As mentioned over on the TV page, work is dominating my life at the moment, so there is very little time to watch all the great rugby coming our way over the next three weeks, let alone write about it. However, with so much to talk about, felt I had to get something down on paper ahead of the opening weekend of the November Test window which will offer us some mouth watering contests. So instead of a piece on each of the games, sadly this week I am having to do a quick round of the key matches and a bullet point version of what struck me the most. I’ll also be attempting to put out a podcast before kickoff of the Italy/New Zealand game tomorrow morning.
So without any further ado let’s get into Part 3 and probably the game I’m looking forward to the most!
France vs Argentina – Saturday, November 6th – Paris
On paper given the recent form of both sides, this should be a fairly straight forward exercise favoring France. In the eight times the two sides have met since 2012 France have won five times. However, many of the encounters have been tight affairs and clashes between these two sides are usually worth the price of admission and ones which seem to bring out the best in both of them. Consequently, while the form book favors France by a considerable margin this is a match you may well find that your curiosity gets the better of you and you can’t look away. This could be one of the unlikely upsets of the month – remote but not impossible.
Antoine Dupont is arguably one of the best, if not the best, players in the global game right now. In terms of a rugby brain it is hard to find better allied to a skill set that at times defies belief. With regular French Captain Charles Ollivon out with injury, Dupont finds himself being handed the leader’s armband. While there is no doubting his ability, he has never Captained his club side Toulouse let alone the national side. While one can understand the rationale behind it, there is also a fear that the burden will constrict his freedom and natural joie de vivre on the pitch, qualities that serve his team so well in battle. To be honest we were surprised that back rower Anthony Jelonch didn’t get the honors after doing such a sterling job in the role this summer on France’s whirlwind tour to Australia. It’s a gamble by French Coach Fabien Galthie and we sincerely hope it’s one that pays off, especially with New Zealand lying in wait at the end of the month.
Otherwise France pack a powerful squad for this one. It’s a solid front row, with Hooker Julien Marchand looking to build on his excellent showing in Australia. Anthony Jelonch returns at 8, alongside the outstanding Cameron Woki. France are employing a powerhouse playmaking trio, comprising of Dupont at scrum half, Matthieu Jalibert at fly half and a new role for Romain Ntamack in the centres. If that doesn’t reek of razzle dazzle then we don’t know what does and the rest of the rugby world will need to pay close attention. Out wide France ooze class with Damian Penaud and Gabin Villiere, and Gael Fickou will ably marshal France’s midfield defences alongside Ntamack. Lastly one of the revelations of the Australian tour fullback Melvyn Jaminet earns a starting berth and rightly so.
A star studded bench featuring the superb utility forward Gregory Alldritt and bruising centre Jonathan Danty completes a pretty impressive looking French roster.
Argentina bring some big names to Paris for this encounter, but one guy who may not feature in the who’s who of Pumas rugby is prop Thomas Gallo. However, we have a hunch that the youngster will be by the end of this month. On debut in Argentina’s final Rugby Championship match against Australia he scored both of the Pumas tries. In short, this young man is going places in a hurry and France will need to try and stop him dead in his tracks from the outset.
For the rest, Argentina bring a star studded cast to Paris, but somehow they are having trouble remembering their lines as an ensemble so far this year. Hooker and Captain Julian Montoya was arguably the best number 2 of the Rugby Championship but allied to a losing cause. He was a fan favorite and is rapidly rising to the lofty heights of his predecessor, the legendary Agustin Creevy. It’s a powerful and dynamic second row with Tomas Lavanini and Guido Petti allied to a bone crunching and highly mobile back row of Pablo Matera, Facundo Isa and the outstanding Marcos Kremer. With fly half Nicolas Sanchez not quite match fit, Santiago Carreras continues his impressive apprenticeship in the ten jersey alongside the experienced Tomas Cubelli at scrum half. The centres and back line are all world class, they just have to gel as a unit to realize their individual brilliance.
In short it’s a quality Pumas side that just needs to keep its cool in terms of discipline and organisation and work together as cohesive unit. If they can do that, this could be a very tight and enthralling contest. If they don’t then by the time the second half gets underway it’s likely to be all about one team in dark blue jerseys till the final whistle. It may be a dead rubber if Argentina’s poor form continues, but if not this could arguably be one of the best contests of the weekend. If nothing else we have a hunch that at least the first half will be well worth your time tomorrow!
Scotland vs Australia – Sunday, November 7th – Murrayfield
If you ask us this is the game we are most looking forward to this weekend. Two teams who just keep getting better and better and who simply love to run the ball. As excitement machines these are two of the best sides we’ll see this month. In short, if you only watch one game this weekend, this is the one we think that merits your undivided attention. Since 2006 the sides have met eight times and it’s level at 4 all.
Scotland are once more reunited with Finn Russell and many wonder how different the Lions series would have gone had he been allowed to weave his magic. Alas it wasn’t to be, but Scotland will want to make sure that within reason the playmaking maverick will be given free reign over the next three weeks. While he is still prone to bouts of recklessness there is no doubt the impish fly half has brought a slightly calmer and more measured approach to his game this year. The unpredictability is still there which makes him such a nightmare for opposition defences to read, but it’s a bit more thought out than in the past and slightly less impulsive. In short, he is just as gifted as he’s always been but with experience is now packing a rugby intellect to match the skill set.
Much the same can be said of the rest of the Scottish lineup to meet this Australian outfit that suddenly seems to be going places in a hurry. The front row has been blighted by injury, but is still packing some decent threats in the shape of new man Pierre Schoeman and Zander Fagerson with George Turner needing to have the kind of performance at Hooker that helped Scotland overturn England at Twickenham in the Six Nations. It’s the back row though that excites us the most, with Jamie Ritchie, the irrepressible Hamish Watson and Matt Fagerson – all wrecking balls in their own right but welded together present an ominous force. We’ve already highlighted the quality in the half backs with Ali Price adding significant value to the scrum half berth. The backs all ooze speed and a set of heels that are going to give the Wallabies defensive structures an extreme workout. When you have the class of wingers Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham being ably assisted by Captain and fullback Stuart Hogg, backed up by Chris Harris and Sam Johnson in the centre channels, Scotland will be spoilt for choice in terms of how they’ll want to run the ball on Sunday. Perhaps our only regret is not getting a chance to see Glasgow Warriors fly half Ross Thompson get another chance off the bench.
All the talk this year so far when it comes to the Wallabies has been about the comeback of Quade Cooper in fly half berth, but O’Connor has also made his return and cleaned up his act considerably in the process. The quality was always there, but much like Cooper it was mired in personal excesses. There is no doubt he is a talented player and while he may not be able to pull rabbits out of the hat to the same degree as his Scottish counterpart, he can pack some surprises of his own when he needs to. He couldn’t ask for a better Test of how far he’s managed to progress his game in the last year than by going up against the Scottish magician. If he can hold his own and keep the Wallabies on the front foot and with the upper hand, then expect to see the Australian media suddenly forget all about Quade Cooper’s miracle comeback.
For the rest of it, despite the absence of Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete for this match, it’s still an exciting and rejuvenated Wallaby side brimming with confidence that takes to the field in Edinburgh on Sunday. Wallaby Coach Dave Rennie has decided to keep his star front rower Taniela Tupou on the bench for this one, but expect to see the Wallaby wonder weapon sooner rather than later. There’s lot of talk about the return of Will Skelton in the second row, as he features on the bench for the first time for the Wallabies since 2016. Rob Valetini and Captain Michael Hooper pack a back row that can go head to head with Scotland’s best. We’ve already mentioned James O’Connor while Nic White needs no introduction as the cheeky but resourceful Wallaby scrum half. Andrew Kellaway makes an interesting shift from the wing, where he scored try after try for Australia during the Rugby Championship to shore up the position that Australia does seem to struggle with at the moment, that of fullback. It’s quality for quality in the rest of the backs to match Scotland’s speedsters, but Australia’s defences will be tested and Jordan Petaia really needs to step up and be counted out wide, as good as he is on attack.
It’s a quality bench that sees another Wallaby return to action after a spell away, utility back Kurtley Beale. We’d argue that in Nic White and his replacement Tate McDermott, Australia have the better set of options in getting go forward ball from the scrum half position.
In short, this should be an absolute thriller of running and attacking rugby, ably assisted by a cooperative weather forecast. Of all the games this weekend, this is our number one pick and the one we feel you won’t want to miss. We have a hunch you’re going to be on the edge of your seat until the final whistle, having been fully entertained for the full eighty minutes.
So that’s it for now folks. Enjoy what should be a stellar weekend of Test Rugby and best of all another two to come. I’ll try and bash out a podcast or two early tomorrow morning before everything kicks off. Till then take care and stay safe!