Rugby: All Blacks, Springboks face 'must wins' in topsy-turvy championship

New Zealand Maori's Ruben Love runs in a try during a rugby match against Ireland in Wellington on July 12, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY - The All Blacks and Springboks find themselves propping up the table heading into the fourth round of the Rugby Championship and desperately need wins this weekend, if only to ease a barrage of criticism.

Argentina's first victory over the All Blacks on New Zealand soil last week rocked the rugby world and plunged the hosts into another round of self-flagellation ahead of the second Test in Hamilton.

Where once the fury of the New Zealand backlash was as inevitable and uncomfortable as a windy day in Wellington, the Irish proved in July that this crop of All Blacks can be beaten back-to-back.

Coach Ian Foster's job was secured by a win over the Springboks three weeks ago, but a second home defeat by the Pumas would be a heavy blow to New Zealand's hopes of retaining the southern hemisphere title they have won 11 times.

An unchanged starting line-up will run out at Waikato Stadium on Saturday with Foster hoping his side can finish the game better than they did last week.

The under-fire coach remains convinced the All Blacks are moving in the right direction, even if third place in the table is not where they want to be.

"I've really enjoyed the trend of where we're going but it always has to result in results, doesn't it?" he said on Thursday.

"That's the market that we're in. I get all that, but what I know is I really believe in what's happening behind the scenes."

Last week's victory mean Argentina top the standings of a competition in which they have largely made up the numbers over the last decade.

Their Australian coach Michael Cheika suffered too many All Blacks backlashes when in charge of the Wallabies not to be aware of what is coming on Saturday but is not ruling out a fifth win in seven matches this season.

"There's a little bit there because Ireland were able to do it a couple of times this year. (It) gives us a bit of hope," he said.

While New Zealand are looking to reassert their traditional superiority at home, South Africa need to get a nine-year-old monkey off their backs if they are to return to winning ways against Australia in Sydney.

The Springboks in action against the Australian Wallabies during the Rugby Championship Test match in Adelaide on Aug 27, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Coach Jacques Nienaber made eight changes, several forced by injury, from the side beaten by the Wallabies last week as the world champions again target a first win in Australia since 2013 to get off the bottom of the table.

The backlash from the Springboks faithful can be as vicious as that of any nation but he said he was not alone in feeling the pressure.

"It's a must-win for all the teams," Nienaber said. "We are halfway through the Rugby Championship and currently it's very tight. We are all in the same boat."

Second-placed Australia will also put out an unchanged starting side on Saturday in the first international at the glittering new Sydney Football Stadium.

Remarkably, a run of injuries mean it is the first time in his three years as coach that Dave Rennie has been able to send out the same 15 players for two matches in a row.

"It's good to have continuity in selection," he said. "We've got ourselves in a reasonable position in the table along with Argentina. It's a big weekend for all the teams in the comp." REUTERS

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