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Rugby Championship weekend to provide food for thought for Ireland

New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa and Australia are all potential World Cup opponents.

THE MEETING OF South Africa and New Zealand tomorrow in Johannesburg will draw plenty of interest from Irish shores, while Argentina’s clash with the Wallabies is well worth tuning in for too.

Tommy Bowe and Paul O'Connell dejected after Ryan Crotty scored a late try Ireland could meet New Zealand again in the quarter-finals or final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

While Ireland could only meet the Springboks in a final at the World Cup, there is a possibility of playing New Zealand in the quarter-finals if Joe Schmidt’s men don’t top their pool.

If they do emerge at the pinnacle of Pool D, it’s almost certain that a meeting with the Pumas awaits in the quarters. Michael Cheika’s Wallabies, meanwhile, are potential semi-final opponents.

Regardless of those possibilities and Schmidt’s obvious need to scout these teams, these are exciting games in their own right and provide us with high-quality rugby as the pre-season continues in the Northern Hemisphere.

South Africa v New Zealand, Ellis Park
Saturday, KO 16.05, Sky Sports 1

Argentina v Australia, Estadio Malvinas Argentinas
Saturday, KO 23.40, Sky Sports 3

All Black debutants

While the first-choice New Zealand team almost picks itself at this stage, Steve Hansen’s decision to hand Lima Sopoaga and James Broadhurst their international debuts at Ellis Park is exciting.

Sopoaga has earned his shot with a consistently excellent Super Rugby season for the Highlanders and the presence of clubmate Aaron Smith at scrum-half for this meeting with the Boks should provide reassurance, while Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith outside him will ensure a constant stream of communication.

Lima Sopoaga Sopoaga has worked hard to build a consistent place-kicking routine. Source: Photosport/Dianne Manson/INPHO

At the age of 27, Broadhurst has overcome what he admitted was immaturity earlier in his career to develop into a bruising, dynamic and skillful lock. Again, having the likes of Brodie Retallick, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read around him is important.

It would be a stunning surprise if either ended up being a World Cup starter, but Hansen is giving two more superb players a chance to stake their claim. Against a muscular Boks side, Sopoaga and Broadhurst get a true test of their ability to step up.

Creevy the giant

The sight of Creevy being replaced with 18 minutes of Argentina’s clash against New Zealand last weekend left, and the Pumas having scored two maul tries through their brilliant hooker to draw themselves back into the game, was met with bemusement in many quarters.

That decision by head coach Daniel Hourcade is partly explained by the retention of Creevy as captain in a side that features a number of changes and less experienced faces for tomorrow’s fixture against the Wallabies in Mendoza.

RUGBY NEW ZEALAND ARGENTINA Creevy would be a major handful in the quarter-finals. Source: Ross Setford

Munster got another illustration of what they missed out on with Creevy as he terrorised the Kiwis last weekend, leading the carrying stakes, hammering into tackles and bringing his usual effectiveness to the breakdown.

His set-piece work is superb too, with those two maul tries just reward for his efforts in that department. With Ireland looking towards that possible quarter-final against the Pumas, Creevy’s contributions will be closely analysed tomorrow.

Is the maul an issue?

Perhaps the talking point from New Zealand’s win against Argentina was the concession of those two maul tries, with countless commentators suggesting that the major flaw in Hansen’s side had been identified.

An overreaction to a single game maybe, but the Kiwi media has willingly added to that suggestion this week, while Hansen has dealt with the issue by suggesting that laws around the maul may need to be reviewed.

Either way, it makes for intrigue as the Boks, masters of the maul for some time, get set to test McCaw, Retallick and the rest of the All Blacks pack whenever possible.

Paul OÕConnell drives a maul on Ireland have had success with their maul in recent seasons. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

From an Irish point of view, one fancies that Paul O’Connell will be watching closely, looking for chinks in these teams, their mauling strengths, and also elements that he can take away and re-work or mimic with Ireland.

Tomorrow night, the Pumas will again look to the maul as an attacking weapon as the Wallabies visit. As ever, the refereeing of this area is of interest too – what are teams getting away with in defence and attack?

Style of play

Most sides are, of course, holding back some of their best recipes for the high-stakes World Cup games to come, but we can at least get a taste of what to expect from teams in a tactical sense in the coming weeks.

The Kiwis offloaded willingly against Argentina, although a lack of linespeed from the Pumas allowed them to get beyond tackles in order to keep the ball alive. Still, it will be interesting to note whether that facet of their game continues tomorrow.

AustraliaÕs Israel Folau 29/11//2014 Folau defused bomb after bomb last time out. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

The Boks kicked in an attempt to exert pressure on the Wallabies last weekend, but their efforts in this area were weakened by poor execution, chasing and the magnificence of Israel Folau in the air. Do they change plan for the Kiwis?

Chieka’s Wallabies were a fascinating proposition in attack, beginning by focusing on the wide channels before switching tack as they chased the game and getting real success from a more direct approach with Matt Toomua on the pitch. Attack coach Stephen Larkham’s influence makes them a real danger for the World Cup.

As for the Pumas, they delivered a poor performance despite that late surge to bring themselves into the game. Their attempts to stretch the Kiwi defence were stifled by a failure to fix inside defenders, so how will they adapt this time around?

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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