All Blacks favored to win Rugby Championship despite recent losses, upheaval
The past month has been an interesting one for Southern Hemisphere rugby.
New Zealand lost to Ireland on Kiwi soil for the first time in history. And then it happened all over again the next week, leading the All Blacks to their first three Test series loss at home since 1994.
The Springboks were defeated in South Africa by Wales for the first time as well, although they did managed to come back in the third Test and salvage the series 2-1.
Meanwhile Australia started well against England, before losing two on the trot to go down 2-1 in their series, while Argentina pulled one out of the fire against Scotland, clinching their series 2-1 with a second half surge.
Now, all four Southern Hemisphere teams come together to play each other for the next six weeks. You’ve got to think there’s an element of relief, seeing the back of those Northern Hemisphere teams until November.
Odds have NZ ahead in the Rugby Championship
While these are unprecedented times in international rugby, with upsets and history being made around every corner, the All Blacks are in particularly uncharted water.
Never before have they lost four out of five Tests, and they head into the Rugby Championship perhaps the most fragile they’ve ever been.
Yet, the All Blacks are still odds-on favorites to win the Rugby Championship, with the bookies giving them a 50% chance, paying +100 for an All Blacks win. South Africa are second favorites at +150, while Australia and Argentina are off the pace, with odds of +450 and +2500 respectively.
What is it that the bookies have seen, which have New Zealand favorites to win rugby’s toughest competition, despite the fact they have been losing consistently the last six months, and start their campaign off with back-to-back matches in South Africa?
Coaching change and squad consistency good indicators
Following their series loss to Ireland, New Zealand rugby had perhaps its most tumultuous week in history.
Rarely is the call for an All Blacks coach or captain to be sacked as strong as it was last week, for the heads of Ian Foster and Sam Cane to roll.
However, both have survived, with the only casualties being Pita Gus Sowakula missing out on the squad, and assistant coaches John Plumtree and Brad Mooar getting the axe.
Shannon Frizel and Ethan de Groot re-enter the All Blacks squad, while Crusaders and Fiji forwards coach Jason Ryan gets the call up to take over John Plumtree’s position, and Joe Schmidt continues to take an active role in strategy, analysis and selection.
Though it’s not what the New Zealand public wanted, it has to be a reassuring sign that New Zealand Rugby didn’t ring wholesale changes a year out from the Rugby World Cup. Clearly, they are confident that their squad and coaching team is not far off what’s required to win the title next year, and are looking to work with the existing group rather than start afresh.
All Blacks keys to success in the Rugby Championship
If the All Blacks are to have any chance of backing up their label of favorites in the Rugby Championship, then they’re going to have to start well in South Africa.
New Zealand’s line out and ability to defend the rolling maul were real areas of weakness that Ireland exposed in the second and third Tests. With South Africa one of the strongest set piece and tight play teams in the world, coming head to head against them in ten days’ time will be the perfect test of how much impact forwards coach Jason Ryan has been able to have.
The first Test in South Africa is really shaping up as an all-or-nothing Test for both sides—if the All Blacks can’t find a way to win it, you’d think they’re fighting an uphill battle to win the Rugby Championship, and for many of those involved, keep their jobs.
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