The Rugby Championship 2021: The Breakdown - All Blacks on brink of title ahead of 100th Springboks showdown

By Sports Desk September 23, 2021

New Zealand are on the brink of landing the Rugby Championship title ahead of their 100th Test against holders South Africa in Townsville on Saturday.

The All Blacks have been in a class of their own, taking maximum points from four matches to put one hand on the trophy and replace the world champions at the top of the rankings.

South Africa are smarting from back-to-back defeats to Australia, leaving them 10 points adrift of the leaders with two games against Ian Foster's side to play.

Australia are just a point behind the Springboks ahead of their clash with Argentina this weekend.

Here, we use Opta data to preview the double-header at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

 

NEW ZEALAND V SOUTH AFRICA

Form

There appears to be no stopping New Zealand at the moment, with their winning run standing at nine matches following back-to-back defeats of Argentina.

The last time the All Blacks enjoyed a longer winning streak was in October 2016, when they completed a run of 18 on the spin.

South Africa, on the other hand, are two without a win and have not had a worse run since losing four in a row from October to November five years ago.

 

 


Ones to watch

Akira Ioane is one of eight New Zealand players to be facing South Africa for the first time. Starting at blindside flanker on Saturday, his potency in the Springbok half could be key – only Jordie Barrett (nine) has beaten more defenders in opposition territory than Ioane (eight) in the 2021 competition.

Lood de Jager is back following concussion to reunite with Eben Etzebeth in the Springbok second row. They, along with Argentina's Guido Petti, are the only players to have stolen multiple lineouts at this year's tournament.

AUSTRALIA V ARGENTINA

Form

Australia are on a high after two impressive wins over South Africa, playing some entertaining rugby in a 30-17 bonus-point win in Brisbane last weekend.

Argentina are rooted to the foot of the table without a point from four matches, with a points difference of minus 101.

Each of the last two Tests between these nations ended in a draw. Only once in Test history have any tier one nations drawn three in a row (England vs France from February 1959 to February 1961).

Ones to watch

Australia captain Michael Hooper tends to enjoy facing Argentina: his most recent five home Tests against the Pumas have yielded a personal haul of four tries and one assist.

Argentina's best hope of springing a surprise could rest on the shoulders of Marcos Kremer, who is the only player in this championship to have registered more than 30 in both carries (31) and tackles (48). Another big showing from flanker Kremer might give the South American side a sniff.

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  • Biggar offers no apologies for 'abrasive' Wales display in defeat to Springboks Biggar offers no apologies for 'abrasive' Wales display in defeat to Springboks

    Dan Biggar was bemused by criticism of Wales' approach to their first Test in South Africa, wondering if they were expected to "just roll the carpet out".

    Wales came agonisingly close to a famous win in Pretoria, ultimately going down 32-29 following four costly yellow cards – including one for Biggar.

    After playing a brief period with 12 men, Wales had 13 on the pitch when an unlikely try gave Biggar a conversion that would have secured an improbable late lead.

    Instead, he missed the posts and was then punished for a knock-on at the other end, allowing Damian Willemse to settle the match from the tee.

    There would have undoubtedly been some relief in the Springboks camp as they were ultimately able to celebrate following their first home game in front of a crowd since winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

    Trailing 18-3 at half-time, South Africa captain Siya Kolisi acknowledged afterwards: "They [Wales] got under our skin."

    There were multiple confrontations between the two sets of players off the ball, and Kolisi added his team "did a couple of things out of character".

    When Biggar subsequently faced the media, he could not understand why Wales were expected to shoulder the blame for incidents of this nature.

    "I don't know what the referee expected us to do," he said. "Just come here, lie down and give South Africa everything their own way?

    "From our point of view, we wanted to try to get in their faces, get in their faces and not take a backwards step. That's part of the game.

    "We were coming here, and if you stand off South Africa out here, then you'll get steam-rolled pretty quickly. You need some aggression and competitiveness and get into it.

    "I didn't see any issue. They were just as niggly, competitive and as abrasive as we were. From our point of view, that was perfect for us.

    "The decisions will be analysed. But from our point of view, I don't understand why people are bothered about it.

    "It's a Test match, and we're away from home against the world champions. I'm not quite sure what people expected from us, just roll the carpet out and applaud them off the pitch?

    "I don't know what the issue is. It's a Test match and we were more than happy to get stuck into them. That's what Test matches are about.

    "I really don't understand. I see it as a non-event. That's exactly what you want from a Test match; you want it confrontational, you want it aggressive.

    "There was no dirty play or anything. We just went at it and got confrontational. It worked for us, certainly in the first half.

    "I've got no issue whatsoever. Whatever happens on the field, you shake hands afterwards, and there is absolutely zero issue."

  • Wimbledon: Nadal swats aside Sonego in outstanding round-three win Wimbledon: Nadal swats aside Sonego in outstanding round-three win

    Rafael Nadal enjoyed serene progress into round four at Wimbledon with a stylish 6-1 6-2 6-4 defeat of Lorenzo Sonego on Saturday.

    For the first time at SW19 this week, there was little evidence of Nadal's recent fitness problems as he completely outclassed his Italian opponent.

    And on this form, the calendar Grand Slam appears a genuine possibility for the Australian Open and French Open champion.

    Indeed, it was hard not to feel sorry for Sonego – and he did appear to have the sympathy of the Centre Court crowd – as Nadal's strokes painted pretty patterns around him.

    The Spaniard remarkably dropped only two points on his own serve in the first set – both to double-faults. It was a similar story in Sonego's service games, too, as he held at the first attempt but then lost the next nine in succession.

    Such was Nadal's superiority a relieved Sonego lifted his arms to salute the crowd as he finally held serve in the fifth game of the second and was given a generous cheer.

    That small victory scarcely slowed Nadal, who wrapped up the second on his own serve and then blasted Sonego away in the opening game of the third to break once again.

    Sonego soon found a more effective way to hold up his opponent, however, appealing at length for the Centre Court roof to be closed and eventually succeeding after a brave hold and a handful of points on Nadal's serve informed officials he was capable of dragging the contest out under fading light.

    So it briefly proved, as Nadal – perhaps irked by the delay – lost his composure and was broken to love after Sonego made a noise as he approached the ball; Nadal deemed the umpire an unnecessary middle man and called Sonego over for a word, clearly upsetting the Italian.

    A fired-up Nadal immediately broke back, and after finally delivering a little drama, the match – and Sonego's campaign – was over.

    Data Slam: Rafa ramping up

    This was Sonego's first meeting with Nadal, and he might have picked a better time to face this fiercely focused great. The 22-time major champion has now won 10 third-round Wimbledon matches in a row, including the past four without dropping a set. Sonego had a hard enough time merely winning a game for much of the match.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
    Nadal – 24/17
    Sonego – 19/17

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
    Nadal – 2/4
    Sonego – 2/2

    BREAK POINTS WON
    Nadal – 6/8
    Sonego – 1/1

  • Laporta: Barcelona have 'no intention' of selling Man Utd target De Jong Laporta: Barcelona have 'no intention' of selling Man Utd target De Jong

    Barcelona president Joan Laporta insists the club have "no intention" of selling Manchester United target Frenkie De Jong, but says the midfielder may have to accept a salary adjustment to remain at Camp Nou.

    De Jong, who emerged as one of European football's hottest properties under Erik ten Hag at Ajax before joining Barca in 2019, has been strongly linked with a move to Old Trafford since his former boss took over at United.

    The Netherlands international said in May that his preference would be to remain at Camp Nou, which he labelled his "dream club", but the Blaugrana's financial difficulties have given rise to speculation he could depart.

    Barcelona's desire to recruit wantaway Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski has only amplified such rumours, but Laporta believes De Jong is happy at the club and could stay – if an agreement over his salary can be reached.

    "Frenkie de Jong is a Barca player and is recognised as one of the best players in the world," Laporta told reporters.

    "We know of clubs that want him, not only United, and we have no intention of selling him. The player, I get the impression, wants to stay. 

    "He is comfortable at Barca and I will do what is in my power so that Frenkie stays here, but it is also a salary issue and it would have to be adjusted.

    "What is certain is that the salary levels of some players are not in line with the salary levels that the board of directors that I have the privilege of presiding over have set."

     

    De Jong made 47 appearances for Barcelona during the 2021-22 season, scoring four goals and boasting the best passing accuracy (91.18 per cent) of any of the club's midfielders to play at least 20 games in all competitions.

    Laporta refused to be drawn on Barcelona's interest in Lewandowski, however, only affirming his respect for the Poland international's current club. 

    "He is a Bayern player," he said of the striker, who plundered 50 goals for the Bundesliga champions last season. 

    "Everyone knows that he is a great player, but I would prefer to be reserved because he is a Bayern player. 

    "We know that he has publicly stated that he wants to come to Barca and we are very flattered, but we have respect for Bayern Munich, which is one of the best clubs in the world. Between clubs, we respect each other."

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