We look ahead to the start of the 2023 Rugby Championship, live on Sky Sports, as New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina clash this month…
In a reduced three-week format ahead of the Rugby World Cup starting in France at the start of September, this year’s championship is a sprint rather than a marathon.
The last two reduced formats of the Rugby Championship have seen New Zealand fail to claim the title in 2019 and 2015. In fact, they are the only two years since Argentina joined the tournament in 2012 – transforming the Tri-Nations to the Rugby Championship – in which the All Blacks have not lifted the trophy.
The Wallabies won in 2015, while the Springboks did so in 2019. Might lightning strike a third time? There’s a trophy at stake, and winning it would mark the ideal preparation for the World Cup.
Below, we take a look at each camp ahead of kick-off in the southern hemisphere this Saturday…
Rugby Champions fixtures 2023
Round 1: South Africa vs Australia – Saturday, July 8 – 4.05pm, Sky Sports Action (GMT)Round 1: Argentina vs New Zealand – Saturday, July 8 – 8.10pm, Sky Sports Action (GMT)Round 2: New Zealand vs South Africa – Saturday, July 15 – 8.05am, Sky Sports Action (GMT)Round 2: Australia vs Argentina – Saturday, July 15 – 10.45am, Sky Sports Action (GMT)Round 3: Australia vs New Zealand – Saturday, July 29 – 10.45am, Sky Sports Action (GMT)Round 3: South Africa vs Argentina – Saturday, July 29 – 4.05pm, Sky Sports Action (GMT)
Live: The Rugby Championship
July 8, 2023, 3:55pm
Live: The Rugby Championship
July 8, 2023, 8:00pm
New Zealand’s Championship record
Rugby Championship since 2012: Nine-time winners (2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021, 2022)
Tri-Nations since 1996: 10 titles (1996, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010)
Ardie Savea. The All Blacks may not have been in some of the all-conquering form of old in recent times, suffering defeats to Ireland (three), France, South Africa, Argentina, and a 25-25 draw with England from 25-6 ahead, but in Savea they have undoubtedly one of the best back-row forwards in the world.
The No 8 is capable of nearly everything on a rugby pitch, excelling at the breakdown, in the tackle, with powerful carrying, in tight spaces, in space and in terms of try-scoring, seemingly whenever each facet is needed most.
For all of South Africa and Australia’s threats over the years, the All Blacks remain the dominant side in this competition. If they are to win it again, Savea will be front and centre to their efforts.
Thoughts from inside the camp…
All Blacks head coach Ian Foster…
“It’s always about winning every Test. I think you can fudge it and say you want to build and say it’s all about the World Cup, and let’s be honest, we all know it’s the trophy that matters the most for us at the end of the year.
“The best way for us to prepare for that is we want to be dominant from Test one.
“We want to use these opportunities ahead of us the Rugby Championship, the Bledisloe Cup, and that game in London against South Africa, to really test our combinations, to challenge ourselves.
“I don’t think you really test yourself well enough if you give yourself a mental out of saying the game doesn’t matter. I think it does matter for us.
“From a mindset perspective, we want to attack, we want to play well, and we really think it’s important for us to do that to climb on that plane and go to France in the right state.”
New Zealand’s 2023 Rugby Championship squad:
Forwards (20): Codie Taylor, Dane Coles, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ethan de Groot, Fletcher Newell, Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Tamaiti Williams*, Tyrel Lomax, Brodie Retallick, Josh Lord, Samuel Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Tupou Vaa’i, Ardie Savea, Dalton Papali’i, Luke Jacobson, Sam Cane, Samipeni Finau*, Shannon Frizell.
Backs (16): Aaron Smith, Finlay Christie, Cam Roigard*, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo’unga, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Braydon Ennor, Dallas McLeod*, Caleb Clarke, Emoni Narawa*, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Mark Telea, Will Jordan.
South Africa’s Championship record
Rugby Championship since 2012: One-time winners (2019*)
Tri-Nations since 1996: Three titles (1998, 2004, 2009)
*Reduced format ahead of 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan
Eben Etzebeth. No side in world rugby plays a more forward-focused, set-piece-orientated game-plan than the Springboks. South Africa live off physicality, scrum and maul dominance, and close-range scores. And perhaps the most powerful player in their squad is second row Etzebeth.
The 31-year-old has 110 Test caps for the Boks, is a total bruiser in contact, has a deceptive turn of pace, and is a key lineout operator. He’s a main man for sure.
Thoughts from inside the camp…
Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber – who will depart his role after the World Cup…
“This is going to be a challenging competition with all the teams looking to build momentum before the World Cup, so we have to hit the ground running if we want to be in the running to win the title.
“We’ve had a productive three weeks in Pretoria, and we’re pleased with where the players are, going into the first Test.
“We did a lot of groundwork on and off the field at this camp, and the players and coaches are aligned in terms of what we want to see and achieve on the field.
“Our plan from the outset was to select a squad that we believe has what it takes to beat Australia while at the same time selecting a group of players that could travel to New Zealand to give us the best possible chance to do well in both matches.
“Our last Rugby Championship match is in Johannesburg and then we’ll be able to select a squad from our full complement of players.
“This squad features several Rugby World Cup winners and a crop of younger players who have done the job for us at the highest level, and judging by their enthusiasm and high work ethic at training, we know they are the right players for this big task.”
South Africa’s 2023 Rugby Championship squad:
Forwards (24): Thomas du Toit, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Frans Malherbe, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Joseph Dweba, Malcom Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Marvin Orie, RG Snyman, Jean Kleyn, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Evan Roos, Kwagga Smith, Marco van Staden, Duane Vermeulen, Jasper Wiese, Deon Fourie, Franco Mostert, Jean-Luc du Preez.
Backs (17): Faf de Klerk, Jaden Hendrikse, Herschel Jantjies, Cobus Reinach, Grant Williams, Manie Libbok, Handre Pollard, Damian Willemse, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Andre Esterhuizen, Jesse Kriel, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Cheslin Kolbe, Willie Le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Canan Moodie.
Australia’s Championship record
Rugby Championship since 2012: One-time winners (2015*)
Tri-Nations since 1996: Three titles (2000, 2001, 2011)
*Reduced format ahead of 2015 Rugby World Cup in England
Michael Hooper. The Wallabies co-captain seems to have been around in Test rugby forever, but remains just 31 years old and a top performer in the back-row. Having recently taken time out of the sport for his mental health, Hooper has now returned, and leads Australia into a new era under Eddie Jones.
The openside is phenomenally talented, one of the best in the world at the breakdown, while he is also a key leader in the Aussie squad. In many ways, he’s the heartbeat of the side, and key for the group.
Thoughts from inside the camp…
Australia head coach Eddie Jones…
“It’s a new team. We want to play a different way. An Australian style of rugby. And the players have bought into it so were looking forward to the challenge.
“This is a game [vs South Africa] about us. We want to put a new standard of Wallaby rugby forward. We want to set the tone for our own campaign. It’s about us.
“It’s a new team and we want to play a different way, an Australian style of rugby, and the players have bought in on it. They’re training really well, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.
“Firstly, you’ve got to think you can win. The most important thing is to have the mindset that you can win. So you’ve got to be thinking that, and we’re 100 per cent committed to winning.
“And then you’ve got to execute a game plan to win enough possession, push them to the other end of the field and keep them under pressure.
“Any way you can – just get up the other end of the field. Whether you run, pass, kick, it doesn’t matter which way you get up there as long as you get up their end of the field.
“The one thing I know is it’s very hard to score from behind your try line.”
Australia’s 2023 Rugby Championship squad:
Forwards (18): Allan Alaalatoa, Richie Arnold, Matt Faessler, Nick Frost, Matt Gibbon, Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper, Tom Hooper, Rob Leota, Fraser McReight, Zane Nonggorr, David Porecki, Pete Samu, Will Skelton, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese, Rob Valetini.
Backs (16): Quade Cooper, Lalakai Foketi, Carter Gordon, Reece Hodge, Len Ikitau, Marika Koroibete, Ryan Lonergan, Tate McDermott, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Izaia Perese, Suliasi Vunivalu, Nic White, Tom Wright, Ben Donaldson, Josh Kemeny, Dylan Pietsch.
Argentina’s Championship record
Rugby Championship since 2012: No titles
Tri-Nations since 1996: N/A
Julian Montoya. The only camp who have yet to speak to media ahead of the Rugby Championship, we’ve gone for Pumas hooker Montoya as their key man.
The Leicester Tigers forward is the skipper under Michael Cheika, central to Argentina’s set-piece at scrum and lineout, and a bulldozer of a carrier.
Like most of the Argentina squad, Montoya is enormously passionate too. The Pumas have beaten England, New Zealand, Australia, Italy and Scotland (twice) since last summer, and are hungry for more successes.
Argentina’s 2023 Rugby Championship squad:
Forwards (26): Eduardo Bello, Ignacio Calles, Thomas Gallo, Francisco Gómez Kodela, Santiago Medrano, Joel Sclavi, Lucio Sordoni, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Mayco Vivas, Facundo Bosch, Agustín Creevy, Julián Montoya (c), Santiago Socino, Ignacio Ruiz, Matías Alemanno, Lucas Paulos, Guido Petti, Tomás Lavannini, Marcos Kremer, Pedro Rubiolo, Juan Martín González, Santiago Grondona, Facundo Isa, Pablo Matera, Joaquín Oviedo, Rodrigo Bruni.
Backs (22): Lautaro Bazán Vélez, Gonzalo Bertranou, Tomás Cubelli, Gonzalo García, Tomás Albornoz, Santiago Carreras, Nicolás Sánchez, Jerónimo de la Fuente, Santiago Chocobares, Lucio Cinti, Luciano González, Matías Moroni, Matías Orlando, Martín Bogado, Sebastián Cancelliere, Mateo Carreras, Santiago Cordero, Bautista Delguy, Juan Imhoff, Rodrigo Isgró, Emiliano Boffelli, Juan Cruz Mallía
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