Autumn Nations Series Week 2 Preview
Autumn Nations Series Week 2 Preview
Week 2 of the 2022 Autumn Nations Series get's underway Saturday with the world's best rugby nations looking to lay down a marker.
Test-match rugby, simply put, is the pinnacle of the oval ball game.
Football has “friendlies,” while Rugby does not, and while the gravity of test matches may vary, every fixture on the international calendar is important.
Outside of the major international tournaments, there remains two test windows. As such, the opportunities for international teams to test themselves against the best from the other hemisphere remains limited.
Now, less than 12 months out from the 2023 Rugby World Cup, every fixture this November is a crucial opportunity for international coaching teams to tweak, refine and finalize their squad options.
Last weekend’s round of games was right up there with the very best rugby action we have seen in the best part of a decade.
This weekend once again promises to be an absolute cracker, as the top tier of world rugby get set to square off in clashes that could prove to have far-reaching implications for a number of teams.
Without further ado, let’s get into it and have a look through all of the games you can watch right here on FloRugby.
Ireland vs Fiji
World No. 1 Ireland comes into this fixture having just put reigning world champions South Africa to the sword 19-16 last weekend.
In a simply titanic struggle, Andy Farrell’s side solidified its position atop of the world rankings, continuing its fine run of form that has seen the team register a historic series win in New Zealand back in June.
Perhaps the most impressive feat to come out of last weekend’s victory was Ireland’s ability to adjust its game plan throughout the 80-minute period.
Previous Irish sides have been guilty of peaking between World Cup cycles, often times finding the secret recipe to success a year out from the game’s global showpiece, only to be found wanting, as its opposition nullifies its game plan when it matters.
This time around, however, the Irish have shown an ability to win games in a multitude of ways.
Having crucified New Zealand with a wide attacking game, Ireland began the Springbok clash attempting the same tactic. This, however, did not work against the Bok’s rush defense system, which saw the Irish ball carriers being utterly hammered behind the gain line time and again in the first half.
Despite being under immense pressure for the first half, Ireland managed to head for halftime very much in the game, with the scores locked at six points apiece.
In the second half, Ireland exploded, scoring two tries in the space of 10 minutes in a blitz that would ultimately see them home for an important victory.
This period displayed the full array of skills this Irish side possesses, as they dominated the physical exchanges to score a maul try that took the wind out of the Springbok forwards.
Their second try, which was finished by winger Mack Hansen, came through the now well-known Irish attacking game, as they spread the ball wide from a turnover in a move that had the Bok defense at sixes and sevens.
What these two scores highlighted was the ability of the Irish side to adjust to what it is playing against.
Going away from attacking wide early, Ireland began to go through the middle with physical ball carriers, before putting in clever kicks that turned the Springbok defenders around and checked their quick rush defense, all-in-all yielding an impressive result that will have their World Cup opponents thinking of new tactics to slow them down.
In team news, Sexton’s absence see’s Joey Carbery get the start at fly-half with his Munster teammate Jack Crowley, set to make his debut from the bench.
Joining Carbery in the halfbacks is Jamison Gibson-Park, who regains his starting place with Conor Murray out injured. Backing up Gibson-Park is “Ireland A” captain Craig Casey.
Other backline changes include Robbie Henshaw, coming in at outside center to partner Stuart McCloskey in a jumbo midfield pairing, as Ireland looks to nullify the big Fijian ball carriers.
A final backline change see’s the immensely impressive Jimmy O’Brien slot in at fullback, as he once again shows his versatility having played last week in the centers.
Another debutant this weekend is Munster loosehead prop Jeremy Loughman, who partners captain Furlong and Rob Herring in the front row.
A final potential debutant comes in the form of Connacht backrow Cian Prendergast, who is on the bench following several strong outings for the “Ireland A” and Connacht sides.
Other changes in the pack see the Ulster duo of Kieran Treadwell and Nick Timoney start at lock and flanker respectively.
For Fiji, things were not quite as positive, as they slipped to a hard fought 28-12 loss to Scotland in Edinburgh.
As expected, it was at the set piece where Vern Cotter’s side struggled, as they displayed a lack of cohesion, built off a lack of time spent together.
Despite their struggles, their attacking game when it clicked simply was too much for Scotland to live with, as it tore the hosts to shreds at times.
In defense, there also was the usual bone-crunching hits, as the Fijians went about laying out their Scottish opponents with tackles that could be felt in the stands.
Now set to face an Irish side that has made a number of changes from the one that did battle with South Africa, Fiji should be better, having had another week in camp.
For Ireland, this fixture is Tadhg Furlong’s first time captaining the side, with regular skipper Jonathan Sexton being rested.
Furlong has been regarded by many as the best tighthead prop in the game for the last six years and is more a leader by example, so expect plenty of big carriers with the regular sprinkling of sensational skills from the Wexford man.
Prediction: Ireland by 30.
Ireland: 15. J O’Brien; 14. R Baloucoune, 13. R Henshaw, 12, S McCloskey, 11. M Hansen; 10. J Carbery, 9. J Gibson-Park, 8. J Conan, 7. N Timoney, 6. C Doris, 5. T Beirne, 4. K Treadwell, 3. T Furlong, 2. R Herring, 1. J Loughman
Replacements: 16. D Sheehan, 17. C Healy, 18. T O’Toole, 19. C Prendergast, 20. M Deegan, 21. C Casey, 22. J Crowley, 23. G Ringrose.
Italy vs Australia
A bounce-back of sorts was the order of the day for both sides last weekend, starting with the hosts, who demolished Samoa 49-17 at the Stadio Plebiscito in Padua.
Kieran Crowley’s side appears to be benefitting from the renewed competitiveness of the country’s leading United Rugby Championship side, Benetton Treviso.
In a hugely exciting development for Italian Rugby as a whole, there now is a genuine group of highly talented young backline players available.
Employing a dual playmaker option with regular fly-half Tommaso Allan at fullback and Paolo Garbisi starting at 10, the Italian attack had a newfound width to it.
Getting the ball to the playmakers was the quick service of scrumhalf Steven Varney, who continues to take steps forward.
Proving too much for the hard-hitting Samoa defense, the Italians went around the traffic at times, rather than head on into it.
This was a huge step forward, as they managed to get the ball into the hands of their most dangerous attacking threat in the form of Monty Ioane, who scored two tries on his return to the Azzuri, following his abrupt exit from Benetton earlier in the season.
Welcoming back Toulouse-based fullback Ange Capuozzo is a huge boost for Crowley’s side, as the 23-year-old is fast entering the realm of being a world-class operator. With Ange’s return, this Italian really has the feel of a side making progress.
While the Azzuri continue their development, they are set to come face to face with a Wallabies team that really appears to be rounding into form.
Having come up just short in Paris against a heavily favored French side, Dave Rennie’s team has started to find an identity, which was formed throughout a number of improved Rugby Championship showings.
Still yet to string together back-to-back performances, this is a chance for the Wallabies to get back into the win column. On paper they certainly are a better side than their hosts, but not so far ahead that they won’t get tested, ultimately sitting in a rather sweet spot, where they can continue the development of their game.
Giant second row Will Skelton’s return to the international arena is a game-changer for a Wallabies side, which has, at times, been out-muscled by bigger opposition over the past few seasons.
Now, one of the best players in European Club Rugby, Skelton will play a major role for the Wallabies going into the World Cup.
In a similar vein to the Springboks (more on them later), the Wallabies have struggled to find a reliable option at fly-half. That is, of course, until Bernard Foley’s remarkable return to the international game following several years in the wilderness.
Outside of a serious mental error that cost his side a win over the All Blacks, Foley has offered stability and structure to a Wallabies attack that was relying on a revolving door of options at the position.
Noah Lolesio remains the future for the Wallabies in the position, but at 22-years-old, learning from the 33-year-old Foley will prove invaluable.
In terms of team news, Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has made 11 changes to the side that took on France.
Of the starting team that played last week, only lock Nick Frost, center Len Ikitau, winger Tom Wright and fullback Jock Campbell remain.
Regular first-choice prop Allan Alaalatoa returns to captain the side in the absence of his regular prop mate James Slipper.
In an new-look backrow, Ned Hanigan, Fraser McReight and Pete Samu combine to form a dynamic ball-carrying trio.
In the backline, Lolesio gets the nod at fly-half and is joined in the halfbacks by Jake Gordon, while Waratahs breakthrough star Mark Nawaqanitawase starts on the wing to partner Campbell and Tom Wright.
Finally, Hunter Paisami returns in the centers to form a powerful combination with Ikitau.
Prediction: Australia by 6.
Australia: 15. J Campbell, 14. M Nawaqanitawase, 13. L Ikitau, 12. H Paisami, 11. T Wright, 10. N Lolesio, 9. J Gordon, 8. P Samu, 7. F McReight, 6. N Hanigan, 5. W Skelton, 4. N Frost, 3. A Alaalatoa, 2. F Ainga’a, 1. M Gibbon
Replacements: 16. L Lonergan, 17. T Robertson, 18. T Tupou, 19. D Swain, 20. L Gleeson, 21. T McDermott, 22. B Donaldson, 23. J Petaia
Italy: 15. A Capuozzo, 14. P Bruno, 13. JI Brex, 12. L Morisi, 11. M Ioane, 10. P Garbisi, 9. S Varney, 8. L Cannone, 7. M Lamaro, 6. S Negri, 5. F Ruzza, 4. N Cannone, 3. S Ferrari, 2. G Lucchesi, 1. D Fischetti
Replacements: 16. G Nicotera, 17. I Nemer, 18. P Ceccarelli, 19. D Sisi, 20. T Halafihi, 21. A Garbisi, 22. T Allan, 23. T Menoncello
England vs Japan
Are the wheels really falling off for England under Eddie Jones?
Recent form and continued decline since their 2019 World Cup final appearance would indicate so.
Losing at home to Argentina last weekend was never meant to happen and suddenly has put another layer of pressure on the English.
Next up is Jones’s old side Japan, which as many Tier 1 sides have found, are more than capable of knocking over a more fancied opponent.
This is a fixture Jones would have penciled as an opportunity to try out a number of younger players, but with the All Blacks and Springboks to come, there suddenly is zero wiggle room to work with.
At present, the experiment of Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith operating in a dual playmaking access is not working. Farrell is significantly less effective at inside center than he is at fly-half, while Smith looks stymied by not being control of the attacking game and is a shell of the player that normally turns up for Harlequins.
Against Argentina, the attacking game did not work with the Farrell and Smith axis being at the root of the issues. Thus, the headache now facing Jones is which one of the two does he play? Or does he simply continue down the same path, hoping for different results. For this week he is appears content to continue with the experiment.
Continuing the theme of players playing out of position, Maro Itoje has looked lost in the backrow. A truly world-class player, Itoje is a real handful in the second row but just doesn’t quite cover enough ground in the backrow to be effective.
Once again Jones has picked Itoje in the No. 6 shirt, as regular captain Courtney Lawes remains on the sideline with an injury.
In team news, the impressive Joe Cokanasiga, who was one of the few bright sparks against Argentina, has been dropped in favor of Jonny May, who returns to the squad for the first time in a year.
At scrumhalf, the exciting Jack van Poortvliet starts ahead of his club mate Ben Youngs, following an impressive showing from the bench last week. Joining van Poortvliet in the backline changes, is Guy Porter, who partners captain Farrell in the centers.
In the forwards, David Ribbans and Sam Simmonds both start in a move that would indicate Jones feels England needs more pace around the park to counter Japan.
On the bench, Jamie George has made a quicker-than-expected return from injury, which is a major boost, not just this week, but also for the All Black and Springbok fixtures, should he come through unscathed.
Japan on the flipside, will come into this fixture having pushed the All Blacks to the limit in Tokyo in front of a jam-packed stadium and will feel they have the attacking game to punish England.
🇯🇵🇳🇿 Although they lost to New Zealand in Tokyo on Saturday, Japan gave the All Blacks some of their own medicine.— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) October 31, 2022
😲 Dylan Riley with a superb offload to Yutaka Nagare, who crossed for one of his team's four tries. 👏 #JPNvNZL pic.twitter.com/dRuqg9TY5b
Impressively in that fixture, the Japanese reeled in a New Zealand side that at one point was 21-3 ahead. Under the pump, the All Blacks were shown a red card, as experienced second row Brodie Retallick was sent from the pitch.
Ultimately, the Brave Blossoms couldn’t add the All Blacks to their list of major scalps just yet.
England at Twickenham this weekend, however, would be right up there with their victories over the Springboks and Ireland.
Prediction: England by 3.
England starting XV: 15. F Steward, 14. J Nowell, 13. G Porter, 12. O Farrell, 11. J May 10. M Smith, 9. J van Poortvliet, 8. S Simmonds, 7. T Curry, 6. M Itoje, 5. J Hill, 4. D Ribbans, 3. K Sinckler, 2. L Woan-Dickie, 1. E Genge
Replacements: 16. J George, 17. M Vunipola, 18. J Heyes, 19. A Coles, 20. B Vunipola, 21. B Youngs, 22. H Slade, 23. M Tuilagi
Japan: 15. Yamanaka, 14. Matsushima, 13. Roley, 12. Nakamura, 11. Van Den Heever, 10. Yamasawa, 9. Nagare, 8. Tatafu, 7. Himeno, 6. Leitch, 5. Cornelsen, 4. Dearns, 3. Gu, 2. Sakate, 1. Inagaki
Replacements: 16. Horikoshi, 17. Millar, 18. Kizu, 19. Van Der Walt, 20. Labuschagne, 21. Saito, 22. Lee, 23. Fifita
Wales vs Argentina
Week 1 of the Autumn Nations series could not have gone any more differently for these two sides.
Wayne Pivac’s Wales had the chastising experience of meeting a pumped All Blacks squad that was under immense pressure due to their subpar performances. The result, a 55-23 drubbing in a fixture where they were not competitive at any point.
Outside of a couple of set play tries, one of which was beautifully executed by debutant Rio Dyer, Wales looked lost.
Perhaps most concerningly was just how out-muscled they were at the contact point.
The hard truth of it was that the All Blacks did what they wanted, when they wanted.
Carrying into contact, every All Blacks carrier seemed to make ground, and it took multiple Welsh defenders to stop them.
From a tactical standpoint, Wales looked like it continually wanted to go wide without ever making any hard yards through the middle. Thus, the All Blacks defensive line just fanned out across the pitch and shut them down, before more often than not, turning them over.
For the visitors, the picture is a lot brighter. The steps they took in the Rugby Championship were on full display as they hung around long enough to punish England.
Similar to their famous victory over the All Blacks, Michael Cheika’s side took the points when they were on offer and never really allowed England any breathing space.
They then hit them with two beautiful sweeping attacks to get two second half tries, which when coupled with the incredible kicking accuracy of Emiliano Boffelli, was enough to get them home for a 30-29 win.
In Cardiff, Wales always has a chance (except against the All Blacks) and almost certainly will be better. How much better is the question, as on current form this Argentina side is the superior team in just about every area.
Another loss could have serious consequences for Pivac and his coaching team, but more crucially, a second no show is unfathomable for a team that fancies itself as a World Cup contender.
Prediction: Argentina by 7
Wales: 15. L Rees-Zammit, 14. A Cuthbert, 13. G North, 12. N Tompkins, 11. R Dyer, 10. G Anscombe, 9. T Williams, 8. T Falateu, 7. J Tipuric, 6. D Lydiate, 5. A Beard, 4. W Rowlands, 3. D Lewis, 2. K Owens, 1. G Thomas
Replacements: 16. Ryan Elias, 17. Rhodri Jones, 18. Sam Wainwright, 19. Ben Carter, 20. Jac Morgan, 21. Kieran Hardy, 22. Rhys Priestland, 23. Owen Watkin.
Argentina: 15. Juan Cruz Mallia, 14. Mateo Carreras, 13. Matias Moroni, 12. Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11. Emiliano Boffelli, 10. Santiago Carreras, 9. Gonzalo Bertranou, 8. P Matera, 7. M 6. Kremer, 5. J-M Gonzalez, 4. T Lavinini, 3. M Alemanno, 2. F-G Kodela, 1. J Montoya, T Gallo
Replacements: 16 Ignacio Ruiz, 17. Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 18. Eduardo Bello, 19. Lucas Paulos, 20. Facundo Isa, 21. Elisio Morales, 22. Tomas Albornoz, 23. Matias Orlando.
France vs South Africa
By every metric, this is the game of the week that pits potential World Cup quarterfinal foes head to head.
Both sides come into this having been through wars last week.
For Les Bleus their 30-29 win over Australia was thanks to a moment of brilliance from winger Damien Penaud, who single-handedly saved their blushes, as he tore the Wallabies apart to go over in the corner.
The Springboks on the other hand, went toe to toe with Ireland, before ultimately coming up three points short in Dublin. Worryingly for the Boks, however, is their inability to get points on the board, despite having sustained periods of dominance.
Once again, entering a fixture without a recognized goal kicker in the starting lineup is a risky move by Bok coach Jacques Nienaber. Fly-half Damian Willemse has plenty of strengths, of which goal kicking is not one, so the pressure on debutant Manie Libbok coming off the bench will be immense.
Libbok has been brilliant for the Stormers from the tee over the past two seasons but will be entering an arena in the Stade de France, which will be like nothing he has ever faced before.
In terms of team news, Nienaber has made a number of changes to the side that lost to Ireland.
Starting at fullback, the experienced Willie Le Roux returns, following a strong cameo off the bench last weekend. Le Roux’s return means Cheslin Kolbe shifts to the win, with Makazole Mapimpi dropping to the bench.
The final backline change is a significant one, with Faf De Klerk returning to the starting lineup in a move that looks to be aimed at stopping French star Antoine Dupont.
In the forwards, Franco Mostert comes in for the injured Lood de Jager, while Ox Nche and Bongi Mbonambi come into the front row in a direct swap with Steven Kitshoff and Malcolm Marx, respectively.
France has stuck to its guns and has made no changes to the side that did battle with Australia.
Uncharacteristically lackadaisical at points last week, they will be feeling fortunate to have come away with the win.
Thomas Ramos at fullback continues to be his brilliant self from the kicking tee, but the halfback pairing of Dupont and Romain Ntamack were out of sorts.
France opened its Autumn Nations Series with a dramatic late win over Australia, thanks to a last-gasp Damian Penaud try.https://t.co/GyAUPCzQpm— FloRugby (@FloRugby) November 7, 2022
South Africa will present a completely different challenge to the Australians and absolutely target the French pack, which will be a new experience for Les Bleus.
All of the French success has been built around a solid forward platform from Dupont, who has pulled the string, and this weekend’s game will be the biggest acid test that game plan has faced.
In a clash of this magnitude, it is safer to bank on the home side, but both sides have areas of concern coming into this one.
For the Boks, their goal kicking is just not good enough and could be their downfall. For France, the question is if it doesn't get forward dominance, what happens?
All in all, this is a fascinating game that certainly is a dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup.
Prediction: South Africa by 1!
France: 15-Thomas Ramos, 14-Damian Penaud, 13-Gael Fickou, 12-Jonathan Danty, 11-Yoram Moefana, 10-Romain Ntamack, 9-Antoine Dupont, 8-Gregory Alldritt, 7-Charles Ollivon, 6-Anthony Jelonch, 5-Thibaud Flament, 4-Cameron Woki, 3-Uini Atonio, 2-Julien Marchand, 1-Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16-Peato Mauvaka, 17-Reda Wardi, 18-Sipili Falatea, 19-Romain Taofifenua, 20-Bastien Chalureau, 21-Sekou Macalou, 22-Maxime Lucu, 23-Matthieu Jalibert
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Makazole Mapimpi
Scotland vs New Zealand
The prodigal son returns for Scotland, as star fly-half Finn Russell makes an immediate return to the starting lineup, following his return to the squad.
Having been left out of Scotland’s previous two fixtures for a “lack of form,” the Racing92 man returns due to the injury Adam Hastings, which he picked up in the Fiji match.
Being completely honest, Russell’s absence from the squad was clearly due to his clashing of personalities with head coach Gregor Townsend.
Having been in flying form for Racing, Russell’s omission was questioned from the off, and his return to the starting lineup ahead of Blair Kinghorn proves that when fit, and not in Townsend’s bad books, he is the first-choice playmaker.
Now that the selection drama is out of the way, let’s get down to business.
Scotland has been underwhelming this season, narrowly losing an away series to Argentina, before losing to Australia, and then picking up a rather disjointed win over Fiji. Scotland hardly has set the Rugby world alight.
Russell’s return, in conjunction with former captain Stuart Hogg back for the second time in two weeks, should give the Scots a much-needed attacking spark.
Unfortunately for Townsend’s men, they appear to be running head first into a freight train that has returned to full speed in the All Blacks.
Looking like they were playing a different sport to Wales last week, the Kiwi’s showed that despite the pressure they have been under for not hitting their lofty standards thus far this season, they remain capable of tearing a team apart if given a sniff.
Head coach Ian Foster has made a number of changes to the side that thumped Wales in Cardiff, with the most noticeable being the return of Beauden Barrett to his favored fly-half position, with his brother Jordie moving into the fullback role.
This move would indicate that New Zealand feels confident about its chances of running Scotland ragged, having left the steadier option of Richie Mo’unga out of the match-day 23 entirely.
For Scotland, a running battle suits them down to the ground. The issue is, however, that they just don’t quite have the same caliber of player as their visitors.
Few expect anything but a Kiwi victory, but given the return of Russell, Scotland should not be written off entirely, in what will certainly be an entertaining clash between two sides looking to give the ball some air.
Prediction: New Zealand by 15.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie (c), 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 WP Nel, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Ben White, 22 Blair Kinghorn, 23 Mark Bennett
New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 David Havili, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Dalton Papali’i, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock (c), 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 George Bower, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 Rieko Ioane
Written by Philip Bendon
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