The Rugby Championship is the Southern Hemisphere's premier international rugby tournament, featuring Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The tournament was first contested at the Tri-Nations in 1996, by Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and Argentina joined the expanded competition in 2012.
The tournament normally sees each team play the others home and away, but this year's competition features an abridged format in order to manage fixtures ahead of the Rugby World Cup; each team this year will play only three games, one each against the other teams.
The New Zealand All Blacks won the Tri-Nations 10 times, with South Africa's Springboks and Australia's Wallabies each winning three. New Zealand have won the expanded Rugby Championship outright six times, with Australia sharing the title in 2015.
Rugby Championship Fixtures
(Kick-off times GMT / EDT)
July 20: South Africa 37-15 Australia, Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg (3.05 p.m. GMT / 11.05 a.m EDT)
July 20: Argentina 16-20 New Zealand, Estadio Jose Amalfitano, Buenos Aires (6.05 p.m. GMT / 2.05 p.m. EDT)
July 27: New Zealand vs. South Africa, Westpac Stadium Wellington (7.35 a.m. GMT / 3.35 a.m EDT)
July 27: Australia vs. Argentina, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane (9.45 a.m. GMT / 5.45 a.m. EDT)
Aug. 10: Australia vs. New Zealand, Optus Stadium, Perth(9.45 a.m. GMT / 5.45 a.m. EDT)
Aug. 10: Argentina vs. South Africa, Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, Salta (7.40 p.m. GMT / 3.40 EDT)
How to watch The Rugby Championship
United States: ESPN3
Asia: Setanta Sports Asia
Australia: Fox Sports Australia
New Zealand: Sky Network Television
South America: ESPN Sur
United Kingdom: Sky UK
(Check local listings)
What to read and watch: Review content
- Breaking down the Wallabies' disciplinary woes Read
- Steve Hansen plays down World Cup relevance of All Blacks-Springboks clash Read
- Rugby Championship Review Round 1: Some World Cup cases enhanced, others hurt Read
- Michael Cheika fumes as Wallabies' woes in Johannesburg continue Read
- All Blacks escape Buenos Aires with narrow victory over Pumas Read
- Recalled Frans Steyn has eyes on Rugby World Cup Read
- Springboks happy with win but room to improve - Erasmus Read
What to read and watch: Preview content
- The Rugby Championship: What's to be gained before the World Cup? Read
- What the All Blacks will want out of Pumas 'banana skin' Read
World ranking: No. 10
Last year: 4th
Coach: Mario Ledesma
Captain: Pablo Matera
The Pumas have probably never had such a good chance to break their All Blacks duck with a blend of Super Rugby runners-up and seasoned Europe-based 2015 Rugby World Cup veterans to meet the champions in the opening match at Velez Sarsfield.
All 15 of the Jaguares' starting line-up who lost to the Crusaders in the Super Rugby final are in the 30-man squad named by Mario Ledesma to face New Zealand, whom they have never beaten in 28 meetings.
There are also five players who helped Argentina reach the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup in England four years ago, including fly-half Nicolas Sanchez, winger Santiago Cordero and back-rower Facundo Isa.
Ledesma named a 46-man squad in May, more than two thirds of them Jaguares, pooling together his pre-selection players for the Championship and the World Cup in Japan in which he has set himself the primary goal of qualifying from a tough group including France and England.
The squad was increased by one with last week's call-up for Cordero, who had a magnificent first season abroad with Exeter Chiefs in the English Premiership, as Ledesma again used an exception to Argentina's no-exiles rule that allows him to seek cover for less experienced or injured home-based players.
With Jaguares' victories against the likes of the Chiefs and Hurricanes in Super Rugby, many Argentine players now feel they are on a level playing field against New Zealand's best. But they will have to handle fatigue and defy a record of underachievement in the tournament. The Pumas have avoided last place only once, in the truncated 2015 edition.
A second-half meltdown handed the Wallabies a 45-34 victory in Mendoza last year after the Pumas had taken a 31-7 lead at halftime, consigning Argentina to the wooden spoon.
Sanchez, a key player in the team's development over recent years, issued his team mates a warning that the other three nations would be keen to put Argentina back in their place on the international stage. "The Rugby Championship is very tough," he said. "Teams have very strong replacement benches and I'm sure that after all this [Jaguares success] they're going to be playing us differently."
Forwards: Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Mayco Vivas, Juan Pablo Zeiss, Javier Diaz, Santiago Garcia Botta, Agustin Creevy, Julian Montoya, Santiago Socino, Juan Figallo, Ramiro Herrera, Santiago Medrano, Enrique Pieretto, Lucio Sordoni, Guido Petti, Tomas Lavanini, Matias Alemanno, Lucas Paulos, Pablo Matera, Tomas Lezana, Javier Ortega Desio, Marcos Kremer, Rodrigo Bruni, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Facundo Isa
Backs: Tomas Cubelli, Gonzalo Bertranou, Martin Landajo, Felipe Ezcurra, Nicolas Sanchez, Benjamin Urdapilleta, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Domingo Miotti, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Matias Orlando, Matias Moroni, Lucas Mensa, Juan Cruz Mallia, Bautista Ezcurra, Ramiro Moyano, Santiago Cordero, Bautista Delguy, Sebastian Cancelliere, Emiliano Boffelli, Joaquín Tuculet, Manuel Montero, Santiago Carreras
World ranking: No. 6
Last year: 3rd
Coach: Michael Cheika
Captain: Michael Hooper
Australia enter the Rugby Championship under massive pressure after a terrible 2018 season that produced only four wins from 13 matches and sparked a chorus of condemnation from disgruntled fans.
Optimism has hardly returned through a largely gloomy season in which only one Australian team --- the Brumbies --- qualified for the Super Rugby playoffs and the termination of fullback Israel Folau robbed coach Michael Cheika of one of his few world-class players.
A serious calf injury has placed master ball-poacher David Pocock under a cloud, while the selection of 35-year-old utility back Adam Ashley-Cooper in a 34-man squad for the opening Test against South Africa points to a concerning lack of depth.
Fans nevertheless will hope Cheika can engineer a miracle turnaround, as he did four years ago when the Wallabies dug themselves out of a similar funk to win the abridged 2015 tournament then make the Rugby World Cup final in England.
To that end, South Africa have offered a willing hand by resting nearly half of their squad from the Johannesburg opener, giving the Wallabies a flicker of hope they can win at Ellis Park for the first time since 1963.
A victory, however unconvincing, would set the Wallabies up nicely for the second clash against Argentina on home soil, and a kind draw has given them the luxury of another home game against the champion All Blacks.
Yet a loss to the Boks, however gallant, could deal a crushing blow for confidence.
The addition of Scott Johnson and Michael O'Connor in a newly minted selection panel has seen some of Cheika's old favourites jettisoned, and the competition for World Cup spots should at least deliver willing performances.
Yet there is much that seems half-baked about the squad's preparations, with Cheika's staff only finalised three weeks ago with the naming of attack coach Shaun Berne.
Forwards: Allan Ala'alatoa, Rory Arnold, Jack Dempsey, Folau Fainga'a, Michael Hooper (capt), Luke Jones, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Isi Naisarani, Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda, Rob Simmons, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese, Rob Valetini, Liam Wright
Backs: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tom Banks, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Jack Maddocks, James O'Connor, Joe Powell, Matt Toomua, Nic White
New Zealand (All Blacks)
World ranking: No. 1 Titles: 16 Last year: 1st Coach: Steve Hansen Captain: Kieran Read The All Blacks are short-priced favourites to add a 17th title, but fans in rugby-mad New Zealand recognise that results over the next month count for little with the Rugby World Cup in Japan on the horizon.
Coach Steve Hansen has already said his focus for the southern hemisphere championship is making sure that he gets the selections and tactics right for the global showpiece in a little over two months' time.
Hansen named an extended squad of 39 players for the opening two matches of the Rugby Championship to test his less experienced players against the Pumas in Buenos Aires and rest the majority of the Super-Rugby winning Crusaders.
He is likely to name his top side, with a host of Crusaders forwards recalled, for the July 27 showdown with the Springboks in Wellington, which will double up as an important marker for the sides' Pool B World Cup opener in Yokohama on Sept. 21.
Hansen has selected a mostly young and fast backline for the tournament, and the opening two fixtures should provide an idea whether players such as George Bridge, Braydon Ennor and Sevu Reece have done enough to make the reduced squad of 34 for the trip to Perth.
His biggest selection issue, however, will be with the loose forwards, where no one has done enough to usurp incumbent Liam Squire, who ruled himself out of the Rugby Championship due to a lack of match fitness, in the blindside flanker role.
While Squire and the injured Ryan Crotty and Scott Barrett were not named for the Rugby Championship, all three are likely to feature in Hansen's World Cup squad, which makes the battle for places much tighter.
All Blacks Squad
Backs: Ben Smith, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Sonny Bill Williams, Jack Goodhue, Anton Leinert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo'unga, Josh Ioane, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Brad Weber.
Forwards: Keiran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Shannon Frizell, Matt Todd, Jackson Hemopo, Luke Jacobson, Dalton Papalii, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Patrick Tuipulotu, Joe Moody, Owen Franks, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tuungafasi, Atu Moli, Angus Ta'avao, Codie Taylor, Dane Coles, Asafo Aumua, Liam Coltman.
South Africa (Springboks)
World ranking: No. 5
Last year: 2nd
Coach: Rassie Erasmus
Captain: To Be Confirmed
South Africa face a challenging Rugby Championship that includes away trips to Wellington and Salta, testing not only their improvement from recent years but also their ability to stand up to the rigors of travel across multiple time-zones.
It is a concern for coach Rassie Erasmus, who is wary of placing too much burden on key players who have either come through a difficult Super Rugby season, or been sidelined for much of the campaign through injury.
Regular captain Siya Kolisi is likely to miss at least the opening home fixture against Australia on July 20 and the trip to New Zealand a week later, but he could also be absent from the entire tournament as he is put in cotton wool after sustaining a knee injury in late May.
Kolisi is as important off the field as he is on it -- he is the Springboks' first black Test captain, and one of the men perceived as having the ability to unite a nation in support of the team at the Rugby World Cup.
Lock Eben Etzebeth is tipped to take over the captaincy in Kolisi's absence, but Erasmus has split his squad for the games against Australia and New Zealand, and hence could name different skippers through the competition.
Erasmus has already said he will send an advanced party of 15 players to Wellington this week, before the tournament opener against Australia at Ellis Park, with the remainder of the squad and coaching staff to join them later.
It is his way of combating fatigue, even if it will leave him with a weakened selection against the Wallabies.
The Boks have few surprises in their squad, though Ulster loose-forward Marcell Coetzee has not played a Test in four years.
World Cup-winner Frans Steyn has also been missing for the last two seasons, but his ability to cover fly-half, centre and fullback is seen as a major boost going into the World Cup.
Erasmus said the team's aim is to lift the Rugby Championship trophy this year for the first time in a decade, but at the same time he has touted the competition as preparation for the World Cup in Japan, meaning the Boks are unlikely to field their strongest side in all three games. "The idea is to win the Rugby Championship for the first time in 10 years‚ build confidence to go into the World Cup," Erasmus said.
"That's prize No. 1‚ but with that‚ there's some logistical issue that need to be dealt with. We only play one Rugby Championship game at home with two away. There's the acclimatising for the various games, but we'll try to win."
Forwards: Schalk Brits, Marcell Coetzee, Lood de Jager, Thomas du Toit, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Rynhardt Elstadt, Eben Etzebeth, Lizo Gqoboka, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Siya Kolisi, 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
Backs: 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, Sibusiso Nkosi, Willie le Roux, Handre Pollard, Cobus Reinach, Frans Steyn
Reuters content was used in compiling this report