It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt sits down in the Planet Rugby hot-seat to give his calls. Brace yourself for the Rugby Championship.
Round Five of the inaugural spectacle will pit the Springboks against the Wallabies in Pretoria before Argentina host the All Blacks in La Plata.
Remember you can contact Russ with all your comments and questions on Twitter - @rpetty80.
When you stop to analyse the current Wallabies, it's quite an achievement that they have managed to win 10 of their last 14 games in the past year. Robbie Deans is under great pressure - both for results against New Zealand and performances, however he claims the team's frustrating habit of kicking away ball isn't something they've been coached. The captain's armband has overtaken being put on the cover of a Madden NFL game as a sporting curse and there are a number of highly-talented youngsters whose creation of off-field controversy is currently disproportionate to on-field success.
Quade Cooper's recent criticisms of both the style of play and the 'toxic environment' behind the scenes, will have gone down as well as the gastro bug that has hit the side. He may have signed with the Reds for another 3 years but is still in negotiation with the ARU and his timing is interesting. Missing this tough tour through injury, he knows that if Robbie Deans were to be axed then his Reds boss Ewen McKenzie could take the job, which would suit Cooper better. The last time he flirted with a move to league (Paramatta Eels in 2010), it resulted in an increased contract offer from the Australian Rugby Union and he has an agent that is not adverse to ruffling feathers to get the best deal for his clients. It might just be an attempt to defend a poor display in Round 4, but whatever the case it seems likely there will be changes and who stays / goes may depend on the next two results.
Absent fly-halves seem to be the talking point of this match with Morne Steyn dropping out of the Springbok squad completely and the exciting Johan Goosen given a start. I thought that Heyneke Meyer may persist with Steyn for another game with the hope that playing in his own ground may produce a spark in form, but he has made the big call and it seems to have been well received by the public. Goosen joins 6 other Grey College alumni in the squad, and whilst it remains to be seen how much freedom he is permitted to have, the Boks surely possess a greater attacking threat now and perhaps a solution to their 2012 habit of failing to capitalise on sustained possession in the opposition 22.
South Africa have only won 3 of their previous 14 games in this competition and have tasted defeat in 5 consecutive games (including 2 home matches) against the Wallabies. However they are 1.5 favourites to break that trend and have beaten these opponents in 30/40 games overall in SA and in 14/18 Tri Nations games by an average score of 28-20. Crucially the Boks also possess a record of 5 wins from 5 matches at this venue against Australia.
I'm in agreement with the bookies for this one, and really like the look of the -5 handicap which surely won't last long. Of the Boks' 22 wins at Loftus, only one has been by less than 5 points (Steyn with a 79th minute penalty against the Lions in 2009, oh how times have changed). The good news if you disagree, is that Sky Bet have Australia at 3.75 to win and are giving them a tasty +9 point advantage on the handicap and with +15 points at 1.5.
Cobus Visagie mentioned on this site about altitude being an advantage for the home side late on and that's backed up by the stats for internationals in Pretoria. The Boks average a 5 point advantage at half-time there but are outscoring teams by 13 points after the break. This would point to taking the Boks on the second-half handicap at -4. To back it up, at other grounds where altitude is a factor, South Africa average a 16 point second-half advantage over the Wallabies in recent games. The slight concern is that the Boks have been outscored second half in 6 of their last 9 games and Australia haven't conceded a try in the final 20 minutes this tournament either, but I'm not going to argue with the 'Drieman'. South Africa are actually performing better in the first-half, with an average lead of 4 points in the last year and only conceding 10 points twice in the opening 40 minutes. The half-time handicap of -3 may appeal or the home side to lead at half-time and also win at 1.83.
There has been an average of 53 total points a game in Pretoria and 50 between these sides so we should see the highest scoring game of the tournament so far. The early points line looks to be 48.5, and with Kurtley Beale and Goosen directing, I'm opting for Overs in this market. Australia have conceded 5/12 tries against wings and Bryan Habana has 6 tries in 16 games against them. The 2.88 for him anytime is about fair. Australia scored 4 of 8 tries from centre in June, and 1 last week - I like the look of 6.0 for Pat McCabe anytime too.
The All Blacks are able to seal the Rugby Championship in Round 5 and Argentina are still looking for their first win - this situation may have been expected by many fans before the tournament, but it doesn't tell the whole story. The fact that Steve Hansen is criticising Los Pumas for thwarting his team has to be seen as a plus point for the newcomers. It's far better to be riling the 2011 Rugby World Cup winners than receiving sympathetic praise.
New Zealand are comfortably the top side and have won their last 14 games. Despite committing a high number of turnovers per game, they have won 12 of those matches by more than a converted try. There is little sense of satisfaction though. Dominance hasn't been converted into tries and the physicality of blindside flanker Jerome Kaino and lock forward Brad Thorn has been missed up front - there have also been no tries scored by the forwards this tournament. Keven Mealamu has rated the pack's efforts as 'adequate' and they are under no illusions that there has to be an improvement on Argentina's home patch.
After a nervy, error-strewn first game, Los Pumas have kicked on and any fears about them just making up the numbers have quickly been dispelled. Led heroically by Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, they have a pack that can compete with the best but they are lacking that ability to kill a team off in the second-half. In the last 3 games they led against South Africa and Australia and were just 1 point in arrears against the All Blacks at half-time. There is +6.5 available on the half-time handicap if you think those first-half efforts will continue and that amount would have been covered in their previous 3 games against New Zealand. They are yet to score a point in the final quarter in this tournament and have conceded 6/8 tries after the break. A 10 point Argentina lead against the Boks and 13 point advantage over the Wallabies was eroded in the final 20 minutes of those matches and goal-kicking stats of 9 from 19 (with 2 drop-goals missed) aren't helping matters. The All Blacks are -6 on the second-half handicap and have scored 4 of their last 5 tries in the second 40 minutes.
You have to go back to June 1977 for the last time Argentina went 6 games without a win and December 2005 for 3 homes games without victory. The bookies have the All Blacks at a lowly 1.14 and the 8.0 for an upset win may attract the interest of some traders hoping for a strong Argentina start. You sadly can't bet on the number of times the words 'cauldron', 'bear pit' or 'passionate' etc will be used to describe the Estadio Ciudad de La Plata but that home advantage should not be underestimated. The All Blacks have played their last 15 games in either Australia or at home so this experience is a novel one for the younger members of the squad, while only a handful have represented the senior group over in Argentina. The handicap is +14 points with Sky Bet, which Los Pumas would have covered in 5/8 games at home to this opposition and in 41/45 home games against all teams.
The average number of total points in Tri-Nations game was 45, this season has seen just 35 but before everybody blames the Pumas - it's worth noting there have been 3 previous seasons with a tally under 40 too. The average total points in this fixture is 41 so the line of 39.5 points is about right. La Plata Stadium is apparently ranked 5th worldwide for performing events ticket sold in 2011. Having been treated with the Red Hot Chili Peppers last year, the residents get Jaco Peyper in 2012. He has only dispensed 5 cards in his last 21 Super Rugby games so I'm hoping for better than the 1.53 currently around for a sin-bin.
3 of Argentina's 4 tries so far have been scored by forwards and it was 4 from 7 in June. With 5 being scored by the back-row, I am waiting for a decent price for Julio Faras Cabello who scored against Australia last round and New Zealand in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.