This weekend sees the home nations taking on the Southern Hemisphere – Ireland host the Wallabies, Scotland wait nervously for the arrival of the Springboks, Wales face Argentina and at Twickenham England take the field against the all -conquering All Blacks.
Wales will want a strong showing and a decent score against the Pumas to put last week truly behind them. Wales have injury problems – not least with the loss of Jonathan Davies (rumoured to be joining Clermont next season) – but they should still be far too strong and run out 20 points to the good when the final whistle blows.
Warren Gatland will be most worried about picking up more injuries – they have two more games in November and then it’s a short gap before the 6 Nations starts. In between many of his squad will also have to negotiate the next Heineken Cup rounds.
Australia in Ireland is likely to be a much closer affair. Both teams – like all international and indeed club sides these days – have senior players missing through injury. Both will also be bolstered by having scored freely last week against sides ranked lower last week.
It will be hard and uncompromising with the Irish forwards giving the Wallabies a hard time at the set piece. I think it will be the breakdown that settles things with Hooper just edging it – that, together with the electric Wallaby back line, means I take Australia to win – but only just.
Scotland were not exactly convincing against Japan but they ended up easing home and the rustiness of not playing together should have gone (although it didn’t for England).
But this week’s opponents are in a different league altogether and will not be obliging them with too many soft points. NZ aside, the Springboks are some way ahead of the rest and come Saturday evening they will have disposed of two home nations on successive weeks. If Scotland are even to stay in touch they will need the metronomic Greig Laidlaw to have plenty of opportunities to kick for goal.
And so to Twickenham – last year England surprised – or rather stunned the rugby world by winning relatively comfortably by 38 – 21.
As much as I admire the All Blacks it was disappointing to hear Steve Hansen claiming that it was a virus rather than a good England performance that led to their defeat. It had echoes of the ‘food poisoning’ excuse after the World Cup final in 1995.
If I was being generous I’d think that Hansen was playing mind games – but the truth is the All Blacks and their supporters deserve better than to have to make excuses when they now and then (which is hardly often) come out on the wrong side of the score board.
Grace in defeat used to be a trait that was synonymous with rugby – the best team in the world should know that.
The first Australian to comment after two questionable calls and a defeat to the Poms was new captain Ben Mowen – interviewed pitch side minutes after the whistle he made no excuses and didn’t even mention the line incident. He is a big man in every sense of the word and his stature grew further because of it – that’s how to lose – take it on the chin and move on.
The ABs are very unlikely to need to revert to claiming poor health on Saturday – they are a fantastic side with world class players all over the park.
They will seek revenge for last year and are almost certain to get it.
I’d love England to win – even more so since it seems we needed a failure (or maybe a conspiracy) by the NHS to help us last year – but given the patchy performances of the last two weeks I am almost certainly going to be disappointed.
For what it’s worth this is the side I’d go with on Saturday –
Christian Wade is probably not going to be fit and there will be talk that it’s dangerous to play new inexperienced players like Burrell and Attwood against the ABs. But that’s where you get experience – not against teams that don’t challenge you.
Stuart Lancaster may favour Dickson because of the Northampton connection.
If, as expected, England do lose I’m pretty certain we’ll take it on the chin and not blame a dodgy curry or man flu. The same goes for the other home nations – it’s the British and Irish way.
It could be a bad week for the Northern Hemisphere – but in two horse races you never know do you!