Without offending our Northern Hemisphere compatriots too much, the International season has arrived. As much as I love Super Rugby, very little compares to Test rugby in my eyes and with the Rugby World Cup in England next year, the road starts now. Unfortunately for viewers, we won’t be presented with the best of our northern neighbours in week one, due to the Aviva Premiership (England) and Top 14 (France) finals taking place last weekend, so players from the four clubs are ineligible. The Southern Hemisphere has dominated the Northern Hemisphere from day dot and although many speak of the gap narrowing, teams like New Zealand, Australia and South Africa pose huge threats across the board and just have the benefit of playing with or against the world’s best week-in and week-out in Super Rugby.
The action kicks off this weekend in Suva where Fiji host a struggling Italian outfit that has dropped to 14th in the world rankings over the past two years. Then we cross to Eden Park in Auckland to an important clash between the All Blacks and England, a matchup that is rich in history. Following that clash, Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane will host the Wallabies and the French, trailed by the Springboks against the World XV in what should be a fascinating encounter in Cape Town. The final notable International of the weekend sees Argentina host Ireland in what should be a fiery contest in a place I have never heard of before, Resistancia. 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: England +19.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Australia vs France – Total Points Over 43.5 @ $1.87 – Sportsbet)
Best Bet 3: Ireland -12.5 vs Argentina @ $1.91 – Sportingbet (early twitter play)
Best Bet 4: Scotland -17 vs USA @ $1.91 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 5: University of Queensland x2 vs Sunnybank (Queensland Premier Rugby) @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
New Zealand ($1.05) vs England ($10.50)
The first match of the Southern Hemisphere Test Match season kicks off on Saturday evening at Eden Park in Auckland – the sacred home of rugby and the venue for the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final. The mighty New Zealand All Blacks haven’t played together as a unit since November 2013, when they managed to steal victory from the jaws of defeat against a dogged Irish side in Dublin, completing a perfect season in the process. England on the other hand, finished second in the RBS 6 Nations after losing out to Ireland on points differential. Of the 36 games played between these two rugby powerhouses, the All Blacks have won 28 of them, including 10 of the last 11, so the Poms will certainly be up against it this weekend.
To no-one’s surprise, the All Blacks are currently the top ranked team in the world and have been for some time. They adopt a very structured and clinical game plan and they are masters of suffocating their opposition into making errors. The All Blacks have the artillery to play a deft mix of physical rugby coupled with expansive rugby, which makes playing them such a tough proposition. The reigning IRB World Player of the Year Kieran Read has been forced to sit in the stands this week after concussion symptoms re-emerged following his return to rugby last weekend. With all the news and stories on concussions in the press lately, Read’s injury is of huge concern given his inability to recover and he leaves a big hole to fill. Luckily for the All Blacks, Jerome Kaino has been in fine form since returning from Japan and the stalwart will look to cement a place in the squad with a few solid performances.
Coach Steve Hansen has announced an experienced team to face England this weekend possessing 968 caps across the 23 players selected. The front row of Tony Woodcock, Dane Coles and Owen Franks is balanced and will offer a lot of grunt at scrum time and Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock form what is most likely the best locking partnership on the planet. Kieran Read and Sam Cane’s absence allows Liam Messam, the great Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino to operate in the back row. Aaron Smith has rediscovered his form of a couple of seasons ago and his lightning quick service will aid flyhalf Aaron Cruden in his attempt to set their backline free. Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith are mainstays in the All Blacks setup and they will resume their partnership this weekend, with the impressive debutant Malakai Fekitoa due to come off the bench. Winger Julian Savea’s injury is a big blow for the All Blacks, but with the likes of Ben Smith, Cory Jane and Israel Dagg, there is no shortage of gas and talent in the outside backs. New Zealand’s most capped hooker Kevin Mealamu warms the bench, alongside front row partners Wyatt Crockett and Charlie Faumauina. Patrick Tuipulotu is in line to make his debut for the All Blacks only a year out of the New Zealand Under-20’s program and Victor Vito of the Hurricanes will also feature at some point. TJ Perenara, the Hurricanes halfback will also be a nervous man on the sidelines having not played for the All Blacks before, but he will seek comfort in knowing that Beauden Barrett is there with him in the reserves.
This is a crucial Test series for England given they are hosting the Rugby World Cup at home next year. These two teams will meet again at Twickenham later on in the year, however, a series victory here would certainly be a statement and instil further confidence and belief in what looks to be a pretty impressive English squad. England will also take confidence out of the fact that they are the only team to have beaten the All Blacks since they won the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2011. It was a breathtaking display by the Red Roses in which they dominated the AB’s at the set piece, the breakdowns and were simply ruthless in defense. This allowed players like Brad Barrett and Manu Tuilagi to run riot on a day many English fans will remember for a long time to come.
With a number of players unavailable from Aviva Premiership finalists Northampton Saints and Saracens due to IRB regulations, Coach Stuart Lancaster has named an understrength, but still competitive team to do battle with the All Blacks in Auckland. The front row of Joe Marler, Rob Webber and David Wilson are largely inexperienced in comparison to their opponents, but their form in the Premiership has been good. Joe Launchbury and Geoff Parling form a dangerous second row, but they will have their hands full against Retallick and Whitelock. In the back row, James Haskell returns to the England fray for the first time in over a year, alongside Captain Chris Robshaw and the burly number eight, Ben Morgan. Danny Care was initially selected at halfback, although he failed a late fitness test. He is a very agile halfback, but they don’t lose too much with Ben Youngs stepping in. Flyhalf Freddie Burns has already beaten the All Blacks, but has only added two caps to his name since then and in quite a surreal moment, his brother will be playing at ten for the England Under 20 squad in New Zealand as well. Kyle Eastmond has replaced Billy Twelvetrees (random fact: his father owns a tree-lopping business) at inside centre and he will partner the damaging Manu Tuilagi in the centres. Jonny May, Marland Yarde and Mike Brown also form a potent back three, with the latter being one of the form players in Europe all season. On the bench, there is a mixture of youth and experience and some of these players will be looking over their shoulders with a number of first-choice players due back for the second Test match in Dunedin.
The lack of a global calendar has robbed fans at Eden Park of seeing what could’ve been the biggest match of the June International series. Due to a number of England’s ‘Aviva Premiership finalists’ being not made available, one would expect a largely second-string English team to struggle against the reigning World Champions. Although the All Blacks may be a little bit slow out of the blocks, the home side haven’t lost a Test match at Eden Park since 1994, a run of 31 straight victories and most likely a record that will be extended this weekend, but I do expect the English to put up a fight.
Predicted result: New Zealand to win @ $1.05 – Sportingbet
Best Bet 1: England +19.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Australia ($1.20) vs France ($4.60)
Australia will open up their 2014 campaign at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night when they face France in front of what should be a reportedly disappointing crowd. 2013 certainly won’t go down as one of the finest seasons in Australian rugby with a record of sevens wins and eight losses. With just over a year to go until the RWC in England, it is imperative that the Wallabies begin this season well. After an ordinary 2013 season as well, the French have started this year more positively after beating England, Italy and Scotland, but they did lose to Wales and the eventual RBS 6 Nations winners, Ireland.
After a slow start to last season when the Wallabies went down to the British & Irish Lions (1-2), followed up with defeats against New Zealand (three times) and South Africa (twice), things weren’t looking pretty. The end of season tour also started with a defeat against England, before the Wallabies bounced back with four victories in succession over Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Australian Conference has been the most competitive ever in Super Rugby this year and there seems to be a lot more confidence that Super Rugby form can be carried over into the Test matches. Brumbies hooker Stephen Moore was announced as Wallabies skipper during the week and has been given full faith to lead his country to the World Cup in England next year.
Coach Ewen McKenzie sprung a huge surprise this week when he named the squad to take on Les Bleus in the first Test Match by dropping Will Genia. It is clear that he has selected his squad on form, so it will be interesting to see how they gel at International level. On his day, Genia is in the top two halfbacks in the world, however, the Reds woeful season has appeared to halt his reign in the Wallabies number nine jersey. In fairness, Nic White has had a stellar season for the Brumbies, however, as well as Nick Phipps has played at the Waratahs, I still believe Genia possesses that X Factor that opposition teams are intimidated by. Looking at the rest of the team, the front row consists of James Slipper (50th Test), Stephen Moore (Captain) and Sekope Kepu. Sam Carter will debut for the Wallabies in the number five jersey, alongside Reds lock Rob Simmons. Scott Fardy, Micahel Hooper and Wycliff Palu (50th Test) round out what looks to be a balanced back row, however, the lack of provincial combinations in the forwards, might be something to keep an eye on. In the backs, White partners Bernard Foley of the Waratahs in his first Wallaby start in the halves and will have the task of creating time and space for the Brumbies centre pairing of Matt Toomua and Tevita Kuridrani. The honey badger Nick Cummins will line up alongside the Adam Ashley-Cooper, who has had a great season so far, and the try-scoring machine Israel Folau. Tatafu Polota-Nau, Pek Cowan and Paddy Ryan have been named as the front row replacements, alongside former Wallabies Captain James Horwill and Western Force back rower Ben McCalman. The backs reserves consist of Nick Phipps, Kurtley Beale and the tough as nails, Pat McCabe.
French rugby has always been built on passion and flair. They are synonymous for being able to do the unthinkable and they possess a scrum that is matched by very few. The fact that their provincial competition possesses so many International players can be seen as both a positive and a negative for the national team. They haven’t always been the best travellers and politics have often played too big a role in squad selections. French rugby has been in decline over the past few seasons as they now sit in seventh position, but with a young squad blended with some experienced talisman, this could be the tour that puts French rugby back on track.
It must be said that Coach Phillippe Saint-Andre sprung a few surprises when he named his team for the first match of the European summer. Firstly, tour captain and one of the hardest men in France Thierry Dusautoir has been left out, so the veteran prop Nicolas Mas will ‘wear the armband’. The other surprise is the selection of Frederic Michalak at flyhalf. He is a player that is well past his used by date and although he was one of the best in the world in his day, he now fails to consistently start for his club team, so the world stage might be a step to far. Looking at the team, the front row is solid with Thomas Domingo, Perpignan’s Guilhem Guirado and the aforementioned Mas. The Noumean-born Sebastian Vahamaahina will join the giant Toulouse lock Yoaan Maestri in the second row. Fulgence Ouedraogo, the South African-born Bernard le Roux and Damien Chouly form a rather large back row and their ability to allow half back Maxime Macheneud clean service will be vital to the French cause. The centre pairing of Wesley Fofana and Gael Fikou oozes talent and will be a handful for the Wallabies all night, as will the outside backs combination of debutant Felix le Bourhis, Yoann Huget and youngster Hugo Bonneval. Looking at the reserves bench, Christopher Tolofua will add impetus off the bench at hooker, as will Vincent Debaty and Rabah Slimani. Morgan Parra, a name many will know, has been selected at reserve half back, but should Michalak be under pressure, you would expect Parra to slot in there if necessary. Also look out for Remy Lamarat, a young powerful centre from Castres and Brice Dulin, a player that has made a name for himself on the International stage over the last two seasons. All in all, there are eight changes to the team that lost to Ireland in the final match of the RBS 6 Nations this year, however, I do expect the makeup of the squad to change significantly for the second Test in Melbourne next week.
The Wallabies and Les Bleus have met on the grandest stages of them all and their history is one that is both rich and confrontational. Over the last ten matches, the Wallabies have had the edge over Les Bleus winning seven of the games played including all five at home. In fact, very few of us will remember the last time the French one in Australia (1990). The unpredictable nature of the French has transpired into their selections this week and it has been 24 years without a win for the French on Australian soil and at Suncorp Stadium, I can’t see them breaking that drought.
Predicted result: Australia to win @ $1.20 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Australia vs France – Total Points Over 43.5 @ $1.87 – Sportsbet)
South Africa ($1.12) vs World XV ($6.70)
The Springboks will host a World XV at the picturesque Newlands Stadium in Cape Town on Saturday night in what should be an excellent match. The Springboks have continued to build year after year under the tutelage of Coach Heyneke Meyer and finished last season with a record of 10 wins and two losses, both of which were to the undefeated All Blacks. Former Springbok Coach Nick Mallett, who has been entrusted to guide the World XV, has selected a squad mixed with youth and experience and most importantly, players in good form, so it should be a spectacle in Cape Town.
The Springboks have positioned themselves nicely a year out from the RWC. With only 18 test matches to go until their first pool match, there is still time for Heyneke Meyer to experiment, but based on his squad selections this week, he is looking to start the year off with a bang. With Jean de Villiers sidelined through injury, Meyer has entrusted Victor Matfield with the responsibility of Captain. Having not played professional rugby for almost three years, it is incredible what Matfield has been able to achieve upon returning to the field. His influence both on and off the field is clearly evident and very few people would’ve believed that he could represent the Springboks again, let alone be Captain. Matfield’s selection speaks volumes of the man and although he may have lost a yard of place, his leadership, lineout expertise and experience will be invaluable to the Springboks cause. He will join his partner in crime, Bakkies Botha for the first time in three years at Test level and given the current locking crisis in South Africa, the return of these legends couldn’t have been timelier.
Meyer has opted for an all Sharks front row of Tendai ‘the beast’ Mtawarira and the Du Plessis brothers, Jannie and Bismarck. The back row consists of Willem Alberts, Francois Louw and Duane Vermuelen and their combination will certainly be a challenge for the World XV this weekend. Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar will start at scrum half inside of South Africa’s most capped flyhalf Morne Steyn. Francois Steyn will run out at inside centre and surprisingly will line up alongside Sharks winger JP Pietersen at outside centre. Cornal Hendricks, a former Sevens specialist will earn his first cap on the wing, alongside Bryan Habana and the mercurial Willie le Roux at fullback. The bench also has an ominous look to it with the livewire Schalk Brits due to get some game time with Toulouse’s Gurthro Steenkamp and Coenie Oosthuizen. Big Flip van der Merwe will provide cover at lock and Schalk Burger will also play his first test for the Springboks in over two years. Fourie du Preez, South Africa’s most capped halfback also warms the bench alongside Johan Goosen and the speedster Lwazi Mvovo.
Ex-Springbok Coach Nick Mallett has selected his team to face the Springboks and he has stated that although this game is a friendly, it will be a good opportunity for his players to showcase their talents against the second best team in the world. The front row consists of Sona Taumololo (Tonga), Craig Burden (South Africa) and Carl Hayman (New Zealand), all of which are seasoned players. The second row is made up of two former Springboks in Juandre Kruger and Alastair Hargreaves and the back row is dangerous with Mamuka Gorgodze (Georgia), Steffon Armitage and Roger Wilson who has played one Test match for Ireland. Rory Kockott (South African) and Matt Giteau (Australia) will look to marshal their troops around in the halves and Wynand Olivier (South Africa) and Rene Ranger (New Zealand) know each other well after their season together at Montpellier. The back three of Hosea Gear (New Zealand), Drew Mitchell (Australia) and James O’Connor (Australia) are potent and will be a handful trio to counteract the Springboks kicking game. Two South Africans in Pat Cilliers and Schalk Ferreira join ex-All Black Andrew Hore as front row reserves with Joe Tekori (Samoa) and Alexandre Lapandry (France) round out the forward replacements. Former All Black halfback Jimmy Cowan hasn’t had a great season at Gloucester, but the freedom that the World XV will play with might just be what the doctor ordered. Francois Trinh-Duc (France) and Clermont centre Benson Stanley (New Zealand) complete the match day 23.
If either of these teams takes this match lightly in Cape Town, things could turn ugly pretty quickly. There are a number of RWC winners on the field and players that have a huge amount of rugby nous and experience. I have no doubts that the World XV will adopt an attacking mentality, which should really test the Springbok defense and also potentially leave some holes for the South Africans to attack. However, I think the combinations the Springboks have and the fact that they play together so regularly, will make life difficult for the visitors and they should win by double digits.
Predicted result: South Africa to win @ $1.12 – Sportsbet
Argentina ($5.00) vs Ireland ($1.17)
Argentina will host Ireland in the first of two matches in the series at the Estadio Centenario in Resistancia on early Sunday morning. Argentina were without doubt the biggest disappointments of last season, failing to beat any tier one teams, with their most notable victory coming in the last match of the season against a 14th ranked Italy. Dissimilarly, Ireland has had a brilliant start to the year and will be looking to carry their form from last year’s agonising defeat to the All Blacks over to Argentina. Ireland have had the wood over Argentina in recent years, winning the previous three encounters, however, the last time these two met, the Argentinians triumphed at the 2007 RWC, on the back of beating them in Buenos Aires and Santa Fe earlier on in the season.
After a solid first year of initiation in The Rugby Championship, the Pumas were utterly woeful last year conceding huge defeats and only managing the one notable win against Italy. Argentina are in the unfortunate position of not being able to name some of their star European players including Heineken Cup and Top 14 Champion Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Saracens centre Marcello Bosch for this match. Argentina have had to contend with this debacle in the past, but it does give other local players a chance to show their worth ahead of this year’s Rugby Championship and their impending inclusion in the expanded Super Rugby season in 2016. Coach Daniel Hourcade has named a largely unrecognisable squad, with only Manuel Carizza most likely known to the casual viewer in the forwards. There is a bit more familiarity in the backs with Martin Landajo and Nicholas Sanchez in the halves, but keep an eye out for winger Santiago Cordero who has blistering pace and is dangerous in open play. Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino is also likely to get some game time, however, he does start the match on the bench in an interesting selection.
2013 was from a vintage year for Ireland losing to England, Scotland and Italy in the RBS 6 Nations, before falling to might of the All Blacks and the Wallabies. Joe Schmidt’s appointment of head coach was timely for the men in green and his influence and tactics certainly paid off during this year’s RBS 6 Nations as Ireland prevailed as victors for the first time in five years. The evergreen Brian O’Driscoll was simply outstanding and achieved a man-of-the-match award in his last ever fixture at the Stade de France. Players like prop Cian Healy, flanker Peter O’Mahony and Jonny Sexton were sensational all tournament and with a number of up and coming youngsters performing at both age group and provincial level, things are looking positive for Ireland.
In somewhat sad news for Ireland, back rower Stephen Ferris who won 35 caps for the national team has announced his retirement following a long battle with injury. He was a consistent performer and was selected for the British & Irish Lions and had he kept fit, he would’ve had a much richer career in the green jersey.
Coach Joe Schmidt has resisted starting the majority of the players who featured in Leister’s Rabo Direct PRO 12 victory last weekend. He has selected Jack McGrath, Rory Best and Mike Ross with Captain Paul O’Connell partnering the youngest man in the Irish squad, Iain Henderson at lock. It will be O’Connell’s 100th test and he has certainly been the backbone of Irish rugby alongside Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara since Keith Wood’s retirement many moons ago. The back row consists of debutant Robbie Diack, who formerly played for the Stormers, Chris Henry and Leinster’s Jordy Murphy. Connor Murray and Jonny Sexton form an experienced halves combination with Luke Marshall and Darren Cave in the centres. After a year away from the Irish team, the elusive Simon Zebo starts on the wing, alongside Andrew Trimble and Felix Jones. The bench is packed with Leinster players and both Rodney Ah You (very Irish) and Kieran Marmion are both in line to make their first starts for the green machine.
Since Argentina’s inception into the Rugby Championship, they have continued to evolve and grow as a team, however, due to the fact that the majority of their stars play in Europe, it is rare for them to all come together at once. On the other hand, Ireland players play with or against each other week in and week out, and this solely gives them the edge heading into the matchup this weekend in front of what should be a hostile crowd in Resistancia.
Predicted result: Ireland to win @ $1.17 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Ireland -12.5 @ $1.91 – Sportingbet (early twitter play)
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.
All of our information is provided free. If you want to show your support, if you are wanting to join a new bookmaker, please use our banners. Thanks.