Three Key Battles: New Zealand v South Africa

This is probably the most eagerly anticipated clash of the shortened 2019 Rugby Championship and should give us a clear indication about which of these will come out on top later this year when they meet in the pool stage of the World Cup.

Last year the Springboks won at the very same stadium (Westpac Stadium, Wellington). Could there be a repeat?

  1. Shannon Frizell v Pieter-Steph du Toit

Frizell comes into this contest with just four caps but he has had a strong season in Super Rugby for the Highlanders and he will be full of confidence against du Toit.

The South African is one of only two forwards retained following South Africa’s impressive win over Australia last weekend, he played a starring role with his deft kick through which led to Lood de Jager’s try.

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Credit: Instagram (@kingnoni676)

A titanic battle Frizell is definitely in form but du Toit is becoming undroppable for Rassie Erasmus.

2. Beauden Barrett v Willie le Roux

New Zealand’s superstar fly-half Beauden Barrett being deployed so the All Blacks can deploy three times Super Rugby winning ten Richie Mo’unga. Barrett certainly has the pace, control, tactical kicking and defence to play fullback it will be interesting to see how he is utilised in attack from the back.

The South African, le Roux. Dangerous attacker with electric feet, alongside two lethal finishers in Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi out on the wings, New Zealand will certainly have their hands full.

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Credit: Instagram (@wjjleroux)

Barrett at fullback could be a sign of things to come for New Zealand whilst le Roux is tried and tested and is among the best in the world in his position.

3. Sonny Bill Williams v Lukhanyo Am

The return of Sonny Bill Williams against one of South Africa’s newest stars Am. The six cap Springbok will provide stiff opposition for New Zealand’s poster boy. Am is a strong carrier and his pairing with de Allende is certainly there to provide physicality so New Zealanders will be hoping that Sonny Bill Williams is up for a testing battle following his injury.

We all know what Williams can do. He’s a freak.

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Credit: Instagram (@sonnybillwilliams)

Definitely one to watch to see if South Africa look to expose Williams lack of match practice and then if they do to watch how he responds, knowing him probably with one of his outrageous offloads or a thundering hit. He is the ultimate big game player.

It was hard to pick three all 15 of the one-on-one match ups could have been on here. New Zealand v South Africa is always a cracker, this is set to be no different.

Bath Rugby v Wasps: Three Key Battles

Both Bath Rugby and Wasps have had disappointing seasons compared with both clubs successful histories and strong squads.

The teams sit in 7th (Wasps) and 8th (Bath) just one point apart and both still hope to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup and could even make the play-offs.

Here are three head-to-head’s we think could decide the contest.

  1. Anthony Watson v Willie le Roux

There’s no doubt about these two are world class. The return of Anthony Watson was one of the very few positives to come out of Bath’s 6-3 loss to Sale Sharks.

Watson’s electric feet would cause any defender problems, not only does he have pace to burn but is an evasive runner, he can step off both feet and he is certainly among England’s best finishers and he needs a big performance over the next couple of weeks to force himself into Eddie Jones’ World Cup plans.

The South African fullback is such a presence for the Coventry based club both on and off the field, like Watson is a very good attacking player. Le Roux is also a very good kicker and can be a vital part of Wasps exit strategy.

2. Dave Attwood v Joe Launchbury

The Bath lock is set to leave the Recreation Ground and head for the Ashton Gate at the end of the season and he is up against one of the most athletic locks in England’s top flight.

Attwood is much more than just a lineout option, he is often among Bath’s top carriers, he makes the hard yards using his pure power and raw aggression to get Bath on the front foot. If Bath win you can guarantee this man will have had a big game.

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By Graham Wilson from United Kingdom – Dave AttwoodUploaded by Kafuffle, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23096311

Joe Launchbury unlucky to be around at the same time as so many other brilliant English second rows. The towering Launchbury is everywhere in a match, he hits rucks, carries hard and tackles effectively. The all-action Wasp is a key part of what is becoming a very settled pack.

3. Ruaridh McConnochie v Marcus Watson

The second Watson on this list will take up his place on the right wing for Wasps, opposite him will be arguably Bath’s form wing in McConnochie.

Marcus Watson has had a good season and will certainly be a man Bath need to keep an eye on. Any loose kicks and Watson much like his brother is more than capable of punishing defenders. If he gets in behind nobody will catch the fleet footed Wasp.

McConnochie has played across the back three for Bath Rugby this season and has been excellent. I can’t recall watching McConnochie have a bad game this season and that has been a saving grace that has had Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokoduguni missing for very large portions of the season.

A key battle in the race for the top half. Will these battles within the war decide the contest? Let us know in the comments section!

Bulls v Sharks: Three Key Battles

It’s our second instalment of this feature and again we take a look at one of the weekend’s Super Rugby clashes as two of South Africa’s strongest franchises take on each other in Pretoria.

These are the three contests we think could decide what is set to be an enthralling contest.

  1. Cornal Hendricks v Sbu Nkosi

Both right wings so we will probably be robbed of watching a foot race between these two amazing finishers that have been key men for their franchises.

Nkosi is one of the most deadly players in the league and is in a backline that will want to get the balls to their wings and exploit the wider areas.

Hendricks possesses slightly less pace than his Sharks counterpart but with the strong pack the Bulls possess and a very creative midfield if Hendricks is given space there will be fireworks.

2. Handre Pollard v Robert Du Preez

Two very capable fly-halves with rounded games. Du Preez is in his last season with him set to join England’s Sharks based in Sale.

Pollard is South Africa’s number one for a reason, he’s an attacking master and if he is given the front foot by his pack he will have no problem running at defenders and using his handling and kicking game to manipulate the Sharks defenders.

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By David Roberts from London, United Kingdom – South Africa vs. USA, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44256325

Du Preez showed what a good player he is in Sale and proved that he has it in him to be a really steadying presence. He will not be found wanting off the tee and Pollard will have his work cut out containing the Sharks ten.

3. Schalk Brits v Akker van der Merwe

The all action Brits has had a great career and he is continuing to defy the ageing process back in his homeland following a very successful period with Saracens in England. Akker van der Merwe is no pushover though and earned his first three caps for South Africa last year.

Brits will be his usual self playing like a centre in a hooker’s body and will be key to give Bulls some go forward and try to give Bulls the advantage on the gainline.

Akker van der Merwe will try and build on what was a good season for the 26 year old last time out if not for the Sharks. A different type of player than Brits but very good at the basics and offers Sharks some real power.

This game could decide the winners of the South African conference and is sure to a brutally physical and bruising encounter in Pretoria.

Crusaders v Hurricanes: Three Key Battles

This weekend presents us with one of the most enticing Super Rugby clashes as the champions, Crusaders take on the exciting Hurricanes.

Crusaders are favourites playing at home and with the Hurricanes missing star All Black, Beauden Barrett who only returned to training on Monday.

  1. Jordan Taufua v Reed Prinsep

Two very talented players match up in this crunch tie. Jordan Taufua is set to be New Zealand’s next import to England with Leicester Tigers snapping up the flanker.

Taufua’s most high profile appearance to date was when the Barbarians played South Africa at Wembley in 2016, the game ending in a 31-31 draw.

For Reed Prinsep this will be somewhat a homecoming considering he played his NPC rugby for Canterbury. Prinsep is less experienced than Taufua at Super Rugby level but certainly has the pace and physicality to match the rampaging Crusader.

2. Richie Mo’unga v Fletcher Smith

The Crusaders fly-half was the in-form player at the end of last season as he guided his team to a second successive title under Scott Robertson. Mo’unga’s kicking skills and game management earned him his first All Black call-up.

For Fletcher Smith this will be a tough one, the 23 year old has just one Super Rugby appearance to his name and Beuaden Barrett’s boots are big ones to fill for the youngster.

It will be interesting to see if the young ten can hold his own against one of the best players in the league in this high pressure, high stakes game.

3. Matt Todd v Dane Coles

Not a positional battle but the two captains will be going head to head. Matt Todd is one of the less celebrated Crusaders players who has been pivotal for his franchises success. He is a traditional open side, strong at the breakdown and a master on the floor. Todd leads by example and he’ll need to inspire his team to beat a very competent Hurricanes outfit.

This is some test of Coles leadership, the hooker is brilliant. Just exceptional at his best, he runs well, tackles physically and leads exceptionally.

It will be interesting to see which captain plays to the referee early on as that could effect how the game is played.

This will be a close one and definitely one of the biggest games this season. Two franchises that are sure to have play-off ambitions for the end of the season.