Rugby Championship: Are New Zealand in turmoil after three straight defeats?


New Zealand’s players were left dejected following last week’s defeat to South Africa

It says much that, for only the fourth time in the history of New Zealand sports, the bookies had the All Blacks as underdogs for their opening match of this year’s Rugby Championship against South Africa.

If that was a rarity, then what transpired in this year’s Rugby Championship opener in Mbombela last Saturday was near-on unprecedented as the visitors slid to a 26-10 defeat which marked their third Test loss in a row – the first time that has occurred since 1998 when they went on to suffer a worst run of five defeats in a row.

For the All Blacks to lose three matches on the bounce is almost unheard of. To lose four, though?

4pm – South Africa vs New Zealand (4.05pm kick-off, Sky Sports Action).

8pm – Argentina vs Australia (8.10pm kick-off, Sky Sports Action).

Well, it would not be difficult to imagine head coach Ian Foster and captain Sam Cane finding themselves being hauled before a parliamentary inquiry in a nation which lives and breathes rugby should the Springboks inflict another defeat on them this weekend.

“We know there’s a lot of pressure on, and we’re feeling that,” Foster said ahead of this weekend’s clash in Johannesburg, which is live on Sky Sports. “But our job is to look at our performance and how we can grow it.

“I understand the frustration, but that doesn’t change what we have to do here. There’s no point sulking about it for too long.”

Foster, who succeeded Steve Hansen as head coach following the 2019 Rugby World Cup, has borne the brunt of the criticism from both fans and the media, with the country’s largest-selling newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, calling on him to go in an article in which he was described as: “a decent man who is out of his depth in a brutal business.”

Highlights of the Rugby Championship opener between South Africa and New Zealand

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Highlights of the Rugby Championship opener between South Africa and New Zealand

Highlights of the Rugby Championship opener between South Africa and New Zealand

The 57-year-old was already facing calls to be axed after July’s 2-1 home series defeat to Ireland in which they were outplayed and outclassed with some scintillating displays from Andy Farrell’s team in their first home series loss for 27 years and the first Irish series win in New Zealand.

He has, however, found support from former All Blacks players, including 2015 Rugby World Cup winner Julian Savea, who worked with Foster while he was serving as an assistant coach to Hansen in that tournament.

“In a country where mental health is a big issue – where 72 per cent of suicides are men and a high number of depression amongst men, you would think people would be a bit kinder and think about their words before they make remarks on someone’s integrity, appearance and character, especially when they don’t know them on a personal level,” Savea posted on his Twitter account.

“I’m ashamed that this is how a human is treated and dragged in the media here in NZ.”

Sean Fitzpatrick, another All Blacks great, urged for cool heads to prevail too, even with the next Rugby World Cup just over a year away.

“Have they got a team that is a capable of winning the World Cup? From what we’ve seen in the last two weeks, you would doubt that,” Fitzpatrick told Sky Sports following the third-Test defeat against Ireland.

“But the All Blacks don’t turn from being a world-class team to a not world-class team overnight.”

For their part, the New Zealand players acknowledge results and performance have fallen below the standards they expect of themselves, never mind what anyone else thinks.

New Zealand head coach Ian Foster credited the South Africa defence as the main reason for their Rugby Championship victory

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New Zealand head coach Ian Foster credited the South Africa defence as the main reason for their Rugby Championship victory

New Zealand head coach Ian Foster credited the South Africa defence as the main reason for their Rugby Championship victory

Richie Mo’unga, who returns to the starting XV at fly-half for Saturday’s match against the reigning world champions as one of four changes by Foster, is adamant they are shutting out all of the criticism from back home too.

“They care about our team and care about our results, but it’s also fair of us to not care about what they think because we have a role to do, a role to play, and hearing that isn’t going to help us at this moment,” Mo’unga said.

“I’m at a stage now if you’re not in our squad, I don’t really care what you think, with all respect. We’re trying our best, and we know it’s not good enough for All Blacks standards.”

Elsewhere, Australia are seeking to make it back-to-back wins against Argentina in this year’s Rugby Championship yet wary they will face a backlash from the Pumas, who are now coached by former Wallabies boss Michael Cheika.

Following Australia's emphatic win over Argentina, stand-in skipper James Slipper paid tribute to captain Michael Hooper, who stated he was not in the right 'mindset' to play

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Following Australia’s emphatic win over Argentina, stand-in skipper James Slipper paid tribute to captain Michael Hooper, who stated he was not in the right ‘mindset’ to play

Following Australia’s emphatic win over Argentina, stand-in skipper James Slipper paid tribute to captain Michael Hooper, who stated he was not in the right ‘mindset’ to play

Australia fought back from 19-10 down at half-time to triumph 41-26 in their win over Argentina last week despite being without captain Michael Hooper and losing fly-half Quade Cooper to an Achilles injury which will keep him out long-term.

Nevertheless, scrum-half Nic White is prepared for the Pumas to throw everything at them in their next meeting on Saturday.

“Cheika will have them fired up,” White said. “The emotion will be there but we need to get back to the process of…how we want to play, what our identity is.”

How to watch the 2022 Rugby Championship

Sky Sports will again be bringing you live coverage of both of Saturday’s matches in the Rugby Championship, starting with the Springboks against the All Blacks from Emirates Airlines Park in Johannesburg on Sky Sports Action from 4pm.

Highlights of the Rugby Championship Round 1 encounter between Argentina and Australia

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Highlights of the Rugby Championship Round 1 encounter between Argentina and Australia

Highlights of the Rugby Championship Round 1 encounter between Argentina and Australia

Then later in the evening on the same channel, attention switches to San Juan where Argentina will aim to bounce back from a defeat in Mendoza last week when they face Australia for the second time in this year’s tournament.

Saturday’s named teams

South Africa vs New Zealand (4.05pm UK time)

South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse; 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi; 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Jaden Hendrikse; 1 Ox Nche, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 3 Frans Malherbe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Lood de Jager, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 7 Pieter Steph du Toit, 8 Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Hershel Jantjies, 23 Willie le Roux.

New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett; 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 David Havili, 11 Caleb Clarke; 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith; 1 Ethan de Groot, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 4 Sam Whitelock, 5 Scott Barrett, 6 Shannon Frizell, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 8 Ardie Savea.

Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 George Bower, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Quinn Tupaea.

Argentina vs Australia (8.10pm UK time)

Argentina: TBC.

Australia: TBC.



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