Here’s the previews….
WALES v AUSTRALIA
Australia face Wales on Saturday in what will be a curtain raiser for their final group games at next year’s World Cup, a match which given England are also in their group could decide who make it through to the knockout phases.
Bonkers organisation on the tournament organiser’s part, obviously, but a cracking way to create some squeaky bum time for a stage of the competition that usually means mismatches and farewelling minnows. If Wales lose it’ll be their 10th loss on the trot to the Wallabies, who are anything but bouncing having moved onto their third coach in 15 months with the appointment of Michael Cheika after Ewen McKenzie quit. Cheika though is the only coach to have led both Super Rugby and Heineken Cup winners, so has chops.
Also, will Warren Gatland’s intense regime with his Wales team – with three sessions a day and 6am kick-offs – leave them heavy-legged. It’s not like they’re slow starters though, with Wales leading in the last six minutes in three of their last four losses to the Aussies.
Alas, Wales have lost their last six Autumn Internationals openers. With their last outing, and first under Cheika, being a narrow third Bledisloe Cup loss to New Zealand the tide might be turning for the Wallabies. They have a chance to prove it in Cardiff.
ENGLAND v NEW ZEALAND
Stuart Lancaster has been building up to the World Cup for the past couple of years, but a string of injuries and perhaps some second thoughts have led to a host of new faces appearing against the World Champion All Blacks on Saturday.
The best story of them is Semesa Rokoduguni, the Fijian 27-year-old who only qualifies for England due to residency and will make his international debut at Twickenham on Saturday. He’s a Royal Scots Dragoon Guards lance corporal and was discovered playing for the Army in Germany a couple of year back. “I am delighted for Roko. It’s great to be able to give him this opportunity,” said England boss Stuart Lancaster.
Rokoduguni is joined by debutants George Kruis and Anthony Watson. “The same with Anthony Watson and George Kruis and I am sure they will contribute should they come off the bench.”Lancaster’s also recalled Danny Care to join Owen Farrell in the halves, with Jonny May on the wing and Brad Barritt and Kyle Eastmond in the centres. Sonny Bill Williams starts at inside centre straight away for the All Blacks after his return from rugby league and a run against USA.
Aaron Cruden gets the nod at No 10 ahead of Beaudan Barrit, who’s on the bench. Jerome Kaino comes back to blindside flanker Sam Cane is out after hurting his back in training.
The All Blacks have by far the best squad in world rugby, with the likes of Colin Slade not even getting a run at the weekend. England lost their ridiculous tour to NZ 3-0, but it coincided with the end of their club season and saw many of their top players unavailable. The All Blacks have lost two of their last 48 Tests.
IRELAND v SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa head coach Heyneke Meyer unsurprisingly liked the look of the side that beat the All Blacks last month in naming a team to take on Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. His only change comes on the bench with prop Coenie Oosthuizen stepping in for the injured Marcel van der Merwe.
Francois Hougaard keeps the No 9 shirt with Ruan Pienaar still no good. “It’s only the fifth time in what will be the 34th Test since I was appointed as Springbok coach that we’ve been able to select an unchanged starting line-up,” said Meyer, pointing out the rarity of the situation.
The big news for Ireland is that Joe Schmidt, another New Zealander, was looking at starting Jared Payne (a New Zealander making his debut for Ireland) and Robbie Henshaw in the centres, leaving out Brian O’Driscoll’s long-time cohort Gordon D’Arcy.
The retirement of BOD aside, Ireland are decimated by injuries, with Rory Best’s omossion most significant, while the Boks have the likes of Bakkies Botha, Schalk Burger and JP Pietersen on the bench. It could be a long night for the lighter shade of green.
SCOTLAND v ARGENTINA
Richie and Jonny Gray line-up in Scotland’s second row against Argentina at Murrayfield on Saturday under New Zealander coach Vern Cotter. Out of the starting 15 for the Scots there are 10 who are kicking some tail for the Glasgow Warriors in the European Champions Cup and Pro 12 at the moment. Argentina should be a great test for them given their last outing was a 21-17 win over Australia, their first victory in their Four Nations history.
For the top 10 pubs to watch the games in London click here.
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