The Springboks boldly head into an Argentinian attack as the road to the Rugby World Cup ramps up this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
With just over a month to go before the global showpiece kicks off in France, teams start their final preparations as the Summer Nations Series truly takes off, while the southern hemisphere sides conclude their unfinished business before heading north.
We preview and predict the five key clashes of what’s a super Saturday of Test rugby.
New Zealand and Australia collide in the second Bledisloe Cup encounter in Dunedin, Scotland face France in Edinburgh, Wales take on England in Cardiff, Ireland host Italy in Dublin and South Africa and the Pumas run it back in Buenos Aires.
New Zealand v Australia
Saturday, 5 August – 4:35
With the Rugby Championship title and Bledisloe Cup in the bag courtesy of last weekend’s commanding 38-7 win in Melbourne, the All Blacks will name a much-changed side for the return fixture.
Wallabies coach Eddie Jones wishes he had that luxury. After enduring a winless Rugby Championship campaign to start his second term in charge, the outspoken 63-year-old is searching for answers as to what his first-choice team should look like whereas Ian Foster and others are focusing on rounding out their World Cup squads. Injuries to key players have added to Jones’ worries.
New Zealand have very much remained results-driven as opposed to say, South Africa, who’ve been willing to take risks to ensure they peak at the World Cup, so while the struggling Wallabies should be more competitive against an understrength team, the All Blacks have enough depth to still win fairly comfortably.
Scotland v France
Saturday, 5 August – 16:15
Scotland got the Summer Nations Series underway with a 25-13 win over Italy last Friday. Don’t read too much into that, though, as they fielded a mix-and-match team with an eye on the World Cup.
This is their first of two Tests against France and the biggest of their four warm-up matches given they’re likely to select their strongest possible side as they look to upset the World Cup hosts before the international extravaganza.
The 42-man wider Les Bleus squad have been quietly hard at work and will be eager to get stuck in at Murrayfield. With the systems they have in place and their deep talent pool, they’ll head back home with a solid win after a decent challenge.
Wales v England
Saturday, 5 August – 18:30
Like Scotland and France, these two teams will meet in home-and-away fixtures over the next two weeks.
Neither had Six Nations campaigns to remember, England finishing fourth and Wales fifth. England will have the psychological advantage as one of their two tournament wins came over Wales in Cardiff. That 20-10 triumph was also their seventh in the last 10 Tests between the sides.
The Dragons’ lone win this season was a 29-17 success over Italy in Rome. Both teams’ preparations have gone smoothly, so one can expect a similar result to the last meeting.
Ireland v Italy
Saturday, 5 August – 21:00
The Six Nations Grand Slam winners look to pick up where they left off and shake off some rust in the process.
Italy coach Kieran Crowley blooded two newcomers in scrumhalf Martin Page-Relo and fullback Lorenzo Pani against Scotland last Friday and the visitors had their moments.
They led 6-5 at halftime and were in it at 18-13 down with six minutes to go before the Scots scored a final try to seal a 25-13 win. As mentioned above, though, this came against an understrength team and they’ll struggle to be competitive in this one.
Expect No 1-ranked Ireland to win at a canter.
Argentina v South Africa
Sunday, 6 August – 21:10
An experimental Springbok team will have their work cut out for them against a Pumas side who’ll be brimming with belief that they can clinch their fourth-ever win over the men in green and gold.
After their narrow 22-21 loss to a strong South African line-up at Ellis Park last weekend, Michael Cheika’s charges will be smelling blood in the water as they host a team made up of mostly World Cup hopefuls.
It was always the Springbok brains trust’s plan to give those outside of the regular matchday 23 a final chance to stake their claim for a place in the World Cup squad, which is set to be announced on Tuesday, this weekend and that Argentina are emboldened will provide the selectors with definitive answers as to who’re able to perform under pressure.
The biggest challenge for the Boks lies in avoiding playing as a bunch of individuals rather than a team. There’s a very real possibility that players will be trying too hard to impress the coaches, which usually leads to mistakes, and even if the players are selfless, the fact that they haven’t played together will make it difficult to find cohesion and establish rhythm.
I have to go with the Pumas, especially if it’s their settled side.