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IF you've got Alexa, why not have a chat with Jonny by enabling the ‘O2 Wear the Rose’ skill, say “Open Wear the Rose” and it will launch into the experience.
by Matt Hardy
THIS year's Autumn Internationals are likely to be some of the most intriguing in recent years. Can Ireland potentially become the world number one side? Will Wales beat the Wallabies for the first time in a decade? Are England in selection turmoil? Can Scotland replicate last year's heroics once more? Which France will turn up, and have Italy turned a corner? Will the Barbarians thrill at Twickenham to beat Los Pumas? What is clear is that the next five weeks will be full of incredible rugby.
Ireland will be returning to Soldier Field in Chicago this autumn, where they famously beat the All Blacks in 2016, albeit overcoming the New Zealand ‘B’ team. Joe Schmidt’s team in green will be looking to continue their run of form after winning both the Six Nations and their June tour in Australia. Facing Italy, Argentina, New Zealand, and the USA would more than likely provide three wins, potentially four. If the Irish are as lucky as they say, the conclusion of the upcoming internationals could provide a world number one spot.
Ireland will need their big guns firing throughout the Autumn Internationals, despite the likes of Rory Best and Peter O'Mahony not playing in the game across the pond. Expect the pair to play in the following two games at least, however, with the likes of CJ Stander and Keith Earls joining them. Watch out for Will Addison throughout November who has truly impressed at Ulster all season.
Back across the Irish Sea one thing is for sure, the Principality Stadium will house the iconic flag used when the crowd is on the low side. Wales played some exceptional rugby at times during the Six Nations, and arguably Warren Gatland’s side deserved a win over England (a game they lost 12-6). Playing Scotland, Australia, Tonga, and South Africa, it is set to be a tough four weeks for the team in red. While a victory over Tonga is likely, the other three games are not so certain, although they will be looking for their fourth straight win over the Springboks – whose strength in depth is among the best it has been in recent times.
Wales enter the next month without the retired Sam Warburton, but with their strongest depth in the back row in a long time. The likes of Ross Moriarty and Justin Tipuric are joined by Ellis Jenkins, who has impressed in his eight caps to date. Bolter Jonah Holmes makes the squad after impressing with Leicester Tigers this season and last season's Premiership joint-top try scorer Josh Adams also is likely to shine. Osprey, Luke Morgan, is the player worth keeping an eye on in the coming weeks.
Continuing our little fantasy tour of the Home Nations, a drive over the Severn Bridge and a few hours beyond takes you to Twickenham. England not only face an on-field crisis but an off-field one also. Injuries and surprise retirements combined with the RFU's idea of austerity has left the autumn of the Red Rose a crucial one, the latest being Manu Tuilagi pulled a day before the Springboks match. When England began their life under the tenure of Eddie Jones, life was so simple. Fans craved the big game, a match-up against New Zealand. Now, however? Most of those supporting the Twickenham side seem to be ensuring that there is indeed a sweet chariot to carry everyone home after the potentially looming thrashing.
Two wins this autumn would be predictable. Japan should be a comfortable victory as long as they don’t replicate their heroic performance at the World Cup against the Boks. As for South Africa, they will be without key players such as Faf de Klerk and Franco Mostert, but will still pose a threat with practically the squad that beat the All Blacks. The quality of the Red Roses’ backline should provide them with a victory over the Springboks, but that has said that before about England!
Australia and New Zealand will be monumental tests for the English, and wins against either this autumn would surely put Eddie Jones in a good place to build towards the World Cup. Be sure to keep an eye on potential World Cup bolter Zac Mercer, who is likely to shine in the coming weeks.
Finally, zip up across Hadrian's Wall and you will find Murrayfield with Gregor Townsend at the helm. Scotland is the only side not to be hosting four ‘home' games this autumn, with Ireland's game vs Italy in the States advertised as a home fixture. The away fixture against Wales opens the Scots' campaign with the game being advertised as the inaugural Doddie Weir Cup, despite both unions being initially reluctant to donate directly to the former Lions player's charity. Scotland then hosts Fiji, South Africa and Argentina in an Autumn Internationals series that could yield four wins out of four.
Last year's thrashing of Australia, and the near heroics against the All Blacks will stand as good experience in the coming weeks. Scotland faces injuries across the field this autumn and yet they are able to call up a formidable squad going into the next four games. Stuart Hogg, Matt Scott, and Dave Denton are some of the absentees, and though Finn Russell has returned from Paris, he does not start against Wales. The likes of Stuart McInally and Jonny Gray are bound to make an impact in Edinburgh, and watch out for Sam Skinner, the Exeter Chief forward brilliantly poached from England by the SRU.
In the final stop of our rugby tour, across the English Channel and beyond takes you to Paris and Rome. France will host South Africa, Argentina and Fiji in an autumn that could provide three wins for Les Bleus. Jacques Brunel has injected the French side with youth as of late, and no doubt they will continue to shine on the global stage for years to come. An outside bet for the World Cup title next year, France will need to prove they are contenders in the coming November, while powering on into the Six Nations in February.
Italy are definitely improving under Conor O’Shea, but it is taking much longer than Italian fans would like; they play Ireland, Georgia, Australia and New Zealand in an autumn that could see them struggle to win a match. While there is an expectation of Ireland, the Wallabies, and the All Blacks to beat the Azzurri, the game against Georgia will be one well worth watching. Often touted as the side worthy of a Six Nations spot, many will see this game as one which could provide an answer as to whether or not the Georgian rugby side is competitive.
The Home Nations are not the only ones hosting International matches this autumn. The world’s most famous team, the Barbarians, host Argentina at Twickenham on the first Saturday of December. The Killik Cup is a long-standing fixture in the rugby calendar and never fails to thrill, after all the last BaaBaas game at Twickenham resulted in a win against England and the return of Chris Ashton.
Coached by former Springbok and Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, the BaaBaas side will include stalwarts of the game: The Beast, Handré Pollard, Eben Etzebeth and Will Genia to name a few. Erasmus has even convinced the legendary Schalk Brits out of retirement. For UK fans, the game will be on terrestrial television for the first time since the invitational side appeared on the BBC network in their 2009 win over New Zealand. One thing is obvious, fans will be thrilled with 80 minutes of Argy bargy and Baarilliant rugby!
On a separate note, plaudits must be given to each nation for hosting a Tier two nation as one of their four games. While some are likely doing this for world ranking points as a result of a big win or to generate increased revenue, the Tier two teams see it as an opportunity to develop and grow as rugby nations.
After all, a tier two nation is at the heart of the biggest rugby shock in history, Japan and their famous win over South Africa. Tier two nations need to be playing tier one nations as the new world calendar suggests, Georgia and Romania are pushing for Six Nations inclusion and Scotland was earlier this year beaten by the USA. Rugby is becoming more competitive and global growth is more important than continued growth for the already established Tier one nations.
This could be a tough autumn for the Home Nations. Scotland and Ireland have the best chance to go unbeaten throughout November, but Wales and England will believe that they can do the same. It will be difficult to see many sides winning by a significant margin against the big four Southern Hemisphere sides but who knows, this is rugby and anything can happen.
Join RugbyUnplugged for live coverage of the Autumn Internationals throughout November and the start of the festive month.
NB KO times below are local; not all Tier 2 matches are covered in full.
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