Let battle commence
Alex Payne previews the weekend's autumn internationals including England v Fiji.
Last Updated: 09/11/12 4:24pm
Sky Sports rugby presenter Alex Payne previews the weekend's autumn internationals including England v Fiji.
Despite the anticipation around the autumn internationals, England have one tangible goal over the next month - to hang on to 4th position in the IRB World Rankings and remain as one of the top seeds for the World Cup in 2015 pool draw. With France and Wales hot on their heels the Red Rose ideally has to win three games over the four weekends, and I don't think they'll have too many problems opening with a victory on Saturday.
England have a played four, won four record over Fiji and have enjoyed the better preparations. Although Chris Ashton is banned for this weekend, and the likes of Dylan Hartley, Tom Croft and Ben Foden will miss the entire series through injury, Stuart Lancaster's England are in a much more settled place than 12 months ago when the fall out from the leaked World Cup report was raging.
There was little debate around Thursday's team announcement given the absentees, and the likes of Care, Robshaw, Cole, Tuilagi, Parling, Barritt and Goode are in good form. And yet there has been a slightly wide eyed reaction to just how raw this England side is. Over half of the starting XV have less than ten caps, and that throws into question how England will fare if they find themselves in a real arm wrestle, particularly against the big three.
England will hope this Saturday serves as the perfect ramp up to the tougher tests ahead. Whilst it is great to see Fiji back at Twickenham for the first time since 1999, it is a shame they are hampered by a number of injured or unavailable stars. The south sea Islanders will always be big and very quick, but their threat is likely to come about through individual brilliance rather than well constructed phase play. Having said that, Naqelevuki and Goneva could be explosive as a centre partnership.
Chris Robshaw's men should have too much in terms of set piece and organisation, which they'll hope brings enough possession to really run through the gears. If you're looking for anytime try scorers - with England looking to dominate up front Thomas Waldrom and the penalty try might be worth investigating, Danny Care has scored five tries in his last five games and overall I think England will come home by about 23 a 6/1 shot.
Wales v Argentina
This is a fascinating matchup between the Six Nations Grand Slam champions and the new boys in the Rugby Championship. Wales had summer of disappointment with a 3-0 loss to the Wallabies down under, a result which is likely to provide plenty of motivation on home soil. The Pumas offered plenty of encouraging signs in their inaugural Rugby Championship that they rightly belong at the top table of world rugby, and re-emphasised just how difficult an opponent they can be. One worry is their habit of fading in the latter stages of games and, with Wales the fittest of the northern hemisphere sides, Argentina h/t, Wales f/t might be worth a look. I'm not expecting too many points in Cardiff, and think Wales by a nose. Halfpenny as top points scorer.
Ireland v South Africa
Two teams who are searching for fifth gear right now - Ireland have been lacking consistency for 18 months, able to pull off some memorable performances and victories but unable to back them up. With Paul O'Connell joining the likes of O'Driscoll, Kearney, Best, O'Brien and Ferris on the sidelines there are some sizeable holes in Ireland's armoury. But if you're looking for positives the men in green have beaten the Boks three times in the last four - and the one loss was only by a couple of points. The Springboks have had their own splutters in this year's Rugby Championship - big but worryingly unsubtle - and the loss of the injured Bryan Habana removes a large part of their attacking threat. However another injury, to new fly half Johan Joosen, may just be an unwitting stroke of fortune for head coach Henneke Meyer. Pat Lambie has long been considered the new golden boy of South African rugby and this autumn may be his chance to prove it at 10. The Boks to have too much power, and get home by 8.
Scotland v New Zealand
Fans of the thistle, look away now. In the 28 games between these two, Scotland have 2 draws and 26 defeats to show for their efforts. In the last 5 games, all played at Murrayfield, Scotland have lost by an average of 31-5. And scored just the one try. Add in the fact that this New Zealand side is on an unbeaten run of 17 games, currently holds the World Cup and Rugby Championship trophies and is being talked about as one of the greatest teams of all time, and there aren't many plus points for Scotland to cling to. If you're going with your heart, it is in these circumstances that Scotland often produce their best. Add in an unbeaten summer tour, the superb Kelly Brown as the new skipper and a New Zealand side 30% off full strength I think this might be closer than expected. All Blacks by 19 thanks to a late flurry, but Tim Visser as an any time try scorer.