by Alastair Bull
The 2018 Rugby Championship is coming!
August is a great month for football codes. The NFL season and the European soccer seasons start, while in the southern hemisphere, another major competition is set to begin. The Rugby Championship – and its forerunner, the Tri-Nations – has consistently been the best annual international rugby competition in the world, with the teams usually near the top of the world rankings. No better illustration of this strength came in 2015, when the four teams that contest it – Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa – filled all four semi-final berths in that year’s Rugby World Cup.
The question for the overall competition, in which each country plays the other home and away, tends to be the same: can anybody stop New Zealand’s All Blacks in the 2018 Rugby Championship?
In its 22-year history, the title has been won 15 times by the men in black. Australia has won four times, South Africa three, and Argentina – which was admitted to the contest in 2012 – none.
2018 RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE
WEEK 1 – August 18th – AUS at NZ / SA at ARG
Week 2 – August 25th – NZ at AUS / ARG at SA
Every Saturday from August 18th through October 6th – Check Local Listings
Australia and South Africa looked to be improved teams in their June internationals. Australia lost their series to Ireland 2-1 SU, while South Africa won by the same margin over England. During that time, New Zealand swept France 3-0 SU.
In terms of strength and depth, New Zealand look as good as ever. Perhaps the best indication of that is that some people have wondered if key number 10 Beauden Barrett, the World Player of the Year for the past two seasons, should be replaced by Richie Mo’unga, the star for the recently-crowned Super Rugby champion Crusaders team. Coach Steve Hansen has resisted that temptation for Saturday’s match against Australia’s Wallabies.
The All Blacks team that played France will be boosted by the return of captain Kieran Read and the outstanding lock Brodie Retallick, and they are heavily favored at about -455 odds, and the points spread gives Australia an 11.5 points start. This almost looks generous – in the past two Rugby Championship openers, New Zealand won by 20 and 36 points respectively – but Australia may be a tougher opponent this year with the return of flanker David Pocock. The best bet may be to take Australia at +11.5 points, at odds of -117.
In the other match, Argentina’s Pumas could be buoyed by the efforts of the Jaguares to reach the Super Rugby playoffs for the first time. However, their three losses in the June internationals – two to Wales and one to Scotland – isn’t promising ahead of their visit to South Africa this Saturday.
The Springboks are rated favorites at around -833, and it will be a surprise if they get beaten. However, Argentina can be tough to crack defensively and a bet on them on the spread at +15.5 points is worth some thought.
BEST 2018 RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK 1 BETS: AUS +11.5 over NZ; ARG +15.5 over SA