous matches there scoring 30+ points in each (v Wales and Scotland).
- South Africa lost their opening game of The Rugby Championship in 2015; however they won their opening games in each of the three years prior, all of which were against Argentina.
- Argentina (80%) and South Africa (81%) had the worst scrum success rates in last season’s competition; in comparison Australia and New Zealand scrummaged at 94% and 96% respectively.
- South Africa made just 19 clean breaks in the tournament last year, fewer than anyone else, while Argentina beat the fewest defenders (53).
- Nicolas Sanchez needs just nine points to become the fourth Pumas player to reach 400 in Test rugby behind Felipe Contepomi (651), Hugo Porta (651) and Gonzalo Quesada (486).
The Championship is a bit like the recent municipal elections, with one favourite being relatively sure of victory, albeit it with a reduced winning margin.
Or will they?