Rugby Championship player matchups, Rd 1 - Israel forces ready for battle video

Wallabies fullback Israel Folau is a constant threat, and will be a vital part of the Australian side if they are to ...
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Wallabies fullback Israel Folau is a constant threat, and will be a vital part of the Australian side if they are to upset the All Blacks.

The Rugby Championship gets underway this weekend, and Stuff brings you the best player matchups to look out for.

ISRAEL FOLAU (Wallabies) v ISRAEL DAGG (All Blacks)

It's a battle of the fullbacks, and a battle of the Israels, at Sydney's ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.

If the Wallabies are to cause an upset in this one, you suspect Folau will play a massive part, as he's the man with the x-factor for the Australians, while Dagg has rocketed back into the All Blacks' top lineup and will be fizzing to repeat the strong form he showed in June against Wales.

Both men should be raring to go after not featuring in the Super Rugby playoffs.

Despite not featuring in the finals, Folau was the top try scorer (11) in the competition and was sixth for offloads (24), as he spent time at centre for the Waratahs.

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Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has reinstated the 27-year-old back in his regular spot, and this gives him the opportunity to diffuse the All Blacks' high kicks - he's so good in the air - and roam at the rear, ready to light up a counter attack.

While the Aussies were outgunned 3-0 by England in June, Folau still showed his power - his 1.93m, 103kg frame is just immense to bring down - and touches of class, like his soft hands and ability to put his outsides away.

Lining up against him is Dagg, and who would have thought we'd be saying that just a few months ago?

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After recovering from a shoulder injury, the 28-year-old kicked into such a gear for the Crusaders that he found himself back in black, then played out of his skin in his two opportunities against the Welsh, which has seen Ben Smith pushed to the wing.

The 1.86m, 96kg Dagg still has speed to burn - that length of the field effort in Dunedin still sticks in the memory - while his efforts under the high pill are also excellent. He still presents that trademark goose step and can ignite the All Blacks in the blink of an eye, with sound support running lines also a fine trait.

Look for Dagg's raking boot to also play a big part in getting the visitors out of some tight situations.

MICHAEL HOOPER (Wallabies) v SAM CANE (All Blacks)

This will be a great clash of the openside flankers, with Hooper no doubt excited to now not see the face of Richie McCaw standing opposite him.

The Wallabies' fetcher has been the heart and soul of Australian rugby for the past wee while, playing almost every minute available to him, making tackle after tackle, hitting ruck after ruck, taking charge after charge, winning turnover after turnover, then getting up and doing it all again.

He's only 24, Hooper, and has already racked up 54 tests (48 starts). He debuted the same year as Cane - 2012 - with the Kiwi having notched 34 tests (16 starts) as he's waited his turn behind the great former captain.

Cane has only just made the No 7 jersey his own before feeling the heat from Ardie Savea - both in the All Blacks as well as in Super Rugby - and has been on the mend from a concussion as he goes into this one. He'll be primed to blunt Hooper's effectiveness, and will need to be physical at the breakdown and also quick off the mark. Give the Wallaby half a second and bang, he'll be in on the ball.

During Super Rugby Cane's tackle success was 3.9 per cent better than Hooper's and he produced nearly double the offloads, though from roughly the same amount of carries the Aussie ran more than twice Cane's metres and was a far bigger threat to the defences.

ELTON JANTJIES (Springboks) v NICOLAS SANCHEZ (Pumas)

Moving the gaze to the other match of the weekend, in Nelspruit on Sunday morning (NZ time), and it will be an interesting showdown between the two first five-eighths, as Argentina look to repeat their first-ever victory over South Africa when they triumphed last year.

Jantjies was exceptional for beaten finalists the Lions in Super Rugby, showing an array of skills - look for his beautiful dinks over the top - that saw the 26-year-old earn a recall to the national side for the June series against Ireland, four years after his debut.

Sanchez, 27, is entering his 43rd test, having first turned out for the Pumas in 2010, and his experience and game management will be vital for the visitors if they are to sniff an upset.

While Sanchez played in a quite underwhelming Jaguares side in their debut year of Super Rugby, he surprisingly actually outdid Jantjies in some of the stats. He averaged 4.39 metres per carry to Jantjies' 3.72, and while Sanchez played three games less he made 10 clean breaks to seven and trailed just 24-23 in defenders beaten.

But Jantjies produced 19 offloads to eight and 16 try assists to four. He also enjoyed a 6.5 per cent advantage in his tackling success, at 70 per cent, while Sanchez's goalkicking was 3.7 per cent better than Jantjies', at 76.1.

 - Stuff

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