November offers international coaches possibly their last opportunity to try things out ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
From the new year plans will begin to be finalised ahead of the tournament in Japan, but over the next month or so there is scope for something new.
To that end, a host of fresh faces have been called up for action as Australia, England, New Zealand and Wales all roll the dice. But how will they fare this November? Our experts have their say.
Player to watch: Nicolas Sanchez. Should Argentina emerge from their funk they have been for almost all of 2017, they'll need to have Sanchez firing on all cylinders. So much of Argentina's game runs around the fly-half, but he's struggled to get a backline going that only scored 11 tries in six matches in the Rugby Championship -- all of which they lost. He has the ability, he just needs the confidence.
Key fixture: Italy. The Pumas don't travel all that well, they've managed just one win in 2017 -- and that came at home against Georgia back in June. It would take something remarkable to muster wins over England and Ireland, so Daniel Hourcade should ensure that they get a desired result by some margin in Florence. The Azzurri will be targeting this match too, and a loss could see Hourcade lose his job.
Biggest talking point: As is often the case with Argentina, the biggest talking point will be what Pumas side shows up on these pastures. Despite all the doom and gloom of 2017, let's not forget two years ago Argentina arrived in the U.K. and made it all the way to the World Cup semifinals. They need to start well against England with a performance they can be proud of, or it could turn disastrous very quickly.
Prediction: The Pumas will look a lot better than they did during a winless Rugby Championship but will manage just the one win over Italy. They'll throw everything at England and Ireland but fade in the last 20 minutes of both of those matches, with the performances enough to entrust the powers that be to keep Daniel Hourcade in charge heading into 2018 and the World Cup the following year. -- Nick Bewley
Player to watch: Marika Koroibete. Had he not have suffered a season-ending injury against the Barbarians, Jack Dempsey would have caught the eye of rugby fans up north but he is instead contemplating an extended preseason with the Waratahs. Therefore, the player who could generate some buzz is NRL convert Marika Koroibete. The former Melbourne Storm winger has four tries in four Tests and looks to have picked up the nuances of rugby defence, and breakdown work, better than any previous Australian rugby league convert.
Key fixture: England. It's the same story every year, right? The Cook Cup will be on the line when the Wallabies visit Twickenham on Nov. 18, with Michael Cheika's side still smarting from their 4-0 whitewash in 2016. Michael Hooper admitted England's clean sweep Down Under in June ruined the Wallabies' year, and the Australia skipper would love to return the favour as England eye a third straight Six Nations crown early next year. The hosts will start deserved favourites, but should the Wallabies continue their dominance of Wales the week prior they will arrive in London full of confidence and unbeaten in their last eight.
Biggest talking point: Israel Folau's fullback cover. With three-time John Eales Medallist Folau enjoying some R & R back home, Kurtley Beale, Karmichael Hunt and Reece Hodge offer cover in the custodian role. Beale started at the back in Yokohama at the weekend, and has played there with aplomb in seasons past, while Cheika has been keen to see what Hunt can do in the No. 15 shirt given the Queenslander's efforts with Brisbane Broncos in the NRL. Hodge could also line up there after filling his third position, fly-half, at Test level against Japan last Saturday. Each player would bring a slightly different skill-set to the position, leaving the Wallabies plenty to work with.
Prediction: Three wins. We're including the weekend's victory over Japan on the Wallabies' books, but can't see them upsetting England at Twickenham. They'll go close and may even hold the lead into the second-half, but Eddie Jones has the Wallabies' number and looks set to improve to 5-0 against his homeland. Wales and Scotland will be tough, the latter in particular, but Australia are a far cry from the side that turned in arguably their worst performance of the Cheika era against the Scots in Sydney earlier this year. -- Sam Bruce
Player to watch: There are eye-catching players across England's back-row but Eddie Jones is yet to show his hand there so estimates over game time for Sam Simmonds, Zach Mercer and Sam Underhill are educated guesses. Henry Slade is therefore the one with the most to gain from these autumn Tests. The Exeter playmaker has been on the fringes of the England squad but is playing superbly and offers an option at outside centre. It is likely to be between Slade and Jonathan Joseph for who gets the nod at 13, but Slade is likely to get a shot at some juncture.
Key fixture: England should beat Argentina and Samoa with some points to spare, so their match against Australia on Nov. 18 should be the defining Test of their autumn programme. Australia are an unpredictable quantity, but given they have played Jones' England four times, and lost on all four occasions, they will be looking to put right some wrongs. Buoyed by their win over the All Blacks, Australia will hope to gate-crash England's Twickenham party.
Biggest talking point: England are nursing a lengthy casualty list with Jack Clifford, Matt Mullan, Ben Te'o, Manu Tuilagi, Billy Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jack Nowell all definitely absent through injury and this three-Test programme will be a test of their reserves not least at No. 8 where Nathan Hughes is currently their only sizeable ball-carrying option. On this note, Jones is yet to reveal how many matches his British & Irish Lions contingent will play. There is a chance he may rest Maro Itoje, Mako Vunipola, Owen Farrell and Anthony Watson -- who played in all three Tests against the All Blacks -- but these plans are yet to see the light of day.
Prediction: England will come through the November programme unbeaten with three wins from three. They will beat Argentina and Samoa comfortably, but will be pushed hard by Michael Cheika's Australia. They will face sterner tests in next year's autumn campaign, but this will be a month in which Jones' team can rediscover momentum ahead of the Six Nations. -- Tom Hamilton
Player to watch: Mathieu Bastareaud. The return of the burly Toulon centre to France colours will have surprised some, especially given Guy Noves' newfound desire to give youth a chance. Basta, 29, has not played for France since the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarterfinal humiliation against New Zealand, but by Noves' own admission he has been "naturally playing himself back to selection."
Key fixture: New Zealand. Mythical French flair flickered briefly into life this time last year as Les Bleus gave a tired New Zealand and Australia a run for their money. But they returned to the realms of legend by the June tour of South Africa. Victory is almost certainly beyond them, but running New Zealand close would get the fickle French crowd on their side again.
Biggest talking point: Halfback selection. In a post-Camille Lopez France, who should play at nine and 10 against New Zealand? Antoine Dupont, Anthony Belleau -- three caps between them, and they all belong to Dupont -- and Francois Trinh-Duc are options, while Baptiste Serin has never disappointed at scrum-half, so Dupont could be sacrificed for the greater good.
Prediction: This November's an odd one -- even for France. Noves promised even before the glut of injuries that some 70 or more players will get their chance across the four internationals and the French Barbarians' game against Maori All Blacks. Three wins out of five -- including the Baa-Baas game -- courtesy of the youthful wind of change blowing through French rugby right now, would be an excellent result. -- James Harrington
Player to watch: Bundee Aki. The Irish qualified centre has been showing his class for Connacht for the last three seasons. He now has a chance to shine for Ireland. With Garry Ringrose and Jared Payne injured, it is the perfect time for Aki to get continuous game time throughout the November series.
Key fixture: South Africa. While Fiji and Argentina will represent a challenge, it's all about defeating the Springboks. Having run the All Blacks so close last month, South Africa are the biggest obstacle between Ireland and a perfect November but places are up for grabs in Joe Schmidt's side. An inferior display Saturday could mean not wearing the jersey again.
Biggest talking point: Simon Zebo. With the World Cup just two years away, Schmidt has laid down the gauntlet to any Irish player nearing the end of their contract. Move away from Ireland and you lose your spot. But having made the decision, one of Ireland's most in-form players is left looking in from the outside this autumn. Would a string of injuries bring him back?
Prediction: South Africa, Fiji and Argentina will all falter. Three wins from three for Schmidt and the Kiwi coach will continue to build towards the Six Nations with optimism. He has a team that doesn't lose often. South Africa and Argentina don't possess the class to undo that. -- Cillian O Conchuir
Player to watch: More than a single player there's a jersey number that will be key to watch for the Italians, whoever wears it. With a lot of exciting and pretty dynamic talents looking to make a well deserved debut on the biggest stage, scrum-half will be pretty crucial. Marcello Violi may provide that much needed ability to give the backs rhythm and tempo on the gain line. Yet there's no guarantee that he will even make the 23-man squad.
Key fixture: Argentina. Twelve months ago in Florence Italy claimed the Springboks' scalp for the first time. Forget the South Africans this year, they are far better prepared than last time. Fiji in Catania will provide a very tough debut Test for Conor O'Shea's men but it's the Pumas derby -- a 'clasico' for Latin rugby lovers -- against the Azzurri will need to end in victory. Italy has lost the last six against Argentina and have beaten the Pumas only twice since the new Millennium.
Biggest talking point: A positive record from the November Internationals and at least one full house is what Italian rugby has always dreamt of. Unfortunately attendance figures are down and the last two-win November series came in 2005. After failing to record a single win in the whole year, the Azzurri should deliver some good wins to get the crowds flocking back again. New exciting talent are ready to rumble, so there's a lot of excitement in the country.
Prediction: Italians love Conor O'Shea and what he and his staff are doing to try to turn the destiny of Italian rugby is far more important than some November wins. Giovanni Licata, Renato Giammarioli, Matteo Minozzi and a bunch of colleagues in their early twenties are emerging from the PRO14 and that's proof the 'system' is working properly. Don't get me wrong I would love to see the Azzurri celebrate triumphs against Fiji or Argentina, or both, but there's much more at stake in the long haul. -- Enrico Borra
Player to watch: Waisake Naholo This tour presents a huge opportunity for the Highlanders winger, who has yet to establish himself as a first-choice selection in the New Zealand ranks. With Nehe Milner-Skudder, Jordie Barrett, Israel Dagg and Ben Smith all absent, Naholo has the chance for regular game time and he can stamp his mark on the No. 14 jersey with some consistent performances.
Key fixture: Wales. This is Steve Hansen vs. Warren Gatland volume IV for 2017. After plenty of jousting between the respective coaches during the British & Irish Lions tour, there will be a little bit of added spice to this already attractive encounter. Hansen should roll out his strongest possible squad for the last Test on tour, and will want to keep his unbeaten record intact against his former employers.
Biggest talking point: 'Oh, England could beat them'. It's already started. We are still a year out from the All Blacks facing England at Twickenham, and another year until the World Cup, but the narrative is all about how the two best sides in the world are travelling. Some quarters already believe England will win based on New Zealand's performance against the Barbarians. Please. Whether the All Blacks like it or not, their three outings on this side of the world will be compared and critiqued based on what Eddie Jones' side manage to produce.
Prediction: All Blacks win, but fail to convince. Steve Hansen's spoken about seeing how his side respond to uncomfortable situations. There'll be more of that in these three Tests, in which they will try things they wouldn't dare in a World Cup final. Different combinations and game-styles will result in some sub-par performances, but they should go through November unbeaten and head home with plenty learnt, and squad depth built, ahead of 2018. -- Nick Bewley
Player to watch: Stuart Hogg. The Glasgow fullback revealed this week that he had lost 20 pounds by cutting out Guinness and fast food from his diet, and if the early stages of his comeback are anything to go by then it has worked a treat. Hogg has scored three tries in his two appearances since returning from the injury that cost him his Lions tour and new Scotland coach Gregor Townsend will be delighted to have him available.
Key fixture: Australia. Townsend got his reign off to the perfect start with back-to-back June wins over Italy and the Wallabies. He will hope to prove that the subsequent defeat to Fiji was merely a blip when Australia visit Murrayfield on Nov. 25. Michael Cheika's side snatched a one-point victory from the jaws of defeat in Edinburgh last year but could arrive in Scotland with a point to prove themselves, following matches against Wales and England.
Biggest talking point: Where do Scotland stand two years out from Japan? This is possibly a perennial question for the men in dark blue but with a change of coach it is more pressing now, especially with less than two years to go until the World Cup. There has been a feeling that Scotland have been turning a corner for the last few years but this season has to be the year they turn that into results. That could be difficult with so many new faces coming into the squad this month.
Prediction: Scotland will aim for two wins from three, but the opening game against Samoa looks to be the only guaranteed victory. Given Townsend may well use that game to blood some of the 11 uncapped players in his squad then that might not be a given either. New Zealand are too strong no matter what team Townsend fields, while as noted above, the game against the Wallabies is one that could go either way. -- Martyn Thomas
Player to watch: Wilco Louw. The Western Province and Stormers prop is immensely strong. His former high school rugby coach once said that he would rather greet Louw with a kiss than a handshake, as his fearsome grip has left many hands bruised and battered in its wake. The tighthead has had a top season, which culminated in an impressive debut against the All Blacks and a demolition job of the Sharks scrum in the Currie Cup final. He could be the man to solve the Boks' scrum woes.
Key fixture: Ireland. Although the Springboks are a much-improved side in 2017, they are still struggling to convince some supporters that they are ready to compete with the best in the world. But a victory over Ireland in their own backyard will go a long way to putting a bit more gloss on a year of mixed fortunes. The Boks haven't managed to beat a team above them in the world rankings this year, and a win over the fourth-ranked Irish will be more than just a top start to the tour.
Biggest talking point: Selection remains a massive issue in most positions for the Springboks. Coach Allister Coetzee hasn't made many changes to his starting teams this year with mixed results. He has stuck with most of those players for this tour, despite a number of good performances from players in the Currie Cup and some of those plying their trade in Europe. It's a bit of gamble for Coetzee, as he will have to start from scratch again next year if they fail to perform. It's time for the players that he has picked to repay the coach's faith.
Prediction: The Boks didn't win a single match on their tour last year, even going down to Italy in Florence. They should get the better of the Italians this time around, while they also played some good rugby against the French earlier this year. However, they will face a massive test of their credentials against Ireland and Wales. Ireland is the big game of this tour, and it is likely to be the one where they fall short. -- John Goliath
Player to watch: Steff Evans. Wales will go into the autumn programme without the injured George North, but the emergence of Evans means that isn't the blow it would have been just a few months ago. The Scarlets wing got his first taste of international rugby over the summer, scoring a brace of tries in his second Test against Samoa in Apia. He has not looked back this season, and has touched down six times in 10 appearances for his region. Wales' opponents have been warned.
Key fixture: Australia. The mood of the nation will be shaped by what happens in Cardiff Saturday. Wales' travails against the Wallabies are well documented and they head into the November Tests having failed to win an autumn opener since a 58-14 defeat of Fiji in 2002. The hosts were blown away by the Wallabies 12 months ago, another defeat against their visitors and a deflating November awaits. Win and suddenly a young, inexperienced squad will have some momentum.
Biggest talking point: Warren Gatland will use November [and the beginning of December] to gauge his strength in depth in a number of positions. The Kiwi has included several promising, young props while Sam Cross -- a player more associated with Sevens -- is among the back row options. Yet, it is the mix of centres picked that is most intriguing. Owen Williams, Rhys Patchell and Rhys Priestland may well all get a chance to stake a claim for the No. 12 shirt while New Zealand-born Hadleigh Parkes waits in the wings and Owen Watkin gets used to life at this level.
Prediction: As noted above, the opening clash with Australia is all-important. Win that and Wales should finish their campaign with at least three wins. Lose and it will put immense pressure on the game against Georgia the following week -- a side that may well fancy their chances of getting the upper hand in the front row battle. The All Blacks will have too much, even with their hectic November schedule, but the Springboks will be there for the taking at the end of a gruelling season. A three-win November is there for the taking. Unfortunately so is a one-win autumn. -- Martyn Thomas