It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt sits down in the Planet Rugby hot-seat to give his calls. Brace yourself for the Rugby Championship.
Round Four of the inaugural spectacle pits the All Blacks against the Springboks before Australia face the Pumas for the first time since 2003.
Remember you can contact Russ with all your comments and questions on Twitter - @rpetty80.
Before last week's game, South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer downplayed the idea of game plans (calling them 'totally romanticised and unrealistic') and instead stated that he intended to play to the team's strengths. It's clear that in his view, this involves a heavy reliance on the kick and chase. Understandable when you consider it brought his Bulls side success between 2002-7 but it's not proving to be as effective on the international stage in 2012. South Africa made close to 40 kicks from hand and had over 60 per cent of the territory against Australia which is presumably what Meyer wanted of them, but lost. The worrying issue is that despite spending a good six minutes of the match in the opposition 22, they carried on their bad habit of conceding penalties and losses of possession in this crucial area. The reason for defeat is being pinned on the lack of experience in the side, and whilst it's true that the pack is light on caps, the backline last week had five players with 40 plus caps in it. The real problem may be that chosen general, Morne Steyn needs a break or fully replacing with one of the adventurous prospects in Pat Lambie or Johan Goosen. Steyn's defensive channel is clearly a target for opposition ball carriers and the 'attack' so predictable with him in charge. He or Zane Kirchner relentlessly kicking to the willing All Blacks back-three doesn't bode well. It's telling that after the Australians cut out their aimless kicking and started to play, SA found themselves in real trouble - it's likely that the All Blacks won't take until the second-half to punish that tactic.
The All Blacks made a high number of turnovers last week in Wellington. This could be attributed to the awful weather (particularly first-half), but it was also approximately the same number as the week before (21) and in line with their 2012 totals. They were given a fierce examination in contact from Argentina and it's surprising that lock Luke Romano hasn't been given a rest, given the punishment he took. The main lesson will have been about game management, specifically from Aaron Smith and Aaron Cruden. In the Super Rugby season, young Gareth Anscombe was dropped after attempting a running game in wet conditions and it wasn't a massive shock to see one of the pair given a break (curfew punishment or not). Piri Weepu will start after his efforts from the bench as Smith did have a difficult game, similar to the match against the Chiefs where old mentor Dave Rennie had him targeted. It was a senior player, Ma'a Nonu - whose attempt to run the ball out from deep resulted in the try and in the first-half the backline didn't play the conditions at all.
The All Blacks are on a thirteen game unbeaten run and are conceding just ten points a match on average. There will be no Dan Carter again, but previous results suggest that may not be a factor. In the Tri-Nations against South Africa, they won 15/18 home games by 29-16 and in all games its 27/38 home wins by an average of 20-13. The Kiwi Super Rugby teams at home to South African teams have a 74 per cent win rate with an average score of 32-21, and just against the Bulls it's 82 per cent with an average score of 33-19. The old stagers in the New Zealand team all tend to have a win rate of 85-90 per cent in Test Rugby that drops to 70 per cent against South Africa but the two interesting cases are Tony Woodcock and Andrew Hore, who have overall records of 85 per cent and 83 per cent but down to 56 per cent and 45 per cent against the Boks. You aren't going to get much money back for NZ with just 1.13, while the visitors are 9.0 to win and 15.0 to win by 1-5 points.
As usual the main betting market will be the handicap line. The All Blacks are -14 points to win with Sky Bet which they would have covered in seven of the last seventeen home games against these opponents and 16/21 against all teams at home, since 2010. In Dunedin, they have averaged a nine-point win against SA per match, but that was at Carisbrook and not under a roof. The Boks assistant coach may be saying that the conditions will suit the away side as it will resemble the Highveld but that looks to be wishful thinking at best. SA have failed to cover the handicap in most games in 2012 so it's really a case of whether you think the hosts can cut out some of the unforced errors. Giving away -14 points is quite a lot but I'm backing them to win comfortably and heap more misery on whoever has to listen to those Meyer walkie-talkie rants. I will also take the hosts at -7 on the second-half handicap.
There are a few All Blacks with decent scoring records against South Africa, Richie McCaw has four tries in nineteen games, and Cory Jane two in six. My money will be going on Israel Dagg, even at the relatively short price of 2.75 with Sky Bet, he has two tries in three games against the Boks and should get plenty of chance to counter-attack. For the Boks, Jean de Villiers has four tries in seventeen games against the All Blacks and Bryan Habana three in fifteen. Habana at 4.33 is maybe a big enough price to warrant a flutter but their lack of precision in attack and that strong All Black defence may suggest avoiding instead.
Argentina have proved they deserve their place in the competition with a series of gritty showings. As to be expected, there's still plenty of room for improvement - especially in attack but their commitment cannot be faulted. They have an inspirational leader and their defence and one-on-one tackling embodies their bravery and intensity. We have known for a while they are tough team to break down and that has continued in the Rugby Championship. The line-out had averaged about 80 per cent success rate and the poor weather and some robust tactics from the All Blacks saw it drop to 60 per cent last week with eight lost on their own throw. This area should be targeted by the Wallabies but they have hardly competed on opposition ball this series. The main discussion point may be the scrum. Going by stereotype this would be a huge advantage for Los Pumas but the Wallabies were much better in defensive scrums last week. It's unlikely their style is going to go through any major overhauls from last week so I'm expecting them to look to drag the Wallabies into a slow-paced contest and strangle quick service from Nick Phipps. Australia increased their recent dominance over South Africa with their fifth successive win. If Robbie Deans' side could play them or Wales each week, he would be under far less pressure. The win last week may prove crucial to his survival and if the team lacked belief in the two fixtures against New Zealand, that certainly wasn't the case in the second-half against South Africa - where they rallied from a seven-point deficit at the break. Staying true to form, last week saw both teams kick a lot out of hand - with Australia managing it over 40 times. After the match it was revealed by the coach that the poorly executed grubber kicks that were so common early on in the match were NOT part of the game plan. This means that certain players were either wilfully disobeying team instructions or panicked with ball in hand and kicked away possession rather than risk making an error. When Australia retained possession they asked questions of the Bok defence, and having Scott Higginbotham as an 'impact sub' may prove to be a decent tactic. Kurtley Beale has been benched, fitness has been given as a reason but he is out of form and its unlikely that is suddenly going to change so he probably needs a break. In his place will be Berrick Barnes, whose accurate goal kicking currently outweighs the kick-first instinct in open play that has stifled attack.
The sides have met seventeen times, with twelve Australian wins, four for Argentina and a draw. The average score is 26-15 to the Wallabies. For matches in Australia, Los Pumas won the first game in 1983 then lost the following eight, by an average of 32-12. The hosts are just 1.18 to win, however they have been similarly priced in previous games against very physical 'underdogs' (namely Scotland twice and Samoa) and lost. The absence of Will Genia is crucial, he is of course a world-class operator but also brought leadership and presumably a reassuring presence to a backline that has not looked confident. He joins fellow skippers David Pocock and James Horwill along with Drew Mitchell, James O'Connor, and the in-form Sitaleki Timani on an ever increasing injury list. The last time Phipps started (and co-incidentally Higginbotham and Beale were both on the bench that day too), was in that nine-point defeat to Samoa. Argentina are an unfamiliar opponent, only Nathan Sharpe has played against them, back in 2003 in a game that Los Pumas coach Santiago Phelan also featured. The 6.5 price for the upset and a +14 point advantage on the handicap both look a little high. If the Pumas can control the tackle area early and therefore the tempo, then the +6 advantage on the half-time handicap also looks interesting.
An alternative angle involves Argentina running out of steam after all that travelling, tiring in the second-half and being stretched out wide by the home side. Los Pumas have been outscored after the break in their last twelve matches against the 'Big 3' Southern Hemisphere teams by an average of thirteen points. If Australia can up the tempo in the latter stages then they should cover the second-half handicap of -6 on the Gold Coast.
I like the look of a sin-binning at 1.67 in this match. Wayne Barnes has given out nineteen cards in his last twelve Premiership games with 10/12 games seeing at least one card. Furthermore Los Pumas showed last week that they are not shy about committing a professional foul to prevent a try. They will also have noticed that Australia failed to score against fourteen men last week. With Barnes in charge, I'll also be keeping an eye out for the multiple cards market, something like 4.5 for more than one card should be available.
The prices for the home side to score anytime are pretty short, with most of the backline under 4.0. For the visitors, the busy Gonzalo Camacho is 6.5, while last week's try-scorer Rodrigo Roncero is at 21.0. Like the other game, there doesn't seem to be much value.