The Springboks’ monumental meeting with France in Marseille headlines another box-office weekend of international rugby, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The Pumas will look to keep the party going against Wales in Cardiff in one of the other five main fixtures on Saturday, while the Sunday showcase will see Scotland square off against the All Blacks in Edinburgh.
Italy v Australia
Saturday, 12 November – 15:00
The Wallabies impressed as they pushed France to the limit last weekend. Even though they’ve proven to be a difficult stylistic match-up for Les Bleus in recent years, few if any expected them to come so close to shocking the world.
Italy, though, were superb in their 49-17 smashing of Samoa. They looked a team reborn, shutting out their visitors in the first half (28-0) and cutting them to shreds with creative and fluid offence. It was the type of complete performance that’ll give them belief and gives this clash some spice.
Australia will be good, but with the structured defence the Azzurri displayed, I don’t see it being the blowout you’d normally expect.
Ireland v Fiji
Saturday, 12 November 15:00
Ireland are limping into this one after their hard-earned win over the Springboks but have the depth to win comfortably against a Fijian team big on talent but devoid of discipline (they conceded no less than three yellow cards and 18 penalties in their 28-12 loss to Scotland last weekend).
England v Japan
Saturday, 12 November 17:15
The Brave Blossoms are building and showed in the recent 38-31 loss to the All Blacks in Tokyo that they can be tricky customers but they’re far from home and in for an English backlash after Eddie Jones’ men’s shock 30-29 loss to Argentina.
Wales v Argentina
Saturday, 12 November 19:30
Well, the post-Rugby Championship break did the Pumas wonders, didn’t it? The reinvigorated Argentine were terrific in their shock takedown of England, putting everything together to secure their second-ever win at Twickenham.
Michael Cheika has truly turned them into an Any Given Saturday/Sunday side and the clash in Cardiff is an opportunity to take another step forward in their resurgence by finding the consistency they’ll need to make their desired splash at next year’s World Cup.
Woeful as they endured another drubbing by the All Blacks (55-23), Wales are under immense pressure in this one and with their leaky boat already having taken a lot of water this season, I see them sinking against a Pumas side with their tails up and who knows what it takes to win at the Principality Stadium having pummeled the Welsh 33-11 on their last visit last July (after playing to a 20-all draw the previous week).
France v South Africa
Saturday, 12 November 22:00
This is a clash of epic proportions, the Test titans’ first in four years and less than a year before their possible World Cup quarterfinal showdown, also in France.
Les Bleus may be second in the rankings but they’re the form side in the world. Fabien Galthie has transformed and taken France to unprecedented heights, last weekend’s last-gasp 30-29 victory over the Wallabies being a record 11th in a row.
Over the last 18 months, they’ve smashed the All Blacks, topped the world rankings and stormed to a first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2010. More broadly, they boast the best overall winning record in this four-year cycle and the best success rate against other nations ranked in World Rugby’s top 10.
Now, they have an opportunity to set another record straight, a seven-match losing streak against South Africa, and solidify themselves as World Cup favourites by defeating the reigning champions.
For the Springboks, it’s a chance to make a massive statement of their own by ending France’s glorious run. They showed last weekend that even without two pillars of their success, the injured Handre Pollard and Lukhanyo Am, they have the potential to beat the top-ranked team in the world. They fell short, but theirs is the one pack in world rugby that rivals that of the French and arguably makes them France’s toughest challenge.
An obviously rusty France showed their championship composure to pull out a win few other teams would’ve against Australia and they’ll be a different beast this weekend having shaken off that rust.
The Springboks, without a specialist goal-kicker, were forced to kick to the corners against Ireland after a couple of misses off the tee, and in calling uncapped Manie Libbok onto the bench instead of handing him the No 10 jersey, they run the same risk to start with.
France, in turn, have complete confidence and trust in their slow poison approach. The reliable Thomas Ramos kept the scoreboard ticking over last weekend, slotting kicks from 50 metres out, and because of this and them being the more settled, cohesive side, they should edge it.
Scotland v New Zealand
Sunday, 13 November 16:15
A few months ago, Scotland would’ve circled November 12 on their calendar as the day they finally secure their first-ever win over the All Blacks. Ireland and Argentina had both recorded historic triumphs in New Zealand and the Scots would’ve been buoyed that they can follow suit on home soil.
Ian Foster’s All Blacks are still far from the finished product but their crushing 22-point win over Wales in Cardiff should remove any doubt that history will repeat itself rather than be made at Murrayfield.
They exceeded expectations to romp to their fifth win in a row and it’s the forwards-based style in which they did so that’ll see them control things. That strength and structure will pave the way to more success and see them cover the spread, even if it should rain (60% chance).
Scotland’s indiscipline that cost them the game against Australia continued to dog them in their 28-12 win over Fiji. It saw them trail the Pacific Islanders at one point in the first half and concede two yellow cards and they’ll struggle under the sustained pressure the Kiwis will put them under.