Like most of the competitions which they participate in, the men in black have dominated this one and since Argentina joined the four nation tournament in 2012, the All Blacks have won four out of five Rugby Championships with Australia victorious in a shortened version of the competition ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Although they did not achieve their goal of winning that Test series against the Lions, the Crusaders’ recent successful campaign in Super Rugby, and that team’s healthy representation in All Blacks coach Steve Hansen’s squad, makes the world champions favourites to retain their Rugby Championship title.
Last year: 2016 will go down as the year the All Blacks rewrote history in this competition as they won all six of their matches with bonus points and had the tournament in the bag with two matches left to play.
Their campaign started with a convincing 42-8 victory against Australia in Sydney and they followed that up with a 29-9 triumph over their trans-Tasman rivals in Wellington a week later.
Their dominance continued as the tournament progressed and convincing wins against Argentina (57-22) in Hamilton and South Africa (41-13) in Christchurch secured them the title and meant their last two Tests were dead rubbers.
They did not take their foot off the pedal though and beat los Pumas 36-17 in Buenos Aires before finishing the tournament in style with a 57-15 win over the Springboks in Durban which was New Zealand’s biggest ever winning margin against South Africa.
This year: As previously mentioned, New Zealand will be keen to show that the Lions series was just a blip and the Wallabies could bear the brunt of an All Black backlash in their Bledisloe Cup encounters in Sydney and Dunedin.
That should set them up nicely for the rest of the competition and with their next two fixtures against Argentina and South Africa both at home – in New Plymouth and Albany – they should be sitting pretty at the top of the standings ahead of the corresponding fixtures in those countries in the final two rounds.
Ones to watch: After being sent off in the second Test against the Lions, Sonny Bill Williams will be chomping at the bit to do well for the world champions. Williams possesses a brilliant skill-set and his offloading ability makes him a real threat to opposing defences.
After a successful appeal to his suspension, Williams is available for selection for the opening Test against the Wallabies and should start at inside centre. He will have to hit the ground running though as the impressive Ryan Crotty and Ngani Laumape also have designs on wearing that number 12 jersey.
Prediction: This year’s championship will prove that the gulf between the world champions and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere’s chasing pack is still as big as ever. First.
Saturday, August 19: vs Australia (away)
Saturday, August 26: vs Australia (home)
Saturday, September 9: vs Argentina (home)
Saturday, September 16: vs South Africa (home)
Saturday, September 30: vs Argentina (away)
Saturday, October 7: vs South Africa (away)