Best Bet 1: Australia -4.5 @ $1.84 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Ireland -14.5 @ $1.90 – William Hill
ITALY ($5.50) VS SOUTH AFRICA ($1.15)
Italy: Andrea Lovotti, Luca Bigi, Simone Ferrari, Marco Fuser, Dean Budd, Giovanni Licata, Abraham Steyn, Sergio Parisse (captain), Marcello Violi, Carlo Canna, Mattia Bellini, Tomasso Castello, Tommaso Boni, Angelo Esposito, Jayden Hayward
Replacements: Leonardo Ghiraldini, Federico Zani, Tiziano Pasquali, Francesco Minto, Renato Giammarioli, Edoardo Gori, Ian McKinley, Matteo Minozzi
South Africa: Tendai Mtwawira, Bongi Mbonambi, Wilco Louw, Eben Etzebeth (captain), Lood de Jager, Francois Louw, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermuelen, Ross Cronje, Handre Pollard, Courtnall Skosan, Francois Venter, Jesse Kriel, Dillyn Leyds, Andries Coetzee
Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Franco Mostert, Dan du Preez, Rudy Paige, Elton Jantjies, Warrick Gelant
Under Connor O’Shea, Italy has only won four matches from the 16 that they’ve played. After beating the Springboks last year, they lost to Tonga the following week and went on to lose nine Test matches in a row. Their inconsistency plagues them, but their goal has always been to finish in the top 10 of the world rankings – currently they are in 13th position. They generally have a big pack, with a strong scrum and driving maul. They have often used foreign-born playmakers to control proceedings, but they do have pace in their outside back trio. Led by their inspirational skipper Sergio Parisse, they are a proud rugby nation, but their results are not where they should be, 17 years after they were integrated into the RBS 6 Nations.
The Springboks win over France probably created more questions than answers, but you could see how much the win meant to them when Nigel Owens blew his whistle for the final time in Paris. After all, it was their first win in six Test matches. This week they will be without Siya Kolisi, as well as line-out coach Johan van Graan (moved on to coach Munster) and Brendan Venter, who has a conflict of interest given he usually oversees Italy’s defence. I would’ve liked to see Alastair Coetzee experiment a bit more freely this week, but he has made just the two changes, bringing in Pieter-Steph du Toit at blindside flanker for Kolisi and Bongi Mbonambi for the injured Malcolm Marx. Warrick Gelant also looks likely to debut from the bench. He is a real talent and although he’s not the biggest fullback going around, his footwork, speed and ability to make something happen from nothing might just be what the doctor ordered for the Springboks.
A genuine Springbok team would punish this Italian outfit, but given their recent performances, I have no faith in South Africa being able to rack up a cricket score. When playing teams like this, it is easy to expect South Africa to pile on the points by half time, but they need to tire out the opposition forwards and back their mental and physical resolve to get the job done. The Italians will look to target them up front, but South Africa should have their measure in this area. It’s probably not a game worth staying up for, but the Springboks should exact revenge by a double-digit margin or it will be considered another black mark on Alastair Coetzee’s alarming report card.
Predicted result: South Africa to win @ $1.16 – Sportsbet
SCOTLAND ($2.60) VS AUSTRALIA ($1.50)
Scotland welcome Australia to Murrayfield to face-off for the Hopetoun Cup at Murrayfield in Edinburgh on Saturday night. Scotland impressed in their brave 17-22 point loss to New Zealand last weekend, whereas, the Wallabies suffered their fifth consecutive defeat at the hands of England in London. The Wallabies will be looking for revenge having lost to the Scots 19-24 in Sydney earlier this season and they will take confidence out of the fact that they have won nine of the last 10 in Edinburgh.
Scotland: Darryl Marfo, Stuart McInally, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Johnny Gray, John Barclay (captain), Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Sean Maitland, Alex Dunbar, Huw Jones, Tommy Seymour, Stuart Hogg
Replacements: George Turner, Jamie Bhattii, Zander Fagerson, Ben Toolis, Cornell du Preez, Henry Pyrgos, Peter Horne, Byron McGuigan
Australia: Scott Sio, Stephen Moore, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Blake Enever, Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper, Sean McMahon, Will Genia, Bernard Foley, Reece Hodge, Samu Kerevi, Tevita Kuridrani, Marika Koroibete, Kurtley Beale
Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tetera Faulkner, Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Tui, Lopeti Timani, Nick Phipps, Karmichael Hunt, Henry Speight
Scotland put together one of their best performances ever against the All Blacks last weekend and coach Gregor Townsend and the nation must be very proud of their troops, coming within a whisker of beating the almighty All Blacks. Hooker Stuart McInally had a solid game up front, with Jonny Gray and John Barclay leading an industrious pack. Flyhalf Finn Rusell delivered on the promise he has shown over the past two seasons with Stormers centre Huw Jones excellent once again against opposition he would be familiar with in Super Rugby. However, it was fullback Stuart Hogg that stood above the rest with his scintillating running game causing the visitors all sorts of problems.
Michael Cheika was seething after the Wallabies defeat in London, but the scoreboard really flattered the home team. It was a match where the bounce of the ball and a couple of decisions really went England’s way, but the two yellow cards handed out to the Wallabies inevitably cost them. Sekope Kepu had a barnstorming game up front, but really didn’t have a lot of support in the tight five. Sean McMahon had another fantastic game at number eight and will be a huge loss for the Wallabies when he is in Japan next season. Will Genia and Bernard Foley were outplayed in the halves and Kurtley Beale probably had his worst game of the season. It was good to see Samu Kerevi have one of his best games in the gold jersey, but I was most impressed with Marika Koroibete, a player who has all the qualities of being a good winger. He has definitely been the find of the season for Australian rugby.
This should be a cracking game with Scotland looking to build on their narrow loss to the All Blacks last week and Australia looking to reverse the result of the June loss to the Scots. I feel as if Scotland played their ‘final’ last week and although the Wallabies are tired and looking forward to a well earned rest, Michael Cheika will be putting the pressure on his troops to finish the season off strongly. It will be Stephen Moore’s last rugby match and after a career spanning 300+ Test and Super Rugby games, I expect the Wallabies to send him off in style with a victory in Edinburgh.
Predicted result: Australia to win @ $1.50 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 1: Australia -4.5 @ $1.84 – Sportsbet
WALES ($7.00) VS NEW ZEALAND ($1.10)
Wales and New Zealand will clash at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday night in the All Blacks final match of 2017. An experimental Welsh outfit really struggled in their 13-6 win over Georgia last weekend and the All Blacks were clinical when it mattered in their thrilling 22-17 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield. It has been 64 long years since the Red Dragons last tasted victory over the All Blacks, with the Kiwis winning 15 in a row in Cardiff, the last of which was a 34-16 win in 2014.
Wales: Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn-Jones (captain), Aaron Shingler, Josh Navidi, Toby Faletau, Rhys Webb, Dan Biggar, Steff Evans, Owen Williams, Scott Williams, Hallam Amos, Leigh Halfpenny
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Wyn Jones, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, Justin Tipuric, Gareth Davies, Rhys Priestland, Jamie Roberts
New Zealand: Kane Hames, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Whitelock (captain), Liam Squire, Sam Cane, Luke Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Waisake Naholo, Damien McKenzie
Replacements: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tunga’afasi, Scott Barrett, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown
The Welsh are very much a team in development and one that is probably positioned behind the pack heading towards the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Warren Gatland has been in charge of the Red Dragons for a number of years, without achieving the results he and the Welsh Rugby Union set out to do. They have an extremely poor record against the southern hemisphere nations, but a win against the All Blacks would be their finest hour. Unfortunately for Gatland and Welsh fans, they come up against New Zealand without some of their better players including captain Sam Warburton, centre Jonathan Davies and winger George North. In saying that, exposing players like Steff Evans (wing) and Owen Williams (centre) two years out from the Rugby World Cup against the best team in the world can’t be a bad thing.
2017 has been an interesting year for the All Blacks, drawing the British & Irish Lions series before taking care of southern hemisphere business in The Rugby Championship in an undefeated campaign. This tour has seen them secure wins over France and Italy and they will be looking to wrap things up in Cardiff this weekend. Not being able to call upon a number of first choice players (either due to rest of injury), has been a real blessing for the AB’s given how many new players they have exposed, two years out from the Rugby World Cup. To be exact, 45 players have pulled on the All Blacks jersey. I still feel that Steve Hansen won’t be satisfied with their season and they will be wanting to close out this year in style. The bitter rivalry between Gatland and Hansen will once again be on display, but for the eighth year in a row, the All Blacks will round out the year as the number ranked team with another victory over Wales.
Predicted result: New Zealand to win @ $1.10 – Sportsbet
IRELAND ($1.14) VS ARGENTINA ($5.75)
An in-form Irish outfit take on Argentina at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday night in the final match of the weekend. Ireland survived a real scare at their sacred ground, with their second-stringers only managing a 23-20 victory over a vibrant and powerful Fiji line-up. Argentina secured only their second win of the season with a 31-15 win over Italy in Florence. The last time these two played was a dark day in Irish rugby, when the Pumas beat Ireland 43-20 in Cardiff to secure a semi-final spot at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. In saying that, Ireland has won all eight matches played in Dublin.
Ireland: Cian Healy, Rory Best (captain), Tadgh Furlong, James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahoney, Sean O’Brien, CJ Stander, Conor Murray, Jonny Sexton, Jacob Stockdale, Bundee Aki, Chris Farrell, Adam Byrne, Rob Kearney
Replacements: James Tracy, Dave Kilkoyne, John Ryan, Devin Toner, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Ian Keatley, Andrew Conway
Argentina: Santiago Garcia Botta, Agustin Creevy (captain), Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lavanini, Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer, Tomas Lezana, Martin Landajo, Nicolas Sanchez, Emiliano Boffelli, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Matias Moroni, Ramiro Moyano Joaquin Tuculet
Replacements: Julian Montoya, Lucas Noguera, Enrique Pieretto, Guido Petti, JUan Manuel Leguizamon, Gonzalo Bertranou, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Sebastian Cancellere
Ireland showed two weeks ago against South Africa just how far they have come under Joe Schmidt. They have a great balance of brain and braun and their leadership core of Rory Best (captain), Sean O’Brien, CJ Stander, Connor Murray and Jonny Sexton are up their with some of the best in the world in their positions. This weekend they come up against an Argentinian team that has had to travel further than any other rugby team on the planet this season. With just two wins from 11 matches under their belt in 2017, pressure is not on only coach Daniel Hourcade, but some of their more seasoned campaigners. One of the problems with Argentinian rugby is that they are really struggling with depth, especially given that in non-RWC years, they don’t select players who ply their trade overseas. Ireland will see this match against the Pumas as another opportunity to sound a warning to the likes of England, Australia and New Zealand and I expect them to pick the visitors apart en route to an easy 20+ point victory.
Predicted result: Ireland to win @ $1.14 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Ireland -14.5 @ $1.90 – William Hill