The northern hemisphere giants are raring to go but how are their southern counterparts shaping up ahead of the World Cup?

The Wallabies lost all three of their games in The Rugby Championship and now face an uphill task to improve ahead of the World Cup

With some of the top northern hemisphere sides kicking off their World Cup warm-up matches this weekend, their southern counterparts have already been in competitive action in The Rugby Championship.

Over the last month, Australia, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand will have learnt a great deal about themselves and with their preparations for France 2023 now in full swing, Ben King assesses the state of play for the Wallabies, Los Pumas, the Springboks and the All Blacks.

New Zealand are firing on all cylinders

The All Blacks secured three consecutive victories to seal a ninth Rugby Championship title in the last 11 years. 

They started off their campaign with a comfortable win against Los Pumas in Mendoza, in what was only their third-ever visit to the city. Ian Foster’s side then went on to dispatch the Springboks in Auckland - taking their winning streak in this city to 57 games - before claiming yet another Bledisloe Cup against Australia last weekend.

The most important thing New Zealand fans can take from these performances is that Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett can co-exist in the same 15, and can both perform immensely. The two-time World Player of the Year has surely now nailed down the 15 shirt and you would think the same of Mo’unga at fly half, with the Crusaders’ talisman finishing as the tournament's top point scorer.

Shannon Frizell was also a standout performer with his energy and power causing even the physical Springboks some issues. Alongside Frizell, Will Jordan also shone with some outstanding attacking contributions and took his try total to 23 tries in 23 Tests for the All Blacks.

New Zealand will take on France in Paris in the opening game of the World Cup, and with Foster’s men having reclaimed their ruthless edge in the last few months, the All Blacks will fancy themselves to upset the hosts and take top spot in Pool A.

Eddie Jones has work to do with Australia

Eddie Jones’ tenure as Wallabies head coach has got off to a nightmare start, with his side suffering three defeats on the bounce and finishing rock bottom of the Rugby Championship table.

Their campaign began with a heavy loss to a rotated Springbok team, in what was the former England boss’ first game in charge. They then went on to lose in the dying moments against Argentina thanks to a try from Saracens' Juan Martin Gonzalez.

Things went from bad to worse for the Wallabies as they ended their tournament on the wrong end of a 38-7 loss against New Zealand. 

Taking their results at face value, it has been a bad few weeks for Australian rugby,  Jones believes it is not all doom and gloom. "It's still a work in progress," he said after the defeat by New Zealand. "I've coached teams like this before and you can turn it around."

With numerous changes in each matchday squad, Jones seems to have viewed the last few games as a chance to try out new players and combinations. Carter Gordon has earned himself a second consecutive start at fly-half in the return Bledisloe Cup clash in Dunedin.

Mark Nawaqanitawase and Marika Koroibete also had solid tournaments, with the two electric Aussie wingers topping the metres-made chart.

Despite a tough few weeks, Australia are still the highest-ranked side in their World Cup pool - which contains Wales, Fiji, Georgia and Portugal - and they are also on the 'easier' side of the draw. Jones and his impressive World Cup resume could very well take the Wallabies far in the tournament if they can start to click.

Springboks have the depth to challenge 

Despite falling short against New Zealand in Round Two, wins over Argentina and Australia showed that the Springboks definitely still have the quality to challenge for the World Cup and retain their trophy.

Their victory over the Wallabies was dominant, and it was achieved without many of their star players - including the likes of Faf De Klerk, Cheslin Kolbe and Eben Etzebeth. This highlighted the quality and depth of the South African squad as a whole, which Jacques Nienaber knows is a crucial asset to have when looking to go far in a tournament that requires you to play multiple games a week.

"We’ve been emphasising the importance of giving as many players as possible a fair chance to show what they can do with an eye on finalising our Rugby World Cup squad," said the South African head coach earlier this week.

The biggest questions before the Rugby Championship for the Springboks surrounded the 10 shirt, and whether they had an adequate replacement for Handre Pollard’s absence. After a great couple of seasons for the Stormers, Manie Libbok proved he can replicate his quality on the international stage, with two talismanic performances against Australia and Argentina. 

The returning forwards Duane Vermeulen and RG Snyman also added further physicality and experience to the Springboks pack. Despite edging past Argentina last week, the world champions still have plenty of gears to go through.

Argentina remain hard to beat

Michael Cheika will be extremely pleased with how his side fared throughout the tournament, and their win against Australia in Round Two showed they should definitely be taken seriously in France.

The Wallabies were added to Los Pumas’ list of huge wins in the last 18 months after taking down New Zealand and England away from home in that time.

They caused South Africa a lot of problems at Ellis Park last week, and the result may have swung their way if it wasn’t for Santiago Carreras’ two missed kicks.

Argentina also find themselves on the favourable side of the World Cup draw, and their flair in the backline coupled with their grit in the forward pack make Los Pumas a quiet favourite to reach the latter stages of the tournament.

They open their campaign on September 9th against England and on current form, the likes of Julian Montoya and his teammates look set to provide a few upsets in France.