2023 Rugby Championship: Round One Preview - Los Pumas v All Blacks & Springboks v Wallabies - Ruck

2023 Rugby Championship: Round One Preview – Los Pumas v All Blacks & Springboks v Wallabies

There is one final international competition on the road to the 2023 Rugby World Cup, as the 2023 Rugby Championship is set to commence this weekend with two exciting matches in store.

The Southern Hemisphere’s pinnacle tournament will feature the international quartet of South Africa New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, a group which are also known as SANZAAR. These four sides are set to battle it out in this annual competition until 2026, before they are joined by the Six Nations teams for a biennial ‘World League’ competition.

The Rugby Championship is still a hotly contested tournament, with each side out for bragging rights as the standard bearing Southern Hemisphere nation ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. This weekend the All Blacks make the trip to Mendoza to take on Los Pumas, and the Springboks play hosts to Australia, with Eddie Jones set to make his Head Coach debut with the Wallabies.

South Africa v Australia – Saturday 8th July, 16:10 KO (GMT)

Eddie Jones, Coach of Barbarians during the The Killik Cup Match between Barbarians and World XV at Twickenham Stadium on 28 May 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Eddie Jones is under the spotlight for his first fixture as Australia Head Coach, and in typical fashion the 63-year-old has shaken up the squad, with some surprising selection and strategy choices. Jones is set to give winger Suliasi Vunivalu his first Wallabies start, since the Fijian-born flyer made his code-switch from the National Rugby League in 2021.

Jones has high expectations for Vunivalu, and believes that he could well become “the best winger in the world.” This selection has divided Wallabies fans, who believed Mark Nawaqanitawase deserved the number 14 jersey. Jones has also selected four uncapped Australia hopefuls for their Rugby Championship opener, in the form of Brumbies Flanker Tom Hooper, Queensland prop Zane Nonggor, Toulouse lock Richie Arnold and Melbourne Rebels fly half Carter Gordon.

Interestingly, the inclusion of Carter Gordon and return of veteran halfback Quade Cooper, leaves no room in the matchday squad for promising Wallabies talent Noah Lolesio. The Brumbies fly half has been left out, despite impressive Super Rugby performances, and a try celebration that saw him shout “Carter Gordon?” at the cameras, against Gordon’s own Melbourne Rebels.

Jones will also test out his new leadership strategy, as he has split the captaincy between two players for a Wallabies first. Jones has chosen flanker Michael Hooper and prop James Slipper to lead the side together against South Africa.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – AUGUST 23: All Blacks captain Richie McCaw shakes hands with Wallabies captain Michael Hooper after winning The Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies at Eden Park on August 23, 2014 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The Springboks are also set to award a new-coming star with their first test start, as fly half Mannie Libbok has been named to lead the line in the 10 jersey for the first time, following the untimly injuries to halfbacks Handre Pollard and Damien Willemse. Also, lock Jean Kleyn is set to receive his debut for the Boks, after completing his international stand-down having previously represented Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

As Siya Kolisi continues to recover from a serious knee injury, number eight Duane Vermulen has been named as Springboks captain by Head Coach Jacques Nienaber. The Springboks Head Coach has decided to send a group of 2019 Rugby World Cup winners to begin preparations in New Zealand, ahead of their round two match against the All Blacks on Saturday 15th July.

South Africa Head Coach Jacques Nienaber during the Autumn Nations International Series match between England and South Africa at Twickenham, London on 26 November 2022 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

Hooker Malcolm Marx, locks Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager and backline players Faf de Klerk, Cheslin Kolbe, Makazole Mapimpi and Damian de Allende, will all miss the match against Australia.

“Our plan from the outset was to select a squad that we believe has what it takes to beat Australia while at the same time selecting a group of players that could travel to New Zealand to give us the best possible chance to do well in both matches,” Nienaber said to AP News.

Argentina v New Zealand – Saturday 8th July, 20:10 KO (GMT)

Pablo Matera of Argentina on the break slipping the tackle from Sam Underhill of England Rugby and then tackled by Alex Lozowski of England Rugby during the International Old Mutual Wealth Series match between England v Argentina on 11th November 2017 at Twickenham Stadium, London, England (Photo:Phil Mingo/PPAUK),

The recent success of Argentina in the Rugby Championship has heightened the attention on this opening round match, which in previous years would be considered a foregone conclusion in favour of the All Blacks.

Los Pumas recorded historic first and second ever triumphs over the All Blacks in 2020 and 2022, however, they are yet to upset the All Blacks on Argentine soil. New Zealand Head Coach Ian Foster has taken a similar approach to that of Jacques Nienaber, with notable absentees ahead of their second round clash against the Springboks.


Damien McKenzie has been named to start at fly-half, in a surprising move from Foster. McKenzie has not featured in the All Blacks squad since 2021, and earnt his previous caps as a utility player, with prominence at fullback. McKenzie has had a starring season for the Chiefs, taking his side to top the Super Rugby table, and reach the 2023 Final. This selection over Richie Mo’unga could indicate also how the All Blacks are focussing on the clash with South Africa.

Mo’unga is dropped to the bench, and Beauden Barrett will slot in at fullback for to take on Argentina. Hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho, and the evergreen lock duo of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick have been left out of the matchday squad. Emoni Narawa is set to make his All Blacks debut, as he lines up on the wing alongside Blues star Caleb Clarke. Narawa has been lighting up Super Rugby this season with eight tries for the Chiefs, as the Hamilton side found re-juvenated fire this season.

Argentina enter the 2023 Rugby Championship as the eighth ranked team in the world, and are looking to build momentum ahead of a favourable Rugby World Cup draw. Argentina have been seeded into Pool D, along with England, Japan, Samoa and Chile, making progression into the knock-out stages a viable prospect for the ever-improving Pumas.

Argentina Head Coach Michael Cheika has opted for his tried and tested side, with just one new change coming in the front row. Prop Lucio Sordoni will make his first test start for Argentina in over three years, making his return from a prolonged injury, and taking on the side who he last played against for Los Pumas.

Fullback Emiliano Boffelli continues his run of playing every Test since Cheika took over the Head Coach role, and he is expected to keep Los Pumas’ points ticking over by the boot. Gloucester’s Santiago Carreras has been preferred to Nicolas Sanchez at flyhalf and the team will be captained by Leicester Tigers hooker Julian Montoya.