It’s the last round of the shortened Rugby Championship this weekend, Australia meet New Zealand in Melbourne and the Springboks welcome Los Pumas to Ellis Park in Johannesburg. We look at the respective coaches’ objectives for the last round of the Rugby Championship.
Australia have made quite a few changes to the team to play the All Blacks in Bledisloe 1, the most notable of which is the inclusion of Carter Gordon at 10 ahead of Quade Cooper. Cooper hasn’t looked as sharp after his return from injury and Carter Gordon has looked sharp off the bench.
The most likely scenario is that Eddie Jones is testing how Gordon goes as a starter should push come to shove at the World Cup, his bench cameos have been encouraging. Similarly Tom Wright hasn’t fired at 15 and the talented Andrew Kellaway gets a chance to stake a claim for the jersey.
Beyond the viewing of alternatives in crucial positions, there are a few fringe players who are short of game time like Angus Bell who needs to be match-ready should the front liners like James Slipper go down.
It looks like the team fielded is pretty much the 1st choice 15 for Ian Foster with the exception of injured captain Sam Cane and perhaps Sam Whitelock who may yet become a starter in his final Test season.
So what exactly will Ian Foster be looking to achieve this weekend? It seems more than likely he will want to wrap up yet another Rugby Championship title first and foremost, but the development of combinations will also be key. The back 3 showed lots of promise against the Springboks and it’s development will aid the All Black’s attack.
The other aspect is building the confidence of Shannon Frizell who finally looks like he could be the answer at blindside flanker for the All Blacks. Cam Roigard on his debut this week will be viewed for the 1st time as a Test player.
The Springboks bench was impactful against the All Blacks, but now some of those players have been inserted into the starting lineup for the crucial clash, and no one will have more eyes on him than Duane Vermeulen, who will be playing what is most likely his final Test in South Africa. Beyond that, he is fighting to secure a starting spot.
Duane Vermeulen will almost certainly be a part of the 23-man squad at full strength, but he needs to prove he still has the drive and nous to thrive in a starting role. Jasper Wiese did not play well against the All Blacks, but he is devastating when he is in form. The coaches should pick know who starts and who comes off the bench after this week.
Grant Williams on the other hand is unlikely to start in the World Cup, but his start this week gives him an opportunity to push for a World Cup squad spot. He has done well off the bench and in the domestic season and will now look to show his worth as a starter in green and gold.
Los Pumas got a great win over the Wallabies in Australia two weeks ago. It was a sign of the upward trajectory that Michael Cheika has had his Argentine team on over the last 2 seasons. This week he will look to add a bit more game sharpness in both the backline and forward pack.
Santiago Chocobares and Juan Cruz Mallia are alternatives to Jeronimo de la Fuente and Emiliano Boffelli and they will need to show they can impact the game for the Pumas in a similar way. Juan Imhoff brings loads of experience and a more physical presence on the wing as well and game time for him in his vintage years will help.
Lucas Paulos is the 3rd fold to experienced lock pairing Tomas Lavanini and Matias Alemanno and he brings considerable bulk with his 123kg frame. He is also being tested by Cheika this week as the building of depth continues – the Brive lock has been very good off the bench.