November Internationals – Europe
It’s another exciting weekend ahead for Test Rugby as the November
Internationals continue and we look at three upcoming fixtures:
France vs Argentina – Paris
Wales vs New Zealand – Cardiff
Ireland vs Australia – Twickenham
It will be a bit of brief post this week as yours truly is on his way to be amongst the masses at Dublin this Saturday at the Aviva Stadium for what should be the fixture of the weekend – Ireland vs Australia. So I apologise that I won’t be reviewing the previous weekend’s outstanding games by South Africa and France as well as not looking at South Africa’s fixture this weekend with Italy.
Fixtures this weekend
France vs Argentina
Saturday, November 22nd
Expect a battle royale this weekend in Paris. There was plenty of French flair on offer last weekend in Paris against Australia as we finally saw a French unit starting to click and which managed to hold on against Australia who aside from disciplinary lapses which ultimately cost them the game, fought hard to try and close France out of the game in the last quarter.
There has been enough said of the spectacular Teddy Thomas, and obviously not much more I can say. The man is an electric talent; raw on experience which clearly shows but as his game develops he will be a major international star. Slot him into a well organised team that knows how to use his strengths and cover for his weaknesses and suddenly France has some attacking prowess they have not had for a long time.
Argentina will recognise this and you can be sure that Nicolas Sanchez will be working hard to make sure that Thomas does not get the space he needs, while Argentina’s ferocious forwards will have to work really hard to deny their French counterparts quick front foot ball. There is no doubt that the Pumas will consider this match to be THE test of their November campaign and I think it unlikely that they will show the same complacency and lack of composure that cost them the match in Scotland and caused them to have to work far harder than they should have in Rome. Although they carried the day in Rome, they were far from convincing at times and certainly not the polished outfit we saw during the Rugby Championship.
However, as he has for Clermont Auvergne, Camille Lopez will match Nicolas Sanchez in every department and this will be one of the key battles of the match. It was heartening to see France’s performance in the forwards department in the match against Australia and they will have to step up a notch if Argentina show up in form in this area on Saturday. Furthermore, the French were extremely impressive in defence and missed very few tackles effectively shutting down the likes of Folau and Kuridrani, the latter in particular was not allowed any room at all to the point where he hardly featured in Australia’s game.
Be assured that as Argentina’s last game together of the year, they will want to end on a high. It will be a tough and gritty contest, but if Argentina stay focused and use the best scrum in the world to full effect, I am willing to bet that it will be incredibly close but Argentina will just squeak past Les Bleus. Either way expect a dramatically improved performance from Los Pumas than we have seen this November and a spirted performance from a French side finally showing the world why they are considered one of the sleeping giants of world rugby.
Wales vs New Zealand
Saturday, November 22nd
Given the way New Zealand are playing at the moment I think there are few of us who are doubting a comprehensive win by the Men in Black in Cardiff on Saturday. This is not to be disrespectful to Wales, but let’s be honest the All Blacks are in a league of their own and as their last game of the year, you can be assured that they will finish in style and be keen to make a statement and set the benchmark.
So Wales, will go into this as massive underdogs, which will mean that they will either play the game of their lives and shock the world or simply reinforce rugby’s status quo. Let’s all remind ourselves of what happened to Ireland as the team that everyone had written off when they went up against the All Blacks on their final game of the year. However, I can’t see the same happening this year. The wakeup call New Zealand got in Dublin last year is unlikely to be repeated again this year. New Zealand have shown conclusively that they learn from their mistakes better than any other team in the world.
Wales have the skill as well as individual and collective talents to take on New Zealand where it matters, but this year they have consistently been unable to close out games against the big teams. Therefore as much as I expect to see a spirited Welsh performance that will make the previous weekend’s lacklustre effort against Fiji seem like ancient history, expect a fired up New Zealand to walk away with this one comfortably. For Welsh rugby let’s hope we’re proved wrong!
Ireland vs Australia
Saturday, November 22nd
And so we come to THE BIG ONE of the weekend, and which yours truly will be luckily attending in person. As Ireland and Australia duke it out to see who really is the world’s third best team if the IRB rankings really mean as much as we would like them to mean, both sides have sensibly tried to detract attention from this and focus instead on the task at hand. Ireland at the moment are on a high and are discovering an exciting life post Brian O’Driscoll as well as realising that there is now some serious depth developing in Irish rugby.
Australia will have everything to prove and everything to lose. There is no doubt they are smarting from being pipped out of third by the Irish however temporary it may be. Furthermore, the rumble in Paris has no doubt been a rallying point and one which will make them work even harder to re-establish themselves in rugby’s pecking order. Just like the wounded Springboks proved so devastating against England, I fear that the Irish will be up against a similar scenario with the Wallabies this weekend in Dublin. Australia continue with experimentation in the midfield by starting Henry Speight at 11, which given such a high pressure game I feel is a tad risky. Whatever their faults the current Wallabies side has a considerable amount of time in together over the last few months and I would argue is worth sticking with. Speight although brilliant has not had that luxury and if anything may be lacking in game time especially at such a high level. Much has been said of the possible impact of Cooper, Beale and Genia as they are brought off the bench towards the end of the game – I think it is safe to say that it will either prove an enormous asset to Australia or a serious handicap depending if this trio bring their A game or another questionable round of nervy decision making.
Ultimately, this contest will be won in the battles of the halves, and for the first three quarters of the match I expect to see Ireland have the ascendancy in this department. The Sexton/Murray partnership has more technical savvy than that of Foley/Phipps. If Ireland win this battle and build a convincing lead in the first three quarters and manage to shut down the danger men of Kuridrani and Folau, then the pressure may cause Cooper/Genia to crack and have one of their throwaway games once they are brought on. Ireland’s forward pack should be able to put enough pressure on their Australian counterparts to cause them to have the lapses of discipline we have seen all too often in the Wallabies.
In the end I would argue this the hardest of all the November Internationals to call. Michael Cheika knows Irish rugby well through his time at Leinster and is likely to have his charges well prepared for whatever the Men in Green can throw at Australia. Ireland are on a high and the Dublin faithful will be a powerful sixteenth man, ably led by one of International Rugby’s talismans Paul O’Connell. It is going to be close – so close – but wearing my heart on my sleeve I am putting a bet on Ireland to take the spoils by a mere point or two. Hang on to your seats people!