It has been a remarkable month of Test rugby and perhaps most important of all the participants have made huge strides in squad development. New Zealand have won their series against a spirited French team, and in this final Test really look to learn a lot about the depth of their reserves as they field a raft of new caps. France have fought bravely and with just 14 men almost from the outset in the second Test pushed New Zealand hard all the way to the final whistle. In the process, they learnt a great deal about some of their younger players, and we have to confess to liking what we saw. New Zealand, still look like the force to be reckoned with that we have come to expect, but the second Test showed some weaknesses and vulnerabilities that surely must provide some comfort to their opponents in this year’s upcoming Rugby Championship.
The series between Australia and Ireland heads into its final chapter this weekend, and what a ride it’s been! With the series tied one apiece and plenty of experimentation, albeit some of it enforced by injury, it has been a fascinating contest. This weekend’s finale sees both teams rolling the dice in terms of selection, but either way a contest that should provide plenty of excitement awaits and is by a country mile the highlight of the weekend’s action.
England lick their wounds after a disappointing series that has left them playing for pride on Saturday in Cape Town. Meanwhile a resurgent Springbok side has started their new era under Coach Rassie Erasmus with flying colors after winning the opening two matches of the series. Admittedly the first Test was won on a knife-edge by South Africa, but the second Test clearly showed the South Africans on an upward trajectory while England appeared to be going backwards and no closer to resolving the issues that have been prevalent throughout a troubled season.
Argentina lick their wounds and contemplate a coaching crisis as they prepare for a final Test against a developmental Scottish side this Saturday, after a poor showing in their two recent losses to Wales. There has been an axe hanging over Coach Daniel Hourcade’s head since the last World Cup, and it has finally fallen after a dismal two Test series against Wales. Hourcade’s position with the Pumas comes to an end after the Scottish Test. Nevertheless, despite the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the Pumas there is no denying that there is still some world-class talent in the squad. We feel that this match may bring out a better Pumas performance, especially against such an experimental Scottish side who themselves are struggling to come terms with their recent tour loss against the USA.
Lastly Canada take on the USA in Halifax this Saturday. To say that it has been a very unhappy month for Canada would be an understatement. The team looks in disarray and unable to string together any kind of coherent performance. Despite plenty of experimentation with starting selections, nothing has really stood out that makes one believe Canada is close to reversing its seemingly inevitable slide down the world rankings. The USA arrive in completely the opposite frame of mind and brimming with confidence. There seems to be some genuine world-class talent amongst their ranks backed up by a solid coaching regime. After a highly successful Americas Rugby Championship this year, the USA has looked solid in their two Test victories against Russia and Scotland this month. The Scotland match also showed some real resilience by the Eagles to get over a shaky start and get the win. Despite home advantage Canada will be up against it this weekend. Furthermore, to add insult to injury the game has received little if any coverage in the media in Canada and is not being televised on any Canadian networks.
Our resident scribe is on the road this week, so has not been able to put our musings to paper in as much detail as we usually like. Consequently, our in-depth look at this weekend’s action will be limited to the only series left to be decided between Australia and Ireland. For the rest we’ll offer some brief musings on what we think the outcome may be. So without any further ado let’s get into it.
New Zealand vs France
Saturday, June 23rd
It’s certainly an interesting selection from New Zealand for this one, and with the series wrapped up in their favor, Coach Steve Hansen clearly feels that now is the time to have a closer look at his resources. France on the other hand, field arguably their best side since the series began with the exception of Mathieu Basteraud and Remy Grosso absent. Although New Zealand may be experimenting somewhat it is still a formidable side that it is still likely to be exceptionally hard for France to get past.
That being said, New Zealand looked less than flash last Saturday in the second half and really struggled to put away a 14 man French side. With France at full strength and fielding a very strong side expect fireworks once more. France may have lost the series but there will be more than a few scores to settle this weekend, consequently we expect to see them down but not out. There will be some excellent back row battles on Saturday, and we are especially pleased to see Kelian Galletier in the thick of things as we thought he was a standout performer for France last weekend. New Zealand put a newcomer up against him in the shape of Shannon Frizell. Ardie Savea gets a spot starting at number 7 as opposed to being on the bench and the contest between him and France’s Mathieu Babillot should be highly entertaining, especially as the French newcomer acquitted himself well last weekend. Kevin Gourdon at eight for France was outstanding last weekend and expect plenty of leadership from him in the absence of Basteraud.
Damian Mackenzie gets a rare start at fly half for New Zealand but then he is simply dangerous from wherever he is on the park. Morgan Parra who is the Captain for France this week played a smart game last weekend drawing on his extensive Test experience, and his fly half partner Anthony Belleau continues to show why he has a big future ahead of him.
We’ve heard lots of great things about Jack Goodhue of the Crusaders getting his start for the All Blacks in the centre with the long-awaited return of Sonny Bill Williams. Meanwhile Wesley Fofana returns for France in the centre alongside Remi Lamerat. We liked the look of that French set of backs last weekend and it would appear to pack even more power this weekend.
In short, despite the series being wrapped up we are looking forward to this one, especially if last weekend was anything to go by. France still have a long way to go, but overall after the setbacks of the last few years, there definitely seems to be some progress being made and a new fire in the belly just in time for the World Cup. We still find it hard to see anything other than a New Zealand win, but this could end up being the best match of the series. New Zealand to complete their own learning curve and take a solid contest from the French by 12 points!
Australia vs Ireland
Saturday, June 23rd
We always firmly believed that this series would come down to this. Despite Ireland’s considerable successes this year, we just couldn’t see them getting a series whitewash against Australia. Australia have impressed make no mistake, but it would appear that Ireland got the measure of them last weekend, even if it took a full strength Irish side to do so. For this final Test of the series, despite what is at stake, Irish Coach Joe Schmidt has once more chosen an experimental route and despite the gamble it is a move we applaud. While there is no question that a series win is very much at the forefront of the players’ ambitions on Saturday, Ireland have also managed to use this tour to give a broad range of players some solid game time under pressure.
Australia have looked good this series and will take some beating on Saturday even without star fly half Will Genia who is absent due to injury. Although we consider his replacement Nick Phipps to be somewhat of a liability in a Wallaby jersey, this is still a formidable Wallaby outfit, with some of the most gifted backs in Test rugby. Ireland should once more control the game through their forwards and half backs, but if Australia get the space they excel in then it could be a very long afternoon for the Men in Green, especially if Kurtley Beale, Marika Koroibete and Israel Folau get a genuine say in proceedings amongst others.
Whichever way you cut it that is a fearsome Irish front row. We are delighted to see Sean Cronin get a start at Hooker, especially as some press reports have perhaps falsely speculated that he has fallen out of favor with Coach Schmidt. Cronin brings some genuine go forward ability to the front row and whenever he is within reach of the try line expect him to be making the headlines. Prop Tadgh Furlong has cemented his truly legendary status on this tour, and once this number 3 builds up a head of steam there are few if any who can stop him. Australia’s front row remains unchanged and in their defence this trio has been the bedrock of the Wallaby’s resurgence this year. Expect them to be highly competitive against Ireland, but we just feel that Ireland are packing the most lethal combination of the two sides.
After a very uncomfortable knock to the face last weekend we are very happy to see Australian lock Adam Coleman back in the starting lineup this Saturday. Without a doubt one of the very best of Australia’s new generation, he brings a real edge to Australia’s forward effort and presence in the lineout. His teammate Izack Rodda has also impressed this series and this pair definitely looks the combination of choice going forward for the Wallabies. Ireland field the irrepressible James Ryan who would easily make any World XV right now. Ireland choose to stick with the tried and trusted experience of Devin Toner alongside Ryan, and with the outstanding Tadhg Beirne on the bench, we are given cause to think that Ireland are just going to edge a very tight contest on this part of the park.
After being bossed around by the Australian back row in the first Test, Ireland clearly got the measure of the Wallaby trio last weekend, and we have a feeling they are likely to do so again this Saturday, even without Dan Leavy. Ireland continue to experiment with CJ Stander moving to blindside flanker and Jack Conan coming in at eight. Peter O’Mahony who we felt had an exceptional game last weekend also shifts position to openside flanker. Meanwhile for Australia, Lukhan Lealaiauloto-Tui gets his first cap and David Pocock returns to his more customary position of number eight. This is likely to be an almighty scrap but we can’t help feeling that as long as they work in concert with their half backs Ireland should have the upper hand here.
As most readers of our musings over the years know, sadly we have little if any faith in Australia’s Nick Phipps at scrum half. Impetuous and often lacking the composure and maturity needed at this level, we find him to be a potential Achilles Heel for Australia. There is no denying that he has flashes of brilliance but he just doesn’t have the skill set and vision of Will Genia who has been so impressive for Australia in this series. Bernard Foley definitely seems to have found his groove again, and expect another good outing from a player we have always felt is one of Australia most reliable assets, despite his dip in form last year. However, when you’re up against Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray, as was seen last weekend you are taking on two of the world’s very best, especially when it comes to tactics. There are potentially huge cameos here for their replacements, scrum half Keiran Marmion and new cap and fly half Ross Byrne who has so impressed for Leinster. We feelAustralia are unlikely to match up in this part of the park, especially if Ireland’s starting duo stay on well into the final quarter.
This is where we expect Australia to utterly dominate proceedings. We are just not convinced at the moment by the Aki/Henshaw pairing for Ireland. Both are good players make no mistake, but compared to the Australian offering we just feel that they lack the same degree of all-out creativity their Wallaby counterparts possess, especially Kurtley Beale. A real counterweight to the Australian genius in this part of the park last weekend was Gary Ringrose for Ireland, but without him we feel that Australia are likely to have much more to say than Ireland here on Saturday.
Ireland’s try scoring machine, Jacob Stockdale returns after sitting out the second Test. While some have criticised his defensive abilities, we still hold that he poses such a threat out wide it’s worth the risk. Furthermore, we feel that the criticisms regarding his defence are starting to become a thing of the past. Add in Ireland’s Keith Earls on the opposite wing and there is no doubt that this is a strike threat likely to have kept the Wallaby think tank up at night this week. Rob Kearney continues his stellar form at fullback, and while he may not be able to match Australia’s Israel Folau’s abilities in the air, he has consistently made significant metres for Ireland in both Tests this month and is a keen and reliable competitor. Australia however, do look quite frightening in this part of the park with the electric Marika Koroibete and Dane Haylett-Petty out wide on the wings, and aerial magician Folau bringing up the rear. The all round skill set of the Australian trio cause us to give them the slightest of nods once more in this part of the park.
In short – what a contest! Australia look perhaps the more settled of the two sides, and on home soil in front of a sell out crowd in Sydney it is hard to see past a narrow Australian win to clinch the series. However, despite these obvious advantages and the fact that Australia are playing some brilliant rugby, we have a hunch that the brains trust of Schmidt, Sexton and Murray have a plan for this one. Consequently, it will be tight and down to the wire and hopefully an enthralling contest. Nevertheless, we have a hunch that Ireland are going to continue writing their own recent history and clinch their first ever series win on Australian soil by two points!
South Africa vs England
Saturday, June 23rd
With a strong possibility of rain and the absence of the altitude factor, England should feel much more at home in Cape Town on Saturday than they have on the high veld for the last two weeks. South Africa on the other hand, are likely to rise to the occasion in the “Mother City” much as they did against the All Blacks last year in one of their finest moments of an otherwise dismal season.
We are not convinced by the South African front row of Frans Malherbe and Chiliboy Ralepele, even though the legendary Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira is packing down alongside them. Although they haven’t had the best of tours, England’s Jamie George and Kyle Sinckler should be able to hold their own, while the battle of discipline goes on between Joe Marler and Frans Malherbe.
Joe Launchbury was the standout player for England last weekend and can hold his head high and will continue to lend some much-needed stability and work ethic to England’s forward effort this Saturday. Maro Itoje really needs to get his discipline in check and show once more why he was so much on everyone’s radar eighteen months ago. There were glimpses of it last weekend but still not enough. South Africa on the other hand pack a superb second row with RG Snyman and Franco Mostert, with the former really being a prospect for the Rugby Championship later this year.
We just can’t see England’s back row of Chris Robshaw, Nathan Hughes and Tom Curry making much headway with South Africa’s Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit. Having said that, we feel that beleaguered English Coach Eddie Jones can take some comfort from his faith in the youngster Tom Curry. We have been very impressed with what we have seen so far from the young man and he is clearly a huge talent in the making for England, and a first step towards resolving their back row dilemmas.
We were very surprised to see South African Coach Rassie Erasmus choose to roll the dice in the half back offerings, by electing to start Elton Jantjies, even if he is starting alongside his former Super Rugby partner scrum half Faf de Klerk. Two seasons ago this pairing was electric with the Lions, but since then Jantjies has failed to really find his rhythm and it remains to be seen if being reunited with de Klerk brings back the old magic and also translates it into Test level success. England too have chosen to take the adventurous route and Danny Cipriani finally gets a long-awaited Test call up. From the impact he made in the final ten minutes of last weekend’s match you have to wonder how different the series could have been had he been the starting fly half from the get go. Definitely some lessons to be learnt here for England on Saturday.
With the series won, South Africa choose to experiment in the backs once more with the exciting Andre Esterhuizen pairing with Jesse Kriel at centre and Warrick Gelant getting a starting berth at fullback. England however, choose to stay the course with the lineup they have had since the start of the Test series. In essence there is nothing to fault here as all five Englishmen have put in big performances when they have got quality ball. However, Captain and centre Owen Farrell needs to really lead from the front this weekend. There is no denying that the pressure clearly got to him last Saturday and he failed to provide the leadership his team needed, and sadly came across as petulant and negative – hardly the qualities you need to lead your troops out from the quagmire they seem to have found themselves in these days. While we could understand his frustration at times last weekend, unfortunately as Captain he really needs to rise above it and set an example to his teammates, even if on occasion he feels they are getting the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the calls being made.
In short, the series may be done and dusted in South Africa’s favor but there is still everything to play for. However, even with the injection of pace and skill Cipriani brings, we are not sure it will be enough to reverse England’s fortunes on this tour given the fact that morale in the English camp would appear to be at an all time low. South Africa despite the experimentation going on in this Test, still pack an awesome bench that is set to come on to rescue the final quarter should things have come unstuck. With names like le Roux, Kitshoff and Pollard, South Africa have plenty of game breaking weapons that a tired and disillusioned England may simply find too much to deal with at the end of 220 minutes of gruelling Test rugby which has been played out over the last 3 weeks. Consequently, South Africa to take the series 3-0 and the match by 4 points!
Argentina vs Scotland
Saturday, June 23rd
After a disastrous two match series with Wales, the axe has fallen for Argentinian Coach Daniel Hourcade, and this marks his last match in charge of the Pumas. Argentina have looked a shadow of the Super Rugby franchise, the Jaguares, that has taken the Super Rugby world by storm in the latter part of the season. Scotland meanwhile, have used this June tour to the Americas as a process of development and while it has been one of mixed fortunes, there have been some valuable lessons learnt in terms of depth. This final test may be a bridge too far against a Pumas side likely to snap out of their malaise, especially with the prospect of a new Coach taking the reins for the Rugby Championship later this year, and a return to their Jaguares exploits next weekend.
While we have struggled to find much to get excited about in the Pumas performances of late, one name that has really stood out, especially in last weekend’s second Test against Wales is right wing Bautista Delguy. He was simply everywhere last Saturday and, had he had the rest of his team with him, could have really made a difference to the outcome of last match against the Welsh.
We think this should be an interesting contest and are expecting a significantly improved performance from the Pumas, despite the Coaching uncertainties surrounding the team post this match. Let’s not forget that Hourcade did take Argentina to the semi finals of the last World Cup, and as a result despite some of the tensions that have arisen since then, they are still likely to want to give him a fitting send off. Therefore we expect the Pumas to get their groove back and play with the style and efficiency that has served them so well as the Jaguares, and take the match by four points!
Canada vs USA
Saturday, June 23rd
Unless you pay a monthly subscription to the US site the Rugby Channel, this match would be passing you by this weekend, as has much of Canada’s June Test window. Sadly, in the process we haven’t missed much, as Canada continues in its free fall down the world rankings. There seems little or no direction in selection policy or creating a team for the future. Canada looks poorly coached and disciplined and it is hard to see them gaining much traction on a US team that seems to go from one success to another.
The US as mentioned above is, in contrast to Canada, clearly on an accelerating upward trajectory. It’s a talented side brimming with confidence. Canada will play for pride, but sadly without the execution and discipline needed at this level, we doubt that it will count for much against the skill set and clinical efficiency of the Americans.
We just can’t see a positive result for Canada on Saturday, despite the heart and commitment with which you know the team will play, especially in front of a home crowd and against their arch rivals. The Americans though are better organised and coached, and have a clear understanding of the game they want to play. Consequently, despite Canada putting up a “Braveheart” challenge it won’t be enough to stop a very determined and capable Eagles outfit from claiming the win by 23 points!