New Zealand enter this year’s Rugby League as defending champions but, potentially for the first time since the start of Rugby League in 2012, they are not favourites.
They won last year’s tournament with one game to spare but, after losing to South Africa in the final round, New Zealand have had a disappointing 12 months. Last month’s home defeat to Ireland, who had never won in New Zealand, means the All Blacks enter the Rugby League having lost four of their last five matches. Head coach Ian Foster probably needs a good tournament to stay in the job.
However, he had to go through a difficult start, with two away matches against world champions South Africa. While the Springboks didn’t have the best of competition last year as they finished third and weren’t at their best in the series win at home to Wales in July, the bad New Zealand’s form and two games against the All Blacks at home give South Africa the edge.
Australia impressed in the Rugby League last year, beating South Africa twice. With their two games against the Boks at home, they could again pose a problem, but like New Zealand, the Wallabies have not had their best year, winning just one game since.
Argentina didn’t win a game in last year’s Rugby League. After winning a series at home to Scotland last month, Michael Cheika’s Pumas will be hoping for an improvement this year.
How to watch the games on TV
(Every hour BST)
- South Africa v New Zealand (Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg) 4:05 p.m. on Saturday August 13 – Sky Sports
- Argentina v Australia (Bicentennial Stadium, San Juan) 8.10pm on Saturday August 13 – Sky Sports
- Australia v South Africa (Adelaide Oval, Adelaide) 6.30am on Saturday August 27 – Sky Sports
- New Zealand v Argentina (Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch) 8.45am on Saturday August 27 – Sky Sports
- New Zealand v Argentina (FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton) 8.05am on Saturday September 3 – Sky Sports
- Australia vs South Africa (Allianz Stadium, Sydney) 10.35am on Saturday September 3 – Sky Sports
- Australia vs New Zealand (Marvel Stadium, Melbourne) 10.45am on Thursday 15 September – Sky Sports
- Argentina vs South Africa (Estadio Jose Amalfitani, Buenos Aires) 8:10 p.m. on Saturday September 17 – Sky Sports
- New Zealand vs Australia (Eden Park, Auckland) 8.05am on Saturday September 24 – Sky Sports
- South Africa vs Argentina (Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban) 4.05pm on Saturday September 24 – Sky Sports
What’s the latest from the team?
By Charlie Morgan
Michael Hooper, Australia’s inspirational captain, dropped out of the squad to face Argentina, saying he was not in the right frame of mind to play.
The back rower, a mainstay in the recent series loss to England who were set to earn a 122nd cap for the Wallabies on Saturday, will return home rather than feature in the Rugby Championship game in Mendoza.
James Slipper will lead the team with Fraser McReight promoted to start at the open flank against a Pumas side coached by Michael Cheika.
“Although this decision was not easy, I know it’s the right one for me and for the team at this stage,” Hooper said. “My whole career I’ve been looking to put the team first and I don’t think I’m able to fulfill my responsibilities right now in my current mindset.
Rennie explained that no warning signs were evident for the group until Hooper, who is only 30, approached Australian team doctor Sharron Flahive on Thursday.
“The way he trained and contributed around, around the team, around leadership, was great,” Rennie said of Hooper, who made his Test debut a decade ago. in 2012.
“But clearly he struggled a bit and covered it up pretty well. It came to a head last night and he worked up the nerve to call Sharron and have a chat with her which then involved [team manager] Chris Webb and myself to figure out where he is.
“The concern is all around his well-being. It was an easy decision to let him go home, and he will receive a lot of support.
Hooper addressed his teammates on Friday and will return to Australia with hooker Dave Porecki, who has been ruled out with injury.
“I think he felt he had been able to suppress things over the last few weeks and so we certainly weren’t aware of anything,” Rennie added of Hooper.
“He’s such a professional. He was able to go on and do his job, and he spoke to the team today, which took a lot of courage, to let them know he was not well. He felt it was better for him and for the team he led back home.
“That’s not uncommon in life, is it?” It’s a cross section of society and often men will say that everyone buggers and suffers in silence. Like I said before, it took a lot of courage for him to address the group, so huge respect from everyone and respect that we want to bring him home and get as much support around of him as possible.
Other selection news
Australia too have Samu Kerevi ruled out for the entire championship, after the center suffered a knee injury while playing sevens at the Commonwealth Games. Hooker Dave Porecki will miss the game against Argentina after being ruled out with a concussion, while props Angus Bell and Scott Sio will also be sidelined through injury. However, fly-half Quade Cooper and winger Jordan Petaia have recovered from their respective calf injuries and concussions, while lock Darcy Swain is available after his suspension.
Argentina can recall experienced fly-half Nicolás Sanchez, who injured himself in the first Test against Scotland, and scrum-half Tomás Cubelli of a side getting used to the style of new former Australian coach Chieka.
There are four changes for New Zealand from the third Test against Ireland. Lock Brodie Retallick is unavailable due to a fractured cheekbone, so Scott Barrett takes his place. Winger Sevu Reece, hooker Codie Taylor and prop Angus Ta’avao all started in Wellington but dropped out altogether on Matchday 23.
New Zealand: Jordie Barrett, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, David Havili, Caleb Clarke, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Akira Ioane, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Angus Ta’avao, Samisoni Taukei’aho, George Bower.
Replacements: Dane Coles, Ethan De Groot, Tyrel Lomax, Tupou Vaa’i, Shannon Frizell, Finlay Christie, Richie Mo’unga, Quinn Tupaea.
South Africa have made three changes since their third test against Wales. Kurt-Lee Arendse replaces Cheslin Kolbe on the wing, who is recovering from a broken jaw. Faf de Klerk comes in at scrum-half for Jaden Hendrikse, and Malcolm Marx starts at hooker on Bongi Mbonambi.
South Africa: Damian Willemse, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Jasper Wiese, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Salmaan Moerat, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Jaden Hendrikse, Willie le Roux.
When is the final round?
The final will take place on Saturday, September 24. New Zealand host Australia in Auckland, while Argentina travel to Durban to face South Africa.
Last year, New Zealand had already completed the Rugby Championship before the final round, having beaten South Africa 19-17 in the penultimate round. However, the Springboks would beat the All Blacks 31-29 a week later to end their campaign on a high.
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