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