As the trees turn from a petit pois hue to soft caramel and a deep crimson, and the daylight mimics a Scandinavian crime drama, rugby union gets an autumnal renaissance. This will surely satisfy every rugby fan in the land before Christmas completely dominates everyone’s consciousness. Below is a review of Wales’ and Ireland’s Autumn International campaigns.
Australia 11th November 17:15pm, Principality Stadium, BBC Two, Ref: Glen Jackson
Georgia 18th November 14:30pm, Principality Stadium, BBC Two, Ref: Mathieu Raynal
New Zealand 25th November 17:15pm, Principality Stadium, BBC Two, Ref: Wayne Barnes
South Africa 2nd December 14:30pm, Principality Stadium, BBC Two, Ref: Jerome Garces
General thoughts on Wales’ campaign-
There is still a mixture within the Wales squad with the new residency rule and the likes of Gloucester’s Owen Williams and Saracens’ Liam Williams included in the match day squad today, despite both playing for England and having fewer than 60 caps. Wales always come unstuck with these Autumn Internationals. They have a lot of promise but are not normally able to cope with the pace of the Southern Hemisphere sides, having not won their first autumn test match of the Autumn series since 2002. Last year, Wales won three of their four of their matches. However, all three were treated with scrutiny rather than jubilation. Warren Gatland, with the last two years of his tendency left, has gone for talent rather than stalwarts. Wales face three of the Southern Hemisphere giants and it certainly is a physical series of test matches with Georgia also in the mix. This is the first time that Glwad will face them. New Zealand haven’t been defeated since 1957 and Australia since 2008. Therefore, a measure of success for Wales would be to beat either or both of these sides.
Key Welsh players to look out for: Steph Evans/Owen Williams-
It was very hard to pick between these two players as both are very exciting for different reasons. Williams comes in as a playmaking flyhalf who can play at inside centre with Gatland continuing a policy he adopted on the Lions tour. Owen Williams has the potential to release the likes of Jonathon Davies, Steph Evans and Liam Williams, and that in itself is very interesting. Evans is the most hotly talked about Welsh player at the moment. Some even claim he emulates the success of Shane Williams. His scintillating form in the Guinness Pro14 and the European Champions Cup has certainly gained chatter but we’ll just have to see how he performs on the big stage.
Predictions for the first game against Australia-
Wales have to stop the backline of the Wallabies at source and sort out their scrum if they are to keep within scoring distance. Australia are on a high having been victorious against the All Blacks in the third Bledisloe test and having comfortably beaten Japan by 60 points to 30. Beale has again been sensational and Reece Hodge too has been in great form, but Wales do have the arsenal to match the Wallabies with the likes of Steph Evans and Johnathon Davies for instance. This will be the only prediction of mine this weekend where I go against the home team to predict Australia to win by 5 points.
Predictions for top try scorer-
This is a tough one to call as Liam Williams and Steph Evans have been scoring tries galore for their clubs, but I’m leaning towards Liam Williams on this occasion. He just seems to end up in the right places at the right time.
South Africa 11th November 17:30pm, Aviva Stadium, Sky Sports Action, Ref: Ben O’Keefe
Fiji 18th November 17:30pm, Aviva Stadium, Sky Sports Action, Ref: Paul Williams
Argentina 25th November 17:30pm, Aviva Stadium, Sky Sports Action, Ref: Mathieu Raynal
General thoughts on Ireland’s campaign-
Ireland has had an impressive tour in Japan over the summer and Joe Schmit looks to continue his consolidated approach in the next Rugby World Cup. Some big names have joined the squad: Connacht’s Bundi Aki who has been selected as the inside centre for the first match against South Africa. Ireland should aim to win all three tests, just like England, potentially making it another straight battle between the shamrock and the red rose in next year’s RBS Six Nations. Not only will Ireland have the pressure of competing against South Africa today, but also the added pressure of World Rugby. It’s Ireland’s last chance to showcase why they are the stongest contenders to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup instead of South Africa or France. The world will be watching the emerald isle in more ways than one.
Key Irish players to look out for: Peter O’Mahony-
The Munster captain will be on a mission to prove his qualities after being dropped from the first British & Irish Lions test against the All Blacks during the summer. Especially against a side like South Africa, his physical presence in the set piece will be pivotal to the men in green winning these Autumn tests.
Predictions for the first game against South Africa-
Many are predicting an Irish victory here but do not quickly discount the Springboks. Malcum Marx, the Johannesburg Lions hooker, is a key player in determining South Africa’s future and plays just like a backrow. Although they pushed the All Blacks close in during their last test match, Ireland’s quality, I believe, will shine through. I predict an Irish win by 10 points.
Predictions for top try scorer-
I am really looking forward to seeing Jacob Stockdale of Ulster scoring a plenty of tries for Ireland. He’s been in good form in the Guinness Pro14 and the European Champions Cup, with quick feet, running good angles and always looking for work.