For the devoted rugby player, summer can be the cruellest of seasons. Rugby boots left to languish mournfully in a corner, mouthguard missing in action and all that rugby kit looking desolate at the bottom of the wardrobe. But fear not – this Saturday brings you a multitude of international fixtures to console yourself with from across the globe. Here’s a look ahead at just five of the biggest games:
Japan v Wales – Osaka
With fifteen of Wales’ high flyers touring with the Lions down under, this test side was always going to be a rather experimental affair, and touring Coach Robin McBryde has been happy to put his faith in no fewer than eight uncapped players for this fixture. With four of them in the starting lineup, this has been branded Wales ‘least experienced side of the professional era’ – something Japan will hope to capitalise on.
Half backs Lloyd Williams and Dan Biggar will provide a steadying influence at the heart of play, while captain Bradley Davies will be looking to lead by example using the experience of his 38 caps. Amongst the newcomers, 18-year-old winger Dafydd Howells will be keen to live up to his reputation as a blistering speedster, while fly-half Rhys Patchell, gifted a place through Rhys Priestland’s injury, will want to make his mark. For more detail on Wales’ eight newcomers, take a look at this handy BBC guide.
Japan have gone for their big guns, fielding two players with invaluable Super Rugby experience. Highlanders half back Fumiaki Tanaka and Melbourne Rebels hooker Shota Horie will be in the starting fifteen, led by captain and number eight Takashi Kikutani. As the hosts of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the Japanese will be keen to improve on their recent performance in the Pacific Nation Cups and strengthen their prospects in the tournament.
New Zealand v France – Auckland
You may remember the last time these two sides met. There was, after all, the small matter of a World Cup at stake – and for the All Blacks, the chance of crowning their home tournament with champion status. For the French, the agony of defeat will be all to quick to return as they step back onto Kiwi soil, bringing with it a thirst for revenge.
Off the back of a horrific Six Nations campaign which saw them finish bottom of the table, France are lacking two of their biggest names in Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc – the former out injured and the latter being rested after a ‘very long season’. Instead, coach Philippe Saint-André makes a controversial call in naming uncapped Camille Lopez to start at fly half, whilst Frederic Michalak, with over a decade of international experience, waits on the bench. Top 14 stars Maxime Medard, Wesley Fofana and Louis Picamoles provide the experience needed to take on a heavily capped New Zealand side.
The All Blacks suffer their own double blow in the absence of big names Dan Carter and Piri Weepu, both out through injury. Instead, Aaron Cruden finds himself in the number ten shirt, just as he did back in the 2011 final, and his Manawatu teammate Aaron Smith starting at scrum half. Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith alongside them pose a fearsome threat in the centres as the All Blacks most capped midfield duo.
With a starting fifteen boasting 377 Test Caps between them, the French will face quite some task to grind out a victory. But as All Blacks Coach Steve Hansen put it, “We all know how the French can play. The only predictable thing about them is their unpredictability so we will have to be ready for whatever they throw at us.”
Samao v Scotland – Durban
The opening fixture of the South African quadrangular tournament sees Samoa take on Scotland in Durban, while the Boks and the Azzuri battle it out later on in the day. Scotland may be riding a wave of optimism following their third place Six Nations finish, but Samoa will still be drawing confidence from that shock victory over Wales last Autumn.
Scotland have emerged from the Lions selection relatively unscathed, losing just three key players to the Australia tour. Nevertheless, coach Scott Johnson has chosen to blood several uncapped players as he looks to strengthen his squad’s depth ahead of the 2015 World Cup. Greig Tonks and Alex Dunbar win their first caps, whilst Tom Heathcote and Grant Gilchrist both make their second test appearances. Amongst his more experienced players, Johnson will be counting on the kicking skills of Greg Laidlaw as well as the experience and strength of Kelly Brown and Johnnie Beattie at the back of the scrum.
After a 74-14 drubbing at the hands of the Golden Lions last week, Samoa will be desperate to redeem themselves. Just two debutants are included in the starting line up, but both Jack Lam and Alapati Leiua bring with them crucial experience as Hurricanes players. Leicester fans will recognise former Tiger Alesana Tuilagi, back after a two year test hiatus, while former Sale-turned-Stade-Francais man Paul Williams claims the captaincy.
One Scottish coach has claimed Samoa will be the favourites for this fixture – after all, they remain several places ahead of Scotland in the world rankings following last Autumn’s internationals. This should be a close one.
South Africa v Italy – Durban
The quadrangular tournament continues with home nation South Africa facing Italy in the second Durban clash of the day.
Sergio Parisse returns from Barbarians duty to skipper the side, but some of his closest allies of the last five years don’t make the cut. Neither of the Bergamasco brothers feature in the squad, nor do centres Gonzalo Canale or Gonzalo Garcia despite being included in the touring squad. Uncapped Alberto di Bernado gets the nod ahead of the more experienced Luciano Orquera, while Alberto De Marchi fills the sizeable shirt left by the retired Andrea Lo Cicero.
South Africa’s Heyneke Meyer has opted to gamble on five uncapped players in his squad, with fullback Willie Le Roux and scrum half Jano Vermaak making their test debuts. The Springboks’ last test was against England at the end of 2012, and ten of that victorious squad have made it through to this fixture, including skipper Jean de Villiers, prop Jannie du Plessis and half back Ruan Pienaar.
Argentina v England – Salta
After a rambunctious 40-12 win over the Barbarians and 41-21 victory against the Consur XV side, England now head to Argentina for the rest of their summer tour. They take on the Pumas at home, ranked just four places below England in the world rankings.
Coach Stuart Lancaster must do without some of his key players, with high flyers like Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi on Lions duty and big names like Chris Robshaw and Chris Ashton being rested for the summer.
Step forward Christian Wade – arguably the star of this year’s Aviva Premiership, the 22 year old winger scored 18 tries in 26 appearances for London Wasps, won both the Player’s Player and Young Player of the Year awards and bagged himself a try against the Barbarians at Twickenham. About time for an international call up, you might say. Elsewhere, Mike Brown gets the nod ahead of Ben Foden at full back and Lee Dickson beats Saracens scrum half Richard Wigglesworth to the number nine shirt.
Argentina will also be missing familiar faces like skipper Lobbe, coach Santiago Phelan preferring to rest them ahead of the all important Rugby Championship later on this Summer. Only three players remain from the team which played Ireland back in November. They will, however, welcome captain Felipe Contepomi back to the fold, freshly retired from professional club rugby and ready to lead the Pumas again.