Ian Foster says New Zealand must raise their game when they attempt to complete a Rugby Championship clean sweep by beating South Africa on Saturday.

The All Blacks defeated the Springboks 19-17 last weekend to maintain their 100 per cent record and seal the title.

New Zealand can complete a first Southern Hemisphere 'Grand Slam' since 2017 if they make it six wins out of six in their last game of the tournament against the world champions at Cbus Stadium.

Anton Lienert-Brown returns from injury at centre, with Rieko Ioane switching to the left wing and Sevu Reece starting on the right.

Luke Jacobson comes in at number eight, while Brad Weber gets the nod at scrum-half as Richie Mo'unga has to settle for a place on the bench along with TJ Perenara and Damian McKenzie.

Head coach Foster is demanding improvement from the newly-crowned champions on the Gold Coast.

He said: "We've achieved the Championship title, which we're really proud to have achieved.

"The fact that we now have the chance to achieve a potential Grand Slam against our Southern Hemisphere opponents is pretty special. I'm excited by that, and it has already given this weekend's Test an edge."

He added: "We learnt some lessons last week.  We didn't look after the ball as well as we could have and some of our work at the ruck wasn’t as good as we wanted. We have to lift our performance in that area and the team is keen to get that right this weekend."

Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber made two injury-enforced changes, with Ox Nche starting at loosehead prop and Trevor Nyakane switching to tighthead after Frans Malherbe was ruled out due to a neck injury.

Jasper Wiese comes into the matchday squad as a replacement as third-placed South Africa attempt to end the tournament on a high note.

 

New Zealand: Jordie Barrett, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Brad Weber; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Akira Ioane, Ardie Savea (captain), Luke Jacobson.

Replacements: Asafo Aumua, George Bower, Ofa Tuungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ethan Blackadder, TJ Perenara, Richie Mo'unga, Damian McKenzie.

South Africa: Willie le Roux, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi (captain), Kwagga Smith, Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Franco Mostert, Jasper Wiese, Herschel Jantjies, Elton Jantjies, Frans Steyn.

A late penalty from Jordie Barrett secured a 19-17 win for New Zealand over South Africa and Rugby Championship glory for the All Blacks.

A tight and tense encounter in Queensland was settled when Barrett slotted through the posts with barely a minute remaining, a late error in possession from the Springboks then allowing New Zealand to hoof the ball into touch.

The 100th Test match between these teams started in positive fashion for New Zealand, Will Jordan touching down and Jordie Barrett converting after five minutes, but South Africa promptly turned the game on its head through S'busiso Nkosi's try and two Handre Pollard penalties.

Ian Foster's men, 23-13 winners over the Boks at the Rugby World Cup two years ago, found it hard to maintain any rhythm with the ball but did scrape into a half-time lead through two further Jordie Barrett kicks while Nkosi was sin-binned.

A topsy-turvy, error-strewn contest continued when Pollard and Jordie Barrett exchanged penalties in the space of three minutes, but it seemed South Africa's number 10 might have secured a surprise win to banish thoughts of back-to-back losses to Australia when he kicked them into a 17-16 lead with his fourth three-pointer 14 minutes from time.

Yet it was Jordie Barrett who had the final say, squeezing his penalty just inside the left-hand upright to extend the All Blacks' winning streak to 10 and secure the trophy with a game to spare.

Perfect 10 for champions

New Zealand have now won 10 matches in a row for the first time since an 18-game winning streak back in October 2016.

While this was far from a vintage display, they have dominated this year's competition from the off to regain the title they won in last year's Tri-Nations format.

South Africa have now lost their past three Test matches and will be desperate to avoid a fourth next weekend against the same opponents.

Barrett holds his nerve

New Zealand's attack was riddle with mistakes – their turnovers conceded count (23) was the same as the number of defenders they beat – but Jordie Barrett stayed accurate with the boot when the pressure was on.

His decisive attempt had looked to be drifting too far left but the relief was palpable when the flags were raised.

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.

Former New Zealand all-rounder Chris Cairns says he is just grateful to be alive after undergoing life-saving heart surgery last month.

Cairns was on a life support machine at St Vincent's Hospital Sydney following a "major medical event" in Canberra

The 52-year-old was left paralysed after suffering a stroke in his spine during emergency heart surgery, having been transferred to Sydney following an operation in Canberra.

Cairns was able to communicate with his family after coming off his life support.

He posted a video on Twitter on Sunday, stating that he faces a long road ahead, while expressing his gratitude to those who saved his life.

Cairns said: "Just about six weeks ago I suffered a Type A aortic dissection which essentially means there's a tear in one of my arteries of the heart.

"I had several surgeries and grafts, and very thankfully, the specialists were able to save the heart itself."

He added: "One of the complications that arose was a spinal stroke, which in itself will provide me with possibly the greatest challenge I've ever faced in rehab going forward.

"Huge thanks to the team here at Canberra Hospital, to St Vincent's in Sydney, the surgeons, the doctors, the nurses, the specialists – you saved my life.

"Thanks also to all the well wishes that have been sent through to Mel, my wife, and I. Uplifting, humbling and so, so special."

Between 1989 and 2006, Cairns played 62 Tests, 215 ODIs and two Twenty20 games for the Black Caps. His father Lance also played cricket for New Zealand.

New Zealand returned to the top of the world rankings with their win over Argentina on Saturday, but coach Ian Foster is more concerned by the upcoming double-header against South Africa.

With a 36-13 defeat of the Pumas in Brisbane – their ninth consecutive Test win – New Zealand leapfrogged South Africa at the summit.

Foster's side also moved 10 points clear at the top of the Rugby Championship table and could wrap up the title even with a defeat against the Springboks next time out – if the All Blacks secure a losing bonus or prevent their opponents earning a try bonus.

But the opportunity to test themselves against the world champions is of greater interest in what will be the 100th Test meeting between the teams.

Asked about New Zealand's number one ranking, Foster said: "My mindset is you've got to beat number one to be number one.

"It's not on our mind at all. I'm not saying that to downplay it. We're about to play South Africa next week, we'll get excited about that.

"We're more interested in winning a Test match than where we sit [in the rankings].

"If we focus too much on the other thing, we'll get tripped up and won't be there for very long, and that doesn't interest us either."

Of the South Africa matches, he added: "We love playing Test matches, but we really love playing South Africa, probably because of the amount of respect we've got for them.

"Over history, it's been an outstanding rivalry.

"We're not so much talking about number ones and number twos, we've got a chance to go to Townsville to play a foe we've got a lot of respect for and put ourselves in a pretty nice position in this championship."

New Zealand pulled further clear at the top of the Rugby Championship standings and closed on the title with a 36-13 victory over Argentina in Brisbane.

The All Blacks were as dominant in this nominal away Test as they had been in the previous clash last week, even if the scoreline was this time a little closer.

Patrick Tuipulotu, TJ Perenara, Tupou Vaa'i (twice) and Samisoni Taukei'aho each contributed tries for a fourth bonus-point win from four to move Ian Foster's men 10 points clear of South Africa ahead of a double-header against the world champions.

New Zealand had to wait only until the sixth minute for their opening try, as Will Jordan carried to the line after a break from Hoskins Sotutu, before Tuipulotu's power got the ball over.

After Emiliano Boffelli's penalty ensured Argentina would not go scoreless for a third straight Test against the All Blacks, the Pumas were soon on the back foot again.

New Zealand had a further three tries – for Jordan and Rieko Ioane twice – ruled out before half-time, but they were still able to successfully cross twice more, with Perenara stooping through following a scrum and pressure on the stroke of the interval producing a simple score for Vaa'i in the corner.

A flowing move from left to right created space for Taukei'aho after the restart, although Boffelli's excellent stretching catch on the left then allowed him to get the ball grounded before he was taken into touch by a combination of Jordie Barrett and Jordan.

That prompted an improved Argentina spell, yet the All Blacks countered effectively and Vaa'i was unmarked to complete the scoring.

Will makes it work... eventually

Jordan was influential in much of the All Blacks' best work, but he was also involved in two of their disallowed tries. The wing was just ahead of Taukei'aho before racing through to score and then played a forward pass of his own to Ioane following a superb take from Damian McKenzie's kick.

Jordan got it right for the first try of the second half, however, unloading a superb ball to Taukei'aho.

Celebration against the Springboks?

The All Blacks have now won nine Tests on the bounce, last enjoying a longer run between August 2015 and October 2016 (18 wins), and the next one should be special – their 100th meeting with the Springboks.

Anything less than a bonus-point South Africa win, with New Zealand failing to earn a losing bonus, would see last year's Tri-Nations champions crowned again.

England could follow New Zealand in cancelling their cricket tour to Pakistan amid new security concerns about visiting the country.

The England men's and women's teams are due to face Pakistan next month, with Eoin Morgan's side set for a two-match T20I series starting on October 13.

However, New Zealand's series against Pakistan was called off on Friday amid growing worries over player safety, and England are now assessing the situation.

The England and Wales Cricket Board said in a statement: "We're aware of New Zealand's decision to pull out of the Pakistan tour due to a security alert.

"We are liaising with our security team who are on the ground in Pakistan to fully understand the situation.

"The ECB board will then decide in the next 24-48 hours whether our planned tour should proceed."

Friday's decision by New Zealand Cricket to pull the ODI and T20I series, hours before the first match was due to be played, was met with disappointment from the Pakistan Cricket Board.

Pakistan captain Babar Azam echoed the PCB's sentiments, indicating that he trusted the security services would have ensured it took place in safe conditions.

"Extremely disappointed on the abrupt postponement of the series, which could have brought the smiles back for millions of Pakistan cricket fans," Babar wrote on Twitter.

"I've full trust in the capabilities and credibility of our security agencies. They are our pride and always will be! Pakistan Zindabad!"

New Zealand have called off their cricket tour of Pakistan amid growing security concerns, on the day when the opening match was due to take place.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) stated its disappointment after New Zealand Cricket (NZC) announced the team would be returning home.

Pakistan and the Black Caps were due to meet in three ODIs and five T20Is, with the first fixture set for Friday in Rawalpindi, but the entire tour has been called off.

Neither team left their hotel on Friday morning and spectators were not allowed to enter the stadium.

A statement from NZC declared the team had decided to withdraw from the tour "following an escalation in the New Zealand government threat levels for Pakistan, and advice from NZC security advisors on the ground".

NZC chief executive David White said: "I understand this will be a blow for the PCB, who have been wonderful hosts, but player safety is paramount and we believe this is the only responsible option."

The PCB did not agree with NZC's decision, however, insisting the Pakistan government had been in contact with New Zealand's government to appease any fears over the security and safety of the travelling party.

"Earlier today, New Zealand Cricket informed us they had been alerted to some security alert and have unilaterally decided to postpone the series," a PCB statement read.

"Pakistan Cricket Board and Pakistan government made foolproof security arrangements for all visiting teams. We have assured New Zealand Cricket of the same. The Pakistan prime minister [Imran Khan] spoke personally to the prime minister of New Zealand [Jacinda Ardern] and informed her that we have one of the best intelligence systems in the world and that no security threat of any kind exists for the visiting team.

"The security officials with the New Zealand team have been satisfied with security arrangements made by the Pakistan government throughout their stay here.

"PCB is willing to continue the scheduled matches. However, cricket lovers in Pakistan and around the world will be disappointed by this last-minute withdrawal."

Pakistan did not host Test matches from 2009 to 2019 after a terror attack on the touring Sri Lanka team, which left six players, two staff members and an umpire wounded, and eight others – six Pakistani police officers and two civilians – dead.

The All Blacks have made 11 changes to their starting line-up for Saturday's Rugby Championship match against Argentina in Brisbane.

New Zealand have started the Rugby Championship with three wins from three games, brushing aside Argentina 39-0 on the Gold Coast last Sunday.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster has opted to make sweeping changes for the secondary fixture against the Pumas as he looks to keep vitality within his squad with a six-day turnaround.

"Some of these changes are people who played significant minutes last weekend anyway against Argentina," Foster said.

"We know we had a good win last week and we know expectations are high on us, and the danger is if we think it is all just going to all happen, then we are going to get smacked so there's a lot of pressure on this group.

"We've got to make sure we have a really good performance this weekend and, from a Championship perspective, this win is vital for us."

Beauden Barrett has been managed for the upcoming South African Tests, with Damian McKenzie given a rare chance at five-eighth, with Richie Mo'unga absent on paternity leave.

Ardie Savea returns to skipper the side at openside flanker, accommodating the return of Hoskins Sotutu at number eight.

Front rower Samisoni Taukei'aho earns his first start, alongside Joe Moody and Tyrel Lomax.

Injury-free Patrick Tuipulotu returns with Brodie Retallick rested, while Tupou Vaa'i gets his first start of the calendar year.

New Zealand: Jordie Barrett, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Quinn Tupaea, George Bridge, Damian McKenzie, TJ Perenara, Hoskins Sotutu, Ardie Savea, Ethan Blackadder, Tupou Vaa'i, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tyrel Lomax, Samisoni Taukei'aho, Joe Moody.
Replacements: Codie Taylor, George Bower, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Luke Jacobson, Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett, Braydon Ennor.

South Africa will attempt to spoil Michael Hooper's record-breaking Australia appearance when the Springboks go on a Rugby Championship revenge mission on Saturday.

Hooper will captain the Wallabies for a 60th time at Suncorp Stadium, surpassing the number of times George Gregan led Australia out.

A special occasion for the skipper will come six days after Quade Cooper marked his international return by kicking a dramatic winning penalty against the Boks on the Gold Coast.

Holders South Africa were consigned to a stunning 28-26 defeat in Queensland and trail leaders New Zealand by five points.

Australia are unbeaten in six Tests against the Springboks on home soil ahead of the round-four showdown, after achieving their first win of this year's tournament last weekend.

The All Blacks have maximum points from three matches and can take another stride towards regaining the title by beating Argentina.

Here, Stats Perform uses Opta facts to preview the Rugby Championship double-header in Brisbane.

 


AUSTRALIA V SOUTH AFRICA

Form

South Africa will be looking to avoid back-to-back defeats in men's Tests for the first time since November 2018.

Australia have not won back-to-back Tests since October 2019 and may need to show their staying power once again to get their hands on the Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate.

Dave Rennie's side have scored 27 points in the final quarter of games in this tournament, more than any other quarter of a match.

Nic White, James Slipper and Taniela Tupou come into the Australia team. Jacques Nienaber makes three changes to South Africa's matchday squad, with Marvin Orie and Trevor Nyakane starting. Cheslin Kolbe is not ready to return from injury.

 

Ones to watch

Andrew Kellaway scored Australia's only try in last week's win over the world champions.

The wing is the joint-leading try-scorer in the tournament with three, alongside David Havili and Malcolm Marx. 

With Lood de Jager absent due to concussion, Orie takes over at lock for South Africa.

De Jager has won a competition-high 22 lineouts, including three steals, so Orie has big shoes to fill.

 

ARGENTINA V NEW ZEALAND

Form

The All Blacks dished out a 39-0 thrashing to Argentina in round three, Luke Jacobson scoring two of their five tries.

New Zealand have kept the Pumas scoreless in each of their past two meetings and have only failed to beat them in two of 32 previous encounters.

Argentina have lost three consecutive Tests, having lost only twice in their 10 prior to that run.

Joe Moody comes into a much-changed All Blacks side and Ardie Savea returns as captain, while Samisoni Taukei'aho makes his first Test start. Patrick Tuipulotu and Ofa Tuungafasi are also among the starters.

Santiago Carreras starts for Argentina at fly-half, while Pablo Matera takes the number eight shirt as Mario Ledesma makes six changes.

 

Ones to watch

The versatile Damian McKenzie gets the chance to start a second Test at fly-half for the All Blacks.

Playmaker McKenzie can put on a show at number 10 and pull the strings in tandem with scrum-half TJ Perenara.

Pumas captain Julian Montoya won three turnovers in the defeat to the All Blacks last weekend and his tally of four is twice as many as any other player in the tournament.

Montoya has not missed any of his 40 tackles in the competition.

Damian McKenzie will start at fly-half in a Test for the first time in three years as New Zealand overhauled their XV for the Rugby Championship clash against Argentina.

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has made wholesale changes after last week's 39-0 rout of the Pumas on the Gold Coast, with McKenzie to start at number 10 in Brisbane on Saturday having been introduced off the bench.

New Zealand's backline at Suncorp Stadium will feature only four players who started against Argentina last time out as the All Blacks look to maintain their 100 per cent record in the competition – Ardie Savea returning to captain the side.

"With five Tests in a row and a six-day turnaround between these two Argentinian Tests, we were always going to make some selection changes," Foster said. "Five Tests in a row demanded that. 

"But the good thing is that we have a group that has been focussing on the same opposition for the last two weeks, so our preparation time hasn’t been compromised.

"We are expecting a huge response from Argentina and we have to make sure we are prepared for that because we know what a wounded beast is like. The key is not so much how they respond, but how we respond. If we go into this Test match thinking it's just going to happen for us like last week without earning the right to have the scoreboard in our favour, then we are in trouble."

New Zealand have won 30 of their 32 previous men's Tests against Argentina (D1, L1), including their last two in succession. They have also won three of their four meetings on neutral territory in that time (L1).

The All Blacks have kept Argentina scoreless in each of their last two meetings – only twice since 1900 has any Tier 1 nation kept another Tier 1 nation scoreless for more consecutive games (England – four games against Ireland from 1956 to 1959; France – three games against Italy from 1959 to 1961).

New Zealand have won their last eight consecutive Tests by an average margin of 40 points. A ninth straight victory would equal their longest winning streak since a run of 18 victories from August 2015 to October 2016.

 

New Zealand: Jordie Barrett, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Quinn Tupaea, George Bridge, Damian McKenzie, TJ Perenara; Joe Moody, Samisoni Taukei'aho, Tyrel Lomax, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupou Vaa'I, Ethan Blackadder, Ardie Savea, Hoskins Sotutu.
Replacements: Codie Taylor, George Bower, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Luke Jacobson, Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett, Braydon Ennor.

Aaron Smith will play no further part in the Rugby Championship as the New Zealand scrum-half awaits the birth of his second child.

Smith started both victories over Australia at Eden Park last month but did not travel to face them in Perth at the start of September and was absent for last weekend's 39-0 win over Argentina.

The playmaker will also miss the upcoming clash with the Pumas and back-to-back showdowns with world champions South Africa, as he did not want to risk missing the arrival of his second child, which is due in November.

Smith will stay at home, with no guarantees he would secure a managed isolation space if he had to fly home earlier than expected.

The 32-year-old will instead play for Manawatu in the Bunnings Cup.

Smith could also miss the All Blacks' tour of the United States and Europe.

He said: "The door isn't completely closed to me joining the team for the Northern Tour if our baby comes early. 

"In this environment anything can happen, so I've got an open mind. At the moment though, I just want to focus on being here with my family and enjoying that time and playing for Manawatu. I can't wait to get the boots on again."

TJ Perenara and Brad Weber will battle it out for New Zealand's number nine shirt in the absence of Smith.

 

New Zealand turned on the style to ruthlessly dispatch Argentina 39-0 to make it three wins from three in the Rugby Championship.

Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece and Dalton Papalii all touched down in a dominant first-half showing from the All Blacks at the CBUS Super Stadium in Queensland.

Luke Jacobson then scored twice in the second period to complete the most routine of wins for Ian Foster's side.

Ioane went over in scrappy fashion after 10 minutes when he reacted fastest to Bautista Delguy knocking a Beauden Barrett offload to ground.

Despite dominating ball and territory it took until three minutes before half-time for Reece to crash over, with Papalii following suit with time in the red following a drive from a line-out with Pablo Matera sent to the bin for the Pumas in the build-up due to persistent team infringements.

Jacobson had his first following a stunning offload from Barrett early in the second half and, after New Zealand were denied on three occasions by the TMO, he had a second with a strong run from the back of a scrum.

A late Jordie Barrett three-pointer added further gloss for a New Zealand side that was never troubled by a limp Argentina for who Nicolas Sanchez made a record 90th appearance.


Ioane a menace

Argentina were camped in their own 22 for the majority of the first half in no short part down to the work of Ioane.

The bulldozing centre, who prior to this game was the leader for metres gained in the Championship, consistently broke the lines and it was his quick reactions that got the All Blacks rolling.

Barrett bros almost combine for stunner

Shortly after Ioane's opener there was a moment of genius when Beauden Barrett's high kick was caught by brother Jordie deep into the try area and dotted down.

It was a sensational catch and ground by the full-back, who had absolutely no right to make the grab, but sadly his placing of the ball appeared to be just over the line.

Australia are looking for a lift and have turned to Quade Cooper to provide guile from number 10 against South Africa as the Rugby Championship resumes.

Three weeks on from the second round of games, Australia and the Springboks go head to head, and New Zealand tackle Argentina, with both games being played on Sunday at Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast.

The Wallabies took a Bledisloe Cup drubbing at the hands of the All Blacks, losing all three games in that series, with two of those forming part of this tournament, so they are looking for a spark and will hope Cooper, making his first international appearance in over four years, can provide that.

The 33-year-old last featured, briefly, against Italy in June 2017 and now plays for Japanese team Kintetsu Liners.

His career looked to be in steep decline at one point, as Cooper lost his place in not only the Australia squad during Michael Cheika's reign as coach, but also fell out of favour with the Queensland Reds.

Now he is set for a 71st Test appearance, having been originally beckoned into Dave Rennie's squad as a training player.

South Africa make seven changes to their starting XV for the match, with number eight Duane Vermeulen selected to make his first appearance for the Boks since the 2019 World Cup final after recovering from ankle surgery.

There are changes afoot for New Zealand too, with lock Brodie Retallick named captain for the clash with Argentina as Ardie Savea sits the game out after taking a knock to the head last week.

Ahead of the crunch double-header, the third of six rounds of games in the championship, Stats Perform looks at the key Opta facts.

NEW ZEALAND v ARGENTINA

Form

The All Blacks are inevitably on a high after crushing the Bledisloe Cup aspirations of their trans-Tasman rivals and duly making a strong start to the championship. They have full-back Jordie Barrett available despite his red card against Australia last time out after the punishment was rescinded on appeal in midweek.

New Zealand have won their last seven men's Tests on the bounce by an average margin of 40 points per game. The last time they won more in succession was a nine-game streak from November 2017 to September 2018 which included a 46-24 win over Argentina.

They have not always had it easy against the South American powerhouses, though. Their clashes in last year's Tri-Nations were memorable, with Argentina scoring a stunning 25-15 win over the All Blacks on November 14, 2020, only to then lose 38-0 when they met again a fortnight later. New Zealand have won 29 of their 31 Tests against Argentina (D1, L1).

New Zealand have had just 12 minutes and 53 seconds of possession per game in this year's Rugby Championship, the lowest of any team in the competition. Despite this, they lead the competition in metres gained (615), clean breaks (15), and points scored (48) per game.

Argentina's two defeats to South Africa in the opening two rounds suggest they might find the going tough this weekend.

Ones to watch

Blindside flanker Akira Ioane has crossed the gainline on 17 of his 18 gainline carries for New Zealand in the competition so far. His 94 per cent rate is the highest of any player to have made at least 10 gainline carries in this tournament.

Retallick will carry the responsibility of leadership after he was favoured ahead of Beauden Barrett who, at fly-half, was judged to have enough going on without having to issue orders.

Coach Ian Foster said of Retallick, who has returned to Test action this year after a spell in Japan: "He's back, he's confident, he's got the smile on his face, and that's part of the biggest thing with Brodie. When he's settled and he loves the environment, then he can go out and express himself.

"And I don't want a lot to change with that captaincy band. It's one of the challenges of giving it to someone like Brodie, do you force him into someone that he's not? But I'm really comfortable. He knows his role, he's clear and the boys certainly want to follow him."

Discipline will be important for both sides, with Argentina having received six yellow cards and one red card in their last six men's Tests, including two yellow cards against the Boks last time out. They had received only one yellow card and one red card in their previous 25 Tests.

SOUTH AFRICA v AUSTRALIA

Form

After the tussle between the All Blacks and Pumas, perhaps this can be considered the headline match of the weekend, an embattled Australia facing World Cup winners who are aiming for a statement victory.

For COVID-19 reasons, Queensland is staging the remainder of this tournament, and Australia coach Rennie will look for a response from his players to their sequence of losses.

The three-in-a-row streak is a concern, and the last time the Wallabies lost more in succession was a four-game stretch from June to August in 2018. They lost twice to Ireland and twice to New Zealand before ending that losing run with a 23-18 success against South Africa.

Australia have won 19 of their last 24 men's Tests at home against South Africa, logging just three defeats in that span (D2). They are undefeated in their last five such fixtures (W4, D1), yet each of those games has featured a margin of fewer than seven points on the day.

It could be tight again, with South Africa having won 15 of their 18 Tests since the beginning of 2019. They have won their last four on the bounce, and their 83 per cent win rate since the beginning of 2019 is the best of any top-tier team in that time.

South Africa defeated Argentina 29-10 in the second round, while Australia went down 38-21 to New Zealand in Perth.

The Springboks have missed the fewest tackles per game (16) so far in the championship and have the highest tackle success rate (89 per cent) of any team. Australia’s tackle success rate of 82 per cent is the lowest of the four sides, but the context is that they were facing the All Blacks.

South Africa have created 20 mauls throughout this tournament, which is twice as many as any other team and five times as many as Australia (4); the Springboks have gained 56 metres and scored one try from those mauls.

Ones to watch

Australia scrum-half Tate McDermott has beaten nine defenders in this year's Rugby Championship, the second-most of any player (Akira Ioane – 12). He beat seven defenders against the All Blacks in the last round, and only twice in the last decade has any scrum-half from a tier one nation made more (Antoine Dupont 9, Francois Hougaard 8).

He therefore has a pivotal role to play, and how he combines with Cooper will be keenly observed.

Rennie said he was "thrilled" to be able to be giving Cooper another chance to show his quality at this level, and it remains to be seen whether this is a one-off comeback or something that might have longer-term legs.

Michael Hooper will match George Gregan's record of 59 matches as captain of Australia as he wins a 112th cap, and there are other landmarks set to arise. Reece Hodge, who starts on the bench, and Allan Alaalatoa will each win 50th caps.

Rennie described the match as "a huge occasion" for Hooper, hailing his longevity as "testament to his leadership and resilience".

Boks coach Jacques Nienaber said of the occasion: "Australia pose a strong threat with their running rugby and they like to keep the ball in play. They will also be playing in front of a charged-up home crowd, so it will be good to have these experienced players back as they know what it takes to perform in big matches."

South Africa have won their last two Tests on the bounce against Australia, as many as they had won in their eight encounters prior (D2, L4). The last time they won more successive games against the Wallabies was a three-game winning stretch from September 2012 to September 2013.

Quade Cooper will make a remarkable return for the Wallabies after being named to play for the first time since 2017 when Australia face South Africa on Sunday.

Cooper had been part of Australia's squad for the Bledisloe Cup against New Zealand, but was not used in any of the three Tests which the All Blacks comfortably won.

Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie has rolled the dice for the Rugby Championship showdown against South Africa on the Gold Coast, with 33-year-old Cooper named at fly-half, displacing 21-year-old Noah Lolesio.

Cooper's career has taken several turns since his last cap in 2017 against Italy, frozen out at Brad Thorn's Reds in Super Rugby, before a one-year stint at the Rebels and a move to play in Japan in 2019.

"He's had a really positive impact since joining the group, put pressure on us as selectors and he's excited to get out there and perform on Sunday night," Rennie said.

Angus Bell will earn his first start in the front-row, while Izack Rodda also comes into the starting line-up, with the backline unchanged.

Wallabies hooker Feleti Kaitu'u and back-rower Rob Leota are in line for debuts off the bench.

The match will see Australia captain Michael Hooper equal George Gregan's record for most Tests as Wallabies skipper when he steps out for the 59th time.

Meanwhile, Brodie Retallick has been named as captain for New Zealand after a head knock to Ardie Savea ahead of their Test against Argentina on Sunday.

Hooker Asafo Aumua will make his first Test start for the All Blacks, while prop Joe Moody returns following foot surgery via the bench.

"Brodie is a great leader in this team and we don't take his leadership for granted," said All Blacks coach Ian Foster. "We think this is a great honour for him, and he and his family can be hugely proud. 

"He's playing really well and leads from the front. He has come back into the black jersey this year and just picked up where he left off.

"He also has an experienced partner in Beaudy [Barrett] alongside him who is bringing a calmness to the team and a sense of direction and we’re seeing that in the way he plays."

 

Australia: Tom Banks, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Tate McDermott; Angus Bell, Folau Fainga'a, Allan Alaalatoa, Izack Rodda, Matt Philip, Lachlan Swinton, Michael Hooper, Rob Valetini.
Replacements: Feleti Kaitu'u, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Nic White, Reece Hodge, Jordan Petaia.

New Zealand: Jordie Barrett, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili, George Bridge, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara; Karl Tu'inukuafe, Asafo Aumua, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Luke Jacobson.
Replacements: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Joe Moody, Tyrel Lomax, Tupou Vaa'I, Ethan Blackadder, Brad Weber, Damian McKenzie, Rieko Ioane.

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