International Test Match rugby returned with a bang last weekend as the best teams of both hemispheres collided in some fascinating encounters both here and abroad. Three of my five Best Bets cashed with the Ireland match falling by a narrow 0.5, however, I am confident on my plays for this week. The action kicks off this weekend in Dunedin, where a near-full strength English outfit will seek revenge having been beaten by a late try last weekend at Eden Park. The next match will come to us from Etihad Stadium in Melbourne where the French will look to improve having copped the brunt of an all-out assault from the Wallabies last weekend in Brisbane. The Springboks and Wales are up next in what is always a closely fought encounter before Ireland looks to achieve only their second win on Argentinian soil in Tucuman on Sunday morning. You only have to take a quick look at the blowout odds offered for the southern hemisphere teams (except Argentina) this weekend in comparison to their northern foes to see the gap that exists, but I have settled for all line betting options. Below I will analyse each match and provide some plays that I believe are favouring us, the punters. Make sure you follow me on Twitter (@S15_TheProfits) for last minute tips, game coverage, expert insight or just for a chat. Good luck!
Best Bet 1: Italy +13.5 vs Samoa @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Fiji -8.5 vs Tonga @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: England +13.5 vs New Zealand @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: France +16.5 vs Australia @ $1.91 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 5: Wales +13.5 vs South Africa @ $1.91 – Sportsbet
New Zealand ($1.13) vs England ($6.25)
All eyes will be on Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday afternoon when the All Blacks face a reinforced England squad that came so close to causing the upset of the decade last week in Auckland. However, New Zealand kept their sacred ground, Eden Park a fortress when they triumphed 20 – 15 and extended their run to 32 straight victories in Auckland. In saying that, it wasn’t a convincing performance against an understrength England side and the visitors will be frustrated having let centre Conrad Smith score the only try of the match in the 78th minute to break the deadlock. The All Blacks and England are yet to play at this week’s venue Forsyth-Barr Stadium, but the enclosed roof will negate any effects the weather could play and I expect a few more five-pointers.
The All Blacks left it late in Auckland last weekend to defeat an English team that had been written off around the rugby world, but even on an ‘off day’, they still managed to get the job done. They looked far from the team that achieved the perfect season (14/14) in 2013 (the first time done by any nation in the professional era), but it did highlight the improvement that England has made over the last 18 months. The All Blacks will be seething after one of their worst performances during Steve Hansen’s tenure, which saw an experienced front row demolished, the second and back rowers were nullified at the lineout, break down and around the park, and only Aaron Smith and Conrad Smith could really be proud of their performances in the backs. On the bench, the returning Victor Vito added impetus on proceedings and his performance could well see him feature regularly in the All Blacks setup this season. The narrow win to the All Blacks will only galvanise them further and make them more determined to boss England this week, but I am sure a number of opposition International coaches will have taken note as to how to disgruntle and unsettle the All Blacks as the Poms did last weekend.
Looking at the All Blacks team this week, Coach Steve Hansen has shown faith in his champion outfit by only making one injury enforced change. The powerful Julian Savea comes onto the wing, which shifts Highlanders fullback Ben Smith to fullback in place of Israel Dagg. Dagg injured his knee during the first Test match and this has given Smith the opportunity to get more involved as both a ball-runner and a playmaker. Savea’s inclusion is a big one given the fact that he has scored 19 tries in 20 Test matches at a strike rate of 95%. Keep this in mind as he is always an ‘anytime try scorer’ option. The bench remains the same signifying that Kieran Read’s head knocks may have really taken a toll on him both mentally and physically and is now a real cause for concern.
I mentioned last week how important this Test series is for England given the fact that they will be hosting the Rugby World Cup at home next year. A single win would deem the tour successful and they almost snagged that victory last weekend in Auckland. It was a proud and inspiring performance by a number of England’s second-string players and fortunately they caught the All Blacks on a rare off day. Captain Chris Robshaw led from the front and number eight Ben Morgan did his chances of playing this week no harm with a barnstorming display at number eight. In the backs, some would say centres Kyle Eastmond and Manu Tuilagi equalled and if not bettered the performance of their direct opponents Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, but in the end, the visitors lacked the killer blow that very few teams before them have been able to land.
After last weekend’s promising performance, Coach Stuart Lancaster has made five changes to his starting 15. He has clearly rewarded some of the players from last week and why wouldn’t you after such a courageous display of confrontational rugby. Looking at the team, there are no changes in the tight five and Lancaster will be looking at them to once again dominate the set piece. Northhampton Saints flanker Tom Wood replaces James Haskell on the side of the scrum and will partner Captain Chris Robshaw and Ben Morgan in the back row. The halves combination has a new look with Danny Care sufficiently recovering from injury after pulling out late in last week’s build up and Owen Farrell, son of assistant coach Andy Farrell, is due to start at fly half. It is also a new look centre combination with Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell paired together, shifting the rampaging Manu Tuilagi to the wing alongside Marland Yarde and lively fullback Mike Brown. Tuilagi’s selection on the wing is an interesting one given he is one of the most dangerous centres in the world and I do believe the All Blacks will pepper his wing with grubber kicks and highballs as he hasn’t played in the outside channel since age-grade level. The bench contains Dylan Hartley, Matt Mullan and Kieran Brookes (debut) as front row reserves, with the bullies Courtney Lawes and Billy Vunipola due to make an appearance at some point as well. Last weekend’s halves Ben Youngs and Freddie Burns have shifted to the bench alongside the controversial, yet very talented Chris Ashton.
The All Blacks will have now hopefully shed the ring rust that plagued them in the first Test match in Auckland, but they’ll face a different looking England team this weekend. New Zealand has only lost twice to England since 1973, with the last one coming in 2003, but one must respect that this is most probably the strongest English squad ever to assemble in New Zealand. The returns of Julian Savea is a huge bonus for the All Blacks, however, it is somewhat offset by the inclusions of Danny Care, Owen Farrell and Luther Burrell in the English line up. All in all, the All Blacks very rarely play two bad games in a row and I can’t comfortably oppose a team that has won the last 15 in a row and lost just the once in their 29 games under the tutelage of Steve Hansen. In saying that, I do think there will be more tries this weekend and Owen Farrell has an accurate boot and I see England finishing within the allotted handicap.
Predicted result: New Zealand to win the match and clinch the series @ $1.13 – Sportingbet
Best Bet 3: England +13.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Australia ($1.14) vs France ($6.00)
Australia returns to Etihad Stadium in Melbourne on Saturday night for the second instalment of their series with the French. Last weekend in Brisbane, the Wallabies punished a very frail and uninspiring French outfit 50 – 23, with the home team running in seven tries to one in front of what many would describe as a poor crowd. The Wallabies put on an attacking master class and although France were missing a number of their first-choice players, they simply didn’t look to have any answers to what the Wallabies relentlessly threw at them.
The Wallabies started their 2014 season with a bang last weekend with a comprehensive victory over the French. Australia has synonymously started their seasons poorly over the past few years with losses to Scotland, Samoa and the British & Irish Lions in their recent first up matches. However, in Brisbane it was a different story as many of the players transferred their Super Rugby form to the international stage with aplomb. The early loss of Captain Stephen Moore (second minute) didn’t hamper the Wallabies in any way as they dominated all facets of the game and handed the French their biggest loss of the year. The Wallabies performance was a special one as it was the first time the Wallabies have notched up 50 points at home since they beat Italy in Melbourne in 2005. As a result of Moore’s unfortunate injury, Michael Hooper has been named as the new Wallabies skipper, the 82nd in Australian rugby history and the fourth youngest captain at just 22 years old. This is just reward for his consistency at both state and national level, but it will be interesting to see if his game is affected by his appointment in any way.
Understandably Coach Ewen Mackenzie has stuck with the majority of his troops that ripped France a new one last week by only making three injury-enforced changes. The human torpedo Tatafu Polota-Nau has been drafted in for Stephen Moore, former Wallabies Captain James Horwill replaces the injured Sam Carter in what will be his 50th test and Ben McCalman fills the gap left by number eight Wycliff Palu’s ankle. The backline remains the same and it must be said that they all did exceptionally well last week, especially the outside backs combination of Nick ‘the honey badger’ Cummins, Adam Ashley-Cooper and the best fullback in the world, Israel Folau. In an interesting statistic, every time Nick Cummins has scored at Test match level, the Wallabies have gone on to win. Looking at the bench, Nathan Charles will wear the number 16 jersey in what is a great story as he is the only professional sportsman that plies their trade with Cystic Fibrosis. He takes approximately 28 pills per day and the fact that he is about to earn his first cap for the Wallabies is extremely admirable. The Melbourne Rebels duo of prop Laurie Weeks and lock Luke Jones are also in line to make their debuts in what will be a special night in the their home town of Melbourne.
The French were completely blown away by the pace and he intensity of the Wallabies in Brisbane, but anyone who knows anything about French rugby, know that they will come out fighting in Melbourne. It is the end of a long season for the men up north, but they did look lethargic, uninterested and their attitude on defense was poor in Brisbane. Having been at the game only number eight Damien Chouly and outside centre Gael Fikou were threatening, along with a few trademark runs from Wesley Fofana. Put simply, basic skills are what let the French down, namely passing, decision-making and the lack of structure, so I expect them to tighten things up this weekend with a more polished performance.
Unsurprisingly, Coach Philippe Saint-Andrew has made wholesale changes to his squad that will try and redeem themselves this weekend in Melbourne. The most notable inclusion sees the return of Captain Thierry Dusautoir after six months away from the International game. If anyone remembers the RWC Final against New Zealand, Dusautoir embodied everything that is French rugby. He is a workhouse around the field, plays well above his weight and is just a warrior that would make most International line ups. Looking at the other changes, the front row now consists of Alexandre Menini (Toulon), last week’s hooker Guilhem Guirado and Rabah Slimani. Alexandre Flanquart replaces Sebastian Vahaamahina in the second row and will play alongside Yoann Maestri. Toulouse flanker Yannick Nyanga comes in for Fulgence Ouedraogo and will join Dusautoir and the impressive Damien Chouly in the back row. Morgan Parra returns to the starting line up at halfback and will partner Castres Remy Tales in the halves and the French will field yet another dangerous centre pairing in Wesley Fofana and the bulky Mathieu Bastereaud. The outside backs are comprised of Maxime Medard, Yoann Huget and Brice Dulin and I expect a much better showing from them this week. I am really looking forward to the introduction of Louis Picamoles into the French fray at some point during the match because he has shown time and time again that he is an extremely dangerous ball runner and ferocious on defense and could cause the Wallabies a few problems.
A telling statistic is that five of the last six Wallabies wins over France have been by more than 16 points, however, I am going to oppose that this week given the French’s reinforcements. Given the impeding chance of rain, organisers have opted to close the roof, which should allow both teams to play the game at pace. However, given the Wallabies dominance last weekend in the loose, I expect the French to tighten things up and look to dominate the set piece and adopt a style of trench warfare. I think the Wallabies are too settled to get dusted this weekend, but I do expect the score line to be much closer.
Predicted result: Australia to win @ $1.14 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: France +16.5 @ $1.91 – Sportsbet
South Africa ($1.14) vs Wales ($6.00)
The Springboks will host the Red Dragons of Wales this Saturday night at King’s Park in Durban in what is shaping to be an enthralling contest. South Africa was simply too strong for a Nick Mallett coached World XV last weekend in Cape Town with the home team winning 47-13 in their first workout of the year. Wales finished third in this year’s RBS 6 Nations, which would’ve been considered an unsuccessful campaign by their standards, but they will have acclimatised to local conditions having battled past the Eastern Province Kings in Port Elizabeth in a warm-up match on Tuesday.
It has been more than six months since the Springboks last Test match against France in Paris and with only 17-odd Test matches remaining until the Rugby World Cup next year, it is time the Boks get down to business. In their first fixture of the year, it took the Springboks a while to get into the game last week against the World XV, but once they rediscovered their rhythm and began playing to their strengths, they cantered away to an easy victory. The Springboks brute force up front and lively backs out wide combined intelligently, however, there were two areas of concern for the home team: the scrum and the breakdown. Given the Springboks possess the Sharks front row and have the experienced duo of Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield behind them in the scrum, one would expect their cohesion to be unmatched. However, a makeshift World XV undid them on several occasions and Springboks forward coach and former French player Pieter de Villiers will be working overtime given the fact that Wales will definitely target them there. Additionally, the breakdown is always a contentious zone, but South Africa lacked urgency and weren’t always accurate with their cleanouts which disrupted the speed of their ball presentation. In saying that, Bakkies Botha, the eventual man-of-the-match didn’t look out of place at Test level and nor did Willem Alberts who seems to raise his game in the green jersey. In the backs, Bryan Habana and Willie le Roux showed why they are world class and Lwazi Mvovo’s speedy impact off the bench would have certainly made coach Heyneke Meyer take note. In somewhat strange news, Frans Steyn has requested to have some time off to ‘reflect on his international career’. Something smells fishy about this and whether or not his Japanese Club is halting him from playing or he has done something untoward in camp, remains to be seen. With Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jong and Damien de Allende already on the sidelines, the Springboks are somewhat thin in midfield.
Coach Heyneke Meyer has made three changes to his team that will tackle Wales this week with another change on the bench. In the front row, Gurthro Steenkamp replaces Tendai ‘the beast’ Mtawarira and loosehead prop in what will be his 50th Test match for his country. He will play alongside Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis in the front row. The second row combination of Victor Matfield (captain) and Bakkies Botha is reunited at Test level for the first time in three years and both of them had excellent games against the World XV. Matfield will also overtake former Captain John Smit as the most capped Springbok ever against Wales with 11 appearances. The back row of Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermuelen remains the same, however, in the halves Fourie du Preez comes in for Ruan Pienaar to partner Morne Steyn. Frans Steyn’s exclusion creates an opportunity for the former 2012 Under 20 Player of the Year Jan Serfontein and both he and JP Pietersen will have the hands full containing Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies. Cornal Hendricks will win his first Test cap on the wing, alongside a dangerous pairing of Bryan Habana and Willie le Roux. On the reserves bench, Schalk Brits and the beast and Coenie Oosthuizen will cover the front row, with Cheetahs lock Lood de Jager in line for his first taste of International rugby. The rest of the bench contains Schalk Burger, Ruan Pienaar, Johan Goosen and the lightning fast Lwazi Mvovo.
After six years, the Welsh return to the shores of South Africa in a bid to achieve their first away win against the Boks in their history. Wales haven’t had the best start to 2014 given their three wins and two loss record in this year’s RBS 6 Nations, however, given the talent they possess and the nous of their management team, one would expect them to put up a good fight against the Springboks over the next two weekends. Despite probably underachieving over the past few seasons, the Welsh pack is sizeable and their backs have the size and pace to rouble any combination in world rugby. Unfortunately though for the Red Dragons, their injury toll is mammoth with British & Irish Lions capped players like Richard Hibbard, Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric, Scott Williams and Leigh Halfpenny all unavailable and not on tour. This robs the Welsh of a lot experience and whether they have the depth to match it at this level will be evident throughout this Test series.
Coach Warren Gatland named a very experienced team to face the Springboks this weekend with Alun Wyn-Jones the Captain. The front row of Gethin Jenkins, Ken Owens and Adam Jones have been around the traps and will put a lot of pressure on their opposition. In fact, the match in Durban will be the frizzy-haired Jones’ 100th cap. Alun Wyn-Jones and the towering Luke Charteris will pack down at lock and they will need to use their height advantage to outsmart one of the best lineout forwards ever to play the game in Victor Matfield. Two British & Irish Lions players are in the back row, those being Dan Lydiate and the Tongan born Toby Faletau and they will be joined by the Scarlets openside Aaron Shingler. Mike Phillips and Dan Bigger are competent players in their positions at nine and ten and Jamie Roberts and Jonathon Davies know each other well enough to cause the decimated Springbok midfield some problems. George North and Alex Cuthbert are two of the biggest wings in the game and their power and pace is awesome to watch, with fullback Liam Williams complementing them nicely. There are two debutants on the bench in Gareth Davies and Matthew Morgan and keep an eye out for the latter who is an extremely elusive runner.
The Springboks have won the past 14 matches against Wales and they have only tasted defeat once at the opening of the Millennium Stadium in 1999. The last five fixtures have only seen a points differential of four, so the matches are tight, but I expect the big Springbok pack to give their backs the go forward ball to cause the tourists some headaches. The five games that Wales have played in 2014 have seen them go win, loss, win, loss, win and unfortunately against a classier South African outfit, their win, loss season trend will continue this weekend in what is expected to be perfect playing conditions in Durban.
Predicted result: South Africa to win @ $1.14 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 5: Wales +13.5 vs South Africa @ $1.91 – Sportsbet
All of the above are the opinions of the author and are not recommendations or advice. The author may not be taking every bet listed above. Bet at your own risk.
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