Seven players to watch in the final round of the Rugby Championship including highly touted All Blacks halfback

Los Pumas wing Juan Imhoff, Wallaby back-row Tom Hooper, All Black scrum-half Cam Roigard and Springbok loose forward Marco van Staden. Credit: Alamy

Los Pumas wing Juan Imhoff, Wallaby back-row Tom Hooper, All Black scrum-half Cam Roigard and Springbok loose forward Marco van Staden. Credit: Alamy

Ahead of the third round of the Rugby Championship that sees games take place in Melbourne and Johannesburg, we pick out seven players to watch on Saturday.

The round’s action begins at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), where the Wallabies host the All Blacks before it is off to Emirates Airline Park for the clash between the Springboks and Los Pumas.

Before the action kicks off, here is our selection of the players to keep a close eye on this weekend as the truncated version of the Rugby Championship comes to an end.

Andrew Kellaway

After losing both their previous two matches in the competition, to South Africa and Argentina, Australia’s head coach Eddie Jones has dropped Tom Wright, who started both those games at full-back, with Kellaway brought in to wear the number 15 jersey against New Zealand this weekend.

Kellaway will be relishing the opportunity after being sidelined for the previous Rugby Championship games with a hamstring injury. He has done well for the Rebels in Super Rugby Pacific and was one of the Wallabies’ stars in the corresponding Bledisloe Cup fixture in 2022, as he scored two of his team’s tries in a controversial 39-37 loss at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne.

Apart from his attacking play, the 27-year-old’s kicking game and defensive reads will have to be of a high standard against the All Blacks if the Wallabies want to upset the apple cart at the MCG.

Marco van Staden

With regular Springbok captain Siya Kolisi still on the sidelines due to a knee injury, Bulls stalwart Van Staden gets another chance as the world champions’ starting openside flank when they host Los Pumas on Saturday.

Although he missed out on selection to the Boks’ matchday squad for their Round Two defeat against the All Blacks in Auckland, Van Staden was one of their star performers in their tournament opener against the Wallabies.

In what was his first start at Test level, Van Staden delivered a superb all-round display as he shone on attack and defence while also doing well at the breakdowns. He is back in the run-on side this weekend, and a similar performance could book him a spot in South Africa’s World Cup squad.

Juan Imhoff

He might be 35 years old, but Los Pumas speedster is still in the mix at the highest level and is set to stake his claim for Argentina’s Rugby World Cup squad when he makes his first appearance of the Rugby Championship against South Africa on Saturday.

Despite his advancing years, Imhoff is still delivering the goods as he regularly featured in Racing 92’s matchday squads during the 2022/23 Top 14 campaign, scoring four times in his last five games of the season, and he will be determined to show that he can replicate that form in the international arena.

A brilliant attacker, who knows his way to the try-line, the Boks will be wary of Imhoff as he has already scored a hat-trick of tries against them – in Durban in 2015 – and he will be closely watched by their defence on Saturday.

Cam Roigard

While Aaron Smith is still firmly entrenched as New Zealand’s first-choice scrum-half and set to hold onto that position until the upcoming World Cup in France, Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup Test in Melbourne could see the emergence of his successor to wear the men in black’s number nine jersey in years to come.

Test centurion Smith will once again be in the All Blacks’ run-on side, but there is plenty of interest and expectation around the uncapped Roigard, who has been named on the replacements bench.

After TJ Perenara missed the Hurricanes’ Super Rugby Pacific campaign through injury, Roigard became the Wellington-based side’s first-choice number nine and his brilliance on attack was rewarded with nine tries in that competition.

He will be hoping to show off those attacking skills when he comes off the bench for his Test debut in Melbourne.

Tom Hooper

After delivering several outstanding performances for the Brumbies in their run to the Super Rugby Pacific semi-finals, Hooper was rewarded with a spot in the Wallabies squad for the Rugby Championship, but his Test debut was a short-lived one as he was forced off the field with a shoulder injury in the tournament opener against the Springboks in Pretoria.

A huge man, who is 1.99 metres tall and weighs 122 kilograms, the 21-year-old featured mostly on the blindside flank for the Brumbies, where he also made his Test debut, but this weekend he packs down on the other side of the scrum on the openside.

He faces a baptism of fire as he is up against the twin threat of Dalton Papali’i and Savea at the breakdowns, and it will be interesting to see how the abrasive Test rookie deals with that challenge.

Jesse Kriel

The Springbok centre was a surprise omission from the world champions’ matchday squad during their previous match, against the All Blacks in Auckland after he was part of a group of players who flew over to New Zealand, while the rest of the Bok squad were preparing for their tournament opener against the Wallabies in Pretoria.

However, Kriel gets his chance in the run-on side this weekend, and he gets a chance to shine in a midfield partnership with his long-time partner Damian de Allende. The duo have been playing together at Test level since 2015, so they know each other well and should do well in tandem.

The match also presents Kriel with an opportunity to cement his place in South Africa’s World Cup squad, and he will be determined to hit the ground running in Johannesburg.

Ardie Savea

The 29-year-old is one of the world’s best back-rows, but there will be extra pressure on his shoulders against the Wallabies on Saturday as he is set to lead the All Blacks into battle after the three-time world champions’ regular captain Sam Cane was ruled out of the match due to a neck injury.

Savea is no stranger to the leadership position as he has already captained his country on four previous occasions and been relatively successful.

Unlike some other captains in the game, the added responsibility of captaincy does not seem to affect Savea’s style of play, and he should be in the thick of the action against the Wallabies this weekend.

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