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1)Time to topple the All Blacks? Three Championships, three titles, New Zealand have carried on from where they left off in the Tri-Nations, sweeping all before them. They have been beaten (occasionally) but they have not been trumped. They have 13 southern hemisphere titles to their name, 10 ahead of their supposed close rivals, South Africa and Australia. Yet the Wallabies did get the better of them prior to the 2011 Rugby World Cup (much good it did them in the tournament itself) and South Africa play the All Blacks in Jo’burg in this season’s abbreviated Championship. Time for a change? Never bet against the All Blacks. And yet…

2) One of the World Cup finalists (at least) will come from this Championship. The southern superpowers have won six of the seven World Cups. The world will be watching this shortened version with interest.

3) Rugby Championship or Six Nations – which is your fancy? The Six Nations every time. The Championship offers a higher grade of technical skill but it lacks the colour as well as the pageantry. It is for the purist not for the travelling fan.

4) Fingers crossed in the coaches’ box. Where would a coach rather be – in Denver or Doha, or wherever the northern hemisphere sides are hanging out for their summer training sessions, or watching through their fingers as their main men batter each other? South Africa are already without a clutch of front-liners, including influential No 8 Duane Vermeulen. There will be more casualties, injuries that will have a significant knock-on effect in the World Cup.

5) Names to watch – New Zealand wing Nehe Milner-Skudder, Wallaby playmaker Matt Giteau (returning from exile in Toulon), South Africa centre Damian de Allende and Argentina flanker Facundo Isa.

6) From Wobblies to Wallabies? Can Michael Cheika, the hard-nosed, straight-talking, no-nonsense former Stade Francais, Leinster and Waratahs coach, stiffen the sinews of Australia after a wretched season last year? There were off-field scandals and upsets – the Kurtley Beale textgate splitting the camp – and on-field reverses, culminating in the exit of previous coach Ewen McKenzie. Their November tour tailed off with three losses to France, Ireland and England. The pack needs steel (as ever) for the backs to perform. Cheika has a track record of achievement. If he gets it right in the Championship, then England and Wales will be on their World Cup mettle.

7) Last hurrahs. There will be a distinct changing of the guard after this Rugby Championship with a battalion of Kiwi warriors such as centre Conrad Smith, fly-half Dan Carter and centre Ma’a Nonu all bound for France while the likes of Richie McCaw and front-rowers Kevin Mealamu and Tony Woodcock are expected to retire. Springbok lock Victor Matfield also on a last tour of duty.