Test rugby goes full tilt this weekend with a host of epic encounters in store, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The southern hemisphere’s finest have made their annual migration north and this year’s Autumn Nations Series might prove to be the most thrilling yet.
The match of the weekend is the much-anticipated showdown between the Springboks and Ireland in Dublin with the co-featured attractions seeing Wales take on the All Blacks and France face the Wallabies.
Italy v Samoa
Saturday, 05 November – 15:00
There are hints of a possible upset in this one. For one, the game will be played in Padua rather than Mendoza or Salta, and two, Samoa have taken advantage of World Rugby’s new eligibility rules by including former All Blacks Steven Luatua and Jeff Toomaga-Allen in their squad.
The Azzurri have been bolstered by returning stars as well and with this being their only hit-out before they host Australia and South Africa, I expect them to be sharp and to sidestep defeat.
Scotland v Fiji
Saturday, 05 November 15:00
Scotland let victory slip against Australia last weekend and it wasn’t just because of Blair Kinghorn’s missed penalty at the death. They turned down a number of kicks at goal and a lack of composure allowed the Wallabies to sneak through the back door.
The 16-15 heartbreak will ensure they show up against Fiji, whose x-factor will be diluted by the rain. The Scots are set to feast at the breakdown and play the conditions to bounce back with a solid win.
Wales v New Zealand
Saturday, 05 November 17:15
The Autumn Nations Series-opening 38-31 win over Japan in Tokyo last weekend would’ve been too close for comfort for the All Blacks but one shouldn’t read too much into it as Ian Foster fielded a makeshift side while Brodie Retallick’s red card further complicated matters.
The veteran lock has been suspended for his dangerous clean out while New Zealand have also lost captain Sam Cane and Dane Cole to tour-ending injuries but the team that’ll take to the pitch at Principality Stadium will be too strong for the hosts.
Welsh rugby is not in a good place, from the Test team down to the provincial sides. The competitive series in South Africa would’ve lifted their spirits after the woeful Six Nations campaign that saw them finish fifth and crash to a shock 22-21 loss to Italy, and while they won’t lack fire, they do lack class.
With rain on the cards, the spread comes down to whether or not the roof is closed. The wise choice for Wales will be to keep it open, so look out for this all-important detail.
Ireland v South Africa
Saturday, 05 November 19:30
In an oversaturated era where annual fixtures and series are welcome but at the same time take away some of the magic that makes some showdowns truly special, the duel in Dublin is a modern-day dream match as it’s the first meeting between the nations since 2017 and pits the No 1-ranked team in the world against the world champions. They’re also in the same pool at next year’s World Cup.
The only pity is that the Springboks aren’t quite at full strength, with key players Handre Pollard and Lukhanyo Am still sidelined by injury, but South Africa have still put out a strong team who’ll be fired up for this titanic tour opener.
It’ll be a war of attrition as Ireland’s success stems from relentless phase play and the Springboks rely on forward dominance. The visitors’ “Bomb Squad” will be massive in this regard and should keep them in the contest for the full 80 minutes.
That said, Ireland – who were mightily impressive in their historic 2-1 series triumph over the All Blacks in New Zealand in July – have the pack to stand up to the men in green and gold and one of the best flyhalf generals in the game in Johnny Sexton, whereas Damian Willemse is super talented but not a specialist flyhalf or tactician
Steered by their captain fantastic – with rain possible – and powered by a capacity crowd, Ireland should edge a humdinger.
France v Australia
Saturday, 05 November 22:00
The Wallabies will know that they dodged a bullet at Murrayfield last weekend and that they’ll have to be much better to have any hope of upsetting an excellent French outfit.
However, the boost the 16-15 win gave them, given that it was their first over Scotland in six years, will give them the belief that they can shock the world. They’re also the last team to beat Les Bleus back in July of last year.
Conversely, nothing they saw from the Australians at the weekend would’ve struck fear into France, yet it was a warning not to take them lightly or allow them to stay within reach as the Scots did to their detriment.
The Six Nations Grand Slam winners are excellent across the board. They have a big, hard-working pack and lethal backline and it’s only because they might be a bit rusty in the first half that I think they won’t cover the spread.
England v Argentina
Sunday, 06 November 16:15
The Pumas started the season like a side reborn under Michael Cheika, edging Scotland 2-1 in July and recording a first-ever win over the All Blacks in New Zealand.
However, they dropped off badly in the second half of the Rugby Championship and were blown out by the Kiwis (53-3) and Springboks (36-20 and 38-21). They would’ve welcomed the reset and could be a tricky test first up for England.
Eddie Jones’ side beat the Aussies 2-1 Down Under in July and are notoriously tough to topple at Twickenham. Argentina have only managed it once, a 25-18 triumph back in 2006, while their last win over England came on home soil in 2009 (24-22).
The likely injury-enforced absence of Courtney Lawes and Owen Farrell won’t open the door for an upset but along with wet conditions, the Pumas look good on the plus.