Agustin Creevy, Michael Hooper, Kieran Read and Siya Kolisi.
Agustin Creevy, Michael Hooper, Kieran Read and Siya Kolisi.

Ultimate Guide to 2019 Rugby Championship

The 2019 Rugby Championship will serve as a tasty entree to the World Cup in Japan as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina again square off for southern hemisphere supremacy.

Here's your primer for the truncated competition - just three rounds because of the World Cup - which kicks off with a clash between the Springboks and Wallabies in Johannesburg on July 21 (EST).

The All Blacks are defending the trophy and start their campaign against Los Pumas in Buenos Aires.

THE SCHEDULE (all AEST)

ROUND 1

Sunday July 21: South Africa v Australia at Johannesburg's Ellis Park, 1.05am

Sunday July 21: Argentina v New Zealand at Buenos Aires' Estadio Jose Amalfitani, 4.05am

ROUND 2

Saturday July 27: New Zealand v South Africa at Wellington's Westpac Stadium, 5.35pm

Saturday July 27: Australia v Argentina at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium, 7.45pm

ROUND 3

Saturday August 10: Australia v New Zealand at Perth's Optus Stadium, 7.45pm

Sunday August 11: Argentina v South Africa at Salta's Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, 5.40am

- AUSTRALIA -

THE SQUAD (34 players)

Michael Hooper (c), Tom Banks, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Kurtley Beale, Jack Maddocks, Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Samu Kerevi, Matt Toomua, Bernard Foley, Christian Lealiifano, Will Genia, Nic White, Joe Powell, Isi Naisarani, Jack Dempsey, Liam Wright, Luke Jones, Rob Valetini, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Izack Rodda, Rob Simmons, Rory Arnold, Sekope Kepu, Allan Alaalatoa, Taniela Tupou, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Tom Robertson, Folau Fainga'a, Tolu Latu, Jordan Uelese

WHAT'S MAKING NEWS?

James O'Connor's unexpected return to Australia has been an intriguing curveball as the Wallabies' new selection panel mulls over its options.

It appears unlikely he will play in Australia's opening game in Johannesburg but you'd expect him to get a run later in the tournament - quite possibly against Argentina in Brisbane.

Coach Michael Cheika - lucky to keep his job after last year's unmitigated disaster - has been as hard to read as ever.

After saying all year he had a new and improved playing style up his sleeve, he last week told reporters that he may have been foxing all along.

There is at least an attack coach now in place after Rebels assistant Shaun Berne won the role through to the World Cup.

SELECTION HEADSCRATCHERS

Where to start?

The tight five appears locked in: Scott Sio, Folau Fainga'a, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold and Izack Rodda.

Michael Hooper will be at No 7 and Samu Kerevi, surely, at No 12 but beyond that it all starts to get pretty murky.

The talk is that box kicking Exeter halfback Nic White will get the first crack at No 9 after Will Genia finished the Super Rugby season limping around with a knee injury.

The non-Hooper bits of the backrow are intriguing with three uncapped players - Isi Naisarani, Rob Valetini and Liam Wright - in the squad along with recalled blindside/lock Luke Jones.

BEST XV: Beale, Haylett-Petty, Kuridrani, Kerevi, Koroibete, Foley, Genia, Pocock, Hooper (c), Salakaia-Loto, Arnold, Rodda, Alaalatoa, Fainga'a, Sio

THE ODDS: $9.50

- NEW ZEALAND -

THE SQUAD (39 players)

Kieran Read (c), Ben Smith, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Ngani Laumape, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo'unga, Josh Ioane, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Brad Weber, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Matt Todd, Luke Jacobson, Dalton Papalii, Shannon Frizell, Vaea Fifita, Jackson Hemopo, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta'avao, Joe Moody, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Atu Moli, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Liam Coltman, Asafo Aumua

WHAT'S MAKING NEWS?

Sevu Reece's selection has divided opinion across the ditch given the Crusaders winger injured his partner in a drunken assault last year.

Liam Squire's decision to turn down a black jersey was also a surprise as the Highlanders flanker continues to work through some physical and personal issues.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen named four new faces in his initial squad: Reece, Highlanders five-eighth Josh Ioane, Chiefs loose forward Luke Jacobson and Crusaders outside back Braydon Ennor.

SELECTION HEADSCRATCHERS

Hansen will name a vastly understrength line-up for the opener against Argentina with most of the champion Crusaders allowed to nurse their bruises and hangovers before returning to play Australia.

Ardie Savea is likely to fill in at No 8 against the Pumas while the No 6 jersey is up for grabs following Squire's shock decision.

Jacobson, Shannon Frizell, Vaea Fifita, Dalton Papalii and Jackson Hemopo are the options while the drums are also beating for Richie Mo'unga to get a crack at No 10 with Beauden Barrett switched to fullback.

BEST XV: B Barrett, B Smith, Goodhue, Lienert-Brown, R Ioane, Mo'unga, A Smith, Read (c), Cane, Frizell, Retallick, Whitelock, Franks, Coles, Moody

THE ODDS: $1.25

Rassie Erasmus gestures during a Springboks training at Churchie Grammar School.
Rassie Erasmus gestures during a Springboks training at Churchie Grammar School.

- SOUTH AFRICA -

THE SQUAD (40 players)

Siya Kolisi (c), Schalk Brits, Marcell Coetzee, Lood de Jager, Thomas du Toit, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Rynhardt Elstadt, Eben Etzebeth, Lizo Gqoboka, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Francois Louw, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira, Franco Mostert, Trevor Nyakane, Marvin Orie, Kwagga Smith, RG Snyman, Marco van Staden, Duane Vermeulen, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Andre Esterhuizen, Faf de Klerk, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Warrick Gelant, Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies, Cheslin Kolbe, Jesse Kriel, Dillyn Leyds, Makazole Mapimpi, S'busiso Nkosi, Willie le Roux, Handre Pollard, Cobus Reinach, Frans Steyn

WHAT'S MAKING NEWS?

There is concern over Springboks captain Siya Kolisi, who has a knee injury and will miss the opening two games against the Wallabies and All Blacks.

And there is also concern over the state of the South African game in general given none of their four teams made it through to the Super Rugby semi-finals.

Despite that, they start second favourites to win the Rugby Championship.

Coach Rassie Erasmus seems to know what he's doing and also gets to bolster his squad with a clutch of top performers from the European competitions.

Siya Kolisi of the Springboks breaks through a tackle by Will Genia of the Wallabies.
Siya Kolisi of the Springboks breaks through a tackle by Will Genia of the Wallabies.

SELECTION HEADSCRATCHERS

One of Erasmus's big decisions is whether to play a 'fetcher' flanker like Francois Louw or Kwaga Smith or roll with a super-sized loose forward trio in his top XV.

There are also interesting size-based calls to make in the back three with the diminutive but brilliant Cheslin Kolbe, Dillyn Leyds and Willie le Roux up against superior aerial options.

Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard are surely the best halves pairing while Damian de Allende, Andre Esterhuizen, Jesse Kriel and Lukhanyo Am provide a variety of attributes in midfield.

Like Hansen, Erasmus is planning to split his squad and name vastly different teams for the first two Tests.

BEST XV: Le Roux, Kolbe, Kriel, Esterhuizen, Dyantyi, Pollard, de Klerk, Vermeulen, du Toit, Kolisi (c), Etzebeth, de Jager, Koch, Marx, Kitshoff

THE ODDS: $6.50

- ARGENTINA -

THE SQUAD (30 players)

Agustin Creevy (c), Matias Alemanno, Juan Figallo, Ramiro Herrera, Facundo Isa, Marcos Kremer, Tomas Lavanini, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Tomas Lezana, Pablo Matera, Santiago Medrano, Julian Montoya, Javier Ortega Desio, Guido Petti, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Mayco Vivas, Emiliano Boffelli, Sebastian Cancelliere, Santiago Cordero, Tomas Cubelli, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Felipe Ezcurra, Lucas Mensa, Manuel Montero, Matias Moroni, Ramiro Moyano, Matias Orlando, Nicolas Sanchez, Joaquin Tuculet

WHAT'S MAKING NEWS?

Argentinian rugby is still getting over the heartbreak of the Super Rugby final, which the Jaguares lost 19-3 to the Crusaders in Christchurch.

But after the tears came a recognition of the major strides rugby has made in football-obsessed Argentina.

"A lot of kids have started playing this season," Jaguares coach Gonzalo Quesada said.

"Our country's proud, our clubs were educated.

"They're proud of the boys and I think that's important for rugby in our country."

SELECTION HEADSCRATCHERS

As pointed out by Phil Kearns, the Jaguares are a virtual Test team playing in Super Rugby.

The Jaguares will make up the overwhelming majority of the Pumas side - with just five players called up from Europe.

They are Juan Figallo (Saracens), Ramiro Herrera (Stade Francais), Facundo Isa (Toulon), Nicolas Sanchez (Stade Francais) and Benjamin Urdapilleta (Castres).

Argentina coach Mario Ledesma will have to juggle his resources carefully leading into the World Cup but Quesada did a nice job of not overloading his stars during Super Rugby.

BEST XV: Boffelli, Cancelliere, Orlando, de la Fuente, Moyano, Sanchez, Cubelli, Isa, Lezana, Matera, Lavanini, Petti, Figallo, Creevy (c), Tetaz Chaparro

THE ODDS: $26

Pumas coach Mario Ledesma embraces Wallabies coach Michael Cheika prior to kick-off.
Pumas coach Mario Ledesma embraces Wallabies coach Michael Cheika prior to kick-off.

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