Week two of the Autumn Internationals has much to live up to after last week’s round of games, from the try fest that was Scotland v Samoa, the uber physical encounter of Irelands triumph over South Africa to the borefest we endured at Twickenham, round one really did have it all. But this is a anew week with new games so let’s look at this weekend’s rugby and try to cipher where this week’s action will come from.
Italy vs Argentina
Although Argentina hardly looked impressive last week they managed to grind an in-form England team down and even though they lost it wasn’t by a big margin, this in my opinion has come from all their experience playing top teams in the Rugby Championship, this is a team that is learning by being at the very top table. On the other hand, Italy took a nine point win against a very weak Fiji side, with the strides the domestic teams seem to have made this year I expected more from the Azzuri last week. Was it just a blip or signs of things to come in the Italy camp?
Well Connor O’Shae obviously thinks just a blip as he’s kept faith in the team that took the win last week and has made no changes at all while Daniel Hourcada makes four, most noticeably he brings back fly half Nicolas Sanchez in place of veteran Juan Martin Hernandez. Does this indicate a more reserved style from the Pumas with Sanchez’ goalkicking going to be an important factor.
I honestly can’t see past an Argentinian win here as much as I’d like to see an Italian resurgence. The Pumas by 5 or more.
Wales vs Georgia
After last week’s loss to Australia, Wales will be looking to put that to bed with a good win here against the European minnows. Wales were outclassed last week and look a shadow of the team that last did any damage in the Six Nations. Georgia on the flip side are the sleeping giants of European rugby, always renowned for their incredible scrummaging powers they seem to have added pace and flair to their back line and will be looking to show the world they deserve a spot at the Six Nations table.
As Italy, Georgia have kept faith with the team that comprehensively put Canada to bed last week, showing signs of consistent selection shows they obviously want their best 15 players on that pitch for as long as possible. In stark contrast Wales bring in 14 changes to the side that lost to Australia, this being to ‘rest’ players for their game against their seemingly weaker opposition, could this come back to bite them on the arse? The only player to keep a spot in the starting 15 is Liam Williams who switches from wing to fullback, Sam Cross comes into the back row for only his third professional start after his move from sevens rugby.
Although I see Georgia improving all the time I think this Wales second string will be hungry to impress Gatland and therefor be too strong. I’ll go for Wales by at least 17.
Scotland vs New Zealand
Very much a David vs Goliath game here on paper, but then again what game isn’t against the All Blacks? Scotland come into this week off the back of a strange performance last weekend. They looked irresistible at times going forward and Stuart Hogg looked as though he could score at will but defensively they let an unstructured, desperate Samoan team score far too many points for a team that hopes to challenge the New Zealand team. The All Blacks where their usual selves, remorselessly putting another team to the sword, this time a strong French team feeling the force.
Scotland make one change from last week’s topsy turvy game against Samoa with Glasgow’s Zander Fagerson taking his spot at tighthead in place of WP Nel, coach Gregor Townsend says they must believe they can win to stand any chance so let’s see if they can convince themselves, and us that anything else but an All Blacks win is on the cards. Codie Taylor in at hooker for Hurricanes captain Dane Coles is the only change for the All Blacks from the team that took on the French last week.
It’s hard to bet against New Zealand at the best of times and Scotland’s performance last week didn’t do much to change my thoughts, I see New Zealand by 21 points or more.
Ireland vs Fiji
Ireland come into this week buoyed by last week’s clinical performance against the Springboks, in all honesty they played the South Africans off the park and outplayed them in every area, my personal favourite part being Ian Henderson running straight over Eben Etsebeth. It’s difficult to know what Fiji will bring to each game as they change players more often than I have hot dinners, and trust me that’s a lot!
This week Fiji bring in giant wing Nemani Nadolo, which Leinster players amongst the squad will know very well after his bulldozing efforts against them for Montpellier last month. The injection of Nadolo makes the Fiji backline reportedly the heaviest back line ever in international rugby, something for the Irish to think about.
Ireland make 13 changes to last week’s team bringing in their own weighty back line with Stuart McCloskey and Chris Farrell making a not inconsiderable centre pairing. To offset the two big centres Schmidt brings in the skilful young Leinster player Joey Carberry at stand off.
Nadolo’s presence will undoubtedly make a difference for Fiji, will it be enough? I don’t think so, I’m going for Ireland by at least 26.
France vs South Africa
Coming into this fixture neither teams will be particularly happy about last week, but I think France can take much more solace from their performance than the Springboks can. France played the best team in the world, and although lost by 20 points they at least showed glimpses of what they could do. South Africa, on the other hand, were very poor, coming second best in ever contest and this seems to be happening on a much more regular basis that the fans back home would like.
France make no changes to the side that lost to New Zealand last week, showing faith in the 15 could reap rewards against a floundering Springbok team. One change the South African public can finally get excited about is the brilliant young fly half Handre Pollard, the young ten has had a rotten time with injury and I’m sure the whole of world rugby is happy to have his talent back.
Interesting game and I can’t see it being massively high scoring, I’ll go with home advantage and have France by 4 points.
England vs Australia
This game is one of the biggest in rugby for me, there’s no hiding from the fact that these two just don’t like each other, and I’m not sure the coaches are best of buddies either. England certainly hold the form in this encounter having won 8 out of the past 10 encounters between the nations, including a 3-0 series whitewash last summer in Australia. Australia though seem to be on an upwards curve at the minute culminating in a very professional performance against the Welsh last week. England seemed to look tired against Argentina and will look for an improved performance this week against their Cook Cup rivals.
England make a few changes with Anthony Watson moving to fullback to replace the injured Mike Brown and Jonny May taking his spot on the wing, Owen Farrell takes his place at inside centre with Henry Slade moving to the bench. In the pack we see Joe Launchbury taking the position of George Kruis with Maro Itoje and Joe Marler being brought onto the bench.
Australia keep faith with the team that comprehensively beat Wales last week. I think this will be a much better game than the grind we had at Twickenham last week, I’m going to go for home advantage and the form book and backing England by 9 points or more.