Ireland v All Blacks is pick of autumn feast with strong World Cup flavour
The Breakdown Rugby union Ireland v All Blacks is pick of autumn feast with strong World Cup flavour
Month of internationals will offer guide to which side can provide New Zealand with biggest challenge in Japan next year
New Zealand (World ranking: 1 Points: 92.96): New Zealand are like a machine, mowing down all who stand in their way, but their blades get tangled occasionally, as they did against South Africa. It was another day when they did not go through the gears but engaged top immediately; they tend to be more strategic in Europe, getting a game won before indulging themselves. After what should be a weekend frolic in Japan, they face England and Ireland in consecutive weeks, two of their main World Cup rivals. The two games will provide greater World Cup preparation than next yearâs Rugby Championship, a tournament the All Blacks have come to dominate but have not won in a World Cup year since 2007. Armed with their strongest available squad, England will be the warm-up for the breakdown-savvy Ireland.
Ireland (World ranking: 2 Points: 90.12): The match of the month promises to be in Dublin on 17 November when the All Blacks roll up. It was fiercely contested when th e teams met there two years ago, three weeks after Ireland had beaten the World Cup holders in Chicago; New Zealand needed a late try and conversion to win in 2013, five months after a late Dan Carter drop goal had earned them victory in Christchurch. Irelandâs capacity to hustle and retain possession has flustered a team used to getting their own way, but they will miss their Lionsâ scrum-half Conor Murray. Ireland, like Leinster, have perfected a way of playing but need to stay ahead in a game evolving at pace.
Wales (World ranking: 3 Points: 85.94): Wales moved into the top three of the rankings almost unnoticed. They used to declare loudly their ambition to join the leading group but now prefer to remain low key, developing strength in depth for what they believe is a realistic tilt at the World Cup. Beating Australia for the first time since 2008 would be a start, especially given the Wallabiesâ recent travails, and there is a quiet confidence despite losing Sam Warburton permanently and Taulupe Faletau for the series. Wales have changed from a team most comfortable containing and chasing to a creative one. Will it be Gareth Anscombe or Dan Biggar at 10 to face Australia?
England (World ranking: 4 Points: 85.68): Eddie Jones may have a full squad to pick from one day but until then he has two issues to resolve: defence and making use of slow ball. Results will matter for Englandâs head coach after a year in which they lost their Six Nations with a whimper and contrived to throw away winning positions in the first two Tests in South Africa; but winning three out of four and taking the All Blacks into the final quarter would be a considerable achievement given the rebuilding needed in every phase of the pack. England have over the years struggled to live off their wits, to cope with the unexpected. They were on top in South Africa when successfully delivering their gameplan but fell apart when it was thwarted, reaching the stage where it goes beyond coaching.
South Africa (World ranking: 5 Points: 83.52): The Springboks have rallied but remain an enigma. They lost away to Australia and Argentina before winning in New Zealand, reflecting how a country with a historical Test record second only to New Zealand has come to relish the role of underdog, performing when not expected to. Their record this year is only 50%, hardly a marked improvement on the previous regime, but Rassie Erasmus has supplemented organisation with emotion. A team that used to relish conditions in Europe have struggled on recent tours, particularly under the high ball, and without the Sale scrum-half Faf de Klerk the pace of their game will probably drop off. The next four weeks are a building process.
Scotland (World ranking: 6 Points: 83.02): For once Scotland took November form into the Six Nations last season but their fixture list does not wholly reflect the needs of a team on the up: Wales in a fourth international, Fiji, South Africa and Argentina. Despite running only two professional sides they have developed strength in depth, as shown by the inclusion in the squad of the 21-year old Edinburgh full-back/wing, Darcy Graham. He is not the biggest but was deceptively quick for Edinburgh against a Toulon side that struggled to lay a hand o n him. The Scots still have a marauding pack but even without Stuart Hogg, and this weekend Finn Russell, brim with attacking options.
Australia (World ranking: 7 Points: 82.86): The 2015 beaten World Cup finalists have never been lower in the rankings and have won four of their last 13 away matches, two in Argentina, one in Japan and the other in Cardiff against opponents they have in the last 10 years devised various ways of beating. They have Wales first up, group opponents in Japan next year, and continuing that run is a target; but their final match at Twickenham looks more significant. Since dumping England out of their World Cup three years ago the Wallabies have lost five times to them and conceded 169 points. Their capacity to score has been offset by defensive softness. They need more resolve and the tour has real meaning for them.
France (World ranking: 8 Points: 79.10): France have become harder to beat under Jacques Brunel , which even the All Blacks found in the summer despite a 3-0 series victory that on paper gives the false impression of being a romp. The head coach started with defence: Les Bleus conceded only six tries in the Six Nations but fashioned only eight of their own. Without Morgan Parra and Wesley Fofana for their matches with South Africa, Argentina and Fiji, the next step is back to the future â" attack.
Argentina (World ranking: 9 Points: 78.01): The Pumasâ only autumn victories since the last World Cup came in Japan and Italy. They face Ireland, France and Scotland having conceded 29 tries in six Rugby Championship matches. The new head coach, Mario Ledesma, needs to achieve a balance between the laissez-faire attitude of his predecessor and his sideâs traditional ball-winning capacity.
Italy and the rest: Ireland, Australia and New Zealand have less significance for Italy than Georgia, who lie just above them in 13th in the world rankings. Defeat would add to calls for the Six Nations to introduce promotion and relegation. The teams from 10-15 in the rankings are in action against tier one sides this autumn: Fiji face Scotland and France, Tonga are in Cardiff, the United States take on Samoa and Ireland while Japan follow New Zealand with an Eddie Jones reunion.
â¢ This is an extract from our weekly rugby union email, the Breakdown. To subscribe just visit this page and follow the instructions.Topics < ul>
- Autumn internationals
- Rugby World Cup 2019
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