The smart money has to be on New Zealand this weekend, says Alex Payne
By Alex Payne. Last Updated: 16/11/13 3:48pm
England v New Zealand
2.30pm, Sat, Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 3D
After a good return last week, what is in store this weekend as the hemispheres collide again?
While the headlines centre around the All Blacks and their record of one defeat in 33 Tests, it is worth remembering that England have won nine of their last 10.
However, while the wins have come the complete performance remains elusive, but that is what you need if you're to have any chance against New Zealand. Not only that, but you also need your full armoury - and I'm afraid that is why I'm going with the All Blacks this weekend.
To be without six Lions; Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Tom Croft, Alex Corbisiero, Mako Vunipola and Christian Wade as well as Marlande Yarde just removes too much firepower. Corbisiero's absence arguably hits England the hardest, and has moved me from a 50:50 call to 60:40 in favour of the visitors.
We will certainly learn a lot about the depth of Lancaster's options with the World Cup under two years away, and that in itself will be a valuable lesson.
But if England are learning, New Zealand are writing the text book right now. They have been number one for four consecutive years, and this year looked to have pulled further away.
We are running out of superlatives to describe them and the word from inside the camp is that this fixture has been ringed in red all season. The combination of experience, revenge and the quest for the perfect season makes for a potent mixture.
In terms of the stories, my eye is drawn to the two full backs - both of whom are in good form right now. However, Mike Brown has yet to cross the whitewash for England, while Israel Dagg hasn't touched down for a year. Both are worth covering off individually, but I also like the 20/1 for both to score.
It is also worth mentioning Dylan Hartley wins his 50th cap on Saturday. He was man of the match against Argentina last week, and scored his only Test try three years ago against New Zealand. He's 8/1 to score on what will be a special day against the land of his birth.
Dan Carter will play his 100th Test, and is a man with a point to prove. He produced arguably his worst performance I can remember 12 months ago, and with some saying he is now past his best, what chance a try to answer the critics?
He's already scored four in his 10 Tests against England and sits at 4/1 to make that five. Worth also thinking about Julian Savea (5/1 for a double) and Ben Smith (10/1 first try scorer) who are bound to get chances.
I'm going to offer you a couple of caveats to consider. If you like omens, England have beaten New Zealand in 1973, 1983, 1993 and 2003. Do you believe the trend will continue (England are 7/1 for the win)? And if you are full of faith and like high drama, how about an Owen Farrell drop goal to win the game - it is 33/1 to be the last scoring play.
I'm afraid I think England will come up short though, and, have gone for New Zealand by 11-15 at 9/2.
Ireland v Australia
Last weekend Ireland opened with a good win over Samoa while Australia bounced back from defeat to England to hammer Italy. The trend with the Wallabies at the moment is that they seem to capitulate if they're done up front, but if they can hang in there in the forward exchanges then their backs are looking very dangerous.
So can Ireland get enough of an edge up front? Well, the signs were there last week against Samoa, Jack McGrath looks a real prospect, but throw in the return of Cian Healey, Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien and I think the answer is yes. I take extra heart from the fact that the Aussies have only won one of their last four games in Dublin. But it is going to be edgy.
O'Brien is in the form of his life, a try scorer last week off the bench, and I'd keep some chips close to his number on Saturday at 100/30 anytime. With Ireland going for Australia up front, its also worth considering the ball carrying of Healey. He doesn't score many, but that is reflected in the 13/2.
I tipped Folau (7/1 first try scorer this weekend) and Kuridrani (11/4 anytime) last weekend, and both scored so I'm tempted to just keep playing those cards, but I want to mention Quade Cooper (7/2 anytime) who looks back to his fizzing best. However, I think some Ireland can expose some familiar Aussie weaknesses, and reckon the home side will come through by 6-10 at 6-1.
Wales v Argentina
Both Wales and Argentina have been running repairs after last weekend - Wales filling holes after significant injuries while the Pumas' morale looks shot. Tries have been a problem for both sides - Wales have only scored three tries in a game once in a year (against Ireland in the Six Nations when they were already 30-3 down) and total 14 tries in their last 12 tests - which includes two against Japan. Argentina don't fare too well either with 11 tries in their last 10 games, although six of those games were in the Rugby Championship. So I'm not sure there will be too many about.
If you do fancy looking at the try scorers, Cory Allan has been tipped for big things and brings an element of the unknown on his debut, plus odds of 5/2 for a try. George North (8/1 first try scorer) was singled out by Rob Howley this week as someone who needs to contribute more while for Argentina Marcello Bosch (7/2 a/t) always runs straight and hard at 13 and will look to expose the new boy opposite him. But as for the victor, I'm going with Wales. Halfpenny to kick the goals from Argentina indiscipline and get home by 11-15 at 9/2.
Scotland v South Africa
Scotland did put in a strong performance against the Boks this summer, but the visitors have progressed significantly since then and I just cannot see anyway how the home side can contain South Africa's power game. Six changes from last weekend for the Scots doesn't necessarily help with preparations, and although they are bound to give it a go, I'm going with South Africa by 16-20 (9/2). Among the try scorers I'd play the back row boys of Alberts (7/2 anytime) and Louw (9/2 anytime) and maybe look at a Habana double at 9/2.
Italy v Fiji
Despite a promising start, the Azzuri were run ragged last week by Australia and ended up conceding 50 points at home for the first time in nearly five years. Australia were dangerous, but some of the points Italy gave up were soft in the extreme. This weekend it is Fiji, and it's always hard to know what they might produce but it is worth highlighting they've won 5/6 tests this year - albeit against Tier 2 nations.
France v Tonga
5pm, Sat, Sky Sports 1
The curious beast that is French rugby seemed to stir last weekend against the All Blacks, showing that perhaps all is not lost across the channel. One win in nine Tests this year is an embarrassing return for Philipe St. Andre, but I think they'll double that tally this weekend and comfortably so.
Tonga lost to Romania last week, and although they stunned Les Blues 19-14 in the 2011 World Cup and beat Scotland last autumn, this is a challenge too far. But I think the French resurgence will continue this weekend, and I'm taking them by 20+.
Finally, we went fairly big on the accumulators last week, so I've wound it in a bit this time and have gone with: