Having watched some tremendous play in the Rugby Championship which concludes this weekend, I am now more certain than ever that the World Cup this autumn will not be won by a Southern Hemisphere team.  I have consistently tipped host nation France to lift the William Webb Ellis Trophy and I saw nothing to change my mind in the performances by New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and Argentina.

First of all, however, a couple of remarks. Following Viaplay’s announcement that they are pulling out of their non-Nordic sports deals, some way must be found for Scotland’s international matches and the United Rugby Championship to be broadcast. Preferably it would be the BBC and/or ITV-STV to pick up the baton, but frankly any kind of broadcaster must be found. 

What we must now call Scottish Gas Murrayfield – I’ll be monitoring that deal to see what the clubs get out of it – will host the first of Scotland’s four World Cup warm-up matches on Saturday. I am writing this before the teams are announced, obviously, so for me the big question is who will take Stuart Hogg’s place at full-back against Italy. I’ve already suggested Blair Kinghorn, but I am sure head coach Gregor Townsend will want to experiment in that vital role. 

It’s not a must-win match, but the Scottish squad could give themselves a real confidence booster before the double header with France. A repeat of the Six Nations performance against the Azzuri won’t be good enough - yes we won but I remind you we were seconds from defeat until Italy knocked on under the posts before Kinghorn scored that brilliant breakaway try.         

Back to the Rugby Championship which has featured four good matches so far but only two that I thought were out of the top drawer. The Championship took a break last weekend and will conclude this Saturday  – thanks to poor scheduling there will be a clash between the match at Scottish Gas Murrayfield and the South Africa v Argentina game, so the replay button will come in handy.

My conclusion about the Championship so far is that all the teams have tried to outmuscle each other as is the case with much of modern international rugby, but it was the occasional pieces of real flair that eventually triumphed. 

Argentina, for example, were quite predictable against the All Blacks, who flew out of the blocks and were three tries up inside 12 minutes, the last of those a quite scintillating break from inside their own 22 for the likely try of the tournament.  The difference between the two teams was that the All Blacks could mix it up between forward rumbles and incisive play by the backs while Argentina were forced onto the back foot and more or less stayed there.

In the  other first round match, South Africa thrashed Australia who conceded two penalty tries and simply could not cope with the Springboks’ power play and the remarkable running of Kurt-Lee Arendse, the winger who crossed for three tries. Scotland must devise a way of containing try machine Arendse before we play them in our opening match in France on September 10.

After his spell with England, Australia’s head coach Eddie Jones has the copyright on the book of excuses, but the weekend before last, Jones admitted the Wallabies had no excuse for their failure to beat Argentina. The game was theirs for the taking, after they came from behind to lead only for Argentina to mount a famous last charge which ended with No. 8 Juan Martin Gonzalez diving over for the winning score.

I noted what Jones said afterwards: “It’s a bad loss. That’s not a game we should have lost. We’ve only got ourselves to blame. It’s more than discipline. A lot of it is about our decision-making around the ball. We gave the ball far too many times back to them.” Jones has a few days to fix things but I just don’t see it happening and I expect the All Blacks to hammer the Wallabies.

New Zealand thoroughly deserved to beat World Champions South Africa, but I thought Cheslin Kolbie was wrongly denied a try in the first half. No argument about Shannon Frizell’s try in 14 minutes, however, and there was a touch of Jonah Lomu in the way he ran right over the Springbok defenders.  Again, however, it was the All Blacks’ flair that won them the game to set up a likely championship.  

Being a traditionalist I would like to see much more open play by every international side, but Ireland, France, South Africa and Ireland  have a potent mix of power and flair at the moment, which is why they are the top four in the world rankings, with a clear break to the fifth-placed team – Scotland. 

Let’s see who can continue their form into the World Cup.