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 Three of the inaugural spectacle pits the All Blacks against the Pumas before Australia face the Boks for the first time since RWC 2011.
Remember you can contact Russ with all your comments and questions on Twitter - @rpetty80.
The number one side in the world are still in second gear - a sobering thought for their rivals considering the All Blacks have won their last twelve games at an average of 47-10, (under Steve Hansen it's 35-10). They let a handful of genuine try-scoring chances go begging against Australia in their last match and the high number of turnovers and problems with the line-out continued. That being said, they kept a team scoreless for the second time in three matches. There have been a few pieces in the media comparing this match to the third Test against Ireland, with the suggestion that the ABs are likely to improve their accuracy in attack and hand out a drubbing to the new boys. That 60-0 match saw a number of Chiefs picked to play in front of their home crowd, and the trend has continued with the Hurricanes players introduced for this Wellington clash. The expected one-sided win is certainly reflected in the odds with just 1.02 available at Sky Bet.
Los Pumas disappointed in their first game against South Africa, conceding far too many penalties and were let down by individual errors. The return leg was a different story, as the South Africans struggled to cope with the intensity at the breakdown. It has to go down as a wasted chance for Argentina and the question is whether they can bring that fire into away games, without a passionate crowd roaring them on. They've missed 5/10 attempts at goal (and 1 drop goal) and that level of accuracy has to improve against New Zealand. The bookies aren't giving them a chance, with an incredible 34.0 around for the upset win. I'll be honest, and admit that I've been seduced by that price and had a small bite of it. All it takes is Argentina to score first from a penalty and I can trade out. The return of Juan Martin Hernandez at fly-half is an interesting one, a classy player on his day but surely not fully fit and too many of those trademark high bombs could feed Israel Dagg and company.
The off-field talking point has been Graham Henry's involvement with the Pumas. Equipped with knowledge of the All Blacks' strengths and weakness and an understanding of how Hansen coaches, his assistance is going to prove vital. If he can get the visitors attacking with ball in hand while keeping a solid defence then this will be closer than many expect.
The All Blacks have won 14 out of 16 games in Wellington (average win of 36-13) and have won 13 matches and drawn one against Argentina with an average score of 44-14. The last meeting was that hard-fought 33-10 victory in the World Cup. The visitors lost four line-outs that day but proved tough to break down and in a repeat of that match there will be no Carter.
How you approach this match betting-wise will really depend on whether you think Los Pumas will continue to prove a tough team to play against or whether the All Blacks attack (with plenty of changes) is going to click. I'm thinking the former so I'm on the handicap of +28 points - a hefty amount when you consider that going back to 2000, only 6/112 Argentinian games have seen them defeated by more than 28 points. The Kiwis have won five of their last twelve games by 31 points or more but Argentina are going to offer far more resistance than Canada, Japan, Tonga and are better rested than an injury-filled Ireland team, coming to the end of their season. Taking that big handicap also means being on the right side of any poor Wellington weather that may come in. The average half-time score in games between the sides is 20-8 which means Argentina +13 at half-time with Sky Bet is worth a look while a few of the smaller winning margins for NZ such as 1-10 points at 7.5 or 11-20 points at 4.0 (also Sky Bet) look preferable to snapping them up on the handicap.
Robbie Deans may be contracted to Australia until the end of next season but is currently under enormous pressure. Originally set the goal of winning the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship, the target now is to 'finish as well as we can'. He's now lost fourteen of seventeen games against the All Blacks and there was the sense that neither he nor his side actually thought they could beat their opponents in the last two games. Neither the fulsome praise he bestowed upon the men in back nor the sight of Wallabies smiling at the full-time whistle went down well with supporters. Putting that unfavourable head-to-head record aside for a moment,(and in fairness there aren't any teams that are on a level with the All Blacks at the moment) what is more concerning is that the Wallabies, once so sharp in attack - now look ponderous and seemingly without a plan. With injuries to key players in James Horwill, James O'Connor, David Pocock and Drew Mitchell, inconsistency in team selection and playmakers like Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper looking out of form, the only glimmer of hope was the emergence of lock Sitaleki Timani and flanker Michael Hooper.
Heyneke Meyer has found out the honeymoon period doesn't last long after two draws in his last three games, though there were rumblings of discontent before he even named his first squad. He has made no secret of the fact that his side is going to play in the same vein as the Bulls dynasty he once oversaw. The Boks are always going to have a game based around physicality, but the lesson that they aren't going to be able to bully teams every game needs to be learnt, while the lack of creativity is starting to rile fans and ex-coaches alike.
The lack of a 'fetcher' has meant both England and Argentina turned over plenty of their ball too. The surprise pick of Francois Louw is a concession that such a player could be needed against Hooper and perhaps Liam Gill, 'horses for courses' as Meyer put it this week.
The sides met 36 times in the old Tri-Nations competition, with Australia winning 18 games, South Africa 17 and one game being a draw. The Wallabies have the advantage in recent exchanges having won six of the last seven games and possessing a record under Deans of eight wins from twelve games. At home, Australia have won fourteen out of eighteen games against the Boks in this competition, by an average of 26-15. Extended to all games, Australia have won 21/32 home games against them by an average of 21-15.
Australia are best priced at 1.73 to win, with the Boks at 2.63. With only three wins from their last 22 games on Australian soil, I'd normally be looking to oppose South Africa and snapping that home price up, but this is anything but a normal situation for the Wallabies. The Australian tendency to concede penalties at the scrum is not a desirable attribute when facing South Africa nor when being refereed by Nigel Owens. The poor kicking game is a concern when clashing with a Meyer-coached team and their counter-attacking threat (a dangerous weapon against a kick-happy team) could be negated by the fact that the players don't look confident enough to give it a go or are executing poorly when they do. South Africa of course, have their problems - mainly a costly habit of giving away penalties and coughing up possession (either through handling error or lost in a ruck / maul) in the opposition 22 but the inclusion of Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half gives them control, while Duane Vermeulen adds some balance to the back-row. The visitors also have a very good record in Perth - with three wins and a draw from six matches. In this battle of out-of-sorts teams, the price for South Africa to win looks the better option. The handicap is +5 points and again I am siding with the Boks. The Wallabies may have won the last three home games against them by 15+ points, but I can't see that kind of margin landing in this match. If the expected kicking duel occurs then having a five-point cushion is going to be very useful. I'm not expecting many tries but Bryan Habana has five in fifteen games against Australia and four in eight on Australian soil so the 3.5 for him to score anytime or 15.0 for the first try is rather tempting.