Following last week’s opening drama at Twickenham, the autumn internationals kick off in earnest this weekend when there will be 6 games in total on Saturday.
Thanks to the magic of the recording button I will be able to take them all in and review them here on Monday (stop jeering at the back!)
Australia travel to the Stadio Olimpico to face Italy. Following their disappointment and frustration at Twickenham Ewen McKenzie’s men will be determined to get back to the form that they were beginning to show immediately before getting on the plane to Heathrow. Italy are no pushover in the front row but I take the Wallabies to boss the breakdown and provide good ball for the multi- talented backline to carve up the Italian defence.
The Australians will get a much needed boost before they fly back to Dublin to face a resurgent Ireland the following week.
I’m leaving the England preview to last as I want to spend a little time picking ‘my’ side – again one that won’t get anywhere near the field according to the sounds coming from Stuart Lancaster in the England camp.
Scotland will do well not to take Japan too lightly – the Welsh (admittedly their 2nd XV) did that in the summer and it left a few red faces to match their shirts!
Japan were also more competitive than anyone expected against the All Blacks last week and will fancy trying to take a 6 Nations scalp.
Nevertheless expect the Scot’s Scott to be happier than Japan’s Scott (standing in for Eddie Jones) come 5 o’clock at Murrayfield.
Unquestionably the big match of the day will be at the Millenium where Wales welcome (?) the Springboks. Wales have been on an upward curve (despite the rankings that pitched them into the ‘Group of Death’ in 2015) under the experienced team of Warren Gatland, Rob Howley and Sean Edwards.
When Sean Fitzpatrick tells you that Wales are genuine contenders then you have to sit up and listen.
They will be fielding most of the successful Lions team from the summer and if they do indeed hope to harbour ambitions for the World Cup, then they need to start consistently beating the Southern Hemisphere sides. If they need to emulate anyone they should look at the record of Woodward’s team in the run up to 2003.
With so many of the Lions being available they will suffer less than the other home nation teams who have not been together since last season’s 6 nations.
Jamie Roberts will be missing through injury but on current form Scott Williams would have pushed him hard to partner Jonathan Davies in the midfield anyway.
The only real question is at stand off – I expect Gatland to go with Dan Biggar – although personally I’d opt for James Hook who has shone in leading Perpignan in the Top 14 this season. With Leigh Halfpenny as kicker, Hook would be free to play his running game without distractions.
South Africa arrive on the back of a pretty successful Championship – okay so they lost both games to the All Blacks, but then who doesn’t?
They are a formidable side who also travel pretty well. Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer wants the roof open and is hoping for rain and wind to make conditions difficult – possibly thinking ahead to the sort of weather they are likely to encounter in two years time.
Late in the final match against the All Blacks the Springboks suddenly realised that they can be quite good if only they keep the ball in hand – presumably that is not the plan if the rains do fall heavily late in the afternoon.
If they do simply try and beat up the Welsh in the forwards they may get more than they bargain for – the Welsh pack are no push overs and I think the game will be close. Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies could well hold the key to the final outcome in Cardiff on Saturday evening and I expect a hard fought win for Wales.
Ireland v Samoa will be another bruising battle – no one comes off unscathed when the ‘tough as teak’ islanders are in town. Joe Schmidt’s first game in charge should end up with a W – but he may well be counting the cost of men not available for the following week when they meet Australia as the final whistle blows in Dublin
He will be hoping that the combative Paul O’Connell and Sean O’Brien are fit for both games.
France v New Zealand is a surprisingly difficult one to call – it all depends on who turns up in the light blue shirts. If the All Blacks have a bogey team it is France – they almost always win – but often not by much (remember the World Cup Final) and it can be touch and go. The Top 14 is a hard school and they will come ready for battle – but like the other Northern Hemisphere sides they might be undercooked having not played together for several months.
It would take a brave man to bet against Steve Hansen’s men on current form – and I’m not one of them.
Finally England take on the Pumas.
I can’t believe anyone is fooled by the win on Saturday – the coach’s phrase that ‘we have things to work on’ is a bit of an understatement!
England came away with a win by the skin of their teeth (which is a lot less than the width of a touchline). Admittedly they improved in the last thirty – not least because of the subs who made a significant impact.
Argentina will be stronger in the set piece even without Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and for that reason I’d make a lot more changes than the selectors are likely to do to the starting line-up.
My team would be –
That leaves plenty of explosive power to arrive from the bench but kicks off with a combative pack that can wear down the aggressive Pumas. England to win – but win ugly – again! (even without my selection)
It is also the front eight that I think should start against the formidable All Blacks on the following week.
Come Sunday we will know a lot more about where the home nations are sitting – before the following week’s fixtures when the main course is served with England, Ireland and Scotland take on the big three! Let’s hope that it is not the home nations that are on the menu!