The Rugby Championship returns for 2022 on Saturday, with a pair of heavy duty Southern Hemisphere clashes.
World champions South Africa kick off the competition, as the Springboks go up against New Zealand’s All Blacks in Mbombela.
Their tournament opener is followed later in the day in South America, as Australia’s Wallabies jet in to tackle Los Pumas of Argentina.
South Africa vs New Zealand
They don’t come much bigger in world rugby than South Africa vs New Zealand, as the international heavyweights kick off the 2022 Rugby Championship at the Mbombela Stadium.
Mbombela is the venue in the north of the country, with the home side looking to build on a hard-fought series victory over Wales a few weeks ago, while the visitors are smarting from a torrid run of form that includes being turned over by Ireland on home turf.
Both nations come into the contest with questions hanging over them.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has come under fire for a stolid style of play on his side’s return to international action, although that’s nothing compared to the heat being blasted at All Blacks head honcho Ian Foster after a grim sequence of results.
Three changes from the Boks’ series finale win over the Welsh in Cape Town include a 50th cap for hooker Malcolm Marx.
Blond bombshell Faf de Klerk returns at scrum-half, while a broken jaw for Cheslin Kolbe means a second test cap for Kurt-Lee Arendse on the wing.
There are alterations aplenty for coach Foster in his attempt to right a listing Kiwi ship, with Samisoni Taukei’aho and Angus Ta’avao providing fresh impetus to the front row.
Caleb Clarke makes a long-awaited return on the wing, while there’s also a comeback from injury in the form of Scott Barrett.
South Africa Starting XV: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt-lee Arendse, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Francois De Klerk , 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Albertus Smith, 22 Jaden Hendrikse, 23 Willie le Roux.
New Zealand Starting XV: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 David Havili, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Samson Taukei’aho, 1 George Bower.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ethan de Groot, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Quinn Tupaea.
Argentina vs Australia
Argentina and Australia collide to complete the first round of 2022 Rugby Championship action, as they meet in the city of Mendoza on Saturday.
The pair come into the tournament opener off the back of contrasting home turf fortunes in the July international rugby window.
Aussies were tearing their hair out as the Wallabies let a series lead slip to lose 2-1 against arch-rivals England Down Under.
But it was a different story for Los Pumas, who held firm against the challenge of Scotland to come through victorious by the same score line.
Quade Cooper is back in the thick of things for the tourists, who also hand an international debut to Jed Holloway in South America.
Los Pumas coach Michael Cheika will have to do without mainstay Nicolas Sanchez against his countrymen, with the fly-half absent through injury.
Jeronimo de la Fuente is preferred to Matias Moroni in the centres, while Tomas Cubelli gets the nod at scrum-half.
Argentina Starting XV: 15 Juan Cruz Mallía, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Santiago Carreras, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Pablo Matera, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Juan Martín González Samso, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Matías Alemanno, 3 Francisco Gómez Kodela, 2 Julian Montoya (captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Thomas Gallo, 18 Joel Sclavi, 19 Santiago Grondona, 20 Rodrigo Bruni, 21 Lautaro Bazán Vélez, 22 Tomas Albornoz, 23 Matias Moroni.
Australia Starting XV: 15 Tom Wright, 14 Jordan Petaia, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper (captain).
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Nick Frost, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Pete Samu, 22 Jake Gordon, 23 Reece Hodge.
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