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.
The final round of the inaugural spectacle will pit South Africa against the All Blacks at Soccer City before Argentina host the Wallabies in Rosario.
Remember you can contact Russ with all your comments and questions on Twitter - @rpetty80.
The All Blacks put a record score on Argentina last week and it can't be a coincidence that they kept the turnovers down to 5. They had averaged 18 errors a game in the previous 7 matches (with no match seeing less than 14), which had limited the number of tries scored, but were far more ruthless against Los Pumas. The match was played at a high intensity and crucially Steve Hansen and co worked out how to bypass the previously effective Argentinian defence by varying the points of attack and playing with width. Amongst the numerous positives for NZ was the return to form of Ma'a Nonu, clear evidence that Dan Carter has recovered from injury and the promised improvement from the pack led by Richie McCaw. That his side kept to the plan and refused to panic after going behind early in such a hostile environment will also have pleased the coach. The 16 missed tackles and conceding early tries at the start of each half will have been less happily received though. McCaw has 15 wins against South Africa, meaning only Justin Marshall has more in and black shirt against them, while Carter has scored 231 points in 16 games.
South African captain Jean de Villiers is taking a bit of stick for his "we haven't changed one thing" interview. He went on to explain that they have always been trying to attack space, but had just executed better in that win over the Wallabies. It does seem that he is following the party line and perhaps trying to shift some of the media focus / pressure off Johan Goosen who had already gained attention this season - averaging 16 points a game for the Cheetahs and scoring 145 points in 574 minutes in Super Rugby. It won't be the media running down his channel on Saturday though. The skipper's move to 12 and the introduction of the young fly-half and Jaco Taute clearly made a difference and whilst there were roughly the same number of kicks from hand and carries as in the game before, the number of passes rocketed up by 40. It may have been due to injury, lack of form of players or simply the ability to learn lessons but Meyer has moved slightly away from his anti-fetcher mentality and was rewarded with a great performance from Francois Louw. What hasn't changed for the Boks is the goal-kicking woes. They started the tournament with a 100% performance against Argentina but the 22% against New Zealand was costly and while 33% against Australia didn't have a bearing on the result it's an area that will have to improve when they take on a side that are masters of keeping the scoreboard ticking along.
Despite the tournament winners being crowned last week, there is still plenty to look forward to and this match has the potential to be a cracker. Both sides had previously struggled to convert opportunities and then found their attack clicking last week so it will be interesting to see who can back it up against tougher opposition. The Boks have won 24 of 43 games at home to the All Blacks and 8 of 18 in the competition. Those 18 matches can be split further as New Zealand won 6/8 games between 1996 -2003 and there have been 6 home wins from 10 games since then - by an average score of 23-22. South Africa have 8 wins from 12 games against these opponents at Johannesburg by an average score of 23-20. Under Meyer there have been 4 wins and a draw on home soil and I had to take a bite of the 3.75 available for a Bok victory at the start of the week and the +7 handicap, purely on price. It's down to 3.0 and +5 now so it's always worth having a look as early as possible.
The half-time scoring markets in Soweto need some attention - the Boks have led at the break in 23/32 and 7/10 home games as well as 8/10 on their turf in this competition. Against the All Blacks they have been in front at the half in 11/18 Rugby Championship games played in South Africa (including the last 4 in a row) and in 10/12 games in Jo'burg. I like the 2.4 for Boks to lead at half-time and the evens for a +2 handicap with Sky Bet.
Of the 10 Tri-Nations wins for the All Blacks in South Africa, 9 have seen them outscore the hosts in the second-half and by 7 or more points. The Boks have conceded 4 of their 6 tries this tournament in the second-half and have previous form for allowing late NZ scores in Johannesburg (2010). The All Blacks are -2 on the second-half handicap and South Africa HT / New Zealand FT is 7.0 with Sky Bet. I will be getting involved in-play for this game, with a view that the Boks will at least hold their own until the 60th minute but may fade late on.
Looking at try scorers - Bryan Habana has 4 tries in 16 games against the All Blacks and has been in fine scoring form this tournament while Goosen scored a try in each of his games against NZ teams in Super Rugby and wasn't far off last week. They are available at 3.25 and 7.0 respectively. Israel Dagg has 3 tries in 4 games against the Boks and having missed out on the action last week, will be keen to get involved so the 3.5 price is worth monitoring. South Africa leaked tries at home to England duo Danny Care and Ben Youngs earlier in season and with Aaron Smith looking sharp, I am happy to back him at 6.0.
It may set off the lazy cliché klaxon but the tears of pride from Goosen last week stood in contrast to the absent Wallabies fly-half currently being 'killed as a player and a person' by an apparent 'toxic environment'. It's always difficult to quantify how damaging off-field shenanigans are to a team - they clearly distract but a bigger problem was the injury list. South Africa is a tough place to visit even with a full strength team so Australia were up against it with the players they had missing - both before and then during the game.
Andrew Blades played in the November 1997 matches in Argentina so will be fully aware of what the pack are in store for. When he took over the forwards, Blades discussed about how difficult it was to change the perception of referees and how Australia invariably lose out on the 50-50 scrum calls. Going on rugby stereotypes then this would be an area that Argentina should have a big advantage in while the prop-rotation tactic may need rethinking after the farce last week. It's a shame you can't bet on what time Benn Robinson is subbed on.
Argentinian pride will have been wounded after that All Black onslaught but in the long run it may prove a valuable lesson. They scored a good try from set-piece early on but after that it was a struggle. Any attempts to slow down ball were penalised, while the opposition pack elevated their ferocity in the 'clear-out' which gave Smith and Carter chances to attack.
Argentina kicked 15 times, passed 147 times with 100 runs last week, which differs to 25 kicks, 53 passes, 53 runs in the first game against NZ. It will be fascinating to see how quickly it takes for them to find the balance between simply slowing down opponents and the 'kamikaze' attack we witnessed last week. Up against an out of position full-back, I think we may see a few more kicks and I can't see Rodrigo Roncero and the forwards wanting another 'coast to coast' running game. What counts against them, is that Los Pumas have failed to exert any pressure on the board from kicks at goal - with a sloppy rate of 41%.
The Wallabies have been involved in some lucrative upsets for punters recently (Samoa, Scotland) but the bookies are fully prepared here. The fixture on the Gold Coast saw Los Pumas given a 14-point advantage but it's down to just 1 or 2 points in Rosario. As a general rule, if you know there is going to be adverse weather conditions or a weakened team fielded etc and the bookies are pricing up on reputation then you can find some value. However this game has been circled for a while by many as the most likely chance for an Argentinian win and the Wallabies injuries haven't done anything to shake that view, nor has pressure on Robbie Deans, travel factor and Argentina's usual strength on home soil.
The betting firms have to work a bit harder to get people to back the Wallabies, with them to win by 1-10 points at 3.25 standing out. The hosts haven't won in 6 games and were just beaten by 39 points so that price may prove popular with Australian optimists. However, I'm with the Pumas and have taken the win at 2.2 and the +2 handicap, as well as a smaller play on a 1-10 point win at 3.4. Australia have trailed by at least 3 points at half-time in the championship so the 2.1 with Sky Bet for Argentina to be in front after 40 minutes appeals.
Argentina have scored the first try in their last 4 games and its 1.95 for them to repeat that trend against a side who are yet to score a try in the first quarter. The Los Pumas' 6 tries so far have come in the opening 20 minutes of halves which is a plus when playing Australia who have conceded 7 of their 11 tries in those periods. Second-half is a different matter with the South Americans being outscored by at least 7 points in each of the games. They also have failed to score a point after the 56th minute. Australia have scored 5 of their 6 tries after the break and this would normally point to backing them on that handicap of scratch at 1.91 and perhaps a look at Argentina HT / Australia FT at 7.5. However, their injuries are a massive concern and I think Argentina should be able to hold out for the win in Rosario.
I am also looking at the industrious winger Gonzalo Camacho at 3.75 with Sky Bet to score anytime while I can't miss the chance to back the legend Roncero for the last time at 15.0.