The Lineout’s Calls of the Week

Despite all the action going on in the Men’s game last week, there is little doubt that the highlight of the weekend was the Women’s World Cup Final. Quite frankly it was a game for the ages and New Zealand emerged worthy Champions over a brave and resolute English team who remained an exceptionally hard side to beat right to the end. History was made as we witnessed the biggest crowd ever seen for a Women’s game with the legendary Eden Park in Auckland being completely sold out. It was a thrilling final that showcased just how far the Women’s game has come in the last ten years and the promise it holds for the future.

In the Men’s Game, it was a weekend of thrills, spills and a few surprises. Italy made a statement in Florence by snatching a historic victory over Australia. Wales finally got back to winning ways against Argentina and England fixed their wobble against the Pumas by cruising past Japan. The dustup in Marseille between France and South Africa lived up to its billing and was an edge of your seat affair. It was a big physical encounter, complete with some seemingly inevitable controversy and a red card being seen by both sides, with France just squeaking past their bruising visitors. Lastly on Sunday, Scotland looked set at one point to finally break their All Black Hoodoo, but Murrayfield hearts got broken once more as the visitors righted their ship in the final quarter.

So here’s what kept our pints frothy in an action packed weekend!

A glorious tournament ends with a rousing finale leaving the world hungry for more!

New Zealand were crowned World Champions in a thrilling final that will stay on our highlights reel for many years to come!

Wow – what a thriller is all we can say!!!! The Women’s World Cup Final surpassed our expectations and then some. World Cup Finals often tend to be slightly dour and anticlimactic affairs at least in the Men’s Game. Well not so in the Women’s game – the silverware showdown at Auckland’s Eden Park in front of a sellout crowd between hosts New Zealand and England was a genuine spectacle from start to finish. That was some of the most exciting rugby between two teams that we’ve seen in quite some time. In short we were riveted to our televisions screens as a game unfolded that was a fitting finale to six glorious weeks of rugby. The only negative being we have to wait another three years for the next one.

England came into the match on the back of an unprecedented 30 game winning streak, while New Zealand simply shifted it up another gear every game they played. By the time the Black Ferns arrived at Eden Park last Saturday, a season of testing was over and they were in race day form and then some. As predicted England’s rolling maul wreaked havoc and accounted for three of their five tries. Twenty minutes into the first half and English winger Lydia Thompson unfortunately saw red in an awkward tackle on New Zealand’s Portia Woodman. The first half was played at an unbelievable pace with seven tries being scored by the two sides and left us exhausted just watching. The fitness levels of both teams was nothing short of extraordinary.

The second half started with a roar as New Zealand went for a sprint start and scored in the first 30 seconds. The game continued at much the same pace with New Zealand mounting a continuous assault on the English lines ultimately resulting in another try giving them the lead, but England would strike back through their seemingly unstoppable rolling maul and regain control of the scoreboard once more. With fifteen minutes left on the clock, New Zealand would see a yellow card and the teams were even in terms of bodies on the field. However, on the 71st minute a try through an audacious kick squirted through the English defenses showcased New Zealand’s ridiculous skills sets at speed and pace. Winger Ayesha Let-l’iga dotted down the winning try and gave the Black Ferns a slim three point lead. England launched their own final assault on the Black Ferns line for the remainder of the game but their wonder weapon rolling maul was finally undone in the eightieth minute and the rest is history.

But what a history it’s been! Like we say our only regret is that it’s over for another 3 years, until many of these remarkable women meet again in England. However, the good news is that the interest levels in the Women’s game that this tournament has given rise to, look set to continue and grow. Women’s Rugby is now very much on the World Stage and can hold it’s own against the Men’s game in terms of skill and excitement. Many of the players are likely to be snapped up by professional clubs in England and France, meaning that the exposure to professional rugby is likely to grow even more for many of the teams who participated in this year’s tournament. While there were many pitfalls to the the Men’s game turning professional, and the Women’s game is likely to stumble over many of the same speed bumps – the future for Women’s Rugby looks exceptionally bright and rather exciting to say the least!

Not quite the ending Canada wanted, but the challenge is now to seize the momentum that has been created and build on it!

Canada were clearly distraught at their 36-0 loss to France in the bronze medal match, but after the disappointment should come a massive sense of optimism for the future

The image above perhaps sums up what an extraordinary tournament the Women’s World Cup has been, and how rugby’s core values of humility and camaraderie were championed at every twist and turn of a competition that left us all with plenty of feel good factor. As we feared, the sheer enormity both physically and emotionally of Canada having to lift themselves for one more match after giving England such a valiant fight in the semi-finals was going to be a bridge too far. Especially when you consider that it was up against a French side who only lost to the eventual Champions New Zealand by one point.

The semi-final had clearly left Canada’s tank slightly empty, whereas France seemed almost energized by their narrow semi-final loss to New Zealand. Although Canada won the hearts and minds of many at the tournament, France’s fully professional squad looked just that – a side that just doesn’t quit and is surely already striking fear into their Six Nations opponents next year. France clearly had a point to prove that come the next global showdown in three years time, they want to be seen as the side that everyone has to beat. It was a clinical and at times almost effortless performance that left the Canadians without answers.

Once again Canada’s problem with getting their tackle success rate above 80% hurt them, as France constantly put them under pressure physically and out wide on the fringes. A tired but valiant Canadian squad missed 31 tackles compared to France missing only 12, and at this level that can be the kiss of death as France ran in five tries. Add to that France’s rather efficient and effective use of the boot especially when kicking between the posts, and Canada were always going to be playing with one hand tied behind their backs.

While Canada will want and need to put this match behind them, they can reflect on an extraordinary tournament that showcased just what Canada can do if the momentum gained is built on. While Women’s Rugby in this country is unlikely to go professional during the next World Cup cycle, it will be imperative for Rugby Canada to build on the achievements made. Canada will need more regular International games both at home, in order to grow the support for the game, as well as overseas to increase the experience of this exciting group of young players. Support with getting our players professional contracts in Europe also needs to happen, while increasing facilities for training and resources to enable the squad to be together more often need to be made available. Given the success of Major League Rugby, there is a chance that there may be room for expanding it to the Women’s game, but we have a hunch that may be a longer term proposition and in the meantime should not detract from the previously mentioned priorities in the run up to the next World Cup.

In short, from all of us here in Canada, a huge shout out to our Canadian Women and what they have achieved in the last six weeks at the World Cup and to what they can do going forward. Be proud Ladies – you’ve earned it and then some!!!!

Italy’s Child Assassin breaks Australian hearts and in doing so gives the Azurri the faint glimmer of a new dawn

Italy’s sensational fullback Ange Capuozzo is one of the genuine finds of International Rugby this year, but can he and his team really herald a new dawn in Italian Rugby?

Yes we know, it’s customary to talk Italy up ahead of the Six Nations to only see it vaporize by the end of the tournament. However, as jaded as you may be by such statements, there is no denying that, under Coach Kieran Crowley, Italy are humming along rather nicely (imagine what he could have done with Canada had he been given the resources). In short, they are a genuinely exciting team to watch that finally seems to have composure and organization allied to some rather extraordinary individual skill sets. This year has been pretty special for the most part for Crowley and his blue clad charges. Their Six Nations culminated in that famous win over the Welsh in Cardiff, and now there’s an Australian scalp to add to the honors list along with an absolute field day against Samoa.

However, before we all get too carried away, there is one elephant in the room that needs to be mentioned. Many of the players who lit up the Florence pitch last Saturday, unfortunately didn’t have what could be called a pleasant summer vacation. Italy’s summer tour took in the three European contenders for their often disputed place in the Six Nations and it didn’t quite turn out the way they wanted. They struggled against Portugal and only won by a converted try. They then redeemed themselves against Romania but proceeded to implode against the biggest threat to their Six Nations status Georgia.

Italy can take heart in the fact that their remarkable exploits last Saturday were achieved without star kicker and playmaker Paolo Garbisi. A lot of their set piece work was excellent, especially at lineout time and in the scrums and their tackle success rate and overall defense was superior to that of Australia. However, Australia let themselves down and handed Italy endless opportunities with the Wallabies’ ongoing crises with discipline and slightly porous defenses out wide which the Italians exploited to the full. Had Italy had a decent goalkicker last Saturday, given Australia’s disciplinary indiscretions then the score line could have been much more emphatic. As it was Italy missed half of their shots at goal. Australia didn’t fare much better but had the unfortunate Ben Donaldson not been handed the biggest pressure kick possible for the Wallabies on debut at the death, then we would be having a very different conversation.

It was a great result for Italy last weekend even if fortune favored them at the final whistle, but a much sterner Test awaits in Genoa in the shape of a wounded Springbok side reeling from two narrow defeats, and needing a confidence booster ahead of their final Autumn Test against England. It will be hard for Italy to continue to throw the form book out the window this weekend against South Africa, but if they can keep it close and acquit themselves well then there could be reasons to be cheerful this Christmas ahead of the Six Nations for the Azurri and their supporters.

Another one goes awry for South Africa while France continue to surprise but not amaze

So the rumors are true, French lock Sekou Macalou is as much of a threat in the back line as he is in the second row. Macalou impressed in a difficult game for both sides but which saw France do enough to get the better of a Springbok side that looks exceptionally capable yet slightly unsettled.

Remember how last year we were being constantly amazed by France and their exploits on the pitch. We would marvel at some seemingly impossible play executed with almost childlike ease as Les Bleus jostled with Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa for the number one spot in the rankings. Next year’s World Cup hosts are still an awesome unit, make no mistake but somehow they’re just getting the job done as opposed to leaving us speechless. Perhaps in many ways that is exactly what you want a year out from the World Cup.

However, we can’t help feeling that to a certain degree there is a very slight element of luck favoring the French these days. We are not for a minute wanting to get into the post match officiating debates that seem to be plaguing this game. We really do wish South Africa’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus would give his Twitter account a break, even if referee Wayne Barnes who is undoubtedly one of the world’s best, perhaps didn’t have his most stellar performance in Marseille last Saturday. On the plus side in terms of refereeing player welfare, both teams saw red for offences over which there was absolutely no debate whatsoever, as gutted as we were for Springbok back rower Pieter-Steph du Toit who is not by any stretch of the imagination a “dirty’ player. France were in our opinion the marginally better team on the day in a contest between two excellent sides.

France are winning when it matters, but we just don’t feel it’s as emphatic as some of their victories were last year. If anything they seem to prefer leaving it to the death to right the ship this Autumn Nations Series. France were behind against Australia 24-26 until the 74th minute and the exact same scenario unfolded against South Africa, with les Bleus also trailing the Springboks 24-26 until the 74th minute. Whether or not this is some remarkable coincidence or a Coaching ploy by Fabien Galthie and his team to teach France how to dig deep at the death, a skill which has traditionally abandoned them in the past, is debatable. We think not, and somehow France have evolved into efficient tradesmen this year rather than the spectacularly well organized magicians of last year. While many would say that’s the quality you want in the runup to a World Cup, we’d argue that last year’s French wizards were just as adept at their individual trades along with their spell casting skills, making them a lethal and much more fearsome outfit.

Either way it’s all academic now until the Six Nations, as after Japan’s implosion against England last weekend, we doubt we’ll learn much more about France this year when they play their last Test of 2022 against the Brave Blossoms on Sunday in Toulouse. Remember the old adage of “which French team will turn up”? We have a hunch we’ll be revisiting that question a lot more next year than we have recently.

A match that most of the world probably has no idea is happening, but for us here in North America is of crucial importance

Portugal and the USA face off in the deciding game this Friday to determine who gets the last World Cup berth up for grabs

To say that, from a North American perspective, Friday’s final World Cup qualifying game between Portugal and the USA in Dubai is probably THE most important game of this World Cup cycle is the understatement of the year. For the first time since the tournament’s inception in 1987 there is the very real threat that there will be no North American representation at the global showdown next year in France.

Both sides have beaten the other teams vying for that final World Cup berth, Hong Kong and Kenya, and now it’s a clear foot race between the USA and Portugal. They both sit equal on the points table at 10 points each, however Portugal sits atop the table on points difference. Consequently it’s winner takes all tomorrow, with the Portuguese outscoring the Americans in the try department. In short, this game could really go either way, and there is no doubt that Portugal are highly motivated and feeling rather confident. The Americans by contrast don’t seem to be enjoying their day jobs quite as much. On paper you’d think this is a contest the Eagles should be able to edge, but there really are no guarantees.

If the USA fails to qualify then it has enormous implications for rugby as a whole in this hemisphere. Despite the development of the MLR it appears to be operating in a vacuum and has added nothing to the efforts of the Canadian and American national sides, and if anything they have taken a step backwards as a result on the International stage. Some of that may be in part due to the fact that it is still hard to attract domestic based players, with many MLR matchday squads having very high foreign based player contingents. This does wonders for their own national sides but little for Canada or the USA – Chile and Uruguay being a case in point with both having already qualified for the World Cup and many of their players in the MLR. Consequently, Friday’s match has huge bearing on where the game is headed in this part of the world. Although the USA has hosting rights to the 2031 tournament, the next four years could see the game lost in the wilderness in this part of the world if both Canada and the USA have to start from scratch in terms of qualifying for the 2027 tournament in Australia.

We think you may want to glance nervously over your shoulder at events unfolding in Dubai tomorrow. You’ll be able to do so on the Rugby Network for free, see TV page for details. The game kicks off at 1030 AM Eastern, and we think that most of you may have a device surreptitiously streaming somewhere on your desk tomorrow – just don’t tell the boss.

The Lineout Calls of the Week

Much like last weekend we were spoilt for choice regarding what to spill our pints over this past weekend. It got off to a rip roaring start on Friday with the two Women’s World Cup semi-finals, the quality of which in many cases was superior to many of the men’s offerings. Canada gave everything they had against one of the tournament favorites England in a thrilling contest which saw both sides in it till the final whistle. New Zealand and France then duked it out in an equally high octane match which saw the hosts pip their Gallic opponents by a mere point. It’s the final many predicted, but those two semi-finals will stay with us for a long time as their quality was outstanding and showcased just how far the Women’s game has come. France and Canada still have to put their disappointment behind them and rally themselves for the bronze medal game, which we always regard as perhaps the hardest game in the tournament to play psychologically.

Meanwhile in the Men’s game it was full throttle throughout Europe and more than just a few surprises. Scotland got the fright of their lives from a continually improving Fiji and Italy looked rather sharp against Samoa. In many ways there were few surprises as Wales were handed yet another hiding from the All Blacks. The dustup in Dublin lived up to its billing in a huge and closely fought physical encounter, which left the Springboks ruing the lack of a goalkicker as Ireland edged it by the narrowest of margins.

But there were surprises aplenty at the Stade de France and Twickenham. The contest between Australia and France in Paris was a messy affair at times in terms of execution and discipline from both sides, but what a contest we were treated to from both teams. France got a wake up call of note as a result of their one point win over the Wallabies, with the Australians running it to the wire in a thrilling match that had us all on the edge of our seats for the full eighty minutes as the lead changed hands almost continuously. Lastly on Sunday, Argentina in a similarly messy match at times with England, showed that they have the potential to ruin England’s World Cup party next year as the two share the same pool. Their one point victory was completely unexpected, especially when you consider that their Coach Michael Cheika had been doing double duty on Friday night with Lebanon in the Rugby League World Cup.

Heartbreak Hotel for Canada – but the future looks so bright we really do have to wear shades

While Canada were gutted at their 26-19 loss to England in the Women’s World Cup semi-final, they can be immensely proud of their outstanding performance against one of the tournament’s firm favorites that made for a thrilling semi-final and which could have almost been one of the biggest upsets of the year!

Canada gave it their all and then some in their semi-final match against England and came agonizingly close to upsetting the odds. It was a pulsating game from both sides, and Canada made a relentless assault on England’s defenses in the second half. However, much as they have all tournament England held firm and sealed the win.

Canada’s exemplary Captain and one of the undisputed stars of the tournament, Sophie de Goede, clearly found the emotions in the post match interview tough going. We have to admit that we shared her heartbreak and were also having to reach for the tissues. Given that only half of Canada’s World Cup squad play professionally and have a mere fraction of the resources both financial and technical that are available to England, their achievements in this tournament are nothing short of extraordinary. To acquit themselves as well as they did against arguably the best Women’s team in the world is something we can all be exceptionally proud of. It was one of the best games of rugby we’re likely to see all year, and Canada’s Women need make no apologies whatsoever.

The future does look exceptionally bright for Canada’s Women, and we imagine that French and English club talent agents were rushing round post match with their cheque books looking to sign Canadian players. As it is the tight five that played in the semi-final are all signed to English Premiership Clubs. We fully expect to see flanker Fabiola Forteza signed up with a European club within in the year. De Goede is already a star for Saracens, but if they want it we’re sure that it won’t be long before the halfback partnership of Alex Tessier and Justine Pelletier head across the Pond based on their performance this tournament. In the backs Maddy Grant caught the eye and a contract with a big club is surely in her future, and we’re amazed that Sarah Kaljuvee hasn’t been snapped up already. Alysha Corrigan was one of the revelations of the tournament and Saracens will be delighted to have her back. We could go on as these are just a few of the outstanding performers in the red jersey over the past five weeks, but all of the squad stood up and were counted.

What is certain is that Canadian Women’s Rugby is on a fast track to success and the likely increased exposure to full time professional rugby for Canadian Women that this tournament will generate bodes well for the future. Canadian Women’s Rugby unlike the Men’s team has been quietly cementing its place on the world stage and after this tournament, our status in the top echelons of the game must be reinforced. We sincerely hope based on this World Cup that Canada’s future home games can generate big turnouts – imagine a full house at BMO Field in Toronto or BC Place in Vancouver and what that could do for the game in this country!

However, big dreams aside there is still some unfinished business left to deal with in this World Cup. Canada and France have to shrug off the bitter disappointment of not making the final and raise themselves mentally for arguably the most difficult game psychologically in a World Cup – the bronze or third place final. We’re not sure how you summon up the motivation to play in a game that is seen by many as a sideshow to the main event taking place the following day. Still rankings are at stake and statements need to be made by two excellent teams. Both will want to claim the honor of at least being among the top three teams in the world. However, we have a hunch that given where Women’s rugby is in Canada, that status may mean so much more to the Canadians this Friday night. France will have the Six Nations in a few months time to prove their worth but for Canada this is the last chance, for several months at least, to show how far they’ve come.

We’re hoping for a memorable bronze final match, with both teams proving that it is still a game worth playing. We have a hunch that Canada may want the result just that little bit more, but to dismiss this impressive French team would be beyond foolish. May the best side win and let’s give credit to both for giving us some awesome rugby over the last five weeks!

Meanwhile the biggest game this weekend awaits!

While there are some pretty tasty offerings in the Men’s game coming up this weekend, we can’t wait for a World Cup final that showcases an extraordinary five weeks of Women’s Rugbyour only regret being it’s the end of a tournament that has been one of the absolute high points of this year’s Rugby Calendar.

Sure there’s a bunch of Men’s Internationals going on this weekend, but we have a hunch a lot of you will be warming up those PVRs in the wee hours of Saturday morning, or even keeping the espresso machines going to stay up for this one. New Zealand have been electric and England absolutely resolute. The Red Roses head into this match on the back of a truly extraordinary unbeaten 30 game winning streak. In short that’s unheard of in either the Men’s or Women’s game. Surely they must be tournament favorites?

However, New Zealand have got better and better with every game. There is no denying that France ran them down to the barest of wires, and had French fly half Caroline Drouin been luckier with that final kick then we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. Nevertheless there seems to be an almost inevitable momentum growing in this Black Ferns side. Eden Park which is a Fortress for their male counterparts could well become the same for the Ferns on Saturday. Apparently it’s set to be the biggest crowd ever recorded for a Women’s International, and expect the locals to be rather loud to say the least. It all makes for a great spectacle as two teams with very different, but equally effective styles of play go head to head in what should be a thrilling Final. Finals in the Men’s World Cup are often a bit of an anticlimax, with the best games usually reserved for the quarters and semis. However, we have a hunch that in the Women’s game it’s likely to be slightly different.

As we’ve said over on the Podcast we find the Women’s game to resemble a fascinating hybrid of the sevens and fifteen a side game. It’s going to be an arm wrestle of note with England trying to physically suffocate New Zealand and the Black Ferns running the ball from every inch of the park in an effort to exhaust the Red Roses into submission and costly mistakes. In short we can’t wait. As gutted as we were for Canada and France missing out on the final, it is hard to argue against this being the Final that many expected and wanted. Either way we simply can’t look away!

A worthy experiment but one that somehow didn’t work

A bad night at the office for two highly talented players, as South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe and Damian Willemse don’t appear to be the Springboks Plan B when it comes to goalkicking

Much has already been said about South Africa’s lack of a goalkicker last Saturday against Ireland so we don’t want to belabor the point. South Africa switched Cheslin Kolbe off the wing to fullback to help out with the kicking duties and reduce the pressure on Damian Willemse at fly half. In fairness to both, fullback is not Kolbe’s natural position and a Test level goal and place kicker he is not. Willemse on the other hand we feel does have a natural talent for the 10 jersey, but sadly goal kicking is simply not his forte and is unlikely to be so. Sadly, we felt he was under so much pressure regarding his goal kicking that his playmaking abilities suffered at times against Ireland.

In short, South Africa need a goal kicker that can relieve Willemse of some unwanted pressure and allow him to focus on the other core duties of the fly half position, and for which he has shown some impressive aptitude at Test level. Many pundits are expressing growing frustration with the fact that Stormers fly half Manie Libbok is not getting a look in at the 10 jersey. The Springbok Coaching staff have elected to keep Willemse in the starting jersey for their clash with France but, to many South African supporters relief, Libbok is finally granted a place on the bench. Kolbe moves back to his natural berth on the wing and Willie le Roux comes in to save the day for South Africa in the 15 jersey – a role he increasingly seems be given in the run up to the World Cup. Let’s face it while consistency is not always Le Roux’s strong suit when he’s on song he is one of the best counterattacking fullbacks in Test Rugby, and his playmaking skills can genuinely take some of the pressure off Willemse.

It’s an exceptionally strong looking South African side that travel to Marseille to take on a French outfit that looked distinctly vulnerable and rusty at times against Australia last weekend. The tweaks being made to the side may finally strike a balance that South Africa has been looking for all year in terms of both physicality and attack. In short, along with the Women’s World Cup Final this is the game of the weekend and you won’t want to miss it.

France get lucky against a Wallaby side that couldn’t care less about World Rankings

Australia clearly decided to throw the form book out the window as they caused France all sorts of problems on Saturday night in Paris and it was only that rather pesky fellow Damian Penaud who, as he so often does, saved France at the death

Whichever why you cut it that was an exceptionally impressive Wallaby performance last weekend in Paris, that clearly rattled the French and required them to dig very deep into their vault of skill sets. The Wallabies were clearly not fazed by facing off against the number 2 side in the World in their own backyard in front of 70,000 delirious French supporters. Continuing with the above theme of the dustup in Marseille being THE game of the weekend along with the Women’s World Cup Final – France know they need to step up a few gears on Saturday if they are to get past a genuinely awkward and physically dangerous Springbok side. Winger Damian Penaud, as he so often does for France, got them out of jail with one of his trademark “how does he do that” tries. It was remarkable in that it not only sucked in Tom Wright out wide but also Jock Campbell and ultimately Jake Gordon inside of him, as Penaud simply changed direction and burned up a path between the three of them fending off defenders seemingly at ease.

France traditionally start their campaigns slowly and warm to the task as they progress, whether it’s the November Internationals, Six Nations, Summer Tours or ultimately the World Cup. We doubt they’ll look as rusty this weekend, especially as this is a dress rehearsal for a possible quarter final at next year’s World Cup. They will take positives from the fact that they edged the possession and territory stats last weekend and were able to exploit Australia’s ongoing issues around defense. Although they leaked two tries to the Wallabies their ability to win the collisions and dominate the rucks and breakdowns as well as get decent returns from their lineouts still remains exceptional, and they’ll need them to be against South Africa. However, they will be seriously concerned at how their scrum creaked against an opponent not necessarily known for their abilities in that department. If they can’t compete at scrum time then they will be in for a world of hurt when the “Bomb Squad” and company arrive in Marseille.

However, France do seem, unlike in days of old, able to fix their issues fairly quickly mainly due to consistency in selection by Fabien Galthie and their Coaching staff. If they do that and tidy up some silly disciplinary errors, then the arm wrestle in Marseille against the Springboks should be just as enthralling and intense as that in Dublin a week ago. Like we say if you only watch two games this weekend then you’ll want to make sure this is one of them!

“So where do we go from here Eddie – now that all of the children are growing up?”

England Coach Eddie Jones’ selection policies once more seemed to trip him and his charges up this weekend against Argentina

Now that so many of England’s impressive crop of youngsters have grown up, you can’t blame them for wondering why they simply can’t make it into Eddie Jones selection policies, as the English Coach still favors his OAP gang of that ill fated World Cup final. Some people seem to think that he’s been suffering PTSD ever since England’s loss to South Africa in the World Cup Final three years ago, and never really recovered. Others say he’s hiding a bunch of cards up his sleeve to flash out at the World Cup leaving us marveling at England’s charge to the Final – however, that plan didn’t quite work out last time did it when it mattered most.

Given the resources and talent at Jones’ disposal his selection policies defy logic. Whether he and his charges blatantly underestimated the threat Argentina brought to Twickenham last Sunday is probably a debate that will rage on long after this November series, but trip up they did and some of the blame for that lies at Jones’ ongoing issues with selection. While he may be experimenting with combinations ahead of the World Cup, you could argue that if he doesn’t know what they should look like at this stage a year out from the global showdown then England could well find themselves adrift next October.

England simply lacked pace, direction and energy for the most part against Argentina. Apart from the scrum England dominated every single statistic last Sunday, and in most cases by quite some margin, yet at the final whistle still found themselves a point adrift of the Pumas. Argentina simply were far more efficient, enterprising and clinical with what little ball they had, allied to the unshakeable reliability of Emiliano Boffelli’s boot.

Jones decided to stick with a lumpy and misshapen back row that just wasn’t balanced. Maro Itoje is a phenomenal second rower but he simply doesn’t slot seamlessly into the back row like Courtney Lawes. Billy Vunipola is not the bundle of energy he once was, with a raft of talented number 8s in the Premiership snapping at his heels. Ben Youngs pedestrian delivery at scrum half was highlighted in the blink of an eye as his replacement Jack van Poortvliet came on and scored a try in less than a minute. Marcus Smith is clearly growing tired of having Uncle Owen as his babysitter and the 10/12 axis simply isn’t firing, especially as Farrell still clearly plays as if he was wearing the pivot jersey. Eddie Jones’ great savior Manu Tuilagi was kept out of the fray lest he picks up an injury ahead of the encounter with New Zealand making his presence essentially pointless.

There were some highlights with Joe Cokanasiga looking like a genuine gas man out wide – but hang on let’s drop him completely for a game against a side like Japan who also love to run the ball. At least Freddie Steward was his usual outstanding self at fullback. We also thought Alex Coles made an impressive start in the second row and are glad to see he gets rewarded with a spot on the bench against Japan, with Jones also blooding some impressive new young talent in the shape of David Ribbans this weekend.

On the plus side Eddie and England do seem to be taking some notes from last weekend’s upset. Van Poortfliet gets a start at scrum half, Jonny May makes his return on the wing while the impressive Guy Porter gets to partner Owen Farrell in the midfield. However, Jones just can’t let go of his beloved golden oldies as Ben Youngs gets the bench in a match England should win and consequently deny the likes of in form Northampton youngster Alex Mitchell some much needed game time. Billy Vunipola continues keeping the bench warm along with brother Mako and Tuilagi also gets some apparently valuable time on the sidelines.

Eddie Jones and England proved themselves wily operators in the runup to the last World Cup, but it is getting increasingly hard to see a repeat performance come next October. It just looks muddled, confused and smacks of opportunities wasted and lost with England’s impressive raft of youngsters. While there may still be time, it’s increasingly looking like too little too late. England will be under huge pressure to improve on this year’s dismal Six Nations performance come February so don’t expect too much in the way of new talent there and then there is very little game time left prior to France. England have a real chance to showcase where they want to go against a challenging and exciting side like Japan this weekend, and while they are likely to emerge on the right side of the score line at the final whistle, we can’t help feeling that apart from a win a golden opportunity for the future will have been wasted.

Enjoy the rugby everyone this weekend and for those of you in Toronto – Hemingways is the place to be if you’ve been lucky enough to reserve a seat!

The Lineout Calls of the Week

So continuing on from last week’s change in tack with the Lineout’s way forward in terms of how we get our musings out, here is our second go at a weekly whip round of what got us talking. In many ways we were literally spoilt for choice with the start of the Autumn Internationals this weekend and Canada’s Women heading into the semi finals of the World Cup. However, we decided to focus on a big international as well as one that nobody seems to want to talk about, Canada’s shot at World Cup glory, the continuing frustrations around officiating and player welfare. So hopefully there’s something in here that sparks your interest and keeps your pints as frothy as ours this week.

The one that EVERYBODY is talking about this weekend

Number one in the world Ireland, if the rankings are to be believed, take on World Champions South Africa in one of the biggest clashes leading up to next year’s World Cup

As the Autumn Internationals return with a vengeance this weekend a year out from the World Cup, there is plenty at stake and lots to talk about. However, without a doubt the most keenly anticipated fixture this weekend is the Dublin dustup between Ireland and South Africa. Ireland currently ranked number one in the world take on World Champions South Africa, who themselves are ranked third. It is indeed a clash of titans in green, though Ireland for reasons best known to themselves have decided to choose a jersey that is likely going to make it extremely difficult at times to know who’s doing what on the pitch. It’s also likely to lead to some confused officiating at times from the otherwise excellent Georgian referee Nika Amashukeli and his team. Oh and if you plan on watching it in black and white don’t bother.

However, apart from the poor choices in jersey fashion made by the IRFU, it is a mouth watering contest that we can’t wait to watch unfold. Irish supporters have been here before a year out from the World Cup ,with their team riding high only to then crash into oblivion in the early stages of the global showpiece twelve months later. No matter how well Ireland do this Autumn and the Six Nations next year there is still an ominous sense of deja vu. Concerns linger around Ireland’s complete lack of tried and trusted depth in the playmaker position of fly half even though Johnny Sexton is, in the twilight of his career, probably playing the best rugby of his life. However, one critical injury to Sexton and all of a sudden Ireland looks dramatically out of shape despite the enormous depth it can field in every other position on the pitch. If Sexton stays fit until 28th of October 2023 and Ireland doesn’t suddenly implode on the big stage as in tournaments gone by, then these are truly heady days for Ireland and their supporters who have the right to dream big dreams.

It’s an exceptionally solid looking Irish outfit trotting out at the Aviva with most of the big names there including Sexton leading the troops. Interestingly, Ireland have decided to give the wise head of veteran scrum half Conor Murray the start for this one, with superstar of the last twelve months Jamison Gibson-Park warming the bench. Also with a view to development, Ulster’s rock star winger Robert Baloucoune gets a start on one of the biggest possible stages prior to the World Cup.

South Africa have had an inconsistent run since the World Cup and lifting the Webb Ellis trophy. Question marks linger around selection and tactics, as well as leaving it rather late to develop some of the extraordinary new talent that has emerged from the United Rugby Championship. However, on their day the Springboks are still capable of producing absolutely massive performances that revolve around their rather awe inspiring physicality and a degree of organization that looks exceptionally reliable, even if it may not be as enterprising as that of some of their opponents.

South Africa bring their all star forward pack to the Aviva on Saturday in an attempt to completely suffocate any sense of Irish enterprise. Jaden Hendrikse’s excellent form in the Rugby Championship, where we felt he outperformed stalwart Faf de Klerk, is rewarded with a starting berth at scrum half, while the Damian Willemse experiment continues at fly half. Unlike Ireland, South Africa appear committed to being able to field some depth in the 10 jersey come the World Cup. We can only see one real weakness in this Springbok outfit and that’s the center pairing of De Allende and Kriel which we feel can’t hold a candle to Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw and Gary Ringrose who are two of the slickest and most imaginative operators in the business.

In short, this is set to be an epic tussle of two impressive forward packs, wily halfbacks and electric backs. It’s the game of the weekend by a country mile and will tell us a great deal about what to expect in a year’s time at the World Cup, especially given that these two Test powerhouses will also have to face off against each other in the Pool stages. In terms of preparation for the “big one”, Coaches Andy Farrell of Ireland and Jacques Nienaber of South Africa couldn’t ask for better preparation, all aided and abetted by the fact that all these players will get continued exposure to each other over the course of this year’s United Rugby Championship. By the time the World Cup rolls around these two teams will know each other inside out, making Saturday’s dress rehearsal for their Pool clash a year later one of the most fascinating fixtures of 2022.

And the one that strangely nobody wants to talk about given its implications

This weekend’s start of the qualification process for that last spot up for grabs at next year’s World Cup has somehow slipped under the radar, as the US desperately seek to unseat Portugal and ensure that there is a representative of the game in North America at the tournament

The qualifying tournament for that last coveted berth at next year’s World Cup which will be taking place in Dubai over the next three weekends has huge ramifications for the global game and North American Rugby in particular. Consequently we are rather perplexed that we can hardly find any news of it – and trust us we have gone digging. It features four teams in a competition spread over three weekends. Of the four teams participating, USA, Portugal, Kenya and Hong Kong – the Americans and Portuguese are the clear favorites ranked 19th and 20th respectively.

Portugal are one of the best emerging European nations and in the recent Rugby Europe annual tournament, which is like a Tier 2 Six Nations, Portugal finished fourth. However in the last twelve months they have put in some big performances. They have beaten Canada, given Japan a scare, drawn with Georgia and also gave Italy the fright of their lives. Portugal have participated in one World Cup in 2007.

The Americans meanwhile lurch from one crisis to another. Although they beat Canada in their initial attempt to qualify for the World Cup, they then lost to Uruguay. In their second attempt to qualify they were beaten out by Chile. They were then humiliated by New Zealand 104-14 and then in the warmup for this tournament lost both their games to South African provincial sides the Cheetahs and Pumas. In short they are low on confidence, something Portugal seems to have in spades. If the USA fail to qualify for the World Cup it will be the first time since the tournament’s inception that a North American side will not be represented, and only the second time the Americans have missed the party. It’s hardly a good advertisement for growing the men’s game in this part of the World. We can thank Canadian and American Women’s rugby for righting the ship in that regard, but given that the US is scheduled to host the Men’s global showpiece in 2031 it’s rather a poor advertisement for the sport in this part of the globe if we have to wait another four years to be represented.

So whether you’re a Canadian or American supporter we have a hunch that for the love of the game in this part of the world you may well be humming the “Star Spangled Banner” into your pints over the next three Sundays.

A legend is born as Canada’s Women face the toughest challenge of all this weekend in their semi-final against tournament favorites England

Canadian Captain Sophie de Goede has been one of the stars of the Women’s World Cup and an exemplary Captain of a team that has certainly made people sit up and take notice

We can hardly wait for tomorrow night and seeing our outstanding Canadian women take to the pitch at Auckland’s legendary Eden Park to face off against World Cup favorites England. As Canada’s exemplary Captain Sophie de Goede has pointed out, despite the David and Goliath nature of the contest the Canadians are not daunted by the Red Roses, and to a woman have all made huge personal sacrifices to make it to this point. While many of the Canadian team may still be amateurs their motivation and dedication to purpose is 110% professional. Although an increasingly large number of the Canadian team are now playing in England’s professional league, with Sophie de Goede herself being a regular match day starter for Saracens, many of the players running out tomorrow have had to make some incredibly hard choices to play the game between careers, families and friends.

England may seem invincible and head into tomorrow’s match on an unprecedented 29 game winning streak, but there are aspects of Canada’s game that could cause them problems. Canada will have to be giant slayers tomorrow if they are to progress to a final date with either New Zealand or France, but they seem rather comfortable with the underdog tag. In terms of physicality they can give as good as they get and they are just as competitive as England in the set pieces. England have tended to favor a very physical game so far that relies heavily on rolling mauls, an area where Canada have tended to be defensively strong. If England do decide to vary it up and employ a running game which they are no slouch at either, only being outdone in meters made so far in the tournament by New Zealand, then they could target Canada’s one big weakness so far.

Canada have one Achilles Heel that got exposed in their two matches against the Americans and that is their tackle success rate. It only averaged 77% over the two games and if they are to take on a side like England, especially if the Red Roses open the game up, that has to be in the mid to high 80s at a bare minimum if they are to stand a chance. If they can’t fix it then they simply have to physically pressure England into mistakes and lapses of discipline where they can punish them with the boot. Sophie de Goede was exemplary at the kicking tee in Canada’s quarter final against the USA and she’ll need to bring that accuracy to this match, as any points left begging could well make or break the outcome of this match if Canada are able to remain in the hunt. Canada will have to control the restarts, and really test England under the high ball and gain some traction in the aerial contests if they are to stand a chance tomorrow night allied to their strengths in the set pieces and at the breakdown.

Some are saying that this could be a bridge too far for De Goede and her charges, but whatever happens she and her teammates will all have carved out their own bit of history and will still have a shot at a third place finish should they stumble against England. Sophie de Goede has been an outstanding Captain and has already ensured that she can walk with the best in the modern game as well as claim her place amongst the greats of Canadian rugby.

Once again blatant inconsistency in officiating and interpretation of the rules makes a mockery of our game!

Sorry but we’re utterly baffled how it’s a Yellow card for Scotland’s Glen Young and Red Card for New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick, while player welfare seems to be thrown under the bus once again

We are not ones to nitpick over official’s decisions, or to say that they cause games to be won or lost. However, we can no longer stand by and watch some of the outrageous recklessness that could cause players to suffer injuries that may have serious implications in later life. Watching the first two Autumn Internationals we were literally gob smacked at the inconsistency in decision making by the officials at the expense of player welfare.

In the first instance in an attempt to clear out a Japanese player from a ruck, New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick charged directly into the back of Japan’s Kazuki Himeno’s head and neck with his shoulder. Admittedly Himeno was low, which made it difficult but it was still irresponsible and could have had serious consequences. Georgian Referee Nika Amashukeli after consultation with his team and the TMO adjudicated it a red card and Retallick is now unable to participate in New Zealand’s Autumn tour till possibly their final match against England. It was the right call – plain and simple and Amashukeli and his team are to be applauded for “interpreting” it correctly.

Now fast forward twelve hours later to Murrayfield and Scotland’s game against Australia. In a mirror image of what happened in Tokyo, Scotland’s Glen Young commits exactly the same offence attempting to clear out Australia’s Tate McDermott. The incident is made worse by the fact that Young makes contact at almost twice the speed that Retallick was at. You can see McDermott’s head visibly snap back from the impact. English Referee Luke Pearce, who in general we find very consistent and solid in his duties, after discussion with his team and the TMO decides to lower the danger to yellow as Young led with his bicep even though his shoulder ultimately connects with force to McDermott’s head. We’re sorry but in no universe can we find this decision sensible and in the interests of player welfare, especially given the fact that the force of impact was almost twice that of Retallick’s.

This “interpretation” by the referees aspect of officiating really needs to be made consistent, especially where any contact with force to the head is made. In a world where Mums and Dads are increasingly worried about the long term impacts of such collisions on their little Jimmys and Susans, we’ve simply got to stamp it out. The kind of inconsistency in arbitration witnessed on Saturday has to be arrested and quickly if we genuinely want our game to grow in popularity and get more youngsters involved at an early age. We’re pretty sure that most parents watching those games Saturday, who were on the fence about whether their kids should play rugby or not, were probably not shopping for rugby boots on Sunday. While physicality is a cherished aspect of our game, safety has to be paramount. Perhaps we can learn something from the Women’s game and some of their tackle techniques. Have you noticed how fewer HIAs there have been in the Women’s World Cup so far?

Two of rugby’s most recently maligned characters admit they’re far from perfect and need to change but also highlight the damaging effects of their faults being hauled in front of the firing squad of social media

Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton and Australia’s Nic White have been in the media spotlight lately for all the wrong reasons, but these candid interviews open up the fact that they are only human and like all of us make mistakes under the pressure of the spotlight. Sadly the misguided media hysteria that often follows is hurtful and damaging to not only them but their families and makes us forget that these are two highly skilled players vital to their respective teams’ ambitions

If you’ve followed the media in the last few months there has been outrage over the antics of Australia’s Nic White milking a penalty by diving to ground feigning injury in a match against South Africa in the Rugby Championship. He became public enemy number one in an instant, and social media was replete with images of him in a tutu and a tiara. While we didn’t agree with his actions and certainly don’t want to see the type of antics and play acting that plague football become part of our game, the resultant persecution of him in both the press and social media was out of bounds, as it started to take aim at his personality and carried over to his family. That is unacceptable whichever way you cut it, and we have to profess that perhaps even we got caught up in the initial negative reaction to the act that put Nic White in that position in the first place, and for that we feel we have to apologize.

In the same vein, Ireland’s Johnny Sexton has also been in the crosshairs of social media and the rugby public, and recently found himself being labeled “a petulant child” by some rugby critics and media pundits. Much like with Nic White, while we have grown slightly weary of Sexton’s constant outbursts against the officials, the media then generated a backlash against a player who for all his faults has been a stellar servant to his country and is held in high regard by his teammates. The vitriol is both damaging and hurtful to not only the players but also their families. Test Rugby is a pressure cauldron of note and in Sexton’s case the added responsibilities of the Captaincy can make it almost impossible at times to be perceived as a reasonable individual.

These are gifted players plain and simple who are integral and important parts of their respective teams. We recently came across these two interviews on YouTube, that helped give us some perspective on these players as individuals and the fact that at the end of the day they are normal human beings who just like us make mistakes. In both, Sexton and White admit to their failings and the fact that they need to address them but without the spiteful artillery barrage of social media goading them into it. Sexton openly admits that he needs to change the way he deals with referees heading into the Autumn Series and beyond, while White admits he wishes he hadn’t made such a meal of a seemingly harmless incident in the grand scheme of things. His colleague Tate McDermott could have made a much bigger deal of a genuine act of thuggery this weekend but to his credit let the officials do their job and got on with the game, even if they got their decision wrong.

In both these interviews, White and Sexton come across as decent blokes just trying to do the right thing by their teams. So let’s give them credit for that and move on, and celebrate them for the extraordinary players that they are. We strongly recommend you watch both interviews and as we have done judge for yourselves. The Nic White interview is on Rugby Pod on YouTube with Jim Hamilton and the Sexton interview is on the IRFU YouTube channel.

So that’s it for this week. Take care everyone and here’s to an absolute feast of Men and Women’s Test Rugby this weekend!

The Lineout’s week that was 17 – 23 October

So as mentioned over on the Podcast, we’re changing things up a bit this week and for the foreseeable future. With all the Rugby going on right now, Women’s World Cup, Autumn Internationals to name but a few big ticket items, we have to confess to be struggling to keep up. We barely have enough time to watch all the games, let alone write them up along with the demands of day jobs, families and life in general. In short, in order to not let this blog stall at such a key moment one year out from the World Cup, we will be limiting our musings every week to some key points that came out of the previous week’s action and which provided the most discussion and kept the pints frothy. So from now on much like over on the Podcast, we’ll be doing a weekly wrap-up here as well, although the subject matter will often be different.

So on that note with the Autumn Internationals just around the corner and a weekend of thrilling Women’s Rugby World Cup quarter-finals coming up, here’s what got us talking.

Canada’s women revel in a job well done but now the really difficult part of the World Cup begins for the Ladies in Red

It’s all smiles for now but Canada’s outstanding women know their World Cup journey gets dramatically harder after this weekend

First and foremost – heartfelt congratulations to Canada’s women at the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand. They won all their pool matches relatively comfortably, and finished as the second seed coming out of the Pool stages. That’s an impressive achievement whichever way you cut it and something that we can all be immensely proud of. However, now we’re at the business end of the tournament forgive us for thinking that perhaps Canada would have benefitted from a slightly more challenging route to it. Sadly playing the Americans once more in the Quarter-Finals is probably not the best preparation to take on our likely semi-final opponent England.

As impressive as Canada’s journey has been so far in the World Cup, the fact that we didn’t get to cut our teeth in the Pool stages against an opponent like England, France or New Zealand is in our opinion a slight handicap. You could argue that New Zealand is in the same boat but they still had the benefit of a plucky Australian side and, third place finishers in this year’s Six Nations, Wales to contend with as a warmup for their likely semi final with France. Canada should get past the Americans once more in the quarters but to take down tournament favorites England a week later in the semis, they will need to cut down their handling errors, improve their goalkicking and up their tackle success across the board by 40%. That’s a very tall order in the space of two weeks and while the game against the Americans will help this process it’s unlikely to really tell us where we stand in relation to the Kiwis and the two European juggernauts of France and more importantly England.

Like we say this is by no means an attempt to take any of the shine off the performance by Canada’s women in this tournament which has been outstanding, and one which we can all be rightfully proud of. There are plenty of strengths to build on such as the fact that our lineout is the best in the competition along with New Zealand, we have the most successful scrum record, and are second behind New Zealand in our success rate at ruck time. However, our tackle success rate is the worst amongst the eight quarter finalists as is our goalkicking. Given the way England are carving up pitches in this tournament we simply have to be more successful in the tackle department and simply can’t afford to be leaving kickable points to chance. There is no question that our physicality is a force to be reckoned with in attack but defensively we need some urgent and critical care. Two weeks is a very long time in international rugby, but Canada’s women know that the really hard work has to now begin in earnest and those impressive pool performances have to go up another few gears.

Who can stop the Red Roses?

England’s remarkable winning streak continues as their defeat of South Africa in the final Pool game of the Rugby World Cup saw them extend their winning streak to an unprecedented tally of 28 straight victories

To be honest we’re not sure anyone can. France gave it a really good go in the pool stages, and did show us that the Red Rose juggernaut can be slowed considerably, but even they failed to grind it to a halt. This weekend England take on Australia in the quarter finals, and the Wallaroos will be noble and valiant opponents but ultimately England are likely to continue their seemingly inevitable march to the final. Assuming things go according to plan against Australia they will then have a semi final date with Canada, which will see them attempt to claim their 30th consecutive victory, and if that’s not motivation enough ahead of a World Cup final then we don’t know what is.

England don’t really dominate any of the statistics outright, but then they are playing so cohesively as a team they don’t need to. Their only weak point is perhaps their goalkicking at a 63% success rate but that’s still the third best in the competition, and an area which all the teams have struggled with. However, they’ve run an astounding 2052 metres so far in three matches which is an average of 684 metres a game. New Zealand takes top honors in this department by quite the margin, but England are clearly the next best team in this regard by a country mile. Although the coaching staff would perhaps like to see the scrum and tackle success rates get slightly higher, there are no alarm bells ringing just yet. England look composed, confident, focused and apart from the encounter with France utterly untested so far.

However, the French game did show that when the chips are down this English team’s staying power and ability to get the job done is second to none in the competition. But therein lies the rub, if France do manage to conquer their likely semi final opponents New Zealand, then could les Bleus be wise to England’s tricks a second time round in a final? If you ask us that’s the most the most tasty plot line we can think of in this World Cup!

Clearly not a group to mess with!

As the hosts of this year’s Women’s’ Rugby World CupNew Zealand along with England will be exceptionally hard to beat

If the Black Ferns Haka isn’t frightening enough this Halloween then we don’t know what is. Not to exaggerate but we find it infinitely more spine chilling than the Men’s version. However, one Haka does not a World Cup trophy make as the saying goes and this Black Ferns side are just as terrifying on the pitch over eighty minutes as they are in their pre match warmup. As the hosts they are clearly enjoying playing in front of a rapturous home crowd, and putting behind them what has been a difficult year leading up to the World Cup. Under the new Coaching regime of the legendary Wayne Smith, New Zealand’s troubles are very much a thing of the past, and they now boast a unified squad of outrageous talent and depth who are clearly thoroughly enjoying their day jobs.

As far as we can see it their only potential Achilles Heels are their goal kicking and the scrums. Even their scrum in the final pool game against Scotland went from a 33% success rate in their opener against Australia to 100%. In short, this is a team that can adapt and fix it’s apparent weaknesses in the blink of an eye. Add in a second row that is clinically efficient, a back row that boasts the remarkable talents of Sarah Hirini and Alana Bremner allied to a halfback partnership that can read each others’ minds. Then there is that set of backs that highlights the almost insane talents of Ruby Tui and Portia Woodman and the Black Ferns are simply the most dangerous side in the competition plain and simple.

However, the pressure of winning your own World Cup in front a rugby public that is renown for accepting nothing less may be a stumbling block that New Zealand may struggle to clear against France in the semis or England in the final, should Canada fail to unseat the Red Roses. New Zealand are clearly favorites and seem to be getting better with every outing leading to an almost unstoppable momentum. Once again it seems to all point to France having to break the mold of a script that seems to have been written quite a while ago – as New Zealand and England look set to contest the final. Guess we’ll all be watching the first quarter final between France and Italy this weekend with rather intense interest!

These guys need to share a pint and have a chat

Coach Gregor Townsend and Fly Half Finn Russell need to settle their differences as until they do Scotland will suffer

It’s been one of the hottest topics of debate this week, and it’s been hard to look away. Love him or hate him – Scottish fly half Finn Russell finds himself out in the cold this November as Scotland Coach Gregor Townsend chooses not to include him in his Autumn Nations plans. The fact that the two seemingly don’t see eye to eye appears to be well documented, with Townsend’s “my way or the highway” clearly clashing with Russell’s impish maverick nature.

Anyone who has read these pages knows we have some sympathy with Townsend’s dilemma in recent times. Russell is a genius in the ten jersey of that there is no doubt. Just watch his performance in a Racing 92 jersey against Montpellier this weekend. However, therein lies the problem. Much of what Russell engineers is risky to say the least. When it works it is sheer brilliance in its audacity, but often it doesn’t and puts his team completely on the backfoot and struggling with damage limitation in the blink of an eye. What needs to happen is that Russell’s infinite and renegade talents get blended into his side’s game plan. However, Townsend is not the man to do it and sadly the resulting clash of egos and wills is set to continue at Scotland’s expense.

Scotland’s current offerings for the Autumn Nations campaign in the ten jersey are no slouches and will get the job done, albeit in a relatively predictable manner. Opposition sides are unlikely to be surprised, whereas with Russell they would likely have been kept guessing from start to finish. Russell’s play style either opens up opportunities for the opposition as a daring and reckless play goes awry, or they are constantly on the backfoot trying to figure out what’s coming next. It’s a gamble but at times one Scotland will need to take, if they are to go toe to toe with sides like New Zealand, Argentina and Scotland – let alone Fiji which is almost a team made up entirely of Finn Russells. In short, without Russell, one of Scotland’s key strengths of forcing opponents to expect the unpredictable is gone. In the interest of Scotland having an ace up their sleeve, Russell and Townsend need to put their differences aside and make it work plain and simple for the greater good and an eye to the World Cup.

The Return of a Legend

The Wallabies will be better off for Michael Hooper’s presence on the field once more, even if he won’t be wearing the Captain’s armband this November

We can’t begin to express how delighted we are to see one of our favorite Wallabies of the last decade back in the gold jersey this Saturday against Scotland. Furthermore, in addition to saluting his courageous decision to take himself out of the spotlight and look after his own mental health which had suffered as a result of the relentless physical and mental pressures of Test rugby, we’ve been really happy to see the support and respect he has been given in the process. Although the Captain’s duties will remain with James Slipper, the sheer presence of Hooper on the field will lend a stability to the team which they clearly lacked at times during the recent Rugby Championship. Hooper knows when and how to challenge some of the decisions in terms of officiating that got in the way of Australia’s recent matches, he also lends a sense of composure to his teammates in the face of adversity. In short, he’s a talisman that Australia have sorely missed in the last three months.

It’s a strong side that Australia are putting out on the pitch at Murrayfield this Saturday, even with some notable omissions due to injury. However, even though this match falls outside the official Test window, Australia will need all their ducks in a row as Scotland field a very dangerous side. Scottish bolters Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham out wide will pose a serious threat to the Wallabies often tenuous defense on the fringes especially with Marika Koroibete out of the equation for this Autumn series. In a match that could go either way for both sides, the calm head and experience of “Hoops” is likely to be Australia’s most valuable asset on Saturday in a fast paced and open game.

Welcome back Michael from all of us!!!!

In a Rugby Championship that keeps ripping up the form book, this weekend’s games are do or die affairs for the original favorites – New Zealand and South Africa!

Put your hands up if this year’s Rugby Championship has caught you by surprise – we’d imagine that we’d be seeing a pretty consistent show of hands. What a glorious tournament it’s turning out to be for the traditional underdogs Australia and Argentina. If Argentina pull off the unthinkable this Saturday in Hamilton and beat the All Blacks for a second time in a row and thus place one hand firmly on the tournament’s silverware, it would perhaps be the biggest shakeup of the global game in quite some time. Meanwhile in Australia, the Springboks almost look destined to be unable to break the curse of not winning on Wallaby soil since 2013. Both the All Blacks and the Springboks seem to be suffering a deep rooted crisis of confidence. Australia despite an injury list from hell simply will not lie down and Argentina look more ominous with every outing as their preparation for the World Cup picks up pace.

Quite frankly there is everything to play for in a tournament that until this year was in danger of becoming a tad stale and inconsequential in relation to its Northern counterpart the Six Nations. Not so this year, and we have been glued to our television screens since the beginning of August and are hungry for more. So here’s what got us talking ahead of Round 4 of this roller coaster tournament.

New Zealand may be struggling but they have some key strengths which they simply have to use to their advantage on Saturday

All Black Hooker Samson Taukei’aho has been a bright spark in an otherwise gloomy landscape for New Zealand, and his strengths in the set pieces and in crossing the whitewash could be key in turning the screw on Argentina this Saturday

If New Zealand are going to win on Saturday, then this man is likely to play a key part in it. Scoring one of New Zealand’s two tries in an otherwise lackluster performance for the All Blacks last weekend, Taukei’aho has proven that he is a deadly operator. Sent to the bench far too early in our opinion for the completely ineffectual Codie Taylor, we couldn’t help feeling that had he been allowed more say in proceedings last Saturday then we might be writing a different story after last weekend. New Zealand’s efficiency at lineout time dropped dramatically once Taukei’aho left, and given the fact that in the scrums New Zealand were dominating Argentina, expect to see them look to the young hooker to provide the same kind of traction again this week, but hopefully for longer.

New Zealand need more Dalton Papali’i sadly at Sam Cane’s expense

While Sam Cane gets another shot at redemption, the calls for Papali’i to be more involved in the All Blacks efforts is growing louder by the day.

We don’t really want to revisit the debate about Sam Cane’s captaincy, but it is hard to argue against his understudy Dalton Papali’i’s value to the All Blacks as a solution to some of the back row issues they are facing. If New Zealand are to win against Argentina on Saturday, then they simply have to be more efficient and quicker at the breakdowns than the Pumas, and snuff out the opportunities for the Argentinian jackalers like Matera and Montoya. Sam Cane and Shannon Frizell were simply too far off the mark at doing this last Saturday, but Papali’i offers New Zealand some real speed and strength in getting to the breakdown and in the loose is as good as any of his Pumas counterparts. In short, expect Papali’i to see more game time than Cane, and the Captain to most likely have not much more than a starting cameo, especially if New Zealand cannot dominate the contact areas early on.

Argentina’s smiling assassins have plenty of reasons to be cheerful

Argentina’s Julian Montoya and Pablo Matera can afford the swagger in their step after their exploits against both the Wallabies and All Blacks

Captain and Hooker Julian Montoya and back rower extraordinaire Pablo Matera have plenty to feel good about last weekend, and if the All Blacks are to reassert their traditional dominance over the Pumas, then negating the impact of these two individuals especially at the breakdown will be key. Along with the rest of their forward pack, these two stopped New Zealand dead in their tracks and were outstanding in marshalling an almost impenetrable Pumas defense. They simply stopped New Zealand getting quick phase ball – plain and simple. The All Blacks will surely have done their homework on these two and the Pumas defense as a whole, but reduce the efficiency of these two men in the contact areas and New Zealand will be well on their way to unpicking a resolute and highly organized defense.

While he may be defying age limits at club level doubts remain about him doing it at Test level

At 36 going on 37, fly half Ben Urdapilleta may have some pulling the age card, but there is no denying he had an electric season with French Top 14 side Castres this year

While many are questioning the Springboks fascination with old age pensioners, you can understand the eyebrows being raised over the selection of Urdapilleta as the replacement fly half for Santiago Carreras in such a crucial match for the Pumas’ title aspirations. We’ll be honest we didn’t really feel that Urdapilleta’s spectacular form with Castres in the French Top 14 translated to Test level standard during the last World Cup. Still given injuries to Nicolas Sanchez and the fact that Carreras is still learning the role, some experience is needed and in Urdapilleta they certainly have that. If he plays anything like he did this year in the Top 14, then given the missteps of late by both Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett, New Zealand could find themselves in a spot of bother.

While we have nothing against the “olden but golden” principle – at least play such players in positions they have shown form in recently

Although South African Coach Jacques Nienaber has sensibly chosen to start Malcolm Marx in the Hooker position, the choice of veteran Deon Fourie as his replacement is questionable especially given the fact that he hasn’t played the role now for quite some time

We’ll be honest, South African Coach Jacques Nienaber’s selections for this tour to Australia have left us scratching our heads. In our opinion they smack of desperation and golden opportunities lost. This would have been an ideal time to really showcase the younger talent that has performed so well in the URC. Where are Johan Grobelaar, Ruan Nortje, Elrigh Louw, Salmaan Moerat and Evan Roos to name but a few outstanding next gen forwards? Instead Nienaber has decided to opt for some admirable Springbok pensioners. We don’t mean to dismiss Fourie who had an excellent season with the Stormers, but for pretty much the entirety of that season he played in the back row. Consequently, imagine our jaw dropping disbelief to see a player in the twilight of his career be suddenly parachuted into a position that he hasn’t played regularly for quite some time in a match of critical importance to South Africa, even if it is only from the bench. We’re not really sure that’s even fair to Fourie. We wish him well but feel that he is almost being set up to try and achieve the impossible.

At least one opportunity is being seized but it’s a pretty daunting debut when the man marking you is Australia’s human missile Marika Koroibete

Given Wallaby Marika Koroibete’s at times controversial tackling technique last weekend, despite his brilliance we have concerns that outstanding Bulls winger Canan Moodie’s Test debut could end prematurely

Like we said in the podcast earlier this week, we had concerns about Wallaby winger Marika Koroibete’s tackle technique last weekend, brutally effective as it was. His Exocet missile tackle on Makazole Mapimpi was heroic and something to be seen to be believed but still borderline legal at best. The attempt at wrapping with the arms clearly appears as an afterthought when you watch the replay in slow motion. The fact that Mapimpi didn’t end up seriously injured is probably more down to luck than anything else. Moodie is fast and powerful but we fear he may simply be no match for the Wallaby Fijian powerhouse and could come off worst for wear both physically and mentally on this his Test debut. Nevertheless if he emerges from Saturday’s encounter unscathed and able to show off his abilities by getting points on the board, then expect to see the 19 year old youngster get fast tracked into the Springboks’ plans for the World Cup.

Australia will need more of Nic White’s playing skills and less of his Oscar winning acting this Saturday

Although Nic White may have had numerous offers from professional football clubs and Hollywood this week, it’s his skills in the nine jersey that he and Australia really need to bring to the fore this Saturday

We’ll be honest, after Wallaby scrum half Nic White’s Oscar winning performance last weekend, we sadly lost a lot of the respect we had had up to that point for Australia’s feisty number nine. We still think he’s a great player and a valuable servant to the Wallaby cause, but his performance in milking the mildest of penalties last weekend took the shine off a fascinating contest and was a rather poor advertisement for the game in general. Hopefully lessons have been learnt, words have been had and that’s the last we see of it. While we appreciate that to a certain degree scrum halves are always there to play the referee and carry “the chirp” to another level – there have to be limits. Sadly for White and the Wallabies, his antics last weekend will have set him and his colleagues up as enemy number one for a wounded Springbok side. Expect the Springboks to make his life a genuine misery this weekend.

In the absence of Captain Michael Hooper a star is born

While the Wallabies may still be missing their inspirational Captain Michael Hooper, they have lost nothing in terms of skill and commitment on the pitch in the shape of his stand in Fraser McReight

Australia may be counting the days till word of Michael Hooper’s possible return to the Wallaby fold, but in the interim they have unearthed a player who is rapidly making them forget that they are without their inspirational Captain. As the tournament and Australia’s leading try scorer, in McReight Australia have unearthed a genuine weapon and he’s only going to get better. A menace at the breakdowns, packing some weight to the back of the scrums and posing a genuine threat in the loose with an eye for the narrowest of gaps close to the try line, South Africa and Siya Kolisi in particular are going to have to keep a very close eye on the Wallaby flanker if they are to keep Australia in check.

In short, what a weekend we have in store and are there further turns and twists to be had in what has so far been a thrilling tournament and glorious advert for a competition that appeared to be losing some of its luster? We can’t see South Africa stumbling a second time to Australia especially given their need to strip Nic White of his Oscar. Furthermore, we’re just not convinced that Australia are as good as that Round 1 result against the Pumas and last weekend’s at times scrappy win over the Springboks would appear to indicate. As for Argentina and New Zealand, we also find it hard to believe that the All Blacks will trip up a second time on home soil against an opponent they have tended to dominate in the past. Nevertheless this is a Pumas side on fire, which is something you simply can’t say about the stop/start nature of the All Blacks at the moment. Consistency finally seems to be a term the Pumas are comfortable with and one that New Zealand is struggling to master.

So strap yourselves in and brace for what should be two bruising and enthralling encounters. Best of all for us here in Canada they are being served up on a choice of three viewing platforms – see TV page for details. So get the braais and barbis out for one last gasp of summer before the kids go back to school and enjoy what promises to be a fascinating Saturday of Test Rugby!!!

In a year that is providing us with some truly vintage Test Rugby, the Rugby Championship looks set to add its name to the honor roll!

This year we’ve been treated to an enthralling Six Nations, a memorable series of Summer Tours and now the Rugby Championship looks set to provide us with another four weekends of thrilling entertainment! The first two rounds of the Southern Hemisphere’s annual dustup, have given us plenty to talk about, turned the form book on its head and best of all treated us to some spectacular rugby – and the party has only just got started.

The opening round saw South Africa seemingly sink another inevitable nail in the coffins of All Black Head Coach Ian Foster and Captain Sam Cane, but a week later New Zealand turned the tables upside down in one of the most spectacular All Black/Springbok tussles at the hallowed ground of Ellis Park that we can remember in recent memory. It means that New Zealand and South Africa sit in fourth and third respectively in the world rankings, with Ireland and France dominating the number one and two spots. Not something you often see at the start of the Rugby Championship.

Meanwhile in Argentina, a Wallaby side bereft of their inspirational Captain Michael Hooper, played their hearts out to honor him and took apart an Argentinian side still coming to terms with the emotions of playing at home for the first time in three years and a new Coach. But just as what transpired in South Africa, Argentina turned the tide in the most dramatic fashion a week later by blowing the Wallabies out of the water in no uncertain terms. Perhaps even more remarkable the South Americans now find themselves at the top of the Championship table after two rounds for the first time since joining the competition in 2012 – heady stuff indeed!

So here’s what got us talking after an exceptional two opening rounds of the Rugby Championship.

Trying to stay positive while holding the All Blacks  seemingly Poisoned Chalice

After staying the executioner’s blade by their respective performances last weekend at Ellis Park, All Black Head Coach Ian Foster and Captain Sam Cane have raised more questions than answers about how the All Blacks are managed by the New Zealand Rugby Union

The New Zealand Rugby Public are brutal – plain and simple! Whatever we may think about the efficacy of Ian Foster and Sam Cane in their respective roles, the public lynching they were subjected to while on tour in South Africa by the media and general public back home in New Zealand was, in our opinion, in rather poor taste to say the least. Add to that the bumbling indecision by and lack of support from their bosses the New Zealand Rugby Union, and the subsequent outstanding win by Foster and Cane’s charges in the Second Test at Ellis Park makes the indignity of it all that much harder to stomach. Cane and Foster were already under huge pressure as were their teammates. In short, they should have simply been allowed to get on with the task at hand without a raft of speculation ably assisted and fueled by the New Zealand Rugby Union as to whether or not either of them had a future after last Saturday’s match at Ellis Park – one of the toughest arenas on the planet to tour as a Test Rugby player.

In the week leading up to the match, the players to a man stood behind their leaders and that should have been good enough. Some solid work was done during the week leading up to the Test at Ellis Park, and with a combination of some simple fixes and errors in selection by the Springboks, New Zealand put in a performance for the ages that saw them get the better of their greatest rivals in a comprehensive manner. Whether or not you can attribute that to Foster or Cane, is a debate we could have till the cows come home. However, as we said in last week’s podcast, we simply couldn’t see the value of changing the Coach a year out from the World Cup, and as Captain, Cane silenced his critics by leading from the front and putting in arguably one of his most inspirational performances in the black jersey to date.

All Black management have conveniently ignored the problems that were creeping into the national setup since 2017 when Steve Hansen was still Coach, and to simply throw Foster under the bus now to atone for their own mismanagement seems cheap indeed. Foster may not be perfect and may not have been the best choice at the time, but his players clearly respect him as they do Sam Cane. With some tweaks to the Coaching setup, most notably in drafting in Jason Ryan as the forwards Coach and Joe Schmidt as the attack Coach from now until the World Cup, Foster will have the support he needs to build on the momentum of last weekend’s win at Ellis Park. It may still not fix all of the All Blacks current problems, but what they need now is less speculation and more focus on the task at hand – preparing for next year’s World Cup. When that’s done and dusted then it will be time to review their options but for now, let us see this sordid debate closed.

Are these the two most important men in the All Black squad?

Fly half Richie Mo’unga and Back Rower Ardie Savea were instrumental in righting the All Black ship last weekend at Ellis Park and are arguably the most influential players on the park for the Men in Black right now.

There were some outstanding performances across the park last weekend in black jerseys, but two men in particular stood out and their influence in the coming months may well prove to be the key to how successful the All Blacks will be in restoring their ship onto a steady course.

Incumbent fly half Beauden Barrett may well be one of the greatest players the modern game has seen, but of late his style of play enables the individual talents of a highly skilled team to shine. However, as an organizer of the All Blacks’ collective strengths Richie Mo’unga, as evidenced on Saturday, is the master. It was that calm and disciplined foresight and organization that the All Blacks lacked in the first Test against the Springboks and in the series loss to Ireland. Do the results on Saturday, as we think they should, point to Mo’unga increasingly getting the nod as the All Blacks starter in the 10 jersey with Barrett becoming the impact player off the bench either at fly half or fullback? We can’t wait to see what the new Coaching brains trust of Foster, Ryan and Schmidt think of how to use these two hugely influential players most effectively.

One man who has consistently not let his side down so far this year, is back rower Ardie Savea. His work rate is simply off the charts, and with it he becomes a genuine inspiration to his teammates. Loyal as evidenced by his unwavering support under fire of Ian Foster and Sam Cane these past two weeks, and an absolute warrior for the cause on the pitch, the case for him playing a greater supporting role to Sam Cane’s Captaincy has never been greater. Furthermore, to take some of the pressure off Cane, awarding Savea the Captain’s armband from time to time as was done during Cane’s absence may be a tactic worth considering. Just watching Savea’s superhuman energy and total commitment, makes us want to get back on a rugby pitch it’s that inspirational. He simply embodies the definition of go forward ball for his team and as such, if New Zealand need a talisman for the challenging months ahead, they’d be hard pressed to find a more obvious candidate. Build some of your game plan around what Savea can create and you add a whole new level of danger to your forward pack.

The danger of not trusting your gut instincts

Springbok Coach Jacques Nienaber might listen to public opinion a bit more in future after the error of not selecting outstanding Hooker Malcolm Marx to start against New Zealand last weekend at Ellis Park

We said, in last week’s podcast previewing the showdown at Ellis Park, that Springbok Coach Jacques Nienaber had provided New Zealand with some opportunities to be exploited in his selection decisions. We weren’t proven wrong, as the All Blacks did exactly that. No matter how poor the All Blacks may or may not be at the moment, you always have to take two things into account. When their backs are against the wall they are one of the most committed rugby teams on the planet and secondly they still have the ability to reinvent themselves faster than almost any other Test Rugby team we can think of. All of those things happened at Ellis Park last Saturday, and when that happens that last thing you want to do is allow the All Blacks a fast start and an early lead. Well that also happened and chasing a game against the All Blacks is never something you really want to do even if it is in your own backyard.

There was almost a public outcry in South Africa when early in the week Nienaber named his squad for last Saturday’s match. Injury had forced him into selecting relative newcomer Joseph Dweba at Hooker in place of regular Bongi Mbonambi. However, what shocked everyone the most was Nienaber opting to have Dweba start in place of the first Test’s Man of the Match Malcolm Marx. Marx had been instrumental in ensuring that South Africa set the tone right from the get go in the set pieces that so unhinged the All Blacks in the First Test. In many ways it simply wasn’t fair to Dweba who was clearly out of his depth last Saturday and was having a torrid afternoon in the green jersey. After 35 minutes Marx came on in Dweba’s place, but by that stage it was a question of playing catchup against an increasingly confident All Black side. Marx did what was asked of him, but New Zealand had found the breathing room they needed to settle their own game plan.

There were other errors, in terms of Ox Nche also not really fronting up alongside Dweba and Jesse Kriel being put onto the wing when in reality he is at best an average center. Kriel was replaced relatively early on as just like Faf de Klerk, he fell victim to Caleb Clarke’s knees, which appear to be one of New Zealand’s new secret weapons. Lukhanyo Am shifted to the wing and showed that his truly extraordinary talents can be just as useful out wide as in the midfield as he put on a performance for the ages. You have to wonder though, had utility back Aphelele Fassi been selected instead of Kriel, allied to Am in the center, what extra magic might have been created? To be honest what more does Fassi need to do to impress Nienaber?

Is this the best player in the world right now?

South Africa may have stumbled against New Zealand last weekend, but extraordinary center Lukhanyo Am needs to make no apologies for two simply brilliant back to back performances in the opening two rounds of the Championship

In a match where New Zealand fixed their problems with the kick and chase along with their comfort and ability under the high ball, Springbok centre Lukhanyo Am didn’t quite have the field day he could have had, but his efforts to do so certainly left us and the rest of the rugby world in awe. He may have been part of a losing cause and a Springbok side suffering from poor selection choices, a touch of complacency and in some cases a lack of fitness compared to their opponents, but Am was truly magnificent. At times he came close to singlehandedly pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in recent Test Rugby history.

Imperious in the air, possessing a strength that seems three times his actual stature, and possessing an ability to read the game and create opportunities from nothing Am is a rugby phenomenon. What’s even more astounding is that he makes the impossible look almost effortless. While much of the world these days seems to only have eyes for France’s Antoine Dupont, we’d argue that Am is just as good if not better even though they have completely different roles for their respective teams. When the two sides face off in Marseille this November, we imagine the debate will have reached fever pitch.

Michael Cheika is clearly perfecting more than just the tango in his new role as Pumas Coach

Cheika has obviously lent more than just his colorful persona to his interpretation of Argentina’s national dance, and has revitalized a team that always has the potential to put on a show

We had this horrible sense of deja vu after watching the first Test between Argentina and Australia in the Rugby Championship, that this could end up being another tournament that faded into obscurity for the Pumas. Still something told us that we still should back the Pumas for a comeback in the Second Test.

In short, the Pumas did not disappoint and treated us to a seven score try fest that left us hungry for more. As their new Coach Michael Cheika said, it was tough for him to watch his charges demolish his former side so mercilessly, but he couldn’t have asked for a better start to life with Rugby’s “la vida loca”. Add organization and discipline to the Pumas heady skill sets and they will always be a team that is a joy to watch, and that is exactly what happened last weekend. Cheika may not always be the world’s most consistent Coach, but he does have a habit of churning out a year to eighteen months of solid performances. It would seem that his colorful leadership style blends well with his South American charges’ passion and high spirits. He may just be the tonic the Pumas need in their run up to the World Cup.

Australia had the edge in many of the game statistics, but Argentina were that much more organized and disciplined and made sure that the areas they did have the advantage in got translated into points on the board. Their kicking game was so much better than Australia’s and they controlled the zones where the ball was landing superbly. There was some clinical opportunism from the Pumas last Saturday, which in the past had often been scuppered by basic errors in execution, but in San Juan everyone seemed to have rehearsed their lines to a tee and knew exactly where they were supposed to be and what they were supposed to do when they got there. Santiago Carerras continued to develop as a world class fly half and playmaker for the Pumas while Australia simply failed to exercise any authority over the game from the ten jersey, often relying on scrum half Nic White to perform the role of both 9 and 10.

It was an outstanding team performance from Argentina, with all 23 players putting up their hands and being counted. It will stand them in good stead for a challenging tour to New Zealand, which could be a bridge too far, but given the recently exposed weaknesses in the All Blacks structure could also be a golden opportunity to create a bit of history.

Rennie puts a brave face on the loss of his inspirational Captain at the eleventh hour

Wallaby Head Coach Dave Rennie is to be commended for his support of Captain Michael Hooper’s last minute withdrawal from the Argentinian tour for personal reasons, but it is clear that it’s been a difficult pill to swallow for a team already ravaged by injury

As we said in the podcast, given the fact that player welfare is being so hotly debated these days, we were impressed by the support Michael Hooper received from the Australian Union, his Coach and his players when at the eleventh hour he left to return home for personal reasons, just ahead of Australia’s opening Test against Argentina. The importance of Hooper to the Wallaby setup cannot be underestimated, and without him they are not quite the same. However, both Coach Dave Rennie and the players stood by their leader’s decision and in the first Test to a man they played to honor their absent leader. It paid huge dividends as Australia romped to a comprehensive win even if it came at a cost in terms of increasing Australia’s already lengthy injury list, most notably fly half Quade Cooper being added to the casualty ward.

A week later though it was a different story. Australia perhaps took their foot off the gas after such an assured victory the week before, but if anything simply seemed unprepared for the passionate but highly clinical backlash from their Argentinian hosts that they must have known was coming. The mantra of playing for the absent Hooper also appeared to have lost some of its shine, and the Wallabies looked disjointed and unsure of themselves. Stand in Captain James Slipper played out of his skin as did number eight the increasingly impressive Rob Valetini, while Marika Koroibete ran at Argentina from every inch of the park for the full eighty minutes as well as tackling like a man possessed. However, without James O’Connor really owning the 10 jersey, game management increasingly fell to the overworked Nic White at scrum half. As a result Australia were simply unable to link phases together with any kind of cohesion or consistency. Argentina were suffering from no such problems.

With Quade Cooper out till probably just before the World Cup at worst, or the Autumn Internationals at best, and James O’Connor rusty since his injury spell post Super Rugby, Australia simply have to fast track Noah Lolesio as their starting number 10. It will be a huge ask for him against a Springbok side looking to make amends for the wobble at Ellis Park, but if he can get through the challenge, with the added advantage that Australia has not been a happy hunting ground for the Springboks in recent years, then all is not lost. Simply put, Australia have no choice. Get it right and the rest will come, as this is a well coached team with some excellent rugby skills but without a solid pivot at 10, their potential will remain elusive.

That’s it for now. We’ll hopefully be back ahead of Round 3 of the Rugby Championship, but if pressures of work don’t permit, feel free to have a listen to the weekly podcast wrap up on the TV listings page. Stay safe everyone and enjoy the rugby and what’s left of the summer!

This year’s Summer Tours look set to come to an unprecedented conclusion as across the board Game 3 is a series decider for all!!!

In 50 years of watching rugby, I have to be honest I can’t remember the last time the annual summer tours by the Northern Hemisphere have ended with all series needing to be decided in game 3. As a result we are in for a truly spectacular Saturday this weekend, akin to Super Saturday in the Six Nations. Ireland look to try and create history by building on their first ever win against the All Blacks in New Zealand by claiming an unprecedented series victory. England will attempt to carry the momentum of last weekend’s win over Australia, to clinch a series themselves. Meanwhile in South Africa, Wales look to create the upset of the year as they seek to topple the Springbok colossus and claim a series win despite being perhaps the most outrageous but brave underdogs of all the teams this year. Lastly, Scotland’s new kids on the block look to claim a series in the physical cauldron that is Argentina. In short, there’s plenty of potential history in the making and plot lines to follow this Saturday. If you love our glorious game, it will be almost impossible to tear yourself away from the TV for eight hours, so best make excuses with family and friends now, as it’s unlikely they will be seeing much of you on Saturday!

New Zealand vs Ireland – Saturday, July 16th – Wellington

New Zealand need some Will Jordan try scoring magic while Ireland need another barnstorming dose of Tadgh Beirne

After producing a win for the ages last weekend, Ireland attempt to take it one further by winning a series against New Zealand in the All Blacks back yard. The last team to do this was France almost 30 years ago, so despite the euphoria of last weekend, the enormity of the task they have set themselves is no doubt at the forefront of their planning this week. New Zealand, meanwhile although no doubt smarting from last weekend’s loss, very rarely come unstuck twice in a row on home soil, and a wounded All Black team on its own turf is an exceptionally dangerous animal, whatever it’s shape or form. Both sides have brought out the big guns for this one, with Ireland needing to last the distance at the final hurdle in a long and challenging season, while New Zealand simply need to harness their collective will and shape it into some sort of platform as opposed to a collection of insanely gifted individuals.

New Zealand once more weld together a unit of Test rugby superstars but one that seems to struggle to fire as a unit, relying more on the individual talents of the players themselves. Still, despite the coaching, or as many are saying lack of it, the unifying force of pulling on that black jersey in front of your home crowd and not letting them down when your backs are against the wall is a powerful unifying force. We don’t rate the New Zealand front row unfortunately and feel that discipline is its Achilles Heel against a more composed Irish unit that clearly rediscovered its mojo last weekend. New Zealand can take heart in one of the most established and competent second row partnerships in Test Rugby in the shape of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick and their collective rage about the events of last weekend will be a potent force. The back row of Ardie Savea, Sam Cane and Scott Barrett will be looking to make similar amends even if as a unit they don’t quite click – nevertheless there is so much individual brute force and talent amongst the three of them that it can cover for any collective deficiencies. In the half backs, we continue to struggle with the scrum half selections. The Highlanders pair of Aaron Smith and Folau Fakatava did nothing to really impress us last weekend and for such a crucial Test surely Finlay Christie would have been an option on the bench? Fly half Beauden Barrett is a remarkable player as an individual but often seems one move ahead of the rest of his team who struggle to keep up with his lightning quick thinking. It’s a powerful center pairing of Rieko Ioane and David Havilli, but the jury is still out for us on Havili’s efficiency at times. The out wide duo of Sevu Reece and at long last a starting berth for Will Jordan spells trouble for Ireland, with Jordan who seems able to score tries at will likely to expose James Lowe’s well documented defensive frailties for Ireland, and Jordi Barrett at the back spells reliability and a boot to get them out of jail. Blues sensation center Roger Tuivasa-Sheck gets a spot on the bench as does the vastly talented Hooker Dane Coles and fly half Richie Mo’unga who we’d argue is more effective at linking together the All Blacks vast array of individual talents than Barrett. Akira Ioane and Dalton Papali’i shore up the back row replacements and we have to admit to being surprised to see Papali’i not getting a starting berth, especially if Ireland are allowed to get off to a flying start. It’s a blockbuster All Black offering but it really needs to work as a unit as against Ireland it’s world class individual talents may not be enough.

For Ireland, it’s essentially business as usual after last weekend. Their front row of Andrew Porter, Tadgh Furlong and Dan Sheehan was immense last weekend with Sheehan being much more accurate with his lineout throwing. Tadgh Beirne was utterly outstanding as Ireland’s raging bull in the second row last weekend and they’ll need more of the same from him this weekend. Peter O’Mahony was magnificent in the back row for Ireland last weekend, even managing a beautifully executed 50/22 while Caelan Doris literally erupted out of the woodwork after essentially being AWOL in the first Test, and we simply can’t say enough good things about Josh van der Flier. The half back pairing of Jamison Gibson-Park and Jonathan Sexton was a master class in game management under pressure. Bundee Aki deputized exceptionally well for the injured Gary Ringrose and his physicality this weekend will be vital against the All Black axis of Ioane and Havili. James Lowe will really need to have his A-game on this Saturday to contain Will Jordan and if he passes the Test and shuts the All Black winger down, all of his defensive liabilities can be put to bed ahead of the World Cup. Fullback Hugo Keenan much like Caelan Doris in the back row was back to his best last weekend and Ireland will need him and winger Mack Hansen to be on song. It’s an Irish bench that can stand up to most of what New Zealand can offer, but big games will be needed from Joey Carberry if Jonathan Sexton can’t last the distance and Conor Murray at scrum half will need to calm things down if New Zealand are running rampant. Lastly a huge shout out to one of our favorite players, winger Keith Earls who led Ireland so well in this week’s midweek Test against the Maori All Blacks – an old dog still with plenty of X-factor.

Ireland will be frustrated with their inability to turn their 2 man advantage last week into points on the board, leading many to wonder if Ireland actually struggles to find a rhythm against anything less than a full strength opposition side – it’s almost as if they don’t know what to do with all that extra space. New Zealand meanwhile will need to batten down the hatches play a bit more as a collective as opposed to a who’s who of international rugby superstars. We are set for a an epic Test match of that there is little doubt. It’s hard to see New Zealand stumble twice in a row on home soil, but for Ireland the opportunity to make history is going to provide some rather special motivation. Our hearts say Ireland, but ultimately we think New Zealand may end up edging this Titanic arm wrestle. Either way strap yourselves in folks you’re not going to want to miss a second!!!!

Australia vs England – Saturday, July 16th – Sydney

Samu Kerevi has been remarkable in the midfield for the Wallabies while veteran Danny Care makes you wonder how different England’s fortunes in recent years might have been if Coach Eddie Jones had not consistently overlooked the Harlequins scrum half

England despite all the criticisms levelled at controversial Coach Eddie Jones, came storming back last weekend to wrestle back control of a series that seemed destined to slip away from them. Australia meanwhile took a casualty list from hell in the process and experienced a crisis of confidence after a first half which saw England blitz them 19-0. They recovered nicely in the second half and got themselves back in the match but at a physical cost it may be difficult to sustain for three weeks running. England brought their bruising physicality to Brisbane and made it count. They’ll need more of the same this weekend, while Australia will need to keep a cool head and not get sucked into the fray, allowing their exciting backs to dictate play and ensure that it’s England who tire first.

Australia’s discipline along with the injury list really hampered their efforts last weekend, and consistent infringements and difficulties in the set pieces from their front row contributed heavily to their ongoing woes. Prop Taniela Tupou is a supremely gifted athlete but unfortunately seems to be a permanent fixture on referees’ radars. Continuing losses in the Wallabies second row stocks sees the Brumbies Nick Frost drafted in alongside Matthew Philip who still remains one of our favorite next gen Wallabies. Shoring up the back row is Rob Valetini who really was not at the races last weekend unlike in the first Test, and the Reds irrepressible Harry Wilson would make a better fit in our opinion at 8 and shift Valetini to the blindside. It’s the other way around instead for this match, but with Captain Fantastic Michael Hooper in the mix it’s still a steady ship, though the Wallaby leader needs to up his game from last weeekend. It remains “steady as she goes” with Nic White and Noah Lolesio in the halfbacks, while in midfield Hunter Paisami continues on alongside Samu Kerevi who has arguably been the most impressive Wallaby of the series. Tom Wright and Marika Koroibete showed what they could do last weekend out wide, it’s just that they didn’t get nearly enough opportunities to showcase their exceptional talents and the Wallabies will need to get the powerful pair into space as much as possible on Saturday. Lastly the Wallabies bring in the “siege gun” Reece Hodge at the back to get them out of awkward situations and go for those long range penalty kicks if they can cause England’s discipline to crack. We really like the look of that Australian bench which could make the last quarter a very exciting affair to say the least, especially if the rather extraordinary athleticism of winger Suliasi Vunivalu gets put on display.

For England, Jones being Jones simply can’t resist tinkering with an otherwise winning formula. There are no surprises in him keeping the front row of Ellis Genge, Jamie George and Will Stuart who made life so torrid for Australia last weekend, though we could do without more scenes of Genge providing Wallaby players with gratuitous neck massages on the floor. Jonny Hill’s hairdressing skills in the second row also don’t really need to be on display despite the apparent value of “niggling the opposition”. We are happy to see Ollie Chessum partner Hill this week, after impressing off the bench last weekend, and Lewis Ludlam gets a well deserved start in the back row after consistently standing up off the bench in the first two Tests. Ludlam is ably assisted with a form defying Billy Vunipola and an increasingly effective Courtney Lawes. After turning heads last weekend, we have to admit we question the wisdom of putting Jack van Poortvliet on the bench in favor of Danny Care, but can only assume that Jones is trying to recreate the chemistry that fly half Marcus Smith and Care create week in week out in the Premiership at Harlequins. It didn’t quite pan out in the first Test so let’s hope for England’s sake that third time’s the charm. Owen Farrell and Smith seemed to figure out how best to work off each other last weekend, often by not working together at all and simply letting themselves do what they do best as individuals when the situation called for it. Freddie Steward was back to his very best at fullback and Jack Nowell’s penchant for trying to be all things to all men as opposed to being just a winger actually paid off last weekend, while Tommy Freeman made a solid debut and is rewarded with a starting berth once more. We’re hoping we’re going to see Poortvliet off the bench sooner rather than later, along with Henry Arundell on the wing. However, once more England pack a very competent bench poised to take control in the final quarter if some first aid is required.

This should prove to be a blinder of a Test match. Australia seem to be once more suffering a crisis of confidence and unlike their rivals across the Tasman, the All Blacks, they rarely manage to turn adversity into strength. England are reveling in some new found confidence and the motivation to come from behind and claim a series win will be a powerful tonic. We’d argue it’s England’s series to lose with all the pressure being on an injury hit Wallaby squad. However, think back to last year and the Wallabies clinching the series against France in similar circumstances – the similarities are there in abundance so write them off at your peril. However, we have a hunch that England’s brute force may just have the edge for this series, allied to some rather silky skills in the backs that are easily the equal of Australia’s powerful pacesetters. Everything on the line for two teams desperate to silence their doubters – in short you are unlikely to be getting up off the couch after the showdown in Wellington and the start of the debate in Sydney, other than for a quick top up of coffee if you’re watching it live or a dash to the fridge if you’re on demand!!!

South Africa vs Wales – Saturday, July 16th – Cape Town

South Africa’s enforcer, second rower Eben Etzebeth becomes the Springboks youngest ever centurion this weekend, while Welsh back rower Tommy Reffell makes an impressive announcement for his future in Welsh Test rugby

Just when you thought it was safe to drag yourself away from your TV set, we think the suspense of yet another series decider will be too much for you. It’s a quick bathroom break/coffee/ale top up and you’re back at it with the third of this weekend’s thrillers, especially given that this series was technically supposed to be done and dusted in the Springboks favor before the opening whistle in the first Test. As we’ve said before, the Welsh simply love taking the form book and throwing it out the window. They relish the underdog tag, and when it comes to down and out bravery in the face of overwhelming adversity there are few sides who can match them. South Africa are clearly struggling to get the measure of this Welsh team. A rather surprising set of selection decisions by the Springbok coaching staff last weekend added to their woes as Wales pipped them by one point. Despite an all star Springbok cast in the first Test, Wales just simply refused to lie down. In short, South Africa have found this series exceptionally hard work. As a result they simply couldn’t have asked for better preparation as they are set to host the All Blacks for two Tests next month as part of the Rugby Championship. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine Wales’ luck continuing to hold out against a final do or die Springbok assault this weekend in Cape Town.

As we mentioned in this week’s podcast review of last weekend’s second Test, we admire the bravery of the selection decisions by Coach Jacques Nienaber. He wanted to see what depth looks like under pressure, and in that respect think he gained more answers than questions. Let’s also be honest, that so called B or even C side of Springbok newbies, didn’t exactly get thrashed by a Welsh A team last weekend – there was only one point in it and if Handre Pollard had brought his kicking boots it would have been a completely different end result. This week it’s a powerhouse front row of Trevor Nyakane, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe up against a Welsh unit that is a fantastic example of bravery under fire but may not last the distance. In the second row their enforcer Eben Etzebeth, becomes the youngest ever Springbok centurion at the tender age of 30, and is once more partnered with the incomparable Lood de Jager. One of our favorite Springboks of recent years, Pieter-Steph du Toit will be keen to make amends for his yellow card last weekend in his first foray in a green jersey since injury layoff. Meanwhile Jaspar Wiese and Siya Kolisi need to notch the intensity they showed in the first Test up a few more gears. In a surprising call, Jaden Hendrikse gets the nod at scrum half over Faf de Klerk who is resigned to the bench for this one. We can understand some of the reasoning but still felt he had a 50/50 game last weekend, and despite de Klerk not having the best form he still has the experience for a down to the wire experience like this. Handre Pollard needs to bring his kicking boots at fly half which last weekend he clearly left in Montpellier. South Africa will need to use their dynamic duo of Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi out wide much more than they did in the first Test, while Lukhanyo Am needs to be much more involved in creating opportunities this weekend. Those three are pure World Class in their own right but as a unit allied to the increasingly impressive Damian de Allende they could be unstoppable on Saturday. Damian Willemse at fullback despite rescuing his teammates in the first Test, still leaves us with a few question marks however. The Bomb Squad are reunited on the bench, and Elrigh Louw gets another chance to impress off the bench alongside Franco Mostert. In short it’s a very solid Springbok bench set to turn the tide should the first half not go according to plan.

For Wales, it’s pretty much business as usual after that nail-biting win last week. They’ll need to watch their discipline as we doubt that Handre Pollard will be as wayward with the boot as he was last weekend. Their lineout work still needs to improve and all eyes will be on Ryan Elias in that respect and the jumpers Adam Beard and Will Rowlands, with the latter being a standout performer on this tour. Having said that though the Welsh scrum stood up surprisingly well in the second Test despite the caliber of their opponents. The big talking point though for Wales has been how good back rower Tommy Refell has been. The superlatives have been pouring in and the 23 year old is already being tipped as Captain material. The contest between him and Siya Kolisi this weekend is definitely one you’ll want to focus on, but a shout out also has to go to Dan Lydiate who has simply tackled like a demon. Kieran Hardy continues to grow into the role of scrum half at Test Level and Dan Biggar seemed to get his amateur dramatics with referees under control last weekend. Out wide Wales have wisely stuck with their own Batman and Robin combo of Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit, but could still use a bigger performance from their centers with all eyes on George North who just hasn’t stood out this tour. As always veteran Liam Williams shores up the rearguard and if you want reliability in your last line of defense there are few better individuals to turn to. It’s a solid Welsh bench that can absorb some punishment, and after Dan Biggar was subbed off last weekend, Gareth Anscombe really rose to the occasion, and that final conversion at the death was to be admired as it showed some exceptionally calm nerves under pressure. Alun Wyn-Jones will want to make a statement after the bizarre yellow card he was handed which made no sense whatsoever.

It’s an exceptionally big occasion for both sides and make no mistake Wales are up for this and then some! However, in front of a packed stadium in the “Mother City” it’s unlikely that the Springboks will falter, especially given the World Cup winning quality of the personnel assembled. If Wales can come out of the whole encounter with the scores close at the final whistle, then while they may lose the series they can board the plane home knowing that their bravery against the odds is intact and that any side thinking that a game against Wales in next year’s World Cup is a soft ride is seriously delusional.

Argentina vs Scotland – Saturday, July 16th – Santiago del Estero

Second rower Guido Petti has been immense for Argentina this series, while Scottish winger Duhan van der Merwe brought his much needed physicality last weekend to a series that has been crying out for it

Scotland a bit like Wales have clearly defied the odds on this tour. Three matches in Argentina is not for the faint hearted. The Pumas may be rebuilding and adjusting to life under new Coach Michael Cheika, but Argentina is a big, powerful and fleet of foot team with some rather unique skills. The battles that have taken place in the foothills of the Andes these past two weeks, have given Scottish Coach Gregor Townsend’s charges an excellent dose of what a hard life on the road looks like. For Argentina, after the euphoria of playing in front of their adoring fans for the first time in three years and an impressive victory in the first Test, it’s now time to brush last weekend’s wobbles under the carpet. It’s showtime in Santiago del Estero and a big result is absolutely imperative for Cheika and his charges ahead of a two tour visit from the Australian’s old outfit, the Wallabies, as part of the Rugby Championship next month.

For Argentina, we are thrilled to see Thomas Gallo get a call up to the front row, after his heroics last year on debut and a solid season with Benetton. Agustin Creevy had the crowd on their feet last weekend and expect the same again as the veteran Hooker and Captain still has that talismanic quality for the team. Tomas Lavanini returns to the second row alongside the outstanding Guido Petti, but the disciplinary alarm bells are always a concern for the big lock, even though he has cleaned up his game considerably since the World Cup. However, his commitment to the cause is never in doubt – just watch him tearing up during the anthems. Facundo Isa is looking increasingly impressive and Pablo Matera will be keen to reinstate his influence on the national squad in the back row after his season in New Zealand with the Crusaders – though like Lavanini he’ll need to monitor his discipline. 7s star Lautaro Bazan Velez makes his debut for the Pumas at scrum half while Cheika continues the work necessary in moulding Santiago Carreras into Nicolas Sanchez’s understudy, and despite the loss last weekend we though Carreras was one of the best Pumas players on the field. We are also excited to see the return of Bautista Delguy on the wing and Duhan van der Merwe will have his hands full keeping the slippery winger in check. It’s a solid Argentinian bench with some big guns on it like Marcos Kremer, but we’re also interested to see if Benetton fly half Tomas Albornoz gets a look in on Saturday.

For Scotland, there is plenty of interest in Canadian born Hooker Ewan Ashman’s performance in the starting fifteen. The lineout in particular has been a real concern for Scotland this tour, even if the wind in Salta last weekend wasn’t exactly helping. There’s another change to the second row with Scott Cummings and Jonny Gray, and we’re not overly sure why to be honest. However, that Scottish back row of Hamish Watson, who also gets the Captain’s armband for this match, Rory Darge and Matt Fagerson looked the real deal last weekend and clearly got the better of their Pumas opponents. In the halfbacks, we would have preferred to see Ben White keep his starting position at scrum half after last weekend, however, this Saturday with everything on the line, it’s back to the experience of Ali Price. It’s a potentially exciting center pairing in Scotland’s Mark Bennett and Sione Tuipolutu, with Bennett having a particularly good run last weekend, though whether or not they can get the better of established Pumas pair of Matias Moroni and Orlando remains to be seen. Rufus McLean needs to translate his club form to Test level status out wide as does Ollie Smith at fullback, and Duhan van der Merwe needs to continuing imposing his highveld bred physicality on the Argentinians. Scotland pack their own “Bomb Squad” on the bench in the shape of Dave Cherry, Pierre Schoeman and the rather impressive Javan Sebastian. Lastly we really want to see more of Ross Thompson off the bench at fly half especially if Blair Kinghorn manages to establish control early on.

As the finale to what promises to be a genuine “Super Saturday” of Test Rugby this should be a fascinating contest. A series win for Scotland would be a deeply satisfying end to a challenging road trip, while for Argentina national pride and rewarding their fans’ after a three year absence from Test Rugby will be paramount in the Pumas minds. Argentina may not fare so well on the road, but at home they are a different beast. They will meet Scotland again in the fall, but winning this series will announce to the world that they are back from the wilderness and give them a real boost of confidence ahead of Australia’s two Test visit next month, followed by a tough trip to New Zealand. As a result we can’t help feeling that provided Argentina can keep their discipline and cut out the errors that plagued them last weekend, the series is theirs to take this Saturday despite a very feisty Scottish challenge. Either way, even if you can’t take another two hours of rugby tomorrow after a six hour marathon if you’ve watched the first three series deciders, you’ll want to make this game mandatory viewing with your Sunday morning coffee!

It’s do or die this weekend for the Northern Hemisphere sides as they play the second round of the Summer Tours

New Zealand vs Ireland – Saturday, July 9th – Dunedin

New Zealand will need Ardie Savea’s whirling dervish physicality and Ireland will require another dose of Peter O’Mahony’s manic leadership skills and never say die attitude

New Zealand can feel pretty pleased with their day at the office last weekend at Fortress Eden Park. Ireland meanwhile will have to content themselves with a very spirited performance that sadly lacked the execution of their opponents. Both sides gave it their all, but New Zealand’s skill set under pressure was the better of the two. There is everything to play for this weekend, but Ireland simply have to be that much better to keep the series alive.

New Zealand go into this match for all intents and purposes unchanged. Dalton Papali’i comes in at blindside flanker allowing Scott Barrett to return to his more familiar residence in the second row. Their front row can feel optimistic about how they bossed Ireland around in the set pieces, while Sam Cane and Ardie Savea had a massive day in the back row and Ireland clearly struggled with their physicality. We have to apologize to Aaron Smith who had a stellar outing at scrum half after we had dismissed him based on his results with the Highlanders this season in Super Rugby. It is clear that Smith plays at his best in the All Black setup, whatever the fortunes of his club side. New Zealand’s play out wide in debutant Leicester Fainga’anuku was exceptional and Sevu Reece was a classic case of “now you see him now you don’t”. Rieko Ioane has made the complete transition to a truly world class bruising center and his work at times in defense was extraordinary. This weekend we get to see Aaron Smith’s highly vaunted fellow scrum half at the Highlanders, Folau Fakatava, get a bench spot and it remains to be seen if he thrives as much in the national setup as his fellow clubmate does. In addition, infinite danger lurks on the bench in the shape of electric winger and try scoring machine Will Jordan.

Ireland meanwhile know they have it all to do, with one last shot at redemption before this tour slips away from them. Ireland need a much more dominant game from props Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong, who failed to get the better of their Kiwi opposition. Hooker Dan Sheehan struggled as well in the set pieces, but was an absolute tiger in the loose and hopefully plenty of work has been done this week to address Ireland’s front row set piece deficiencies – let’s face it it’s not for the want of talent in these three. Ireland will need a lot more aggression from their second row and Tadgh Beirne needs to turn up the volume to his traditional AC/DC levels. In the back row, Peter O’Mahony was absolutely immense for the Men in Green especially once he had to take the Captain’s armband as a result of Sexton’s departure. Always a controversial character, but somehow whenever he plays the All Blacks O’Mahony seems to develop an extra set of lungs and is clearly a talisman to the rest of his teammates. Josh Van der Flier needs another big game with perhaps a little less try line fever this time around, but you simply can’t fault his work rate while Caelan Doris really has to come out of the woodwork this weekend. Ireland’s halfback partnership of Jamison Gibson-Park and Jonathan Sexton is world class, but we have to be honest that we are concerned about Sexton’s long term health as Ireland continue to wrestle with the fact that they simply can’t do without him. Hugo Keenan had the first poor game at fullback we’ve seen from him, and hopefully like Doris he is back to his best this weekend. Ireland will need a big performance from Mack Hansen out wide who returns to the Ireland setup, though he will have his hands full trying to contain Fainga’anuku. Ireland need make no apologies in the midfield in Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose. It’s almost the same bench as last weekend with the exception of Finlay Bealham returning to the fold and Bundee Aki hopefully coming in to shut down the Ioane/Tupaea axis if it has got the better of Ireland.

It will be a huge ask of Ireland, and based on New Zealand’s efforts last weekend the odds appear not to be in Ireland’s favor, especially given the lingering injury concerns around Sexton. Still, Ireland love the tag of underdog, much like the Welsh and perhaps this weekend is their opportunity to tear up what appears to be a preordained script. Either way, it’s a contest you simply won’t want to miss with shades of a backdrop to a potential quarter-final next year in France.

Australia vs England – Saturday, July 9th – Brisbane

Tom Wright gets the nod out wide so look out England, while Henry Arundell despite a 90 second cameo that left us speechless remains on the benchwhat are you thinking Eddie?

Australia lost their focus on an otherwise stellar performance last weekend which almost cost them the win. Still with 14 men they can feel rather pleased with how they withstood a last ditch English comeback. For England, there was little to get excited about until winger Henry Arundell’s remarkable cameo off the bench in the 72nd minute. It swung the game on its head and England almost pulled off the comeback of the year. However, Australia held firm and we just can’t see them making the same mistakes again this weekend, while England continue to tinker and Jones’ selection decisions as always seem to flip the finger to form and cohesion.

For Australia, they go into this match relatively unchanged. The Tongan Thor Taniela Tupou comes in for Allan Alaalatoa. The Tighthead possesses a set of skills that defy imagination at times for a prop. In the second row, Matthew Philip replaces red carded Darcy Swain who will miss the rest of England’s tour, but we’d argue Australia lose nothing with Philip and if anything gain an extra edge. That outstanding back row remains unchanged with Michael Hooper leading the charge, with the openside flanker proving to be an absolute nightmare for England last weekend. Hats off to Noah Lolesio, who retains his starting berth at fly half after being called off the bench to start last weekend’s match at the very last minute. The young fly half was absolutely superb last weekend and demonstrated a maturity and clarity of thinking well beyond his 22 years. Hunter Paisami comes in for Len Ikitau, while Samu Kerevi’s skills in the midfield are likely to only get better after a breath taking performance last weekend. Tom Wright comes in on the wing allowing Jordan Petaia to move to fullback for the injured Tom Banks. Once again Australia lose nothing here as we have been hugely impressed with Wright’s performances this year with the Brumbies. While we’d argue that the Wallaby bench is perhaps not as strong as last weekend, there’s enough firepower and attacking threat in the starting 15 to make life distinctly uncomfortable for England.

For England, we are as always simply not convinced. Their unchanged front row was distinctly average last weekend, while the same can be said of the second row. Maro Itoje was almost desperate at times, and Jonny Hill’s constant niggling and unsportsmanlike behaviour towards his Wallaby opposite Darcy Swain should also have seen red in our view. England will rue the loss of flanker Tom Curry who is out for the rest of the tour, and is replaced by Sam Underhill whose season this year was rather underwhelming to say the least. Jack van Poortvliet gets rewarded for his stellar appearance off the bench replacing Danny Care who certainly seems to be past his sell by date at Test level despite his form at Harlequins this year. The partnership between centre Owen Farrell and new wonderkid fly half Marcus Smith seems fraught and slightly dysfunctional at best, with the former clearly sulking over the loss of the Captaincy and his understudy’s rapidly rising star assuring him of a long career in the England 10 jersey at Farrell’s expense. Guy Porter gets a shot at starting in the midfield after impressing for Leicester this year. However, both winger Jack Nowell and Freddie Steward really need to make an impression which especially in the case of Nowell they failed to do last weekend. Apart from Henry Arundell England’s bench doesn’t exactly look to set the world on fire, and to be honest why the London Irish fullback is not starting after his remarkable 90 second debut last weekend is utterly beyond us. We know that our good mate Squidge Rugby seems to think Eddie Jones has a plan but we really are having a hard time seeing it.

Australia are fired up and England remain in a crisis of confidence. The script would say that Saturday’s encounter at Suncorp Stadium, a ground the Wallabies have a very happy track record on, is only going to end one way. It’s likely that the Castlemaine 4X will be flowing more than the Boddington’s on Saturday evening in Brisbane. England showed they can turn a game on its head last weekend, but we just don’t feel that Australia will be A) down to fourteen men again and B) let their concentration and discipline slip the way it did last Saturday. Australia are clearly enjoying themselves and playing as a team, England are not and it shows. We’d say cohesion beats confusion every time so the pressure is all on the Men in White this weekend. But everyone loves a shot at redemption so you won’t want to miss England have a go at proving us all wrong!

South Africa vs Wales – Saturday, July 9th – Bloemfontein

One of the tastiest head to heads of the summer – Springbok speedster Aphelele Fassi up against Welsh Ferrari Louis Rees-Zammit

It’s perhaps a surprising Springbok selection, and some may say favors Wales hands down, but we’d be a little more cautious in uttering such endorsements. One thing however is for certain, and that is that Wales haven’t read the preordained script for this tour as evidenced by their performance last weekend in Pretoria. Given the quality of the Springbok side that trotted out against them and recent Welsh form both in the Six Nations and the URC, a fairly comfortable whitewash was predicted. Instead, Wales made a genuinely decent fist of attempting to rewrite history and came within a hair’s breadth of causing the biggest upset of 2022. South Africa’s massive talent bank ultimately got the better of Wales at the death but boy did the Men in Red make them work for it. With a squad of lesser known players making up this weekend’s Springbok squad, many are predicting that fortune will favor Welsh bravery this Saturday in Bloemfontein. But just before we all get too carried away, let’s not forget that many of these South African players are very well acquainted with their Welsh opposite numbers through the URC where in the latter stages of the competition they clearly got the better of them. They may not be as familiar with the likes of those Welsh players who ply their trade in the English Premiership, but complete strangers to Welsh rugby they are not.

For South Africa the almost complete personnel change caught many of us by surprise. However, there are some rather impressive names in Saturday’s team sheet. While the front row especially in the shape of Hooker Joseph Dweba may struggle at times with a very capable Welsh offering, it’s still no sloucher when you’ve got guys like Thomas du Toit and Trevor Nyakane in the mix. It’s the second row where a big performance will be needed by Eben Etzebeth who seemed strangely quiet by his normally boisterous standards last weekend, in order to cover for what we feel is a definite weakness in the shape of Marvin Orie at Test level. That back row though is world class, even if question marks remain around Pieter-Steph du Toit’s fitness after a long run of injuries and if you’re not excited to see Stormers sensation Evan Roos make his Test debut then you probably only have a passing interest in our glorious game. Handre Pollard takes over the 10 jersey to restore some solidity in the half backs and Jaden Hendrikse gets his first start at 9. In the backs the only weakness we can see is Jesse Kriel in the centres, but we simply cannot wait for the F1 clash between pacesetters Aphelele Fassi for South Africa and Louis Rees-Zammit for Wales. We’re also excited to see Bulls second rower Ruan Nortje get a call to the bench.

For Wales, they’ve decided to stick with the squad that so admirably tore up the script last weekend in Pretoria. We were particularly impressed with the efforts of second rower Will Rowlands who seemed completely unfazed by the Springbok power duo he was up against and the Welsh back row of Taulupe Faletau, Tommy Refell and Dan Lydiate seemed to be thoroughly enjoying their outing on the highveld. Kieran Hardy needs to be a little more accurate in his deliveries at scrum half, and Dan Biggar must focus more on his excellent game management and less on his histrionics with the officials. We are a little surprised to see Josh Adams relegated to the bench in favor of Alex Cuthbert, and the first half will soon tell if this was the right call by Coach Wayne Pivac. It’s a very able Welsh bench that can certainly lend some weight and finishing when needed in the final quarter led by their talismanic former Captain Alun Wyn-Jones.

There is no doubt that Wales are in this one with more than just a fighting chance, but these greener Springboks are no slouches and as we saw in the URC underestimate them at your peril. There is enough talent and experience in this Springbok squad to get the younger bucks through the crunch moments. Wales clearly smell blood and fancy their chances, but although the press back home in Wales may not respect this Springbok selection, the players themselves are suffering from no such illusions. This should be a heady Test match that is more than capable of going down to the wire once more. The only certain thing about this game is that it’s almost impossible to predict and as a result could well be the most exciting game of the weekend. After writing this series off, it’s now the one we can’t drag ourselves away from!

Argentina vs Scotland – Saturday, July 9th – Salta

Some exciting Latin and Celtic options in the half back department get to strut their stuff in Salta on Saturday, in the shape of Pumas fly half Santiago Carreras and Scotland’s English heartbreaker scrum half Ben White

It was great to see Argentina finally get to play in front of a stadium full of their adoring fans after an absence of three years, and they certainly rose to the occasion. We were also heartened to see a determined Scottish supporter complete with bagpipes even if it didn’t quite help his team overcome a Pumas side that steadily warmed to the task at hand. Test Rugby returned to Argentina and the Pumas showed that the spark is still burning brightly. Scotland made a brave start to what always looked set to be a challenging tour and one which ultimately serves to separate the men from the boys.

Argentina head into this match, their second under new Coach Michael Cheika, with a few tweaks to a side that clicked rather well to say the least. Rodrigo Bruni who made such an impression in that famous victory over New Zealand a few years back comes in for Pablo Matera at eight. Santiago Carreras gets to start for the injured Nicolas Sanchez at 10, and we felt he had nothing to apologize for when he came off the bench last weekend. Juan Imhoff who looks just as sharp as he did on his debut back in 2009 comes in for Emiliano Boffelli who returns to his more traditional role as fullback. With the exception of his goal kicking, Boffelli had an outstanding game last weekend and his terrific season at Edinburgh meant he was rather familiar with the talents of his opponents and how to contain or elude them. It’s a solid Pumas bench and expect the Salta crowd to erupt as one when the old warhorse Agustin Creevy comes off it.

For Scotland, they will need to be more clinical than they were in last weekend’s Jujuy tussle. Dave Cherry replaces George Turner at Hooker and many regard him as Scotland’s premier number 2. Sam Skinner replaces a rather ineffectual Jonny Gray in the second row. It may not be as big a back row as the Pumas, but it packs plenty of power, pace and guile in the shape of Hamish Watson, outstanding newcomer Rory Darge and Glasgow stalwart Matt Fagerson. Ben White who broke English hearts at Murrayfield this year, gets a worthy start at scrum half and if Blair Kinghorn can improve his execution in the 10 jersey, then this halfback pairing could make life distinctly difficult for the Pumas. Kinghorn has a good eye for opportunity but in a much more controlled fashion than Finn Russell. Scotland will hope that winger Duhan van der Merwe can bring a bit more of his world renown physicality to the festivities in Salta than he did last weekend. Finally, we’d still like to see a bit more of Ross Thompson off the bench especially if things aren’t going well for Blair Kinghorn, as just like Ireland, Scotland desperately need some big game depth in the 10 shirt.

Scotland know that a win tomorrow will suddenly open up what always promised to be an intriguing series for both sides. We’d argue that the pressure is all on them, as the Pumas looked increasingly comfortable last weekend and are clearly relishing playing once more in front of their adoring fans. It’s a very tall order for Scotland this Saturday, and the Pumas must be relishing the chance to get their international season off to the best of all possible starts ahead of the Rugby Championship. In a day where surprises are needed across the board to keep this year’s Summer Tours alive, Saturday’s dustup in Salta should prove to be a fitting end to a glorious day of Test Rugby.

It’s Summer Blockbuster time as North meets South below the Equator

It can be said that the end of season tours by European teams South of the Equator are a mixed bag in terms of what we can expect from one group of rather weary players meeting another only halfway through their season. However, a year out from what could be one of the most hotly contested World Cups in recent memory, all eight teams have everything to play for in terms of laying down markers.

New Zealand and Ireland both know that this is the last time they will meet before a possible quarter final next year in France. Australia and England are also in the same boat though it is unlikely they will meet in the quarters next year. Wales meanwhile travel to South Africa, who they are highly unlikely to meet in France, and this tour is probably a bridge too far at the moment for a side that is struggling to find its form. The Springboks however, are exactly the opposite with South African sides ultimately dominating the new United Rugby Championship. They will relish the prospect of what for all intents and purposes looks set to be an excellent training run ahead of a tough Rugby Championship and end of year tour. Lastly a developmental Scotland side travel to South America for a three test tour against Argentina, which always serves to separate the men from the boys and Scotland Coach Gregor Townsend will be keen to see how his young guns withstand the punishment. The Pumas meanwhile will also have everything to prove after a dramatic dip in form since their historic defeat of the All Blacks two years ago and a Coaching change a mere year out from the World Cup, as controversial figure Australian Michael Cheika takes over in the Coaching box.

As a result with a myriad of plot lines to follow as the next three weeks play out, we doubt you’ll be bored and these tours are likely to keep you glued to your television sets. So here’s what got us talking ahead of this weekend’s first round of action.

New Zealand vs Ireland – Not quite business as usual this time around?

Ireland have a good track record against New Zealand in recent years, but have never beaten them at home. How much will Irish fatigue versus form and recent All Black struggles change the script this time around?

Encounters between these two sides since that historic victory at Soldier Field in Chicago by Ireland in 2016 have become rather tasty and feisty affairs. Nevertheless, victory on New Zealand soil remains the stuff of dreams for the Men in Green. There have been the odd occasions where Ireland have run their hosts close, but the Men in Black always triumph. In very simple terms, there are very few sides that can actually upset the All Blacks at home, so the problem is not unique to Ireland. However, this time around is there a chance that Irish eyes could end up smiling at the end of this tour? New Zealand as a team have not been at their best since getting knocked out of the last World Cup by England in the semi finals, and losing to Ireland and France last November. However, before you get too comfortable as an Irish supporter, the form on display by the New Zealand sides in the recently concluded Super Rugby Pacific tournament looked rather terrifying to say the least.

For Ireland, there are some alarm bells ringing as Irish and European giants Leinster fell at the final hurdle in the Heineken Cup, and Ulster and Leinster got knocked out of the URC semi finals. Leinster simply failed to adapt to their opponents while Ulster simply made too many errors under pressure. As a result Irish supporters will be hoping that Andy Farrell’s coaching staff have worked with players on their need to adapt and modify their game plan accordingly, and do it all when under pressure and develop a Plan B quickly and efficiently on the fly. A failure to do so on this tour will mean that Ireland will head home empty handed -plain and simple. There is no doubting Irish efficiency and inventiveness in the way they play the game, but there has been a reluctance to change the script if things are not going their way.

For New Zealand we’ve been scratching our heads slightly at some of the selection decisions, most notably in the scrum half department. In the front row and second rows they should be able to go toe to toe with the Irish, though we have a hunch that the lineouts will be theirs to own. In the back row we’d argue that Ireland could be the more dynamic of the two, but New Zealand should be able to provide a physicality at times that Ireland may find it hard to keep up with for three straight weeks. Aaron Smith and his deputy Folau Fakatava from New Zealand’s least successful Super Rugby side this year the Highlanders, get two of the scrum half berths and in our opinion that seems questionable. Smith is well past his best and although Fakatava is all the rage in the New Zealand pundits columns, he has yet to be tested at the International level and against one of the world’s best sides to boot. We can’t quite get our head around the fact that the Chiefs Brad Webber or Crusaders Bryn Hall didn’t get the nod, still at least the Blues Finlay Christie gets a look in. The 10 jersey is in exceptionally capable hands and looks infinitely stronger than Ireland’s even with the venerable Johnny Sexton. Lastly in the centers and back three New Zealand also looks gifted with heaps of power and pace. In short, if you’re going to watch any part of the park closely, then focus your attention on what’s happening off the back of scrums and rucks as in our opinion if New Zealand have a weakness it lies there.

For Ireland, much of the squad that has had for the most part a strong year internationally remains intact. Ronan Kelleher will be missed at Hooker though and James Ryan really needs to rediscover his form that made him such a talking point in 2018. Ian Henderson’s edginess will be missed in the second row, and the back row really need to match up to New Zealand’s physical presence and ability to slow the ball down. As much as we have concerns for the All Blacks at scrum half, Ireland aren’t on such a strong footing either. Jamison Gibson-Park is currently in a class of his own at the moment, but Conor Murray has lost form and Craig Casey is still too green. Meanwhile despite evergeen fly half Johnny Sexton being in the form of his life right now despite his age, Ireland simply doesn’t boast the depth here that New Zealand does. The Irish in our opinion have the more inventive centre pairings, even if they lack the physicality of their Kiwi counterparts, and in the back three Ireland can give as good as they get.

In short, this has all the makings of a classic Test series providing end of season fatigue and travel doesn’t get the better of the Irish in three exhausting matches. An Irish victory on New Zealand soil is certainly a possibility but a series win is probably a bridge too far. Either way it’s the one series you are definitely not going to want to miss.

Australia vs England – Is there finally a firm hand on the tiller for Australia in stormy seas while England can’t seem to ship water fast enough on their leaky boat

While Australia still struggle against traditional rivals New Zealand both at Test and Club level there are promising signs for the future in the land down under while England continue to look at sixes and sevens

Australia had a tough tour to Europe at the end of last season, but there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Australian sides made a bit better fist of it this year in Super Rugby Pacific, and there is definitely some rapidly rising talent in the Australian ranks. Defensive systems still seem to be a problem area for Australian teams but there was still a marked improvement this year from last year. Their set piece work is improving and in the centres and backs Australia are blessed with some genuine world class talent, an area that England are really struggling with.

England meanwhile seem to lurch from one disaster to the next despite having a player base that in theory should be the envy of the world. For reasons best known to themselves England are simply not reaping its rewards. Coach Eddie Jones is under pressure in the swansong of his England career, as if anything his charges seem to be going backwards in terms of their development ahead of the World Cup. Two dismal back to back Six Nations, and some worrying signs ahead of this tour in the recent Barbarians Test, leave you wondering if the vaunted but controversial Coach really does have a master plan for England as time starts to run out in terms of preparation for the next World Cup. England’s complete lack of teeth in terms of attack is now common knowledge despite the outstanding talents of fly half sensation Marcus Smith. Given the fact that Australia love to run the ball and have some remarkable athletes to do so, England must be feeling concerned ahead of this three Test series. A series whitewash by Australia which is not beyond the realms of possibility, would leave England in a crisis of confidence heading into a very challenging Autumn Series and beyond.

For Australia their front row stocks will suffer if injuries take their toll, but from the second row onwards we like the look of this Wallaby pack. We think Australia boast an excellent set of second rowers who are likely to give England a torrid time, especially in the lineouts and their back row looks infinitely more cohesive than England’s. In the half backs, Australia also look sharp with both experience and depth, while their centre offerings led by Samu Kerevi are likely to make numerous headlines. However, what we really can’t wait to see in action is Australia’s cornucopia of talent in the back three. Tom Wright has had an outstanding season with the Brumbies, Marika Koroibete is a freight train with a Ferrari engine, Andrew Kellaway excels at finding the whitewash and Tom Banks can turn a game on its head – and that’s just to name a few. In short, lookout England in this part of the park and it’s going to be all about keeping the ball away from the Wallaby speedsters.

As for England, it’s the usual Eddie Jones muddled set list. Nothing looks particularly cohesive or complimentary despite some individual chart breaking hits in the playlist. Luke Cowan-Dickie simply has to rediscover the form that abandoned him in the Six Nations or England’s life in the set pieces will be a misery, especially at lineout time. We simply can’t see England getting traction as a unit in the second row despite the extraordinary individual talents of Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes. In the back row it’s the usual unbalanced and unproven set of combinations that Eddie Jones seems to insist on, with some players such as Sam Underhill so far off the boil, that Australia’s much more cohesive and potent unit must be salivating over. In the half backs, apart from the truly exceptional Marcus Smith at fly half there is little to get excited about other than the long overdue return to the fold of Danny Care at scrum half, provided he can still cut the mustard at Test level given his age. Once again we have to ask where is Raffi Quirke at scrum half? England’s center offerings look decidedly wobbly even with Owen Farrell and the back three don’t look nearly as sharp as their Wallaby counterparts with England really needing Freddie Steward at fullback to get back to the form that made him such a standout last year.

In short, we are waiting for Eddie Jones and England to surprise us, more than Australia continuing to show a good run of form on home soil. The pressure is ALL on England and Wallaby Coach Dave Rennie and his charges will revel in England’s discomfort. Sometimes though when your back is against the wall you are able to pull off a series of blinders that no-one saw coming, so given that both sides have everything to play for in this series, it should hold your interest just as much as the action happening across the Tasman Strait in green and black jerseys.

South Africa vs Wales – South Africa fresh off their success in the URC where they regularly ate Welsh teams for breakfast, look set to turn this into a David and Goliath affair as Wales brace for impact

Are the Welsh simply going to end up as canon fodder for the Springboks, in a tour which is likely to do little for Welsh confidence while providing excellent preparation for South Africa in a tough road to the end of the year and beyond.

Believe us, we really want to be optimistic about this one. However, we can’t help feeling that Wales arrive in South Africa as deer in the headlights about to be devoured by a ravenous pack of lions. South African rugby is in a gloriously happy place at the moment. A clean sweep of the latter stages of the United Rugby Championship by the Big Three – Sharks, Stormers and Bulls, capacity crowds at long last and let’s not forget that they are still the reigning World Champions. The Braais will be blazing and the beer flowing in every backyard across the country over the next three weeks. In addition to their established overseas players, the URC highlighted a raft of up and coming players to be added to the Springbok stocks in preparation for next year’s World Cup. In short, these are good times for the Springboks and their supporters.

For Wales it’s not such a rosy picture. They had a dreadful Six Nations and their provincial teams were consistently annihilated by their South African, Irish and Scottish compatriots in the URC. South Africa only managed a narrow win over Wales at the Principality in November, so there was some hope to be had from that. However, since then you could argue that South African rugby has propelled itself forward whereas Welsh rugby has gone backwards at a rate of knots. Injuries, and a general dip in skills and execution have meant that Wales boarded the plane to South Africa with a very shaky foundation to build on. Still it’s Wales and they seem to do best when everyone has written them off, so perhaps being unburdened by the weight of expectation may just be the tonic Wales need to get them through a tour that invariably punishes the bravest of the brave.

For South Africa, there is plenty to watch over the next three weeks. Which players from South Africa’s express train of young talent that we saw during the URC will stake their claim on Springbok jerseys for the World Cup and beyond? The squad that Coach Jacques Nienaber has named is daunting to say the least. Littered with World Cup winners and full throttle debutants, it’s a squad that is already showing significant promise for next year’s global showdown and defense of their title. You already know the established names in the Springbok forward pack like Eben Etzebeth, Stephen Kitshoff, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Lood de Jager, Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane (in short the list just goes on and on), but you’ll want to watch for new sensations like second rowers Salmaan Moerat and Ruan Nortje, back rowers Evan Roos and Elrigh Louw. In the backs there is the traditional first class carriage featuring the likes of Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard, Lukhanyo Am Damian de Allende, Makozole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe but watch for some of our fan favorites in the new boys like winger Aphelele Fassi and fullbacks Warwick Gelant and Kurt-Lee Arendse.

For Wales they will need the big names in the forwards like Alun-Wyn Jones, Adam Beard, Josh Navidi and Taulupe Faletau to really step up, though without exceptional back row Superman Justin Tipuric, Wales just aren’t the same. Newcomers like back rower Taine Basham and Hooker Ryan Elias who showed so much initial promise need to find their groove again and fast. In the backs fly half and Captain Dan Biggar will really need to lead with confidence and ensure his kicking at altitude is spot on. The Welsh scrum half trio could cause some panic for South Africa providing they can keep their nerve under the pressure of a physical onslaught they simply won’t be used to. Meanwhile Louis Rees-Zammit and Josh Adams will have to show the speed and panache out wide they are known for while running a tight defensive ship, ably assisted by veteran Liam Williams and his world famous boot at fullback.

Like we say we really want to be positive about this tour for Wales, but the signs are already looking rather ominous. Bravery will be the word of the day and in that respect there are few teams that possess as much of this essential quality as Wales. However, the Springbok juggernaut looks rather unstoppable and on home ground in front of their rapturous fans thrilled to be able to watch their heroes in full stadiums once more, we have a hunch that this may be some of the longest three weeks this group of Welsh players will face in their playing careers. Either way you won’t want to miss it no matter who you support!

Argentina vs Scotland – Touring South America is never something for the faint hearted and it will be an excellent test of character for Scotland’s young guns ahead of a challenging eighteen months, while Argentina seek to get back to form with Michael Cheika

Argentina are far better than their recent form would suggest, and under new Coach Michael Cheika they will be looking to teach Scotland’s youngsters some hard lessons, while the Scots will hope to emerge with some much needed depth and ability at the end of it all

This has the potential to be a really interesting series and we have to admit one that could have huge significance on next year’s World Cup pool stages. Given England’s current wobbles, a strong series against Scotland and Rugby Championship, as well as a good end of year tour could see Argentina as genuine contenders to possibly win their pool. Admittedly their form of late has made that seem more of a pipe dream than a possible reality, but Argentina has some seriously gifted players especially those plying their trade in Europe.

For Scotland, they are the wild card in their pool come next year’s showdown in France. Their current form much like Argentina’s means that the likelihood of upsetting either South Africa or Ireland would seem remote but it’s not impossible. Consequently a strong tour to South America as well as solid Autumn and Six Nations campaigns could suddenly put Scotland back in the mix for at least a quarter final spot. However, to get there Coach Gregor Townsend will need to know that some of his younger players can really mix it with the best, and not simply rely on the mercurial and inconsistent playmaking abilities of the likes of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg. As a result he’s taken a relatively young and green squad to the Pampas. Get through this and endure the physical punishment always involved in a visit to the Pumas homeland, and Townsend and his charges can look forward once more with confidence after a Six Nations campaign that promised much but delivered nothing.

For Argentina, the big news in the forwards is new Coach Michael Cheika announcing the return of veteran Hooker and former Captain Agustin Creevy to the squad. Although 37, Creevy has been tearing it up this year with English Premiership side London Irish, whilst Julian Montoya in the same position was instrumental in ensuring that Leicester Tigers were able to lift the Premiership title. Montoya will keep the Captain’s armband but it will be fascinating to see the passionate old warhorse Creevy in action again. It’s a phenomenal forward pack for the Pumas and provided the likes of Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer and Tomas Lavanini can keep their discipline in check then it could be a long three weeks for Scotland. In the backs there may be concerns about form in the halfback department but we still think Santiago Carreras is the long term answer for the ten jersey. Out wide Argentina have plenty of pace and power and in the middle look out for the sensational Santiago Chocobarres, while at the back the increasingly reliable Emiliano Boffelli, who helped ensure that Edinburgh will be Scotland’s representative in next year’s Heineken Cup, is back to his best along with one of the most powerful right boots in the modern game.

For Scotland, we’ll be completely honest and admit that we almost breathed a sigh of relief when we saw fly half Finn Russell’s name absent from the tour party team sheet. Russell may be a genius but a team player we feel he is not, and his maverick spirit has let Scotland down more often than not at crucial moments in recent times. We’d argue the one to watch in his place is Ross Thompson. If he can prove reliable on this tour, then Scotland may have fixed one of their biggest problems in terms of consistency under pressure in relation to decision making. Elsewhere it’s time for Canadian born Hooker Ewan Ashman to rediscover his form that at times took our breath away on his debut last year. Pierre Schoeman was outstanding in the front row for Edinburgh, while impressive newcomer Rory Darge will ably complement Hamish Watson in the back row. In the backs look for Ben White at scrum half to make a name for himself this tour, and winger Rufus McLean to do the same. There’s also the usual roster of stars out wide with Duhan van der Merwe to bring his South African physicality to match the Pumas out wide and Darcy Graham to operate at full throttle.

This series could be a lot more hotly contested than some of the pundits are predicting and as a result should be well worth your time. Argentina’s decline has to stop at some point, they simply have too much natural talent and the same could be said of Scotland. Scotland may relish the opportunity to play as a team without the likes of Russell and Hogg attempting to create plays that in reality have neither the execution or support to back them up. Both sides have everything to prove and identities to create – it should make for excellent viewing.

The URC, November 5th and beyond

Yes we can see the puzzled looks on faces with this headline, but all of a sudden the competition has come down to Ireland vs South Africa, and a foreshadow of this November’s Test between the two countries and their ultimate showdown in the pool stages of next year’s World Cup. The action that will unfold over the coming weeks in the URC between the top three Irish and South African provincial sides will give us a fascinating insight into what we can expect when the players don their respective national jerseys come the fall and next year’s World Cup.

Despite some initial false starts the tournament has blossomed this year into a top quality international competition dominated by sides from the two countries. In a short space of time it has become a genuine feast of North/South rugby. For Ireland it is the kind of preparation they could have only dreamed of in the past, and for South Africa it is exposure week in week out to Northern Hemisphere rugby and how to navigate it come the World Cup. For the South African sides there is the added risk of how to balance what is essentially 12 months of club and international rugby without a break for their players, and the risks to player welfare that are inherent with such a schedule whilst still remaining competitive at the highest levels.

In short South African and Irish players are going to get to know each other very well over the next 18 months at both club and International level. Preparation which will be invaluable as both countries seek to emerge the dominant side from next year’s World Cup Pool B.

It’s one small step for Irish provincial rugby but a giant leap for the national side in terms of depth and experience

As a result of their success in the URC and the Heineken Cup, the depth that Ulster, Munster and Leinster bring to the National Squad’s talent banks is enormous

Ireland are clearly benefitting from the fact that in the case of all four provincial teams, players are contracted first and foremost to the IRFU and from there to their clubs. This helps provide a clear separation of duties from club and country, as well as a constant centrally managed conveyor belt of young talent coming through the ranks. It is that steady supply that has provided the national squad with such a wealth of talent and depth. With the three big Irish sides, Leinster, Munster and Ulster, having been so dominant this year in European competition, the national side is set to reap the harvest as Ireland prepares for next year’s World Cup in France.

Look at any of the top three Irish sides and count the number of faces aged 25 and under who have been their teams’ leading points scorers this year both at URC and Heineken Cup level.

Leinster: Jimmy O’Brien, Dan Sheehan, Ciaran Frawley, Max Deegan, Scott Penny, Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour, Ronan Kelleher, Tommy O’Brien, David Hawkshaw.

Munster: Ben Healy, Jack Crowley, Craig Casey, Gavin Coombes,Fineen Wycherly, Alex Kendellen, Jack O’Sullivan, Shane Daly, Josh Wycherly, Liam Coombes, Diarmuid Barron.

Ulster: Nathan Doak, Robert Baloucoune, Ethan Mcilroy, Michael Lowry, James Hume, Declan Moore, Tom Stewart, Angus Curtis, Marcus Rea.

Add to that a veritable busload of top flight experienced internationals and on any given day, Ireland will have no problem fielding a matchday 23 able to go toe to toe with the best. Ireland’s blend of exuberant youth and established Test veterans is probably the envy of most International Coaches.

For Leinster their quarter final opponent will be either Edinburgh or Glasgow, but a South African opponent will most likely await them in the semis. Leinster ran the top South African side the Sharks close in South Africa, only losing by 5 points, but at home South African sides have struggled to come to grips with the men from Dublin. Leinster’s two week tour of South Africa saw them beaten twice, by both the Sharks and the Stormers, but even against the Stormers and with their so called “B-” side they still managed a losing bonus point.

Munster too have been an invincible nut for South African sides to crack at home, and even on Munster’s two week tour to South Africa the Bulls and Lions were lucky to squeak out narrow wins against the men from Limerick’s “B-” squad. Meanwhile Ulster have also had a similar track record, but will have been frustrated with their rather hefty loss to the Bulls in Pretoria. They have yet to play their opponents for this weekend the Sharks, and with the men from Durban in such red hot form at the moment, there are no doubt a few nerves floating around Kingspan stadium in Belfast this week.

Whatever happens the groundwork laid by Irish sides in the coming weeks will have a huge bearing on preparation for Ireland’s encounter with South Africa come November 5th and ultimately their Pool B encounter at next year’s World Cup with the Springboks, which most likely will decide who wins the Pool and their route through the knockout stages. In terms of getting to know your most critical opponent in the opening stages of next year’s global showdown Ireland, as a result of the URC, have been given a golden opportunity.

South Africa finds itself in the best of all possible worlds in terms of exposure to the best of Northern and Southern Hemisphere rugby, but the risks of player fatigue and burnout have never been greater!

The Stormers, Sharks and Bulls all had a slow start in the URC but the last three months have seen them light the afterburners allowing them to sit at the head of the table alongside Leinster, Munster and Ulster

South African sides had an exceptionally slow start to life in the URC. So slow that the initial impressions were that a mistake had been made in bringing South African sides into a competition that is so vastly different to Super Rugby and how it is played. 6 months later and we couldn’t be singing a different tune if we tried. Admittedly South African sides have benefitted in the last two months from playing at home and often against slightly undercooked Irish sides, but their meteoric rise up the table standings can only be described as impressive.

The South African URC teams have put on some truly stunning displays of attacking rugby in the latter half of the competition, and their inclusion in next year’s Heineken Cup in addition to the URC is a mouth watering prospect. Their competitiveness in Europe has made them so attractive that they are starting to lure back some big names, Eben Etzebeth signing with the Sharks is the first of many we expect to see over the years.

However, with South Africa still committed to playing the Rugby Championship till at least 2025, the question of player welfare starts to become problematic. Let’s take the example of a star player like winger Makazole Mapimpi of the Sharks for 2022. He will have been playing in the URC since January. The Sharks are likely to get to at least the semis of the competition which will take them up to early June. It’s a short break and then straight into a tough 3 Test tour against Wales back in South Africa. He’ll roll straight out of that and into the Rugby Championship, opening with 2 tough tests against New Zealand. While all that’s going on, there is the start of the 2022-23 URC season and the first round of matches in the Heineken Cup in September and October. To top it all off, there are then the November tours featuring a challenging encounter with Ireland on November 5th, followed by France and England. He’ll end the year with another couple of rounds of Heineken Cup action. In January he’ll roll straight into more URC/Heineken Cup and ultimately the Springboks’ preparation for the World Cup culminating in their Pool B clash with Ireland for Pool top honors on 22 September next year – burnout anyone????

South Africa will be competitive across the board make no mistake, but the management of the national team now becomes a major headache. They don’t quite have the conveyor belt of talent that Ireland seem to be producing, so in a challenging year ahead of them, it seems they almost need two different Springbok sides. One that can take on the lesser mortals of teams like Wales, Italy, Australia and Argentina and another higher level squad to manage teams like New Zealand, Ireland, France and England. You could argue that any other team has similar issues, but at least for Ireland, their players get a break in August whereas many of South Africa’s URC stars will be up to their armpits in combating New Zealand that month. Both squads will need to cut it at international level but one will definitely need to be quicker at going from zero to hero and lasting the full eighty minutes both at home and on the road, and we haven’t even figured in the injury factor.

South Africa is clearly a World Cup favorite, but in a nation faced with slightly more challenges than most, balancing it all will be a fine juggling act that will require the utmost skill from players and management alike.

How all of this pans out, will no doubt become clearer as the next few weeks of fascinating URC action unfolds for both Irish and South African sides. We have a hunch that it is likely to be one of the hottest topics of debates in bars and pubs across the lands in the two countries. Make sure you don’t miss it!