We like to focus the majority of our attention on local rugby from the amateur to professional levels, and fortunately for fans of the game this seems to be an increasingly active scene.
But as with our recent look the English women in the 2014 Rugby World Cup, it’s also nice to take a peek at what’s going on with the best rugby players and leagues in the world.
After all, anyone with an interest in rugby ought to appreciate a look at the best! So with that in mind, here’s our look at the early weeks in The Rugby Championship, which has become one of the premier competitions in the world.
The Rugby Championship as a concept alone may have very few friends in the UK. It exists basically for the Southern Hemisphere powers to showcase their strength as the best of the best in the sport.
The competition only features national sides from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and, more recently, Argentina, and it runs from mid-August to early October.
In that 10-week span, each team plays each of the others once at home and once away in a sort of semi-official short season. It’s all designed to determine the best rugby nation in any given year—or, at least, the best in the Southern Hemisphere.
The whole idea is a little bit of a slap in the face to European rugby. Yet, as mentioned, it is a true showcase of top-quality rugby, so it should be of some interest to anyone who follows, plays, or pursues the sport. With the competition having kicked off on August 16, here’s some insight into what we’ve seen so far and what we can expect.
So far, South Africa has probably been the most impressive team with two opening wins, though it’s worth noting that both were against Argentina, a newcomer to the competition and are viewed as a significant underdog. Naturally, those two outcomes have Argentina at 0-0-2. However, the club’s offensive performance and scoring differential in those two matches were actually strong enough to earn two points, and a slight advantage over Australia (who are 0-1-1 after two matches with New Zealand). New Zealand, meanwhile, undoubtedly had the most impressive single performance with a 51-20 thrashing of Australia on August 23, but its opening 12-12 draw with the same Australia team was nothing short of puzzling. Full details on these scores and standings are available at the Sanzar Rugby Championship site.
However, the current tables at just a few matches in shouldn’t necessarily indicate that South Africa is actually considered the favourite. Before this year’s Rugby Championship got started, online news/betting hub Betfair gave some extremely solid support to the backing of New Zealand as the favourite in a preview article.
Rugby fans all over the world recognize that New Zealand probably has the greatest reputation of any rugby nation.
However, in this article, Betfair’s Alex Johnson ran the numbers with specific regard to this competition: New Zealand won each of the last two events (the first two since the expansion to include Argentina) with an undefeated record; and last year they finished nine points ahead of South Africa for first (and nineteen ahead of Australia).
So all things considered, despite a surprisingly even start to the Rugby Championship—and one that will have South Africa supporters excited—the All Blacks of New Zealand should probably still be regarded as the favourites. This team (which some readers may remember beat England as recently as this June ) is stronger than its opening draw with Australia showed, and it will get the chance to prove it in tilts vs. South Africa on September 13 and October 4. These two matches will be the best opportunities for rugby fans looking to tune in to what should really be some of the finest exhibitions our sport will offer in 2014.