The Springboks look primed to return to the win column while the All Blacks and Wallabies face stiff challenges as the Autumn Nations Series rolls on this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Saturday’s stacked line-up of international rugby includes South Africa taking on Italy in Genoa, New Zealand tackling England in London, and Australia battling Ireland in Dublin, with France wrapping up the weekend’s action when they welcome Japan to Toulouse on Sunday.
Italy v South Africa
Saturday, 19 November – 15:00
After Italy’s historic 28-27 win over Australia, who’d fielded a second-string side, the Springbok coaches have opted to make just four changes to the starting line-up.
It’s a sign of respect to the Azzurri, whose attacking prowess has been out of this world in the Autumn Nations Series while their defence has been revamped and is structurally far stronger than it was in the Six Nations.
It’s their free-flowing offence that’ll test the Springboks the most. They attack with such synergy and use fast, short passes to penetrate defences from anywhere.
They’ll see the bulky new centre pairing of Andre Esterhuizen and Damian de Allende as a way through and will particularly run into the latter’s channel as he hasn’t played at No 13 in years. Light rain is probable, though, so that could lead to some stuttering.
Their set-piece play was great against the Wallabies, they have good variation in their attacking lineout playbook and counter-rucked the Aussies off the ball, so they’ll make the Springboks work for the win.
It’s a must-win game for South Africa after their narrow back-to-back losses to Ireland and France and they’ll revert to their power game after Pieter-Steph du Toit’s early red card in Marseille forced them to play fast-paced attacking rugby.
The power and physicality of their pack, quickness off the line on defence, and extra explosiveness on the bench will see the Springboks claim a comfortable win in the end.
Wales v Georgia
Saturday, 19 November 15:00
Wales wiped out the disappointing drubbing by the All Blacks with a 20-13 win over Argentina last weekend that was more convincing than the scoreline suggests. This is an opportunity for them to build momentum and rest a few key players ahead of next weekend’s big game against Australia.
Georgia won their first-ever match against a Tier One nation last time out when they beat Italy 28-19, so they have talent. The issue, though, and it’s a long-standing one that’s hampered the Lelos’ progress, is that it came back in July.
That lack of game time and step up in competition will see the minnows fall well short of Wales, who’ve won all three previous meetings between the teams, the most recent being an 18-0 shutout this time two years ago.
Scotland v Argentina
Saturday, 19 November 17:15
Argentina have achieved some massive feats this season, winning the three-Test series against the Scots and pumping Australia by a record margin at home, and scoring famous wins over the All Blacks and England away.
However, the lacklustre loss to Wales last weekend once again highlighted their inconsistency. They’re all in one week and appear disinterested the next. They fell off badly in Cardiff after a decent start and all but conceded the physical battle. Based on that defeated demeanour, I don’t see them getting up one last time to end their season on a winning note.
Scotland, in contrast, stepped up their game last weekend, firing with Finn Russell back in the saddle and threatening to beat the All Blacks for the first time. What’s more, they have a home-ground advantage, which proved the difference in the aforementioned three-Test series in Argentina, so the Scots should prevail.
England v New Zealand
Saturday, 19 November 19:30
The most-anticipated match of the weekend is a rematch three years in the making. For three years, England have crowed about knocking New Zealand out of the World Cup in Japan while the All Blacks have had to simmer in the sorrow of that 19-7 semi-final defeat and plot their revenge.
Like back then, the Kiwis are the favourites and while a spot in the World Cup final isn’t on the line, this is the fixture both teams targeted in their respective Autumn Nations Series campaigns, so expect the intensity of a World Cup playoff.
Putting 50 past Japan last weekend to bounce back from the shock loss to the Pumas suggests England ironed out the chinks but that’s not the case. The All Blacks have a ways to go as well, but they’ve now notched up six straight wins and where England will largely field the same side as last weekend, New Zealand will revert to their best possible line-up after having tweaked their team for the 31-23 come-from-behind win over Scotland.
With Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga set to be reinstated as the drivers of the side, the All Blacks will be tactically stronger and more confident and get retribution.
Ireland v Australia
Saturday, 19 November 22:00
Dave Rennie has somehow escaped serious talk of being axed despite having a very poor record and after the dirt trackers, he backed in Florence crashed to a first-ever loss to the Azzurri, Australia are now under pressure despite being ranked underdogs in Dublin.
Go down swinging like they did against France in Paris and there’ll be a sense that the “true” Wallabies aren’t far off from where they need to be. Fail to fire a shot or get blown out and they’ll be smacked by the stark reality that they’ve only managed to lose further ground to the top teams in 2022.
The shock recall of Bernard Foley during the Rugby Championship may have been injury-enforced but the veteran has given Australia stability and direction, which were pivotal in the near-upset in Paris and desperately missing with Noah Lolesio at No 10 last weekend. Foley’s not the most exciting option, but he’s the best Australia’s got at the moment and he’ll steady the ship.
Ireland, who built on their 19-16 victory over the Springboks with a 35-17 win over Fiji last weekend, are the No 1-ranked team in the world because of their cohesion and the fact that they’re exceptionally well-coached and Andy Farrell and his assistants would’ve studied Australia extensively for this, their first crack at the Wallabies since taking over after the 2019 World Cup.
Ireland’s powerful and hard-working pack will overwhelm the Wallabies on a cold and rainy night and power them to a strong win.
France v Japan
Sunday, 20 November 15:00
France sent an understrength squad to Japan for a two-Test tour in July and after easily winning the first match (42-23), they were almost undone in the second (20-15).
You’d expect them to rest several stars again after the physical Springbok battle whilst staying alert with the scare in Tokyo in the back of their mind.
The Brave Blossoms looked like a shell of the side that pushed New Zealand close as they were trampled by England (52-13) at Twickenham last weekend and are in for another heavy loss.