New Zealand secured their third consecutive Rugby Championship title and maintained their fine record of winning every 12-match edition of the four-nation tournament since its introduction in 2012.
The tournament is considered as the southern hemisphere equivalent of the Six Nations championships played in Europe and features Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa. The main difference being that each team plays each other both home and away.
The world number one ranked side demonstrated some scintillating spells of play, echoing some of the displays that saw them win consecutive world championships earlier in the decade. With less than twelve months to go until the next World Cup in Japan, the All-Blacks have proven themselves as firm favourites but not unbeatable, following their surprise loss to South Africa on 15 September.
It was the first time that New Zealand had lost a match at home since the British & Irish Lions claimed a victory in their 1-1 tied series last year, but even more notably, it was the first time an individual national side had claimed the scalp since 2009, when once again it was the Springboks who ran out 32-29 winners in Hamilton. The 36-34 result just a few weeks ago has sent shockwaves around the world of rugby, particularly in the northern hemisphere, where the likes of England and Ireland, both ranked higher than South Africa, take on the world champions in November.
Having been elevated to fifth in the world rankings ahead of this weekend’s championships finale, South Africa looked well set to back-up their earlier result with a triumph in the reverse fixture, this time at home in Pretoria. Despite taking a 30-13 lead midway through the second half, they fell agonisingly short, following a dramatic New Zealand comeback, courtesy of late tries from Scott Barrett and Ardie Savea before a Richie Mo’unga conversion secured a memorable win and set up a remarkable weekend of comebacks on the final day of action in the southern hemisphere’s flagship international competition.
The other match saw Australia face the prospect of a first wooden spoon in the four-team format. Knowing that only a win against Argentina would ensure they avoid the dreaded fourth-place finish, the Wallabies staged the second-biggest comeback in test history to stun the home crowd in Salta, overcoming a 31-7 half-time scoreline to win 45-34.
It’s given Australian fans renewed hope ahead of their upcoming matches in Europe and subsequent preparations for Japan next year. Their recent poor form has seen them drop to a record-low of seventh in the world rankings. Had they failed to narrow that 24-point half-time deficit on Saturday, then they would have fallen below Argentina to eighth, however the nature of their stunning fightback suggests that the men in gold and green have more to offer and that it could all finally click when they take on Wales, Italy and England this autumn.
Meanwhile, New Zealand maintain their world number one status going into the Autumn Internationals, where they will face their biggest challenges before the World Cup with visits to Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium to take on England and Ireland respectively.
The coming weeks will provide an intriguing watch for rugby fans in what will be the only chance to examine all of next year’s challengers ahead of Japan 2019.
England’s autumn schedule is of particular interest as they take on the big three southern hemisphere nations plus next year’s World Cup hosts in the Quilter Internationals. They open up against the improving South Africans on 3 November before hosting New Zealand for the first time since 2014 a week later.
World Rugby Rankings
(as of 8 October)
- New Zealand
- South Africa