Can anyone stop New Zealand? The imperious All Blacks are on track to retain their Rugby Championship crown following a third straight win in this year’s competition.
While they did not have it all their own way against Argentina, Steve Hansen’s side still galloped clear down the stretch to record a flattering 46-24 result in Nelson last Saturday.
They have now picked up bonus points in each of their Championship outings in 2018 ahead of a showdown with South Africa, who will perhaps still be trying to work out quite how they lost in Australia.
With the pressure lifted off coach Michael Cheika – for now at least – the Wallabies will hope to build on that 23-18 triumph when they host the Pumas on the Gold Coast.
Ahead of round four, we take a look at the key numbers thanks to Opta’s help.
Round #4 2018 TRC
First clash this year between @AllBlacks and @Springboks – can Boks spoil the party in Wellington? All Blacks win with bonus point secures title! #NZLvRSA
Meanwhile rejuvenated @qantaswallabies host @lospumas on Gold Coast #AUSvARG
— TheRugbyChampionship (@SanzarTRC) September 13, 2018
New Zealand v South Africa
If the wounded Boks are going to slow New Zealand’s march towards yet another title, they will have to reverse a miserable run of recent form against the reigning world champions.
The All Blacks have won 11 of the last 12 meetings, including the last six by an average margin of 23 points, while they are also unbeaten in eight games on home soil against South Africa.
Worryingly, New Zealand boast an outstanding record at the Westpac Stadium, winning 87 per cent of their games at the venue in Wellington and all six when the Springboks have been the opponents.
If Rassie Erasmus’ side are to avoid losing three Championship games in a row for the first time since 2016, defence will be key. They’ve averaged the fewest number of missed tackles (22) so far and have only conceded 18 second-half points this year, though they have not reached 20 themselves on New Zealand soil since 2009.
South Africa’s hopes are boosted by the absence of Sonny Bill Williams for the home team but they will not want a repeat of the round four meeting from last year – they were thrashed 57-0 in Albany.
UPDATE: All Blacks midfielder @SonnyBWilliams has been withdrawn from this weekend’s Freedom Cup Test against South Africa as he has been unwell this week. He has been replaced on the bench by Jack Goodhue #NZLvRSA #InvestecRugbyChampionship pic.twitter.com/tHAEzmZ9df
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 12, 2018
Australia v Argentina
The Wallabies will be aiming to win two on the bounce – a feat they have not achieved since the 2016 campaign – when they welcome Argentina to the Gold Coast.
Cheika watched his side blank South Africa in the second half as they overturned an 18-17 deficit at the halfway stage despite only gaining 253 metres in Brisbane.
Matt Toomua was the hero, scoring 15 points at Suncorp Stadium including a pair of second-half penalties. Surprisingly, he had only registered 20 prior to the game and had never previously kicked a goal for his country.
Still, they have dominated the Pumas, winning 15 of the last 16 games between the two nations, including a 45-20 victory at the same stage last season. Israel Folau scored two tries on that occasion and he will hope to cross again at the weekend after being named on the wing.
Mario Ledesma’s team put 17 points on New Zealand in the second half and while they were unable to record a second Test win in 2018, they showed their capabilities in attack. Nicholas Sanchez will once again be a key performer – the fly-half became his country’s top all-time scorer last week.
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