Hopefully, by now you’ve regained your breath after last weekend’s thrilling opening encounters in Australia and South Africa. It was vintage Test rugby, and the South Africa/England match, in particular, was an epic that will last in our collective memories for a long time. New Zealand’s opening match gave us plenty of entertainment, but as it was provided for the most part by just one team it didn’t quite capture the imagination in the same way the dustups in Brisbane and Johannesburg did. Wales also put in a solid shift against Argentina, which should set up an intriguing contest this weekend. Canada, as seems to be par for the course these days, put in a valiant effort against Scotland but sadly were taught a rather harsh lesson on the scoreboard in the process.
New Zealand and France got the proceedings underway last Saturday, and although the All Blacks looked decidedly rusty in the first half, they seemed to effortlessly find their ruthless rhythm once more and put a bewildered looking French team to the sword. As seems the norm these days, whenever the All Blacks are involved, the match was not without its controversy, but the sight of French winger Remy Grosso leaving the field with a fractured skull put a definite damper on the proceedings. As they always do on these end of year tours, France looked tired and disorganised in the second half as New Zealand simply headed off into the stratosphere. France will no doubt be more focused this weekend, as well as motivated to put on a good show for the injured Grosso, but it will still be a very tall order to remain in touch with a seemingly untouchable All Black team.
Australia and Ireland then went at it, and as we predicted this proved to be a hugely physical encounter, and one in which Australia’s menacing back line and centre partnership ended up giving Ireland a very stern examination. The Wallaby back row of Pocock and Hooper put Ireland under all kinds of pressure at the breakdown, to the point where the Men in Green were unable to exert their traditional stranglehold on possession. There was no question that Australia were the dominant force as Ireland struggled to keep them in check. It was a game of enormous pressure from both sides, that provided plenty of big hits with Australia putting in tackles across the park that had us reeling back from our TV screens. It was a fantastic Test match that, despite the relatively low scoreline, had us on the edge of our seats for the full eighty minutes.
We always had the sneaking suspicion that the opening match of a three Test series between South Africa and England was an epic in the making and we were certainly not disappointed. It had everything – drama, excitement, comebacks and sheer all out spectacle. It may be hard to repeat that wow factor in the remaining two Tests, but last weekend’s try fest has certainly set up an enthralling series. There was that horrible feeling of deja vu in the opening quarter as South Africa suddenly found themselves 24 points down on the scoreboard. However, their comeback over the next forty was simply breathtaking and showed that Springbok rugby is far from going the way of the dodo. Much has been said of England’s loss, much of which we feel is unjustified. Despite the fact that they blew a 24 point lead and had one of their most purple periods in a match for a long time, people seem to forget that in such a humdinger of a match they only ended up losing by three points, and for the last ten minutes were pushing South Africa very hard. We very much doubt they will be such a walkover this Saturday, and it remains to be seen how much more the Springboks can raise their game.
Wales, after a scrappy win in Washington against the Springboks the week before, can feel well pleased with their efforts in Argentina last Saturday. Some of the younger players really stood up and were counted, and a certain flanker by the name of James Davies had everyone talking. As an exercise in depth development for Wales, they came away with full marks. Argentina on the other hand are clearly struggling to find their way with national Coach Daniel Hourcade, after the same group of players blossomed over the last six weeks in Super Rugby with their Coach and former Puma Mario Ledesma. Despite their disappointing showing in San Juan last weekend and the concerns around their chemistry with Hourcade, this is still a very talented group of players, who are likely to make life very difficult for Wales this Saturday as they have everything to play for.
Scotland showed that they also have some remarkable depth, as they trounced a spirited but ultimately error strewn Canadian side sadly lacking in the skills and execution needed at this level, barring one or two key players. Canada are sadly a long way from where they need to be and a further slip down the World Rankings once this June series is over seems inevitable. Canada is not without players of promise, make no mistake, but it is painfully obvious that the entire structure of rugby management in Canada needs a complete shakedown before they can realistically aspire to be a top Tier 2 nation capable of the odd big scalp once more. Perhaps the most telling example of what is wrong with the Canadian rugby is that we have struggled to find any coverage whatsoever in the press here of Canada’s Test against Russia this weekend. Matters are made worse by the fact that it would appear there is likely to be absolutely no television or Internet coverage of the match in Canada. Consequently, as much as we would like to, we are not offering any comment on the match as we simply know NOTHING about it, and will have to settle for offering the Canadian team that runs out on the pitch in Ottawa our heartfelt support.
A gripping weekend awaits, with the matchups in Australia and South Africa being the most eagerly anticipated contests of a fascinating Saturday. A series decider is on the line for both Australia and South Africa, while Ireland and England seek to set up a thrilling winner takes all third Test. Who knows maybe even France will end up surprising us as they seek to carry the torch for fallen teammate Remy Grosso and settle a few scores with the All Blacks in the process. So without any further ado, let’s get into the head to heads.
New Zealand vs France
Saturday, June 16th
France will be looking for redemption this Saturday in Wellington, especially as they are more than likely feeling slightly aggrieved that some of the calls didn’t quite go their way last weekend. To add insult to injury, the loss of such a key player as winger Remy Grosso in a brutal double tackle that ended his tour and left him with a fractured skull will have left a sour taste in the mouths of the Men in Blue. They’ll be out for revenge and to prove that Grosso’s unfortunate injury was not in vain. However, despite the motivation and the fact that some key players have joined the squad after the Top 14 final, there is still no denying that they are going to have their work cut out for them on Saturday.
New Zealand on the other hand look the part. There is no question that it took them forty minutes last weekend to blow the cobwebs off since the last time they were together, but once they did it was business as usual for the number one team in the world. Admittedly France lost the plot in the second half, but New Zealand looked frighteningly good, and for their opposition it is downright disturbing how quickly they gel as a unit. With an unchanged side from last weekend expect more of the same in Wellington this Saturday.
It’s no surprise that New Zealand aren’t tinkering with something that clearly worked last weekend, as props Owen Franks and Joe Moody retain their spots as does Hooker Codie Taylor. We were surprised however to see France stick with the same front three. In their defence we felt Hooker Camille Chat and Prop Danny Priso held up well, and we were impressed with Priso’s efforts in particular. However, we stand by what we said last weekend, prop Uini Atonio brings little to the table for France especially up against the likes of New Zealand’s Joe Moody. However, we are interested to see Atonio’s replacement Cedate Gomes Sa in action as we feel he has a bright future in the blue jersey, having caught our eye with Racing 92 in the recent European Champions Cup final. However, this New Zealand front row is so capable and established we fully expect to see the All Blacks ruling the roost here.
Once again New Zealand see no change from Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett who dominated proceedings in this part of the park last Saturday, but France’s selections once more leave us scratching our heads. We though Paul Gabrillagues was very competitive last weekend especially in the lineouts and consequently are surprised to see him on the bench, and the South African import Bernard le Roux in his place. We’re also still not convinced that Yoann Maestri is the best option for France and in general thought he had a poor game last weekend. Once again with Vaea Fifita on the bench for New Zealand, the All Blacks should comfortably have the upper hand in this part of the park all afternoon.
We don’t know enough about flanker Mathieu Babillot for France, but are heartened to see Kelian Galletier and Kevin Gourdon in the back row for les Bleus. Number eight Kevin Gourdon is one of France’s finest and although he looked tired towards the end of the match, expect him to be at his best for this encounter. Flanker Galletier has impressed all season for France and Montpellier. New Zealand still pack the more accomplished trio, in the shape of flankers Sam Cane and Liam Squire, who both dominated proceedings last Saturday along with a promising start from Luke Whitelock. With New Zealand wonder weapon waiting on the bench in the shape of flanker Ardie Savea, France will have to find something rather special to keep in the hunt on this part of the park on Saturday.
New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith were the master class last weekend and France’s Anthony Belleau and Morgan Parra were the apprentices, despite the enormous Test experience of Parra. The All Black pair may have looked a little rusty at the beginning but they soon hit their strides as the Frenchmen struggled to be competitive. We still like the look of the French bench here in the shape of Baptiste Serin and Jules Plisson, but once again feel they will struggle to compete or have much say in proceedings in comparison to New Zealand’s TJ Perenara and Damian McKenzie, even though the latter is likely to come on as a fullback rather than a fly half replacement. Nevertheless from the moment he came on last weekend, McKenzie was cutting the French defences to pieces. New Zealand are so polished here that despite the remarkable experience of French scrum half Morgan Parra, we just can’t see France having too much to say here.
It’s unchanged for both sides in midfield, but once again New Zealand had all the gas last weekend while France were running on fumes for much of the match in this part of the park, even replacement centre Gael Fickou had little if any impact on the match. New Zealand’s Anton Liennert-Brown and Ryan Crotty on the other hand were electric, and as readers of this blog know, for us this is our preferred combination at centre for New Zealand, especially with an eye to the World Cup, much to the dismay of Sonny-Bill Williams fans. As they showed last weekend, Crotty has the strength and vision, while Liennert-Brown has the speed and exceptional ball handling skills that make this such a lethal and unpredictable combination. France’s Mathieu Basteraud and Geoffrey Doumayrou possess similar talents, they are just not as explosive or polished, and judging by last weekend not nearly as fit. New Zealand’s Ngani Laumape also justified all the hype surrounding him, when he came off the bench last weekend and expect more of the same this weekend. Once again, New Zealand to be masters of France’s undoing here.
While Teddy Thomas proved problematic for New Zealand at times on the wing last weekend, we still doubt that between himself, Benjamin Fall at fullback and Gael Fickou on the other wing, there is enough here to really unravel the All Black defences. Fall comes highly rated but we haven’t seen enough of him to really judge the threat he poses. Thomas’ skills are well documented and we got more than a few glimpses of that last weekend, but for us Fickou is not a Test wing and at best an average centre. New Zealand on the other hand have gas to burn here in the shape of wingers Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith along with fullback Jordie Barrett. With Ioane running in tries from all over the park, Smith’s remarkable all round skills and vision and Barrett’s strength in defence and attack, this is going to be a unit that should be practically impossible for France to break down. As we said above, add the truly remarkable Damian McKenzie into the mix off the bench and it is likely to be fireworks central at the “cake tin” in Wellington on Saturday night. In short, New Zealand to be all over this part of the park like a rash!
Will France show up for this one? We think so, and certainly hope so, to the point where we think this is likely to be the best Test of the series. France always manage to put in one big performance on tour in New Zealand and after last weekend, they will be up for this in no uncertain terms, with more than just a point to prove. With France having beaten New Zealand in the ongoing Under 20s Championship currently taking place in France, and securing a spot in the finals, it is clear that while France may be struggling at present at the senior level there is a wealth of up and coming talent. Nevertheless it is still hard to imagine France in their current state really getting to grips with this well oiled All Black machine on Saturday in Wellington, and as a result New Zealand should wrap up the match and the series by 23 points!
Australia vs Ireland
Saturday, June 16th
Plain and simple that was a classic Test match last weekend, but the real takeaway that Australia clearly got the better of Ireland was made even more remarkable by the fact that this Wallaby side had only been together for six days prior to kick off! That’s quite an achievement against the team ranked number 2 in the world. As a result, a showdown of epic proportions awaits in Melbourne on Saturday as Australia seek to clinch the series while Ireland seek to tie it and set the tone for an epic finale in Sydney a week later. This was and is Test rugby at its best and we can’t wait for kick off on Saturday morning.
Don’t get us wrong, Ireland played well last weekend, but Australia were just more effective at turning what few genuine opportunities they had into big match points. Ireland had plenty of possession, as they invariably do, but just couldn’t turn it into enough points on the board. They were hampered by the extraordinary breakdown skills of Wallaby flanker David Pocock who seems to have come back even more dangerous than he was prior to his enforced sabbatical. Australia’s defence was exceptional, and they put in some truly massive hits that left many an Irishman wondering what universe he was in. Australia’s scrum has gone from being the laughing-stock of Test rugby to being a highly reliable platform, and it is clear that the 2018 edition of the Wallabies is already looking in rather robust health at such an early stage in their campaign.
Ireland meanwhile were just not at their best on the day, although in fairness they weren’t far from it. We thought Joey Carberry had a respectable game as starting fly half, and to be honest felt he played better than a slightly bewildered looking Johnny Sexton once he came off the bench. However, key areas where they just didn’t have the same edge as Australia were in the back row and in the backs. Irish Coach Joe Schmidt is clearly aware of what is at stake this weekend, despite the equally pressing need for the development of depth in the Irish squad, and is going with a starting XV that should be able to match the execution and intensity of their Wallaby counterparts. It’s going to be a riveting encounter with everything on the line, so make sure you don’t miss this one!
The big guns are all here for Ireland on Saturday, the only familiar face that is missing is Rory Best at Hooker. However, in our opinion we think that this is one area where Ireland really need to take the plunge and develop some depth at all costs. To that effect we are happy to see Niall Scannell starting, with Rob Herring on the bench. We thought Herring put in a solid shift, especially at lineout time last week, but Scannell, after some solid Six Nations performances, is also capable of stepping up to the plate when Ireland needs him. Scannell had a solid Six Nations in 2017 and we are looking forward to seeing him in action again. With Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy propping up Scannell, and Jack McGrath and Andrew Porter on the bench, Ireland’s work at the coal face should be highly productive and stable enough to hold their own whatever Australia throw at them.
Australia stick with a unit that stood up remarkably well last weekend and there are clearly no major concerns with Wallaby stability or technique in the front row. Furthermore, they seemed to have no problem soaking up the pressure which Ireland is famous for applying come scrum time. It may have been Hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa’s debut, but he seemed completely unphased by the occasion. Meanwhile his partners outside him, Sekope Kepu and Scott Sio, continued to build on the improvements in Wallaby scrumagging prowess that we had begun to see last year.
Despite the Wallabies ability to soak up the pressure, we still hold that the Irish are likely to be more dominant than they were last week, and the front row battles to ultimately just swing in their favor this Saturday.
Once again Australia see no change with Adam Coleman and Izack Rodda, who had a solid outing last weekend, with Coleman in particular continuing to impress. However, it was Ireland’s Jack Ryan who stole the show in this part of the park last weekend, and was arguably Ireland’s best player. As he approaches legendary status at the age of only 21, expect more of the same this weekend. Paired up with the wise head of Devin Toner, and with the much vaunted Tadhg Beirne due to get his start off the bench, Ireland should once more run this part of the park, especially come lineout time.
We just felt that the Irish back row didn’t have the edge it needed last Saturday in Brisbane. Sure CJ Stander had some of his usual barnstorming runs, and courtesy of some stellar Wallaby defence he was unlucky to not score a try, but overall the Irish trio just did not make the headlines the way Michael Hooper and David Pocock did for Australia last weekend. Peter O’Mahony was productive in the lineouts but was, along with Jordi Murphy, clearly having the show stolen from him at the breakdowns by Hooper and Pocock. Consequently, we are delighted to see Dan Leavy get a start in the number 7 jersey, as he was immense in Ireland’s Six Nations campaign this year, as well as Leinster’s European glory. Expect the Irish trio to ramp it up another couple of notches to not only work at keeping Pocock and company in check, but also create some momentum of their own. Leavy versus Pocock is likely to be worth the price of admission in itself. Consequently, in a contest that it is almost impossible to call, we’re banking on a slight degree of controlled Irish fury to just swing the battle in Ireland’s favor.
Although Mr. Sexton may have looked slightly bewildered when he came on for Ireland as a substitute, we doubt that we will see the same facial expressions this Saturday. Alongside his scrum half partner, the irrepressible Conor Murray, as good as Will Genia and Bernard Foley were for Australia last weekend, we expect to see the Irish pair dominate proceedings. With Joey Carberry likely to have less pressure off the bench, the understudy to Sexton is likely to improve on what we thought was a solid performance for the most part under the bright lights last weekend. Australia will play a good game here make no mistake, but Sexton and Murray are likely to provide a degree of control that will be more effective in pressuring Wallaby fly half Bernard Foley and scrum half Will Genia into making mistakes. The Wallaby pair caved under that kind of pressure on several key occasions last year and have yet to be tested to the same degree this year. Furthermore we just can’t see Nick Phipps coming to the rescue, so as a result we’re handing this fair and square to the Irish.
Australia were nothing short of extraordinary here last weekend. Samu Kerevi clearly has no defensive frailties and was literally smashing Irish players into the ground, while his partner Kurtley Beale was constantly pulling white rabbits out of his hat that were wrongfooting the Irish defences. Beale has literally become the magician in the Wallaby side and his creativity and vision left his Irish counterparts clutching at straws on more than one occasion. Beale is a very gifted player who we thoroughly enjoy watching, and imagine we are not alone in that view no matter who you support. Ireland didn’t have a poor game here last weekend, but the Wallaby defence was so good that despite some good ball carrying by Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw for Ireland, it all looked rather predictable and one-dimensional. As a result, enter Gary Ringrose this weekend for Ireland. While he may not have Beale’s experience and repertoire of magic tricks, Ringrose can singlehandedly shred the best defences on the planet, so expect plenty of sparks here on Saturday. Still, despite the talent on offer from Ireland, we think that defensively and on home ground, it’s going to be Australia dominating the front pages in this part of the park when we’re reading it about in the Sunday papers.
Once again Australia looked red-hot here last weekend and we expect them to be no different this Saturday. We were surprised at the complete omission, even from the bench, by Irish Coach Joe Schmidt of Irish winger Jacob Stockdale in his selection for Saturday’s Test. While we accept that some have accused the young Irish try scoring machine of being suspect in defence, we beg to differ after his try saving tackle last Saturday. Nevertheless, veteran Keith Earls who is probably having one of his best seasons ever returns with another veteran of aerial warfare under the high ball, Rob Kearney at fullback. Kearney had a solid game last weekend, but Israel Folau clearly got the better of him for Australia in the aerial contests and we expect more of the same for Australia this weekend. Andrew Conway gets a start for Ireland, and he is going to have his hands full trying to contain the explosive and hard-hitting Marika Koroibete who was once again sensational for Australia last weekend. This is a good back line for Ireland, make no mistake and with the X-factor of Jordan Larmour on the bench the Men in Green will be clearly competitive. However, we just feel that this will be Australia’s day once again in this part of the park with an alarmingly fast and powerful back three, who are also not shy in defence.
Australia on paper and at home look set to clinch the series, but we can’t help feeling that Ireland are simply not going to hand it to them so easily in Melbourne. Once more this should be an epic Test match, which if anything will rely less on the set pieces and physical battles as the turf in Melbourne seems incapable of coping with being churned up under that kind of pressure. As a result, it is likely to be even more of an open game than last week’s spectacle. Despite the seeming superiority of the Australian backs, we feel that Ireland’s game management will be better and more composed on the day, allowing their own backs and loose forwards to seal the deal for Ireland on the scoreboard. It is going to be incredibly close, but Ireland to just squeak the win by two points!
South Africa vs England
Saturday, June 16th
Last weekend’s opening dustup in Johannesburg between these two sides was one for the history books, and destined to become a video classic. The ten try epic left us exhausted just watching it. It had everything you could want from a classic Test match, an opening try blitz from England, followed by a super human come back from South Africa and ending with a nail biting final ten minutes where both sides fought tooth and nail for ascendancy. Consequently it is going to be pretty hard to top it as a spectacle when South Africa and England meet in Bloemfontein, with the Springboks looking, like their Wallaby counterparts, to seal the series. England are likely to have none of it, and while the press went ballistic in their dismissal of Coach Eddie Jones and his charges as they suffered another defeat in what is clearly proving to be a difficult year, we felt the criticisms were unduly harsh. Sure England lost, and the fact that they threw away a 24 point lead after 20 minutes is worrying to say the least, but the press made out that South Africa had run away with the game by a massive scoreline. Reality check – at the final whistle there were only three points in it!
Agreed, England looked frail defensively out wide at times and their back row organisation was once again a shambles which South Africa had a field day with. To add insult to injury their halfbacks were completely outclassed by the South African pair with Springbok scrum half Faf de Klerk making a mockery of the English game plan. Lastly England’s lock partnership had moments of brilliance but failed to fire, with Maro Itoje lacking discipline and newcomer Nick Isiekwe looking out of his depth defensively. South Africa on the other hand, in the shape of RG Snyman unleashed a nuclear missile assault on the English defences, while he and lock partner Franco Mostert dominated the lineouts. However, while England may have been lucky to finish as close as they did, you still can’t get away from the fact that at the final whistle they hadn’t been blown off the park by SouthAfrica.
This weekend, this new look Springbok side will be full of confidence and an infinitely more settled unit than the one that ran out for the first twenty minutes of last weekend’s opening match. However, with some positive changes so will England. While we have to confess to finding the logic of having the English base camp at sea level in Durban to be hard to fathom when you consider their two critical opening Tests are to be played at altitude, we doubt the English will be as ill prepared as they appeared in that middle forty minutes of last weekend’s match. Wiser and meaner, expect these two sides to literally throw the kitchen sink at each other in eighty minutes, and while it may not quite be the try scoring spectacle of last week we doubt it will lack in entertainment and excitement.
There are very few changes here from both sides. South Africa looked the better side under pressure last weekend, and we expect more of the same, especially with Prop Tendai Mtawarira receiving his 100th cap. The “Beast” may be coming to the end of an illustrious career for the Springboks but in the process is putting in some of his finest appearances to date. England are likely to be much more competitive here, especially as we feel that Frans Malherbe is a bit of a weak link for the Springboks. Despite the presence of “the Beast”, we’re nodding our head in favor of England here, especially as Mako Vunipola had a solid game for England last weekend. However, depending on how much dominance England may get initially they are likely to be up against it, once the respective benches come into play. We like Luke Cowan-Dickie for England as a replacement Hooker, but Joe Marler has liability sadly written all over him, especially in a tense encounter like this. South Africa’s bench have the incomparable “ginger ninja” Steven Kitshoff and the promising Akker van der Merwe, and if they’re not careful England could well blow any kind of edge they may have gained over South Africa in the opening stages.
England will be delighted to see Joe Launchbury return to the second row, after the failed experiment with Nick Isiekwe, but Maro Itoje will need to step up his game much more than the one opportunistic try he scored last weekend. His discipline was poor and he just wasn’t the force we have come to expect from the English second rower. Nevertheless, we still feel that England, especially at altitude are going to struggle to get to grips with RG Snyman and Franco Mostert for the Springboks. Snyman in particular was devastating last weekend, and Mostert’s abilities are extremely well documented for both the Springboks and his Super Rugby side the Lions. The South African duo were head and shoulders above their English counterparts last Saturday, and even with Launchbury fighting the good cause for the Men in White, we still expect to see South Africa dominate this contest.
Have England and Coach Eddie Jones finally got it right in this part of the park, with their selections for Saturday? The proof of the pudding will be in the eating but we certainly think it is a step in the right direction. We really liked what we saw from flanker Tom Curry last weekend and thought he was one of the bright points in England’s performance. Brad Shields looks electric in Super Rugby, and despite his move to England, we expect him to be a real asset to the English cause and consequently can’t wait to see him and Curry attempt to bring some long overdue stability and energy to a long-faltering English back row. On that note, you could argue that the return of Billy Vunipola at number eight should complete the transformation. However, he looked seriously out of puff for most of last weekend’s encounter, something the Durban air is unlikely to help with in Bloemfontein. Consequently, we feel the best is yet to come from this exceptional player, but so soon from his return from injury we doubt we’ll see it this tour. Given the continued experimentation by England here, it will be tough for them to get the better of the powerhouse trio of the Springboks Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit. Although du Toit may be playing out of position, he has proved himself equally versatile in his preferred position of lock and as a flanker, which is where he will play on Saturday. South Africa once again provide a powerful bench with Jean-Luc du Preez and Sikhumbuzo Notshe, and as a result we expect to see South Africa dominate proceedings despite a much tighter looking and potent English offering than we have seen up to now.
With South African scrum half Faf de Klerk being one of THE talking points of last weekend, it is hard to see much being different this weekend, other than England being slightly wiser to his lightning quick reflexes and decision-making. We don’t think it’s going to be enough for England to get the better of him and fly half Handre Pollard. We didn’t really see much from English scrum half Ben Youngs that made us take notice, and although fly half George Ford looked a bit sharper towards the end of last weekend’s opening Test, doubts remain for us that this is really the best England can offer in this department. Either way we can’t see them creating the same kind of chaos that de Klerk offers, and Ford having the measured boot at altitude that Pollard possesses. Provided the South African pair can go the distance and help build a dominant lead for South Africa then this part of the park should be in safe hands for the Springboks. However, if it is an even contest, things could turn out differently once the benches come into play. We still don’t rate replacement fly half Ivan van Zyl for South Africa but feel he is a safer bet than Elton Jantjies at Test level, but Danny Cipriani finally gets his long-awaited chance to show what a potential game changer he could be for England. South Africa will need to hope that when he does get it, it will be too late. A big gamble but one which should favor South Africa.
Despite the fact that we really liked what we saw from Lukhanyo Am last weekend for the Springboks, our doubts around Damian de Allende as a genuine Test centre have not changed. As a result we hand this contest fair and square to England. Owen Farrell is a proven commodity of the highest calibre and his partner Henry Slade is in our opinion the way forward for England, even if he may be struggling at times to get up to speed in the Test arena. We are not even convinced that Jesse Kriel can do much to help South Africa’s fortunes here off the bench. So this should be England’s contest to control comfortably even if Farrell and Slade were perhaps not at their best last weekend.
It will be close here, and despite the critics we thought Elliot Daly had an excellent game for England last weekend at fullback, and wingers Mike Brown and Johnny May also performed well in the opening and final quarters despite a truly purple patch in the middle. However, South Africa’s trio really caught the eye. Fullback Willie le Roux came bursting back onto the Test stage with a vengeance after a clearly productive spell in England. Meanwhile, the new caps on the wings S’busiso Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi, really made us sit up and take notice. Despite struggling defensively in the opening quarter, they soon seemed to get a handle on this aspect of their game and clearly benefitted from le Roux’s experience. Given the fact that this trio are likely to be much more familiar with each other come this Saturday, this is a genuinely potent strike threat from the Springboks, which at altitude we feel England are still going to struggle to contain. We didn’t see much from the replacements last weekend that really stood out on either side, even though Warrick Gelant at fullback has genuine promise for South Africa. We feel that although South Africa may have less overall experience than England in their starters, with the obvious exception of le Roux, they are likely to be more dangerous with ball in hand. Once more a tight contest, but a bit more X-factor is likely to be available to South Africa to keep the English defences guessing.
Another close call here, and one which has caused much debate amongst us, but we think that England may well end up regretting training in Durban this past week. England are highly unlikely to come unstuck for forty minutes like they did last weekend, but we still think they are going to be up against it in Bloemfontein. Consequently in front of a very noisy home crowd and at altitude, South Africa are likely to throw England off guard once more in a lower scoring game which they will win by six points and clinch the series!
Argentina vs Wales
Saturday, June 16th
Wales must be feeling exceptionally pleased with the results of their end of year travels. They have two wins under their belts in difficult circumstances and in the process have learnt a great deal about their depth. They will head into this final Test brimming with confidence, and are likely to be satisfied even if they end up taking a narrow loss. Argentina are clearly struggling to translate their recent successes in Super Rugby, under Coach Mario Ledesma, into results on the Test stage under beleagured Pumas Coach Daniel Hourcade. While some may be calling for Hourcade’s head, we would consider it sheer folly to make such a wholesale change at this stage in Argentina’s preparations for next year’s World Cup in Japan. Argentina may clearly want to involve Ledesma more closely in the buildup to Japan, but it is still important to remember that it is Hourcade who took Argentina to the semi-finals of the last World Cup. Hourcade may need to adapt but so will the players, and Saturday’s contest should be a genuine recognition of this by both parties and which hopefully translates into the results the Pumas so desperately need. Either way we doubt the Pumas will be as lacklustre as they were last weekend.
Wales shuffle their front row to a mix of personnel that have appeared in the previous two Tests this June. A shuffle it may be, but based on performance, one that should not overly concern Welsh supporters. Wales have looked exceptionally solid at scrum time against both South Africa and Argentina. By contrast Argentina looked decidedly shaky, particularly in terms of discipline last weekend in this part of the park. Nevertheless, we all know the talent this Pumas front row has. Pride is likely to come into play and with the inspirational Agustin Creevy front and centre, we expect Argentina to reassert some traditional dominance here. Consequently, Wales to give as good as they get but a more polished Pumas front row to gradually get the upper hand in this part of the park.
The Welsh second row held their own against a very potent Pumas offering that on paper should have outmuscled them twice over. Consequently, Wales sees no change here with Adam Beard and Cory Hill up against Tomas Lavanini and Guido Petti. Nevertheless, in front of a passionate home crowd, and provided Lavanini can keep his discipline, we’re handing this contest to Argentina, especially with Matias Alemanno on the bench.
Wales surprised us all with flanker James Davies last weekend who put in an outstanding shift in the red jersey, while number eight Ross Moriarty was back to his bruising best. Ellis Jenkins returns as blindside flanker after acquitting himself well in Washington against South Africa. On paper though, that Argentinian back row looks utterly devastating. It didn’t quite fire last weekend, but we can’t help feeling that will change this weekend. Wales will be exceptionally competitive here, but we expect the Jaguares firm of Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer and Javier Ortega Desio to really deliver, especially with the added support of Tomas Lezana off the bench. Expect a very physical contest here with the Pumas to make slightly more of getting go forward ball despite a very spirited Welsh challenge.
Pumas Coach Daniel Hourcade has gone with his trusted combination of scrum half Martin Landajo and fly half Nicholas Sanchez. Once again we know the quality of this pairing it just needs to find the rhythm it clearly lacked last weekend, and the composure that under Ledesma and the Jaguares has produced such solid results. Rhys Patchell has been very impressive this tour for Wales at fly half and he should continue to deliver on Saturday as should Aled Davies at scrum half. We also feel the Welsh bench of Gareth Anscombe at fly half and Tomos Williams at scrum half also adds more in the way of surprises than Argentina. So despite Argentina’s experience in their starting pair, Wales are likely to weather the storm and ultimately come out as the more composed platform in this part of the park.
There is some genuine power here for Wales in Scott Williams and Owen Watkin, and Argentina are going to have to be at their best on Saturday to keep these two in check. Nevertheless, we are handing this one to Argentina in the shape of Matias Orlando and Jeronimo de le Fuente. Although relatively quiet by their standards and lacking in the execution needed last weekend, we expect them to be much better this Saturday and the more creative pairing.
Despite the presence of George North on the wing for Wales, we still feel that the Pumas trio are likely to be the standouts on Saturday. Hallam Amos has consistently impressed on this tour at fullback, but Argentina’s Emiliano Boffelli is genuinely world-class as are his two partners on the wing Bautista Delguy and Ramiro Moyano. Given space these three can carve up huge areas of the park, with Moyano in particular having a real intimacy with the try line. Wales weren’t found wanting here last weekend, but the Pumas trio are likely to step it up a few gears on Saturday and we just have the feeling that they are likely to leave the Welsh youngsters in their dust despite the experience of George North.
Sure we got it wrong last weekend, but we just can’t see the Pumas being that out of sorts again. As a result, Wales are likely to run Argentina very close, but we expect to see the Pumas get themselves warmed up for the Rugby Championship in August and eke out a gritty but more composed performance and thus the win by four points!