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The Rugby Championship

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Jan Serfontein

Jan Serfontein

A niggling hip flexor injury may have kept Springbok centre Jan Serfontein sidelined for parts of the Super Rugby season, but he is hopeful to soon stake a claim for a place in this year’s Rugby World Cup squad.

“Injuries have been a bit of a setback for me this year, but I’m on my way back. Maybe the fitness is a bit down, but it’s something you can work on, on your own,” Serfontein said at the Springbok camp in Johannesburg this week.

“I’m just hoping to get some game time for the World XV and in The Rugby Championship coming up.

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Francois Steyn

Francois Steyn

Pieter-Steph du Toit

Pieter-Steph du Toit

Two injured players in the Springbok training squad, Frans Steyn and Pieter-Steph du Toit, have been temporarily released from the squad to continue their rehabilitation in Durban for the next few weeks.

Neither of them are expected to be fit for the Springboks’ 1st 2 matches of the season, next Saturday against the World XV in Cape Town and a week later against Australia in Brisbane. Steyn has a pectoral muscle tear, while Du Toit is recovering from a knee injury.

According to Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer the decision to send Steyn and Du Toit home was taken with the best interests of the players in mind.

“We’ve discussed the way forward with the players, and all of us agreed that the best way forward at this stage is for them to get full-time rehabilitation at their home province, while our own medical team will keep very close tabs on their progress,” said Meyer.

“Both of them are still firmly in our plans going forward for the season and I really hope they can get back onto the field sooner rather than later. I’m confident the individual attention they will receive in Durban will be a massive benefit to them in the long run.

“We won’t be taking Frans or Pieter-Steph with us to Australia and will reassess their situation when we return from Brisbane.”

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Springboks

With the International Test window just around the corner (11 July), the Rugby news in South Africa is being dominated by Springbok preparations for what lies ahead in 2015… The World XV game, the abbreviated Rugby Championship and 1 further match against Los Pumas and of course the Rugby World Cup from 18 September to 31 October 2015.

Of course, it could also be argued that we do not have anything else to talk about, because South African sides have all been done and dusted with Super Rugby for a couple of weeks already, whilst 2 New Zealand sides are still contesting it… on their ownsome lonesome!

Maybe it is a blessing in disguise though, for overall Springbok preparations, as they now have much more time to get their ducks in a row for the international scene, and to re-introduce the injured and rehabilitating players…

BUT, and it’s a big BUT… the injury list seems almost as long as the list of fighting fit candidates and that is a big concern.

In this article, we focus on what Heyneke Meyer says and feels about his chosen Springbok squad, and we have a good look at the fitness and injury update from the Springbok camp.

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Fourie du Preez

Fourie du Preez

Springbok scrumhalf Fourie du Preez will be sidelined for an extended period with a medial knee ligament injury.

When Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer unveiled a 49-strong squad on Saturday, a paragraph in the official media release revealed that “He suffered a knee injury while training with his Japanese club earlier this week”.

More clarity regarding Du Preez’s injury was given in Johannesburg on Monday, where it was determined that the 33-year-old former Loftus-based favourite, now contracted to Suntory Goliath in Japan, will be sidelined for between 4 to 8 weeks.

The other scrumhalves picked in the Springbok squad are Ruan Pienaar, Cobus Reinach, Faf de Klerk and Rudy Paige.

Another serious injury concern is prop Coenie Oosthuizen who had a neck operation today and will miss the Castle Rugby Championship.

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SpringboksThe selection of 8 uncapped players and the return of a further 6 are the features of the Springbok squad named on Saturday for the 5 matches leading up to the Rugby World Cup later this season.

In addition to the 36 squad members, the national selectors have identified 13 players who are currently injured or will be in rehabilitation, but will form part of an extended squad for the matches against the World XV, Castle Lager Rugby Championship and the Test against Argentina in Buenos Aires.

The uncapped players in the squad are Scarra Ntubeni, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Rudy Paige, Faf de Klerk, Jesse Kriel, Franco Mostert and Lionel Mapoe.

Back in the Springbok fold after not featuring in any Springbok Tests last year, are Elton Jantjies, Frans Steyn, Jaque Fourie, Heinrich Brüssow, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Heinke van der Merwe.

The currently injured players included in the squad are Springbok captain Jean de Villiers, Lionel Mapoe, Heinrich Brüssow, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Frans Steyn, Coenie Oosthuizen, Lood de Jager, Duane Vermeulen, Cobus Reinach, Pat Lambie, Jaque Fourie, Jan Serfontein and Fourie du Preez. The latter suffered a knee injury while training with his Japanese club earlier this week.

“It’s a long list of injured players but all of them are in the selection frame and we’d like to work with them to assist with their rehabilitation,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.

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Daniel Hourcade

Daniel Hourcade

Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade gave the 1st indication of what his Rugby World Cup line-up will look like, when he named his squad for The Rugby Championship.

He wasted no time in drafting in his overseas-based players who were not part of the just-completed 2-match series against the French Barbarians.

Horacio Agulla (Bath), Marcos Ayerza (Leicester Tigers), Marcelo Bosch (Saracens) and Gonzalo Camacho (Leicester Tigers) joined the squad.

The numbers will be reduced from the current 36 to 28 when they head to Sydney on Saturday 11 July, where they will prepare for their opening Rugby Championship encounter – with the New Zealand All Blacks in Christchurch on 17 July.

Hourcade said it has been a long process to select the squad.

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Heyneke Meyer

Heyneke Meyer

On Saturday Heyneke Meyer will give the 1st indication of which foreign-based players will feature in the World Cup.

Meyer is set to name his squad to play a World XV at Newlands on 11 July – with Jean de Villiers set to make his comeback from injury, most likely off the bench.

But it will also be the 1st opportunity for the foreign-based players to re-introduce themselves to the local lads.

The incumbent Springbok captain, De Villiers, dislocated his patella in the South Africa’s 6 / 12 loss to Wales in Cardiff at the end of November last year and had to undergo reconstructive knee surgery.

If his rehabilitation goes according to schedule, the Springbok captain will play his 1st proper match in 8 months in a Currie Cup warm-up clash for Western Province against the Pumas in Franschoek on 18 July.

Province then travel to Port Elizabeth a week later for another friendly against the EP Kings, where De Villiers is also expected to feature.

However, before that De Villiers is set to play for the Springboks in the World XV clash at Newlands for a few minutes.

There are plenty of South Africans plying their trade overseas and of course some of them could and will be selected in the 31-man squad come Saturday.

However, none of them have featured at the recent Springbok training camps.

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Francois Louw

Francois Louw

Francois Louw is determined to keep hold of his Springbok jersey despite being based overseas in Bath.

Louw is 1 of the overseas-based players expected to make the Springbok squad to be announced later this week. However other contenders for the openside role are the likes of Heinrich Brussow, Marcell Coetzee, Siya Kolisi and Jaco Kriel who have all been in the Super Rugby spotlight this year.

Louw is the incumbent Springbok flank and has been Heyneke Meyer’s 1st choice for some time though he acknowledges the challenge of cracking the Springbok squad from the northern hemisphere.

“When I 1st signed for Bath, I knew it would be more challenging making the Springbok squad. But it was a move I needed to make at that stage of my career as I needed a fresh challenge, on and off the field,” Louw said.

“So when Heyneke Meyer gave me my opportunity in 2012, I was delighted and made the most of it. I’m glad that I’ve been able to play an extended role for South Africa over the years, and I want to continue giving my best to the team.”

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Andries Bekker

Andries Bekker

Jaque Fourie

Jaque Fourie

New Kobe Steelers’ coach Allister Coetzee has said that Springbok centre Jaque Fourie is available and keen to play for South Africa at the World Cup.

Fourie had previously announced his retirement from international rugby in November 2014 which came as a surprise to Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.

Coetzee however, in his final Stormers press conference, said that Kobe Steelers’ centre Fourie is keen to play at the World Cup but Springbok lock Andries Bekker is not available.

According to Coetzee the Japanese club have made it clear to SARU that Bekker will not be an option for the Boks.

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All BlacksThe All Blacks selectors gave their 1st hint of World Cup thinking, naming 5 new faces in an enlarged 41-man squad.

Coach Steve Hansen has named 33 new All Blacks since they won the last World Cup in 2011 with the latest additions being Crusaders hooker Codie Taylor, Hurricanes lock James Broadhurst and fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder, Highlanders flyhalf Lima Sopoaga and wing Waisake Naholo.

Naholo is the leading try-scorer in Super Rugby this year, touching down twice in the Highlanders 24 / 14 play-off victory over the Chiefs on Saturday to take his total for the year to 11.

Milner-Skudder is a cousin of Buff Milner and a nephew of George Skudder, both former All Blacks.

There is also a recall for 3-Test hooker Hika Elliot who has not been required for international duty since June 2012.

A final group of 31 to defend their world crown will be named at the end of August following The Rugby Championship Tests against South Africa, Australia and Argentina as well as a 1-off Test with Samoa and an extra clash with Australia.

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Jean de Villiers

Jean de Villiers

Springbok captain Jean de Villiers has no plans to retire after this year’s Rugby World Cup.

De Villiers suffered a horrific knee injury in the Springboks’ final Test against Wales in Cardiff late last year and underwent intensive rehabilitation to recover in time for this year’s World Cup.

He appears to have made a remarkable recovery and on Wednesday confirmed that he would be able to return to the playing field in a month’s time.

The Bok skipper also said he had no intentions of calling it quits after the World Cup.

“I didn’t go through 10 months of rehabilitation just to play 10 more games,” De Villiers was quoted as saying.

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Michael Cheika - Wallabies coach

Michael Cheika – Wallabies coach

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said that overseas-based players will not be part of his Rugby Championship training squad.

Cheika has named a group of 22 players not involved in next week’s Super Rugby finals, but will give foreign-based hopefuls some extra time off.

The Wallabies coach said he spoke to Europe-based stars Matt Giteau, George Smith and Drew Mitchell and they all indicated they were available for The Rugby Championship, starting on 18 July against South Africa in Brisbane.

“They’ll be considered for selection for the 1st game,” Cheika told reporters.

“They’ve just finished seasons over there – they don’t need to come back now.

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Michael Hooper

Michael Hooper

Stephen Moore

Stephen Moore

With the International season looming upon us, Australia head coach Michael Cheika has seemingly already decided on his Wallaby captain.

There is more than enough leadership ability in the players that are under consideration for the Australian squad. Michael Hooper, Stephen Moore, David Pocock, Will Genia, James Horwill and even veteran George Smith have all lead the team on previous occasions.

Cheika made it clear at the launch of the new Australian World Cup jersey that the 2 contenders for the captain role are Hooper and Moore.

“We will pick a captain who will go the distance… no point chopping and changing,” Cheika said.

Cheika said he would name the captain before the Wallabies take on South Africa in the opening match of The Rugby Championship in Brisbane on 18 July.

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Heyneke Meyer

Heyneke Meyer

There is a method to the apparent ‘madness’ of Heyneke Meyer’s approach to the Springboks’ 2015 World Cup campaign.

Spending some time with the Bok mentor at a training camp in Cape Town this week, it became abundantly clear just how much preparation has already gone into South Africa’s campaign.

In fact the Bok coach even investigated the hotel beds the players will encounter during their stay in England in September and October – prompting media banter that the ‘Bok coach is sleeping on the job’.

However, even the massive 40-odd players at the 2 training camps – in Johannesburg last month and Cape Town this week – are part of a carefully orchestrated plan to ensure the Boks have the best possible chance of becoming the 1st country to win the Webb Ellis Cup for a 3rd time.

Meyer said the large squads are all part of his long-term plan, with a lot of the younger players that he can take forward.

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Fourie du Preez

Fourie du Preez

Springbok scrumhalf Fourie du Preez will be available and will be considered for the Springbok squad in 2 months’ time.

There have been whispers about whether Du Preez will play for the Springboks, and what his obligations are to his Japanese club. However the team manager of the Springboks Ian Schwartz cleared up any uncertainty over the situation.

Du Preez played no role in the Springbok’s 1st training camp, and is currently not playing any rugby, although, he has been in the country since March.

Schwartz explained that this is due to an agreement with his Japanese club Suntory, that keeps him away from national practices. Only however, until the international season begins in July when he will be free to be selected for the Springboks 1st match against the World XV on 11 July.

Du Preez is in regular contact with Springbok fitness coach Basil Carzis and, according to Schwartz, is “working very hard” to get into top shape.

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Elton Jantjies

Elton Jantjies

Back in the Emirates Lions starting line-up for Saturday’s Super Rugby clash against the Brumbies at Emirates Airline Park, Elton Jantjies is enjoying one of his better seasons on South African soil.

The Johannesburg side are very much in playoff contention and Jantjies has become coach Johan Ackermann’s 1st choice pivot along the way.

A few rugby minds have now started wondering whether or not Jantjies has done enough to work his way into Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s World Cup plans. The smart money remains on the flyhalf slot going to either Handré Pollard or Patrick Lambie and while Jantjies has not ruled out any possibilities he chooses instead to let his performances do the talking.

“I can talk a big game but if my performances on the field don’t match up, there is no point in me saying that I want to go to the World Cup and be the 1st-choice flyhalf,” Jantjies said.

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Jean de Villiers, Springbok captain, with knee dislocation injury against Wales

Jean de Villiers, Springbok captain, with knee dislocation injury against Wales

 

Springbok captain Jean de Villiers has revealed he has targeted the beginning of July to be back on the field.

If he achieves his aim, it will be an exceptional recovery from a total knee reconstruction after the painful injury he suffered in the match against Wales at the end of last season.

Since then De Villiers has been working tirelessly at rehabilitating the knee in order to meet the deadline, with things going a lot better than initially expected.

The Bok captain is already running again and hopes next month to resume team training before getting onto the field in early July.

Speaking at the Supersport Networking lunch at the Johannesburg Country Club, De Villiers was an optimistic man, and said if all goes to plan he will be fit and on the field again long before the final Rugby World Cup squad was picked.

“The recovery has gone very well. These days whenever I meet someone it’s always the 1st question,” De Villiers said.

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Flip van der Merwe

Flip van der Merwe

It has emerged that a contractual dispute with the South African Rugby Union (SARU) is the reason behind Vodacom Bulls lock Flip van der Merwe making himself unavailable for Springbok selection.

Bok coach Heyneke Meyer earlier this week said Van der Merwe was “unavailable for international rugby at the moment”.

The reasons behind Van der Merwe’s unavailability were described as “personal”.

However, Van der Merwe and SARU are at loggerheads because the player feels he was done an injustice when Springbok contacts were awarded.

Unlike lock partners Eben Etzebeth, Victor Matfield and Pieter-Steph du Toit, Van der Merwe apparently did not receive a similar national contract.

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Lima Sopoaga

Lima Sopoaga

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph believes Lima Sopoaga must continue his rich vein of Super Rugby form backed up with a strong finish to the season to force himself into contention for the All Blacks.

One can argue that Sopoaga has been the most consistent New Zealand flyhalf with his improved confidence and game management.

Colin Slade has been in silky form for the Crusaders, but he crossing hemispheres after the World Cup and so is Dan Carter.

Chiefs playmaker Aaron Cruden will almost certainly miss the World Cup with a serious knee injury and Hurricane Beauden Barrett will be out for 4 weeks.

Barrett’s scans revealed a grade 2 tear of his medial collateral ligament (MCL) which he suffered during the Hurricanes’ match against the Crusaders last Saturday.

The uncapped Sopoaga, if he maintains his form, must be next in line.

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SpringboksThis week, there is a lot of news, from various fronts, on the Springboks.

The Rugby Championship game times have been announced, as has the host city for the additional Springbok game against the Pumas in Buenos Aires.

News from this week’s Springbok Training camp is dominated by the amount of injured players at the camp as well as the news today that Flip van der Merwe has made himself unavailable to the Springboks in 2015 and also for the Rugby World Cup. The reports on the injury and rehabilitation of Springbok captain also comes under discussion, with the prognosis and likelyhood of him making the world premier Rugby World Cup competition very positive.

SARU also announced today that Rhino was appointed as equipment supplier of the Springboks.

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Heyneke Meyer

Heyneke Meyer

He has been keeping a low public profile during the 1st half of Super Rugby’s ordinary season … and it is probably just as well.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer must be scratching his head worriedly already over how to construct his national side for the 1st assignment of the 2015 Test season, against Australia in Brisbane on 18 July as part of a condensed Rugby Championship.

Presently several Boks are either injured, suspended or undergoing rest periods (the sudden pulling of Duane Vermeulen from the Stormers’ overseas tour after only 1 match has tongues wagging despite official statements that it was “always planned”), whilst other staple characters have suffered form dips in line with the general struggles of their sides in the local conference and overall.

It is difficult to envisage any SA team actually winning Super Rugby at this point – not the ideal state of affairs in a World Cup year, even if it is not always proved to be relevant — just as it is hazardous to predict which franchise will eventually top the ho-hum domestic pile.

It is true that a few additional players like overseas-based Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez and Francois Louw and a rehabilitating Pieter-Steph du Toit should brighten the Bok equation, fitness permitting, nearer the Test roster itself, and 1 or 2 outsiders like Stormers tighthead strongman Vincent Koch and some surprise-package Lions personnel have stuck up their hands.

Yet a look at the last Springbok line-up for a Test – the unpalatable 12 / 6 loss to Wales in Cardiff on 29 November9 last year – gives you an idea of Meyer’s quandary; things look considerably more unsettled than he would like.

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SpringboksThe South African Rugby Union (SARU) on Monday confirmed that the Springboks will get their season underway against a World XV in Cape Town on 11 July, a week after the Super Rugby final.

The match was initially scheduled for late August.

The Springboks also got their 2014 season under way with a clash against the World XV at Newlands, with the South Africans running out 47 / 13 victors on that occasion.

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WhistleIt has been a year for referees much as any other year – a year of highs and lows where the best they can hope for is no complaints from players on the field and no complaints from watchers off the field.

Referee abuse remains a universal problem for referees. Glen Jackson, once a great player and now a great referee, said that there was a difference between playing and refereeing, for you could make 5 mistakes as a player and then get cheered for doing something well. In refereeing you are jeered for doing something perceived to be wrong and after that nothing that you do can rehabilitate you in the eyes of the beholders.

Much of the abuse is a repeat of what commentators have to say, regardless of whether what they say is wrong.

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SpringboksThis year saw another pack of exciting young players force their way into the Springbok fold and into contention for a place at the World Cup.

A lengthy injury list meant that Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer had to turn to inexpeienced players more often than he would have liked, but the flip side is that it gave some players the chance to prove themselves at the highest level.

Admittedly there is still a lot of rugby to be played before the World Cup, but it will probably take something exceptional for any uncapped players to force their way into Meyer’s thinking next year.

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SpringboksWhile South Africa finished the year second in the world, and the only side in 2014 to defeated the All Blacks, their two losses at the end of the year against Ireland and Wales exposed deficiencies that will be studiously worked on by the coaching team.

One thing is for certain, there is likely to be some changes to the portfolio after Heyneke Meyer admitted that elements like the team’s kicking weren’t working, while the usually reliable power game of the Springboks wasn’t able to rule proceedings in Dublin and Cardiff.

They did however, during that 27-25 win at Ellis Park over New Zealand, show that they have the breakdown belligerence and attacking sense to match any side.

Even if four losses in their last eight of the year came seemed to come from a lack of crystal concise mindset than anything else, at times kicking, running or passing seemed to come without the smart bomb like precision we usually expect from a Boks team.

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New ZealandThe World Champions for the most part could pat themselves on the back and claim job well done, winning 12 from 14 and retaining all major titles that were on offer.

Not only did they win The Investec Rugby Championship and defend the Bledisloe Cup, but recently the All Blacks celebrated five years at the top of the world rankings.

Yet despite some mighty mental powers and impressive depth, tactically the team isn’t able to thrash sides as many of the predecessors have in the past.

A win is a win yes, but has the proverbial gab closed but gone unnoticed due to the continuation of results?

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AustraliaWhile some might be quick to suggest Australia needs to put 2014 aside and focus on the upcoming season, no Test nation has as many potential improvements and as a consequence the prospective growth potential for the Wallabies excites.

Michael Cheika took over midyear but any who thought his success with the Waratahs would quickly translate to the national setup were sadly mistaken as the significant gap between Super Rugby and the Test arena was proved again.

There is plenty to like even if the old issue of the scrum reared its head, especially out wide, where man for man there is nothing to suggest that the Wallabies backline couldn’t become the world’s glamour division in time for the Webb Ellis trophy.

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ArgentinaThe one time in Europe that Argentina strayed slightly away from their traditional strengths, they lost, engaging in an entertaining running contest with Scotland, but otherwise closed the year with a 3-1 record over their last four.

It means that Los Pumas finish the season with form behind only New Zealand and Ireland, defeating the Wallabies in Mendoza, before grinding down Italy and France on consecutive weekends to return to South America on a high.

Coach Daniel Hourcade has been superb and his feats have been lost somewhat when talking about the likes of Steve Hansen or Joe Schmidt.

Yet the former Pampas mentor has turned many local players into hardened Test regulars, further ridding Argentina of a heavy reliance on European based stars.

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SpringboksThe South African Rugby Union (SARU) on Friday confirmed the home venues for the 2015 Castle Lager Rugby Championship.

The Springboks will play New Zealand at Emirates Airline Park (formerly Ellis Park), Johannesburg, on Saturday 25 July and Argentina at Growthpoint Kings Park, Durban, on Saturday 8 August.

The schedule was amended as a result of the condensing of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship competition to three rounds because of the Rugby World Cup, which begins in mid-September.

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This week Fox HQ brings you the best of 2014, from bloopers to tries and much more.

 

 

Thelo WakefieldThe Western Province Rugby Union wants to persuade the South African Rugby Union to hand Newlands the Springboks / All Blacks Rugby Championship Test next year.

This comes after SANZAR on Monday issued a release revealing that the Springboks will tackle the All Blacks at a South African venue to be decided on Saturday, 25 July.

It will be part of a curtailed, single-round Rugby Championship for the first time since its inception in 2012, a situation brought about by the priority given to next year’s World Cup in England and Wales from September.

The Boks play both the defending champion All Blacks and Argentina (Saturday, 8 August) at home, with their only overseas obligation being against Australia in Brisbane (Saturday, 18 July).

WP president Thelo Wakefield said that they will send a letter to SARU president Oregan Hoskins to consider handing the All Blacks Test to Newlands.

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New Zealand

New Zealand will head into next year’s Rugby Championship as title-holders

Australia will play New Zealand twice in a week as part of their preparation for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The draw for the condensed 2015 Rugby Championship sees champions New Zealand host Argentina in Christchurch but travelling to South Africa and Australia.

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Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira

Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira

South Africa finished second overall courtesy of their Ellis Park derring-do against New Zealand, and for but five points, the collective margin of defeat against the Wallabies in Perth and All Blacks in Wellington, it could have been a massive celebration for the team.

Admittedly the eventual champions boasted a 49-point difference advantage over the Springboks, but if the South African’s 4-2 ledger had been 5-1 (bonus points wouldn’t have come into the equation), the trophy would be theirs.

The victory is Meyer’s 24th in 33 Tests (a 73% winning mark), closes the gap in the IRB rankings (versus one and two) to just over two points, while the Republic boasts nearly a five point advantage over newly promoted England in third.

South Africa’s four wins and two losses equalled their return from last season, and their overall ten victories in The Rugby Championship’s history over 18 Tests gives them a three win lead over Australia (from 2012-2014) and second over the last three years (All Blacks 16-1-1).

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All Blacks

All Blacks Haka

The All Blacks second defeat in 44 Test matches was met with mixed reaction throughout the rugby world, not enough to prevent New Zealand from claiming The Rugby Championship, but it did stop a tournament whitewash for the third straight season.

Generally Kiwis did not panic, the consistency of Steve Hansen’s results deservedly have built up some emotional credit.

Some quarters of the media almost ridiculously hailed it as the beginning of the end for the World Champions, most were restrained wary to feed the wounded beast.

The All Blacks finished first overall, winning their 13th title since 1996, winning four Tests, drawing one and losing their final match – which was their first tournament defeat in 18 fixtures.

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