The Tri-Nations is no more as this year we will bear witness to the inaugural Rugby Championship. Luam Ackermann takes a look at the players you need to keep an eye on as new boys Argentina take on the traditional southern hemisphere powerhouses of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
The Veteran: Frans Steyn:
It’s hard to believe that at 25 Frans Steyn is a veteran, but the reality is he should have played even more Tests after making his debut in 2006. Having already won a World Cup and set for his 50th Test on Saturday, the young midfielder is an experienced international campaigner. After being viewed as a utility player for so long, Steyn has settled into the midfield role with his ability to break line at pace and the skill to off load to his support runners, making him one of the most dangerous attackers in the world. Steyn’s boot is also a weapon for the Boks with his ability to nail long range kicks a welcome one. His defence has always been admirable, while he has added some flair to his game since returning from France.
The Rookie: Eben Etzebeth:
Eben Etzebeth had a superb debut Super Rugby season this year and was called up by Heyneke Meyer for the three-Test series, despite his obvious in-experience. The young second-rower has already made a name for himself with his unbelievable, almost freakish, power and strong ball-carrying abilities, making him one of the most physical imposing players to wear the Green and Gold jersey. Etzebeth is physically imposing, but he also gets through a ton of work and will be hungry to impress in the Rugby Championship - a powerhouse of a player well worth keeping an eye on.
The veteran: Ma’a Nonu:
The big centre has a fierce reputation as one of the most physically imposing centres in the world, with his ablility to break through the tackle a constant threat. He will form a monster midfield combination with Sonny Bill Williams and while he is well known for his ability with the ball in hand, his defence is just as fearsome. Nonu may not have delivered on his promise in his early forays into Test rugby, but over the past three seasons, he has certainly made a massive impact - expect that to continue in the Rugby Championship.
The Rookie: Julien Savea:
The big winger won the IRB junior player of the year in 2010 after scoring eight tries for the Baby Blacks in the Junior World Championship in Argentina. Now the powerful runner is lighting up the world stage at senior level, with his electrifying pace and strength carving up opposition defences. Savea showed his unbelievable promise as an international winger with a hat-trick of tries on debut against Ireland earlier this year. The All Blacks have a history of producing quality wings and Savea is seemingly ser for very big things.
The Veteran: Adam Ashley-Cooper:
Known as “Mister Fix It”, Adam Ashley-Cooper was the only Wallabies player to have played in all 13 Tests last season. Even more impressive is that he has only missed five of Australia’s last 60 Tests. In previous years, Ashley-Cooper has shown just how dangerous he can be with the ball in hand – both from the back and midfield – and with the Wallabies likely to stick with an attacking gameplan, we will be seeing a lot of the Waratahs utility in the Rugby Championships this season.
The Rookie: Dave Dennis:
A knee injury in 2007 prevented young Waratahs flanker Dave Dennis from making an earlier debut for the Wallabies, but the versatile loose forward has certainly made sure to use his opportunities this season. He made such an impression against Scotland and Wales earlier this season that he has been named in the starting line-up for the Wallabies’ opener against New Zealand, with coach Robbie Deans looking to employ two ‘fetchers’ in Dennis and captain David Pocock.
The Veteran: Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe:
Having represented the Pumas 43 times, the 30-year-old number eight has been handed the captaincy for the first Test against South Africa. One of many Argentine players plying his trade in France – at Toulon – Lobbe is expected to inspire the South Americans with his hard, gritty aprroach. The Pumas will rely heavily not just on his powerful carrying abilities, but his experience of playing with, and against, the world’s best. As powerful on defence as he is on attack, Lobbe will not be going down without a fight.
Rookie: Manuel Montero:
The 21-year-old speedster has already played six Tests for Argentina in which he scored six tries – that’s a pretty impressive strike rate! Although Montero has only played against two ‘big’ teams in Italy and France, he showed promise against both of them. His versatility could help Argentina whether he starts on the wing or at fullback.