Time to save face?
Last Updated: 30/11/12 4:52pm
Payne's England v New Zealand Preview
So we come to the last two games of the autumn, one last chance for England and Wales to save face after disappointing months and one last shot for us to beat the banker.
England v New Zealand
At 12/1 on, this is a game that most have already given to the All Blacks. And it's easy to see why - take a deep breath!
Sky Bet Odds
New Zealand are currently on a 20 game unbeaten run, they hold the World Cup and the Rugby Championship and in Dan Carter and Richie McCaw they possess arguably two of the best players to have ever played the game.
They're on a nine game winning streak against the Red Rose, their match day 23 boasts over 600 more caps than England's, while McCaw alone has played more games than the entire England pack. One more? Go on then... New Zealand have only lost one game in the northern hemisphere since 2002; the World Cup quarter final to France in 2007.
Last week Wales turned in their best performance of the autumn and still trailed the All Blacks by 33 points after an hour. The All Blacks don't do complacency, and norovirus apart, they have absolutely everything they need to win this one at a canter - so what challenge can England muster?
In truth, England have been circling the wagons a bit this week - the external pressure is being cranked up on a team and set of coaches that are still very new to the international game. There were definite improvements in last week's performance up front, at the breakdown and in defensive intensity. But the All Blacks are at a different level when it comes to exploiting weaknesses.
Whereas heart and spirit, qualities England always have in abundance, will keep you in it against most international teams, New Zealand are so ruthless and precise that despite your best efforts you are often left chasing shadows. As Scotland found out a couple of weeks ago, the All Blacks can kill a game very quickly - the men in blue were only three points down nearing half time, but 21 points from the All Blacks in 8 minutes just before the break meant the second half was a face saving exercise.
The big concern still centres around England's creativity, they've scored just one (fairly lucky) try in the games against Australia and South Africa and they will need a whole lot more to claim victory on Saturday. However, it remains difficult to see how they're going to cross the whitewash. Owen Farrell will bring an edge to ten, but a lot of fans are looking forward to seeing if Freddie Burns can add a spark from the bench.
So where should you be putting your money on Saturday?
I'm going to stick with the roulette table strategy when choosing try scorers from New Zealand's backline - Dagg, Savea and Jane are all in superb form - but I like the value in Kieran Read at 16/1 first try scorer and 5/2 anytime. For England, I think their tries are more likely to come through grunt than flair so have a look at the front five - Joe Launchbury at 16/1 anytime could be interesting.
As for the result, I'm afraid I'm backing black and quite comfortably - I think New Zealand will have too much ability and motivation, and will beat the 16 point handicap as well. I'm taking New Zealand by 21.
Wales v Australia
This is a hugely significant game for Wales - win and they remain in the 2nd tier of international rugby for Monday's 2015 World Cup pool draw, lose and they drop down into the third tier - a huge dent to the side which claimed the Grand Slam this year.
Wales are low on confidence right now, a situation that won't be helped by seven consecutive losses to the Wallabies. However, the five most recent defeats have been by an average of four points - all desperately close affairs - which indicates the block is as much mental as anything else.
There are similarities between both sides coming into this one, with key men missing and concerns over current form, but I think this comes down to what they're are playing for and I feel Wales' levels of desperation will give them the edge.
Dean Ryan pointed out on Thursday's Rugby Club that Australia's narrow win over Italy showed the side is running on vapours, particularly in attack, after a season spent permanently at the side of the well. It has been a long, pretty uncomfortable campaign and for most Aussies the result at Twickenham means this has already been a successful tour.
Two factors may keep the Wallabies in it - David Pocock is back and Saturday spells the end of the line for the great Nathan Sharpe. He has very much been the cornerstone for the Aussies this season and the battle cry will be to empty the tank in his honour, but I'm just not sure how much is left to give.
The final point to mention is that Saturday's game is the last time we'll see the Wallabies until the first test against the British and Irish Lions next summer. Although there is a lot of rugby to be played between now and then, Warren Gatland will want to have the upper hand for the next six months.
Finally, how about a sentimental anytime try scoring accumulator to finish with - this weekend Richie McCaw presses pause on his career as he heads off on a sabbatical while Nathan Sharpe presses stop on his as he heads for retirement - what about a nibble on both to score this weekend at 64/1?
Here's hoping for a bit of autumn glory on the final weekend.