The Rugby Championship returns this weekend, as New Zealand go in search of a sixth title in seven years since the competition expanded to four nations.
The All Blacks are the dominant force in world rugby and have barely given their southern hemisphere rivals a sniff – Australia’s victory in the truncated 2015 edition the only blot on New Zealand’s copy book since 2012.
It would take a brave person to bet against the All Blacks, who face the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday, coming out on top once more over the coming weeks and, on paper, it is theirs to lose.
At the other end of the table, Argentina will hope the appointment of Mario Ledesma can help them avoid a sixth wooden spoon in the competition. They begin their campaign against the Springboks in Durban.
Here, with the help of Opta, we take a statistical look at the opening round of fixtures.
Australia v New Zealand
The Wallabies may have got the better of the All Blacks in their most recent meeting, but they have not claimed back-to-back victories over New Zealand since 2000-01, when they beat them in three consecutive matches.
New Zealand have lost on just one of their last eight trips to ANZ Stadium and averaged more tries (6.3) than any other tier-one nation during the June Tests.
Rieko Ioane poses the biggest threat to Australia this weekend, with the winger having scored 16 tries in 16 Tests for the All Blacks, including seven in his last four matches.
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Since his debut, Ioane has scored more international tries than any other player and four more than the Wallabies’ Israel Folau, who has the second most of any tier-one player.
Folau has touched down six times in 15 matches against the All Blacks. Only four players have crossed the whitewash more often versus New Zealand – Adam Ashley-Cooper (9), David Campese (8), Bryan Habana (8) and Matt Burke (7).
— OptaJason (@OptaJason) August 10, 2018
South Africa v Argentina
The Springboks have lost just two of their 26 clashes with the Pumas, winning 23 of the other 24, although one of those defeats came in Durban – the venue of Saturday’s clash – in 2015.
Kings Parks has since been the venue of South Africa’s biggest home defeat in Test rugby, when they lost 57-15 to New Zealand a year later.
But the Springboks will be on a high following their 2-1 series victory over England in June and will be further buoyed by Argentina’s run of six consecutive away defeats in the Rugby Championship.
And don’t expect Argentina to come flying out of the blocks – they were the only tier-one nation not to score a try in the opening 20 minutes of a match during the June Tests.
That said, South Africa conceded more during the same period than any other side in that month.
Willie le Roux could hold the key to the success of the Springboks’ campaign, the full-back having provided 21 try assists for Wasps in the Premiership in 2017-18 – the most recorded in a season by Opta (since 2008-09).
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