Australia go into The Rugby Championship with their ability to take defences apart still intact and boosted by the return of overseas players. The Wallabies were beaten 3-0 by England in June and only one of the country’s franchises reached the last eight in Super Rugby this year.
But they still threaten all their rivals according to former South Africa wing Thinus Delport in his review of the state of the Southern Hemisphere’s big four.
Australia face Argentina at Twickenham on October 8 in the final round of The Rugby Championship, the first time the tournament has staged a match in the Northern Hemisphere.
Delport rounds up the state of the nations below:
AUSTRALIA: Can still take defences apart
“It’s a concern that Australia’s Super Rugby sides have underperformed. But the likes of Drew Mitchell will come back in and they’ll probably get some more experienced guys in. But where they are now will be a concern for Michael Cheika and England put them under pressure at scrum time again.
“If they get everyone fit and on the field they’ll be very difficult to play against and we’ve seen how dangerous their backs can be with Folau going well and Foley at 10. They can take defences apart.
“I quite like Scott Fardy and that is because all the good work he does allows David Pocock and Michael Hooper to be free. At 10 Foley is fantastic in attack – it’s just his goal kicking that’s let him down a couple of times. Folau is so dangerous and you can get guys running off him when he breaks in attack.”
ARGENTINA: Young talent and tough to beat
“It’s been a big learning curve for the Jaguares in Super Rugby with the intensity of the competition and the amount of travel across the world they’ve undertaken. They’re not used to that. Flights to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Japan really take a toll on you.
“Discipline-wise they’ve also had problems with the likes of Lavannini and Herrera ending up off the field. They’ve fallen foul of the referees at times and you can’t afford to have 14 or 13 guys on the field instead of 15.
“They have lots of young talent. Their Under 20s showed that when they finished third at the Junior Championships, these players will get more experience through the Jaguares and there is a clear pathway. But they did find it tough in their first year.
“Agustin Creevy is leading from the front and has been impressive, Argentina should get Juan Imhoff back after the Olympics, they’ve got a big pack and they will still be very tough to break down at scrums and set pieces.”
SOUTH AFRICA: Cautious optimism under Coetzee
“South Africa found it difficult against Ireland but in Super Rugby the Lions have been outstanding and the Stormers have done okay but the others have been disappointing. That’s a reflection of the game in South Africa and in The Rugby Championship I expect New Zealand to be more consistent.
“The Lions have changed their style in the last couple of years and players like Warren Whiteley and Jaco Kriel have really led the way. Their style retains the core elements of set piece play and forward dominance but they’ve been willing to play wide.
“Allister Coetzee just has to be patient. It’s not going to happen overnight and sometimes South Africa looked like they were caught between two styles. The hard bit is that the Rugby Championship is brutal but if you want to evolve you’ve got to do it against the best in the world. I’m cautiously optimistic – they’re moving forward. But you have to be on top form every time because the gaps between the sides at the top are so small.
“Against the Irish, Ruan Combrinck turned the second Test around, Whiteley looks the part and Pieter-Steph du Toit made a big difference.”
NEW ZEALAND: Still the standout side
“Clearly the standout side is New Zealand if you look at the Super Rugby tournament, their sides are in form. In the last four there were three from New Zealand left and one South African side.
“The New Zealand teams have a great deal of quality and that gives them a great deal of strength in depth.
“For me, Dane Coles the hooker has been such a strong performer, Ben and Aaron Smith are superb, and Beauden Barrett, when he’s featured, has made a difference.
“Up front Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock are a super pairing – they can carry, they can steal, they can play. At seven you’ve got Sam Cane and Ardie Savaea – two quality sevens.”