Patrick McKendry of APNZ lists five reasons to look forward to the Rugby Championship:
There is no doubt Steve Hansen wants to put one over his old Canterbury adversary and Australia coach Robbie Deans. The pair coached together at the Crusaders a decade ago but relations have cooled since. Hansen made it clear at the squad naming on Sunday that this isn't about Hansen v Deans but in fact the All Blacks v Wallabies, and can we now talk about the rugby please? (A sentiment, incidentally, that could easily have come from the mouth of Deans). The three tests against Ireland - Hansen's first assignment as big chief - are long gone, and anyway many New Zealanders were cheering for the Emerald Isle underdogs in June. There is less chance of that happening with our cousins from the "Lucky Country".
New Zealand, rugby world champions. It has a nice ring, but now the All Blacks have an opportunity to prove it against Australia and South Africa, ranked 2nd and 3rd, and Argentina, ranked 8th, for the first time since last year's World Cup triumph. The form of Australia's players in the Super Rugby competition was ordinary, with perhaps halfback Will Genia the exception.
The South Africans were much better - the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls making Super Rugby's top six. The Chiefs from humble Hamilton had the final say, though.
SBW's last hurrah
The man with the three initials has achieved a fair bit since his move back to New Zealand to have a crack at making the All Blacks. World Cup? Check. Super Rugby title with the Chiefs? Check. Playing an important part in a win over the Wallabies? No. Williams has played the Aussies twice, but only as a late substitute and both at Eden Park - the first in last year's Tri Nations and the second in the World Cup semifinal in which he came on, made a high tackle, and was promptly sinbinned for the rest of the match. It makes his decision to stay for two more games before jetting off for Japan and then the NRL even more pleasing for most All Blacks' supporters. Hopefully his Panasonic medical results in a green light and the man who loves the big occasion is involved at Stadium Australia in Sydney on Saturday, August 18.
Argentina caused the All Blacks a few worries in their gripping World Cup quarter-final at Eden Park before Graham Henry's men, inspired by Piri Weepu, pulled away to win 33-10. The Pumas are a welcome addition to the old firm, and the match at Estadio Ciudad de La Plata in Buenos Aires on September 29 will be fascinating. The colour and chaos of the city and Argentina's supporters will add much to a format which has become tired. Argentina have troubled the All Blacks in their last two matches at Buenos Aires. In 2006 at Velez Sarsfield Stadium the All Blacks won 25-19 and in 2001 at Estadio Monumental Antonio V Liberti they needed a late Scott Robertson try to win 24-20.
The past few weeks have been dominated by the Olympics and fair enough, although it did slightly take the gloss off the Chiefs' landmark Super Rugby victory. Now top rugby is back and many will be happy to get the regular updates on Kieran's rib, Dan's groin and Cory's ankle, to name but a few precious body parts.
- APNZBy Patrick McKendry Email Patrick