NEW ZEALAND WILL will open their Rugby Championship defence with a tough assignment against arch-rivals Australia in Sydney on August 16, the tournament’s governing body SANZAR announced today.
The All Blacks, who (just about) went through the season undefeated with a record 14 wins out of 14, remain the top-ranked team in international rugby and go into the tournament as firm favourites to retain their title.
If they manage to sweep England on home soil in June, a win against Australia at ANZ Stadium in Sydney would break the world record of 17 consecutive wins, currently shared by New Zealand (1965-69) and South Africa (1997-98).
In contrast, the Wallabies struggled in 2013, winning just two Rugby Championship games and losing eight out of 15 Tests during the year.
But they finished with a flourish on their European tour, beating Wales 30-26 in Cardiff on Saturday.
South Africa get their campaign underway against Argentina in Pretoria on the same day. The Springboks came close to unseating New Zealand in this year’s finale before succumbing 38-27 in a classic at Ellis Park – here’s a taster of that encounter.
YouTube credit: DeeBrev
“As New Zealand, Australia and South Africa end their European Tours as the world’s top three nations and with Argentina entrenched inside the top 10, The Rugby Championship continues to pit the best against the best,” said SANZAR chief Greg Peters.
“We couldn’t have hoped for a more thrilling culmination to this year’s edition of The Rugby Championship and 2014 promises to up the ante with the gap between champions and challengers narrowing with each contest.”
The competition, which was known as the Tri-Nations before Argentina joined in 2012, will feature six rounds.
Fixtures for the 2014 Rugby Championship (kick-off times yet to be confirmed):
Round 1 (Aug 16)
Australia v New Zealand
South Africa v Argentina
Round 2 (Aug 23)
New Zealand v Australia
Argentina v South Africa
Round 3 (Sept 6)
Australia v South Africa
New Zealand v Argentina
Round 4 (Sept 13)
Australia v Argentina
New Zealand v South Africa
Round 5 (Sept 27)
South Africa v Australia
Argentina v New Zealand
Round 6 (Oct 4)
South Africa v New Zealand
Argentina v Australia