They were smart to stop calling it the Tri Nations, writes Ciarán Duffy...
Lets not get bogged down in whether it’s the best annual international rugby tournament, or the second best annual international rugby tournament. The Six Nations and the Rugby Championship both have their identities, and in all honesty aren’t easily comparable. The competitions have a different number of teams, a different fixture arrangement, and a different number of time zones. The dynamic of the teams involved is completely different as well. The Rugby Championship has three teams at the same level with one lagging behind, simple. In the Six nations, it’s not quite as straight forward. England have always been around the top, with Ireland now looking like world beaters. The two main title contenders are joined by a dangerous Welsh side who can’t be ruled out, a Scotland team who look like they could almost be decent but then are not, the Italians around the bottom, and France, who are always consistently France. The tournaments don’t match up, and that’s largely due to the fact that European rugby is completely different to Southern Hemisphere rugby.
Whenever, the Springboks, the Wallabies or the All Blacks step onto the field, something special is about to happen. A pass that makes you fall in love with the game. A run that will make you question the laws of physics. The three Southern Hemisphere sides bring that extra bit of flair, and that’s what makes this tournament so exciting to watch. When South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand are playing each other, there’s a sense that the winner can be crowned the best team in the world. It’s almost like some kind of world championship. This year, the tournaments a huge step on the road to the world cup, but these are by no means a set of warm up matches.
New Zealand face Argentina in the first game of the tournament on Friday, which will also be the first game of both sides world cup campaigns. The game kicks off at 8:35am our time. Since joining the competition Argentina have only managed one win, that came last season against Australia. In addition to this, they’ve never managed to beat either South Africa or New Zealand in a senior test match. They have gotten progressively closer to their opposition, but they still haven’t yet proven themselves to be a fourth title contender. New Zealand on the other hand have won every edition of the rebranded tournament, and have only failed to win two of their eighteen games in the previous three carnations. Their starting line-up for their opener suggests they have every intention of winning their fourth successive championship, but they’ve still taken the time to integrate some new players ahead of the world cup. Waisake Naholo will earn his first cap as he starts on the wing, with Hooker Codie Taylor likely to debut off the bench at some stage.
This is a smart strategy from the All Blacks. There’s plenty of experience and quality in that New Zealand side to carry them over the line, this is the perfect opportunity to blood some new players.
No team had ever won the Tri Nations and then gone on the win the World Cup, New Zealand could well ensure that is not the case for the Rugby Championship.
Slightly different arrangement in this year’s tournament. Rather than play each other home and away, each team will play each other once to allow for more preparation time for the world cup. There is a hint of unfairness that comes with this as the bonus point system is still in place. Australia and South Africa have an extra home game, which surely gives them an advantage.
Because of the different time zones, the kick off times vary throughout the tournament from morning, to evening, to night.
After Fridays match, Australia take on South Africa at 11am Irish time. Next weekend it’s South Africa against New Zealand and Argentina versus Australia. There’s a break week after round 2, with the tournament concluding with Australia hosting New Zealand and Argentina travelling to South Africa. The tournament officially ends on August 8th but the following week Australia will take on New Zealand in the second bledisloe cup game, with South Africa playing Argentina as well.
As far as predictions go, home advantage could benefit Australia here. The Wallabies have their two tougher games at home and could gain considerable momentum ahead of a tough world cup pool. However, as always New Zealand are still the favourites, with the Pumas likely to finish 4th once again. The tournament may be shortened and over shadowed by the World Cup, but the Rugby Championship promises to provide the same exciting brand of rugby it does every year. At least now there’s some rugby on and we can all stop talking about the new World Cup jerseys.
Ciarán Duffy (@VoiceQuakeDuffy) is a Leinster supporter who would watch any game of rugby while undoubtedly taking it too seriously. He enjoys over analysing and taking a pessimistic look at the bright side while talking about Irish, European, and World Rugby issues on and off the field.
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