Wales target first autumn win since 2009
November 15, 2013
South Africa's physicality helped see them past Wales last weekend © Getty Images
It was advantage southern hemisphere last weekend. The big three rolled around Europe and left a trail of destruction as the All Blacks beat France, Australia thrashed Italy and South Africa saw off an injury-ravaged Wales. There was some hope for Europe as Ireland managed to get their first win under Joe Schmidt and Scotland did enough to beat Japan but both face different, harder propositions this weekend.
The All Blacks are in action against England this weekend and while that is likely to dominate the news agenda, there are three key games elsewhere. For Wales, they will look to bury the ghosts of last year when they crashed to defeat against Argentina at the Millennium Stadium. Warren Gatland's team has been hamstrung by injuries but he has used the opportunity to blood some new faces and has a strong crux of Lions in his team.
In Ireland, they will look to push on from their win over Samoa when they host the Wallabies. There are a host of familiar faces back for Schmidt's men with Paul O'Connell captaining a team which features Cian Healy, Brian O'Driscoll and Sean O'Brien. Australia will be no easy game for Ireland as they were superb against Italy last weekend, a Test deemed to be a potential banana skin for Ewen McKenzie's men.
For Scotland, Scott Johnson has made the somewhat bizarre decision to rest Kelly Brown and Ryan Grant for Sunday's clash against the Springboks who are deservedly the world's second best side at present. And France and Italy are also in action as Les Bleus host Tonga in Le Havre while Italy tackle Fiji in Cremona.
South Africa are a scary proposition.They weren't at their imperious best against Wales last weekend but they still got the victory. Fourie du Preez is showing no ill effects of his sojourn to Japan and is the world's best scrum-half at present while their back-row is still the best in world rugby.
Scotland's Greig Laidlaw is also playing some great rugby. Both he and Tommy Seymour shone for Scotland last weekend and rightly keep their place in the side for the match against South Africa.
And Australia look to be finding some sort of swagger. Quade Cooper is benefiting from spending some time out of the limelight while Nick Cummins seemed to be on a one-man mission to beat Italy last weekend. He played well and Australia are benefitting from renewed strength in depth.
For Ireland, their win last weekend was built on a powerful performance from the pack with Jack McGrath and Peter O'Mahony at the forefront. They will hope to use that same grunt and the famous 'choke tackle' against the Wallabies. And for Ireland, the headline-making decision ahead of Saturday's Test from Schmidt was to pick Eoin Reddan over Conor Murray. He links up with Jonathan Sexton at fly-half for Ireland, the pressure is on Reddan to perform.
Out of form
Rob Howley described George North's performance against South Africa as 'disappointing'. He has scored just once for his new club Northampton and looks to be suffering from a post-Lions hangover. His talent is not in doubt, but he will hope to get a try or two at the weekend.
France are on a dreadful run at the moment. They have won just one of their last nine games and Tonga will hope to replicate their historic win over Les Bleus in the 2011 World Cup when they face Philippe Saint-Andre's men this weekend. Like Wales, who fell last weekend, they have quality throughout their team but you feel France need to win this weekend as the pressure grows on Saint-Andre to stop the rot.
The milestone men
While Dan Carter wins his 100th Test cap for New Zealand at Twickenham, there are three others who are reaching the milestone this weekend. Gethin Jenkins will join Gareth Thomas, Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams in reaching 100 caps for Wales. For Italy, the talismanic Sergio Parisse and Martin Castrogiovanni will reach a century of caps for the Azzurri. Expect Cremona to rise and salute their gladiatorial heroes.
Key area to watch
Replace this text with heading
It will be fascinating to see how Scotland cope with the Springboks' pack. Johnson has rested his best scrummager in Grant and Brown, so often the heartbeat of the Scottish side, will also sit out the match. The Scottish pack will be tasked with proving Johnson right in his gamble. For South Africa, they have rested their first-choice front-row but such is the quality of their strength in depth, they are likely to lose little power with Gurthro Steenkamp, Adriaan Strauss and Frans Malherbe all starting.
Wales have not won a home match during the November international series since 2009 when they beat Argentina 33-16 in Cardiff.
The last four Tests between Ireland and the Wallabies have been tight affairs, as can be seen with an average of five and a half points splitting the teams.
The Ireland front row of Rory Best, Cian Healy and Mike Ross make their 22nd start together in Test rugby, joining the Scotland trio of Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford and Euan Murray as the fifth most capped front-row combination of all time. The Australian front row of current coach McKenzie along with Phil Kearns and Tony Daly hold the all-time record for a front row combination with 36.
Bakkies Botha wins his first cap for South Africa since the 87-0 win over Namibia in the Rugby World Cup 2011.
Italy will bounce back against Fiji with a commanding win. Wales will break their autumn hoodoo to beat Argentina while France will get past Tonga. Australia will win by three against Ireland with Scotland losing against South Africa.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
"The loudest cheer at a rugby game, away from social media gimmicks, pumping music and pyrotechnics will always be for a try." Tom Hamilton on the Twickenham atmosphere
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham