No home comforts
Alex Payne previews the Autumn Internationals including England and South Africa at Twickenham.
Last Updated: 23/11/12 3:42pm
It's not been a great autumn for the home nations so far - and I'm not sure things are going to improve a whole lot in Round 3 of the November internationals.
England v South Africa
There has been a fair amount for England to analyse this week, from both the disappointing defeat to Australia and of a South African side they've not beaten in their last 10 outings - their longest ever run without a win against one team.
At full time in our studio last Saturday, our panel of Sir Clive Woodward, Michael Lynagh and Will Greenwood were all in agreement that England were off colour in the scrum, at the break down, with their kick chase, accuracy levels and creativity. Lancaster's six changes will hopefully solve some of those issues - Alex Corbisiero (who has not played a lot of rugby recently) and Tom Wood perhaps have the biggest responsibilities to help get England on the front foot.
Whereas the Wallabies challenge teams in the top two inches, the threat of the Boks is less subtle but a lot more physical. They make it a battle of wills, a test of just how much physicality a team can handle. Match them in this area though, as the All Blacks have done in the Rugby Championship this year, and they don't seem to have many alternatives. However, this is the end of a long season for the Boks and Saturday is a date ringed in red in the diary. They know an unbeaten autumn tour means they can hit the beach back home with the rugby public onside.
As for the tale of the tape, I'm expecting England to be better than they were last week but I'm still not sure that will be good enough. South Africa also have room for improvements after their wins in Dublin and Edinburgh, but their foundations are strong, defence resolute and breakdown work ferocious. I'm not expecting many tries - England's attack looked a little blunt and the back line is perhaps short on out and out pace, while South Africa defended their line superbly against the Scots, and have only conceded 22 points in their last two games. No try scorer at 14/1 kept catching my eye, but I think there is good value in JP Pietersen at 10/1 as the first try scorer - he's done it before against England and is one of South Africa's biggest threats.
Overall, I'm struggling to disagree with the tight handicap and I wouldn't discount the draw at 16/1 - the third test in the summer finished honours even. However, I've been wrestling with the inner pessimist and the inner patriot this week but I'm afraid the pessimist has won - and I'm going with South Africa. Just.
Wales v All Blacks
The bare facts are that Wales last beat New Zealand in 1953 and have come up short in the 24 subsequent games. Add in their current run of five straight losses - last weekend they fell to Samoa in Cardiff - and there are not many who give them a prayer against the World Champions on Saturday. A little divine intervention would certainly help, as will the return of their own Kiwi - Warren Gatland. The Wales head coach has been off assessing potential Lions but his return has galvanised the squad this week. Word from inside the camp is that he's been filling the belief tank and raising confidence levels, and I think Wales will deliver their best performance for some time. New Zealand to win but by less that the 19 point handicap. As for try scorers, it's a bit of a lucky dip with New Zealand's backs - Savea, Nonu, Jane, Smith and Dagg all have short odds for a reason. Aaron Smith at 16/1 as first try scorer may be of interest.
Scotland v Tonga
I'm not sure how much we've actually learnt about Scotland this autumn - they remain fully committed to the cause but still lack a bit of pizzazz. Skipper Kelly Brown has dusted off the old 'must win' cliche for this weekend's game with Tonga, but after defeats to New Zealand and South Africa there are a few worry lines on the faces north of the border. Those recent performances have offered hope and disappointment in equal measure, an all too familiar feeling for Scotland's supporters, but I'm going to focus on the positives and think they'll come through to beat Tonga quite convincingly. I'm going take them to win and by more than the 14 point handicap, while Stuart Hogg has brought a bit of spark to Scotland's attack and is 6/4 as an anytime try scorer. From Tonga's perspective keep an eye on Fetu'u Vainikolo who is a real handful, but I just worried they're not going to get enough ball to sustain a challenge.
Ireland v Argentina
What a game in store in Dublin! Ireland arrive after an narrow defeat to the Boks and a cruise past Fiji, Argentina have beaten Wales and suffered a thumping at the hands of France. However, I'm backing the Pumas to pick themselves up and come through in this one. For me, with the Irish missing O'Driscoll, O'Connell, Kearney, Best and Ferris, they are without too many big game players for the kind of clash. Although bound to be a little weary, Argentina have the physicality and the increasing creativity to finish their season on a high. Players like Lobbe, Senatore and Cabello are capable of ensuring this game is played on their terms, and that will allow the influential Nicholas Sanchez at ten to pull the strings.
Finally, if you fancy an accumulator this weekend how about South Africa, New Zealand, Scotland and Argentina at 6/1? I'll leave you with a Hail Mary too - the draw between England and the Boks with New Zealand, Scotland and Argentina to win is available at 66/1. Here's hoping for a bit of that divine intervention!