Wales enter southern hemisphere fray
June 13, 2014
Wales take on South Africa on Saturday, hoping to beat the Springboks for the first time since 1999 © Getty Images
The last of the Home Nations enters the action this weekend with Wales crossing continents to take on South Africa in the first of a two-Test series. Their Six Nations counterparts are already embroiled in battles of their own, with the honour of European rugby in the balance after a mixed-bag of results last weekend.
The real success story so far has been England, who impressed even in defeat last Saturday. Click here to read a preview of their second Test against the All Blacks in Dunedin or read on for all you need to know of the other clashes happening this weekend.
South Africa v WalesSaturday, 4.00pm, Sky Sports 1
Dan Lydiate will start in the Wales back-row © Getty Images
A win in Durban will be a big ask, but head coach Warren Gatland has been able to name an experienced side for the task. Prop Adam Jones will win his 100th international cap, while Alun Wyn Jones will lead the side in the absence of Sam Warburton. The back-row is perhaps the only makeshift area, with long-standing injuries to Warburton and Justin Tipuric meaning it's a trio of Dan Lydiate, Aaron Schingler and Taulupe Faletau - hardly an awful line-up.
South Africa are boosted by experience of their own. After impressing against a World XV last weekend, World Cup-winners Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield are reunited in the second row to do yet more damage on the Test arena, while Bath flanker Francois Louw will fancy his chances of dominating at the breakdown in the absence of Warburton. His back-row work alongside Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen will likely be a thorn in Wales' side all afternoon.
It has to be the skippers and second-row opponents Victor Matfield and Alun Wyn Jones. Matfield returned to the Springbok fold to captain the side in their warm-up last weekend and his presence inspires awe in team-mates and opponents alike. Alun Wyn Jones is less decorated than his rival, but his full-blooded approach to Test rugby instills confidence in those around him and, after leading the Lions in their third Test last year, he has experience of captaining winning teams in the southern hemisphere. Not only will the pair duel in the line-out, their leadership abilities will be tested to the full on Saturday.
Wales have not beaten South Africa since June 26, 1999 - a 29-19 victory on the opening day of the Mellenium Stadium.
Wales have been able to beast European opponents in recent years, but their terrible record against South Africa is unlikely to improve against this hulking Springbok side. South Africa to win by ten.
Argentina v IrelandSaturday, 7.40pm, Sky Sports 1
Paul O'Connell has called for improvements © Getty Images
Argentina came into this two-Test series with an unfamiliar squad, head coach Daniel Hourcade opting against selecting his star Europe-based players in favour of home-grown talent. But any doubts over their ability to take on the tourists were dispelled as they produced a dogged performance in Resistencia, putting two tries on Ireland and matching them in the physicality stakes. The loss of No.8 Benjamin Macome is a blow to the Pumas, but they will be itching to improve on last week and send Ireland home disappointed.
While O'Connell paid tribute to the ferocity of the Pumas' game last weekend, he also lamented his own side's inaccuracies. Handling errors and missed tackles might be attributed to end-of-season fatigue, but Ireland now know they cannot afford to be sloppy against their hosts. Joe Schmidt is able to include those who played for Leinster in the PRO12 final and the eight changes he has made for Saturday should inject energy rather than interrupt flow, with the return of senior men such as Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip always likely to improve a team.
Keep an eye on the front-row again. Prop Ramiro Herrera did well on his debut last weekend against Jack McGrath, but on Saturday he comes up against David Kilcoyne. The Munster prop has not started a Test in a year and will be desperate to show Schmidt why he deserves a starting berth in the long-term. But Herrera will be keen to put on an impressive display himself in only his second start, so the first hit between the two should be a bruising encounter.
Ireland have played Argentina in 14 Tests, winning nine of them. However, they have only won once on Argentine soil, the victory coming last weekend.
Argentina will put up a serious challenge on Saturday but Ireland have too much quality in their ranks. The tourists should win by 16 points to take the series 2-0.
Australia v FranceSaturday, 11.00am, Sky Sports 1
Thierry Dusautoir is a welcome addition for France © Getty Images
Philippe Saint-Andre has taken an axe to the starting XV who were so comprehensively thrashed in Brisbane, changing ten for Saturday's second Test in Melbourne. Most notable is the return of skipper Thierry Dusautoir, who will be tasked with bringing some calm to the French headless chicken routine. Those who appeared in the Top 14 final are also welcomed back, with midfield battering ram Mathieu Bastareaud improving France's ball-carrying options.
Australia appear to be on an upward curve, although their progress is being hampered by nasty injury setbacks to leading players. Last weekend captain Stephen Moore became the latest casualty, joining the likes of Quade Cooper and David Pocock on the unavailable list. Young flanker Michael Hooper will take over as skipper on Saturday, although he will be assisted by senior men such as James Horwill, who wins his 50th cap. After running in seven tries last weekend, the Wallabies will be confident of a second win even if the French make an improvement.
It's definitely worth keeping an eye on the captains in the back-rows. Hooper has been outstanding in the green and gold shirt but must now cope with the pressure of captaincy at the age of just 22. Dusautoir returns to lead France, but will have to work hard to inspire his team-mates given last weekend's surrender.
France have won just five times since 2013, with four of those victories coming against Scotland, Italy and Tonga. The fifth was a narrow 26-24 victory over England at the Stade de France in February.
Saint-Andre's changes will improve things slightly for France, but Australia should still cruise to victory. The Wallabies by 20 points.
Canada v ScotlandSaturday, 7.00pm, BT Sport 2
Richie Gray will be in the Scotland engine room © Getty Images
Scotland kicked off their new era under Vern Cotter with a win last weekend over the USA in tricky conditions in Houston. This weekend's meeting with Canada in Toronto will give him another useful opportunity to look at his squad on the front foot, rather than receiving the drubbings they are used to against Six Nations opposition. Kelly Brown will be a welcome addition to the starting XV, while Moray Low is given the chance to stake his claim for the tighthead role.
Canada were defeated by Japan last weekend in a match they had a good chance of winning. Going into the break 16 points to the good, Canada then conceded 25 without reply as they tired in the second half. They will be determined to put up a sterner resistance to Scotland, although a more realistic chance of a victory comes next weekend against North American rivals USA.
Canada's lock partnership from the Japan Test remains unchanged, with Tyler Hotson and Jamie Cudmore taking their places in the pack. Scotland, however, have been forced into a change in the second-row, with Jim Hamilton unable to take part due to an ankle injury. The inexperienced Grant Gilchrist therefore comes in alongside Richie Gray, giving the combative Cudmore in particular a decent chance of stamping his authority on his Scottish opponents.
Scotland's victory over the USA last weekend sends them up two places to eighth in the IRB world rankings. Canada occupy 16th spot, one behind Georgia and two above the USA.
There is surely only one winner, with Scotland's rugby history ensuring they have more experience and quality in their squad than Canada. The hosts will certainly put up a fight and might even pinch a try, but Scotland will win by 20 or more.
Samoa v ItalySaturday, 2.00am
Italy will be desperate for a win © Getty Images
Italy were beaten by Fiji last Saturday, meaning they are without a win in 2014. That record might be forgivable given the quality of the Six Nations, but Italy in fact ran Wales close in February and lost to Scotland by a single point. Jacques Brunel must find a way to start this Italy team converting decent performances into victories and a summer against lesser-Test sides such as Fiji, Samoa and Japan is as good an opportunity as he will get.
On the other hand, Samoa need a win as much as Italy. Stunned last weekend as Tonga held them to an 18-18 stalemate, Samoa must produce quality if they are to be rewarded with a visit from the All Blacks in the not-too-distant future. They are ranked four places higher than Italy and a win against the tourist would be a handy scalp for the Pacific islanders.
Samoa faced Tonga last weekend with some of their key operators missing from the starting XV. Now, London Irish's Ofisa Treviranus, Saracens prop James Johnston and Clermont hooker Ti'i Paulo all come in to bolster the pack, but it is in the back-line that Samoa add most quality. Aviva Premiership winners George Pisi and Kahn Fotuali'i return, with Fotuali'i likely to have the upper hand over his opponent Tito Tebaldi. If Fotuali'i can provide the between Samoa's giant pack and backs such as Pisir, he should power the hosts to victory.
Italy are on a seven-match losing streak in all competitions. They have only beaten Samoa once in five attempts, that victory coming in November 2009.
It's going to be close, but Samoa are no slouches and Italy have not looked strong on their travels. Samoa to win by six.
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