Best Bet 1: Argentina -5.5 (vs Italy) @ $1.86 – Sportsbet (early twitter play) (dropped to -4.5 now)
Best Bet 2: New Zealand -20.5 (vs Scotland) @ $1.86 (early twitter play)(dropped to -19.5)
ENGLAND ($1.33) VS AUSTRALIA ($3.35)
England: Mako Vunipola, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Chris Robshaw, Sam Underhill, Nathan Hughes, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, Jonathan Joseph, Jonny May, Anthony Watson
Replacements: Jamie George, Joe Marler, Harry Williams, Maro Itoje, Sam Simmonds, Danny Care, Henry Slade, Semesa Rokoduguni
Australia: Scott Sio, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Adam Coleman, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper, Sean McMahon, Will Genia, Bernard Foley, Reece Hodge, Samu Kerevi, Tevita Kuridrani, Marika Koroibete, Kurtley Beale
Replacements: Stephen Moore, Tom Robertson, Alan Alaalatoa, Matt Philip, Ben McCalman, Lopeti Timani, Nick Phipps, Karmichael Hunt, Henry Speight (one to be omitted)
I am really looking forward to this match as it has so much history behind it and so many reputations at stake. Eddie Jones was the Wallabies coach when they lost the 2003 World Cup final to England, but as England’s coach, he has overseen four successive Red Rose victories against an Australia side coached by Michael Cheika – his former teammate at Sydney club, Randwick. The last time Australia beat England was when they knocked the tournament hosts out of the 2015 World Cup with a comprehensive 33-13 win at Twickenham – a result that led the Rugby Football Union to sack Stuart Lancaster and replace him as coach with Jones. Under Jones, England has lost just once – earlier this season when Ireland ended their near world record-breaking run. Deservedly, they sit second on the world rankings with the Wallabies behind them in third position. England weren’t overly convincing last weekend against Argentina, but Jones has the luxury of recalling Maro Itoje (bench) and playmaker Owen Farrell into the starting 15 this week. Also, keep an eye out for Sam Simmonds who is a young back rower and great ball-runner who will get some game time off the bench. They will be much better off for the hit out last week and they’ll enjoy not having to devise any plans to shutdown Israel Folau, but they will be well aware of what Kurtley Beale can do in his place.
Despite spending much of the match against Wales on the back foot, the Wallabies still managed to outscore the hosts, four tries to two. The front row more of less did their job, Adam Coleman was a beast in the lock department and flanker Ned Hanigan probably had his best game in the national jersey at blindside flanker. However, the majority of the plaudits did go to Will Genia, Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale who proved to be the different makers in the end with their vision, game management and ability to turn pressure into points. With Wales out of the way, their end-of-year target would’ve always been to beat the Poms in their own backyard. Understandably, Michael Cheika has opted for consistency this week keeping the same squad together that were successful against Wales. Lock Adam Coleman was in doubt but he has passed a late fitness test.
England hasn’t lost a match at Rugby HQ for 11 matches dating back to 2015, but they face an Australian team that is high in confidence and seeking revenge. Michael Cheika knows that a win against England will mark the season as a success, which would be a complete 180 degree reversal given the downright awful start they made in June. The team that wins the set piece battle and controls the breakdown will go a long way to winning this match. Additionally, Australia can ill-afford to give away kickable penalties because they’ll remember the 66 points Farrell scored against them in just three Test matches last year. I feel that England will be the more disappointed team if they lose this one, especially with Australia unable to call upon Israel Folau. Both teams sill have attacking threats across the park, so I expect this game to be high-scoring, but I think England will edge it in front of their home crowd and retain the Cook Cup in a close, but high-scoring contest.
Predicted result: England to win @ $1.33 – Sportsbet
SCOTLAND ($9.50) VS NEW ZEALAND ($1.06)
Scotland welcome the mighty New Zealand to Murrayfield in Edinburgh on Saturday night. Last weekend, Scotland hung on to beat Samoa in a thrilling 44-38 try-fest at this venue and the All Blacks comfortably beat France 38 – 18 in Paris, on the back of a clinical 31 – 5 first half performance. These two proud rugby nations have clashed on 30 occasions, with the Scottish yet to register a victory. In 2014, the All Blacks visited this venue and were made to work for a 24 – 16 victory.
Scotland: Darryl Marfo, Stuart McInally, Zander Fagerson, Ben Toolis, Johnny Gray, John Barclay (captain), Hamish Watson, Cornell du Preez, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Lee Jones, Alex Dunbar, Huw Jones, Tommy Seymour, Stuart Hogg
Replacements: George Turner, Jamie Bhattii, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Luke Hamilton, Henry Pyrgos, Peter Horne, Byron McGuigan
New Zealand: Kane Hames, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock, Vaea Fifita, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (captain), Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Waisake Naholo, Damien McKenzie
Replacements: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tunga’afasi, Liam Squire, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown
Scotland opened up their Autumn series las weekend with a narrow win over an emotional Samoan outfit, conceding five tries in great conditions for running rugby. The Scots will take some positives out of that match but I feel they will be drawing upon the confidence gained from their 24-21 victory over Australia in Sydney earlier this year a bit more. In saying that, coach Gregor Townsend will know that they will need to tighten up their defence because earlier on in the season the All Blacks managed to hold Samoa scoreless and rack up 78 points of their own at the sacred Eden Park. Scotland are a team that grafts with players like lock Jonny Gray, captain John Barclay and number eight Cornell du Preez, tough as teak, but their back line is starting to develop more flair with Finn Russell entrusted at flyhalf to unleash the likes of centre Huw Jones and fullback Stuart Hogg, who appears to be getting back to career-best form.
The All Blacks have now been at the top of the World Rugby rankings for eight consecutive years – a feat unmatched in practically any code. The All Blacks continue to chalk up the wins, but what is becoming frustrating for themselves and the coaching staff is their inconsistency. In Paris, they manufactured four clinical tries in the first half, only to concede 11 penalties, a yellow card and fail to get their hands on the ball in the second half. With Dane Coles ruled out with a ruptured ACL (probably good to give his brain further rest as well), the All Blacks are down to just one first choice front five player in Sam Whitelock. Their depth is unparalleled in world rugby, but they are failing to consecutively put together 60-80 minute performances. This will be something that Ian Foster and Steve Hansen will be focussing on, but it is becoming more clear that they are starting to miss the leadership, direction and steadying influence that players like Brodie Retallick and Ben Smith provide. Steve Hansen has made just the one change this week bringing in Codie Taylor for the injured Dane Coles.
The ease in which Samoa manufactured points against Scotland last week would have the All Blacks licking their lips for this contest. The Scotland captain this week mentioned that his team can’t be starstruck by the All Blacks this week, which makes me really doubt they believe they can win this fixture. I expect them to give a good account of themselves for the first 20-30 minutes and the crowd will certainly spur them on, but they face an All Blacks team that will be eager to improve on recent performances and I expect the visitors to rack up over 50 points on a Sunny day in Edinburgh.
Predicted result: New Zealand to win @ $1.65 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: New Zealand -20.5 (vs Scotland) @ $1.86 (early twitter play)
FRANCE ($1.63) VS SOUTH AFRICA ($2.30)
The Stade de France in Paris will host the fixture between France and South Africa on Saturday night (local time). A young French outfit will be encouraged by their 18 – 38 performance against the All Blacks, particularly in the second half where they amassed more points than the visitors. The Springboks looked clueless in their embarrassing 3-38 loss to Ireland in Dublin, their biggest ever defeat to what could be called, the real men in green these days. A tired French outfit toured South Africa in June for three losses of 22, 23 and 22 points. The last matches played at the Stade de France saw the Springboks yield a nine-point victory in 2013.
France: Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado (captain), Rabah Slimani, Sabastien Vahaamahina, Paul Gabrillagues, Judicael Cancoriet, Kevin Gourdon, Louis Picamoles, Antoine Dupont, Anthony Belleau, Yoann Huget, Mathieu Bastareaud, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Teddy Thomas, Nans Ducuin
Replacements: Clement Maynadier, Sebastian Taofifenua, Daniel Kotze, Paul Jedrasiak, Anthony Jelonch, Baptiste Serin, Francois Trinh-Duc, Damian Penauu
South Africa: Tendai Mtwawira, Malcolm Marx, Wilco Louw, Eben Etzebeth (captain), Lood de Jager, Francois Louw, Siya Kolisi, Duane Vermuelen, Ross Cronje, Handre Pollard, Courtnall Skosan, Francois Venter, Jesse Kriel, Dillyn Leyds, Andries Coetzee
Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Franco Mostert, Dan du Preez, Rudy Paige, Elton Jantjies, Damian de Allende
More often than not when someone talks about the French in a rugby context, they’ll mention how brilliant they can be one minute before completely unraveling the next. This was on display last weekend where they were completely blitzed off the park in the first half against the All Blacks, before controlling possession and territory in the second half. They play with such passion and have more than enough talent in the country to be a consistent top five nation. Guy Noves has named an unchanged starting 15 this week giving the youngster more time to gel against ‘class’ opposition ahead of next years RBS 6 Nations.
The Springboks succumbed to Ireland’s physicality and tactical-kicking masterclass and simply had no answers for the rush defence that was set upon them. South Africa dominated territory (61%) and possession (54%) and pretty much every offensive stat line, but lacked any sort of creativity or ability to think on their feet. The fact that their scrum was dominated didn’t make things easy for Ross Cronje or Elton Jantjies, but there was no one willing to take control of the game for South Africa. Alastair Coetzee’s Boks continue to make history for all the wrong reasons and something needs to be done about it fast, because a 43% winning record as coach isn’t going to cut it. It comes as no surprise that Alastair Coetzee has drafted in the experienced Duane Vermuelen into the back row to provide some leadership and much-needed grunt up front. He has also recalled Handre Pollard who will start his first match for the Springboks since the 2015 RWC semi-final. He is a prodigious talent and will offer the Springboks more than what Elton has. They should’ve known that Ireland were going to pepper them with box kicks last week and I wouldn’t be surprised to see France use the same tactic. Courtnall Skosan, Dillyn Leyds and Andries Coetzee need to play out of their skin this week or their short Springbok careers could be over. It comes as no surprise that Coetzee has made ten changes this week, a few of those being positional.
It is a well-known fact that a South African team with their backs against the wall is a dangerous one, but they are coming up against a young French team that will be willing to chance their arm and make things very uncomfortable for the visitors this weekend. The Springboks will take some confidence out of whitewashing the French in June, but the playing field is now different and the French will be out for revenge. Both teams are as inconsistent as each other at the moment, but with Springbok pride and places on the line, I will side with them in what will be a hugely physical clash. The fact that the South Africa were snubbed of the 2023 Rugby World Cup to France will only act as additional motivation.
Predicted result: South Africa to win @ $2.68 – Sportsbet