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Rugby Championship round three preview: New Zealand eye third-straight title

The Rugby Championship concludes on Saturday, with New Zealand knowing a win in Australia will seal the title for the third-straight year.

After four rollercoaster seasons under Ian Foster, the All Blacks look to be getting themselves together ahead of the autumn World Cup in France.

 The Kiwis have proved too good for Argentina and South Africa, but can Eddie Jones' winless Australia upset the odds? If so, that would open the door for the Springboks, who need a win and a 28-point swing to repeat their success of 2019 and potentially set themselves up to defend the Webb Ellis Cup in the autumn.

With the Wallabies and the Pumas having the chance to get their own back in next week's return internationals that are not part of this tournament, there are intriguing storylines to follow in both Melbourne and Johannesburg.

Bledisloe bash at the MCG

WhatAustralia v New Zealand
WhereMelbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne
When10:45, Saturday 29th July
How to watchSky Sports Action
OddsAustralia 13/2, Tie 33/1, New Zealand 9/100

Relatively speaking, Australia have been nowhere near, losing 43-12 to the Boks and then 34-31 to Argentina. In the former, they were outclassed, while a fortnight ago they lacked both the execution and composure to see the job through against the Pumas.

As such, the pressure is already on Jones just two games into his second spell in charge and Saturday's home Bledisloe Cup Test feels like a must-win.

The odds are stacked against the Wallabies, with them 13/2 to triumph in Melbourne, while the All Blacks are 9/100.

This is the first of two Bledisloe Cup games this year, with the second set to take place next Saturday in Dunedin. It's no secret that Australia have not lifted the trophy since retaining the prize in 2002 and this weekend is unlikely to provide much solace, with the Kiwis having every chance of eclipsing the -17 handicap at 10/11.

Taukei'aho could torment again

Jones is clearly still experimenting and has responded to his team's plight by ringing the changes, including bringing in Carter Gordon for Quade Cooper at fly-half.

Dave Rennie's sacking after a poor autumn seemed somewhat reactionary, akin to Jones' dismissal by England, especially as his team came within seconds of beating the All Blacks, only to be on the wrong end of a controversial refereeing decision by Mathieu Raynal.

The optimism of that 39-37 defeat was extinguished by the following week's 40-14 reverse in Auckland.

Will Jordan touched down in both matches and having taken South Africa apart on his return to the side, is sure to be popular in the tryscorers markets.

Jordan is certainly a contender in the anytime, but a player who carries more value is perhaps Samisoni Taukei'aho. The Chiefs hooker scored in both Bledisloe Cup ties in 2022, but he will have to come off the bench if he is to repeat that trick this weekend.

Experimental Boks likely to be pushed by Pumas

WhatSouth Africa v Argentina
WhereEllis Park, Johannesburg 
When16:05, Saturday 29th July
How to watchSky Sports Action
OddsSouth Africa 7/100, Tie 40/1, Argentina 7/1

The second match of the day promises to be an equally bruising clash as South Africa host Argentina in Johannesburg. This too is a double-header, with the pair's return clash next weekend set for Buenos Aires.

The Boks won their opener with ease against Australia before being blown away by the All Blacks in their 35-20 defeat in Auckland. Argentina were underwhelming as they lost 41-12 at home to New Zealand but bounced back by claiming their first away victory over the Wallabies since 2018.

South Africa look set to experiment in this game, with a new half-back pairing of Grant Williams and Manie Libbok due to be complemented by an exciting wing pairing of Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse.

The Boks have won the last six meetings at an average of 18.5 points and while their selection hints they will throw the ball around, the Pumas should be able to beat their +18 handicap at 1/1.

Widemen there to be watched

Arendse scored the final try in his team's 38-21 win in this fixture last year and could go again after his hat-trick against the Wallabies.

The Bulls star is a top contender in the anytime try market but will face a test against his opposite number Rodrigo Isgro.

A Sevens star, who helped his country to bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, Isgro shone on debut against the Wallabies and will look to use his footwork to unsettle Arendse, who is playing on his least-favoured wing.

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