The Autumn internationals kick-off today and it will be the first matches of the season for all four home nations. Shay Waterworth previews.
England have never lost a Test match against Argentina in the history of international rugby, and the Pumas have lost their last six matches on the bounce including two at home to an inexperienced England touring squad in the Summer. All of this points towards a comfortable victory for England at Twickenham, but the home side must not take the result for granted.
Argentina head coach Daniel Hourcade has named an experienced side to play in London with Veteran Juan Martin Hernandez starting at fly half, while England are without the spine of the team; Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje.
England will be confident knowing they won both games in Argentina with young, inexperienced players, but Argentina have selected seven new faces from the side who played in the second Test, and England have not played a game since then – five months without a Test.
This is therefore another opportunity for the likes of Sam Underhill and Henry Slade to announce themselves on the international stage, in front of a home crowd.
It is well documented that Wales have lost their previous 12 Tests against Australia, but could it be unlucky number 13 for the Wallabies in Cardiff? Wales head coach Warren Gatland and his right-hand man Rob Howley have received criticism from every angle since returning from the Summer British and Irish Lions tour by players, fans and critics – but this match could be an opportunity to answer back.
Wales have named fly half Owen Williams at inside centre which suggests they want to move on from the ‘Warren ball’ tactics of Jamie Roberts crashing up in midfield. The use of a distributing 12 has been proven successful for England and in the past with Australia.
The Wallabies however, have been forced to move playmaker Kurtley Beale to full back in the absence of Israel Folau, leaving Samu Kerevi at inside centre – a notorious ball carrier. If Wales can cope defensively with Kerevi and centre partner Tevita Kuridrani running hard, then they should be able to unlock Australia out wide thorough the distribution of Williams and the running ability of Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams.
Samoa has been in the news about various off-field issues surrounding finance, but its main problem is a lack of strength in depth leading up to the match against Scotland on Saturday. The Samoans have been forced to select full back Tim Nanai-Williams at fly half for the first time and they have Championship back rower Jack Lam at number eight.
The struggle continues for the Samoans when looking at Scotland’s lineup. The Scots have recalled Huw Jones, Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray to the side while captain John Barclay returns following a head injury. It is also the first match on home soil for head coach Gregor Townsend, who has put faith in Darryl Marfo at loosehead prop, get ready for some big carries.
Ireland and South Africa have produced some exciting games in the past but the Springboks have set up to play through Ireland with an experienced pack and line-running centres. Head coach Allister Coetzee has recalled ‘The Beast’ to the front row along with experienced prop Coenie Oosthuizen, while Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager and Francois Louw are all amongst the starting lineup.
Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende are likely to run hard and direct at Ireland’s centres to keep the momentum moving for their heavy forwards, but it’s probably not high on Coetzee’s agenda to play a fast, free-flowing game against Ireland.
The Irish however, have selected in-form wingers Jacob Stockdale and Andrew Conway and welcomed back veteran Rob Kearney to complete the back three – a deadly counter attack.
The inclusion of Bundee Aki at inside centre may compensate for South Africa’s heavy runners in midfield, but if fly half Johnny Sexton decides to distribute the ball and play wide, South Africa may struggle to keep up with the pace – especially with their defensive frailties out wide.