Alex Payne: New Zealand can beat Ireland to round off great year
By Alex Payne. Last Updated: 22/11/13 6:16pm
So the last two weekends have had their rewards, but also one massive frustration.
Both six-game accumulators have been let down by Ireland - but I'm not sure it'll be three in a row...
Ireland v New Zealand
The concerns over where the men in green are right now didn't show up against Samoa but, my word, were they present last weekend against the Wallabies.
The Irish media went in hard calling it a 'shambles', lamenting the pack, the lack of precision and the absence of passion. This weekend it is just the small matter of the All Blacks - against who Ireland's record reads played 27, lost 26, drawn 1.
Where does Joe Schmidt start?
Well, expect more aggression, a frenzied opening 15 minutes, maybe an early score - but there have to be massive questions over whether Ireland can put together a performance to actually beat the Kiwis.
Having watched every All Black Test this season, I'm struggling to show you a weak spot. No Carter? No problem, as in comes the world's second-best fly-half Aaron Cruden.
Andrew Hore swaps over seamlessly with Keven Mealamu. Cory Jane picks up from the new sensation Charles Piatau. It is a well-oiled machine, regardless of which components slot in.
Any danger of Kiwi complacency disappeared at Twickenham 12 months ago. Having stumbled at the final hurdle last season, the pitfall is well signposted and this All Black team is too good to fall in it again. One more big push, and they become the first team to win every game in a season.
So I'm going to play my Israel Dagg-card again (5/4 anytime) believing that his scoreless run will come to an end sooner rather later. You can't ignore Jane (10/11 anytime), Savea (4/5 anytime), who now has 18 tries in 19 tests or Kieran Read who has six tries in his last six Tests (6/4 anytime).
But I also like Ma'a Nonu; his offload for Savea's second last weekend was the moment of the match, and I expect him to run straight and hard at Ireland's 10-12 channel which was exposed by Quade Cooper last weekend. Nonu already has two tries in five Tests against Ireland and is 13/8 to add to that.
For Ireland, Bowe and Kearney remain the sharpest weapons in attack but the headlines are around Brian O'Driscoll's final crack at New Zealand - the only team he has never beaten having lost all 13 previous encounters. With the fairy-tale victory unlikely, how about the final try to celebrate instead at 4/1 anytime?
But I can't see anything other than a comfortable All Black win, perhaps without fanfare though. 11-15 (at 6/1) and job done.
Scotland v Australia
Australia put four tries on Ireland last weekend while South Africa swatted away the Scots. I think Scott Johnson's men are likely to have problems again this weekend, with the running lines and speed of thought of the men in gold likely to be too much to handle, despite a new-look back line.
It is worth highlighting that the Scots have actually won their last two games against the Wallabies, 9-8 and 9-6 respectively, and though Ewen McKenzie has dropped the six Dublin drinkers and has lost a few others to injury and suspension, as a group they have no room for complacency after a poor 2013.
One man who has been off his best this year is Will Genia. In the early part of his career he averaged a try every five games, but in the last two seasons he has been shut down - just one try in his last 17 Tests.
However, with Cooper back (and scoring tries for the blog last week!) the extra attention on 10 may give Genia opportunities - he's 4/1 to find a way over at some point.
Alex thinks Australia will beat Scotland by 11-15pts. Bet now
Elsewhere Stephen Moore's running game may not be as quick as Genia's but he gets around the paddock and is in good form right now. Although he doesn't score many (five tries in 89 tests) he has got one at Murrayfield before and if you like the longer odds, how about 25/1 for Moore to cross first. Oh, and why break the habit of the autumn - pop a chip on a Folau double at 4/1.
For Scotland, the options are becoming a little threadbare with 11 out injured while Johnson appears to be using the games to look at options. I'm not sure there is the cohesion or threat to cause much trouble, but if you do fancy a punt Johnnie Beattie (13/2 a/t), David Denton and Duncan Taylor (both 9/2 a/t) should get the chance to carry a bit of ball.
As for the result, Australia should win comfortably but without running wild. 11-15 is at 9/2.
Wales v Tonga
All change for Wales this weekend as Gatland makes 11 alterations for the visit of Tonga. With the wind in their sails after the romp against Argentina, Wales should push on this weekend, though the changes might reduce the flow.
More people with 'points to prove' in the home side, most of all James Hook who is given the chance to run the ship again.
Elsewhere Leigh Halfpenny has had a fairly quiet autumn with ball in hand but is 8/1 for the first try on Friday night, Hallam Amos is 5/4 for a debut double, while Justin Tipuric will want to shine in the seven shirt, its 13/8 if he grabs a try, too.
Fetu'u Vainokolo delivered for us last week with a double, and having scored 11 tries in 11 Tests is worth covering off again at 3/1 for an anytime try. Also keep an eye on Taniela Moa at nine who brings considerable aggression, and at 13/2 for a try is worth consideration.
Wales should have enough to win this by a length. The 11-15 winning margin looks juicy at 7/1.
France v South Africa
After the French football team upset the odds on Tuesday, what chance the rugby team can follow suit? Les Bleus picked up steam against Tonga, and many feel they are playing for the future of head coach Philipe St Andre after two wins in 10 this season.
I was surprised to see that the Boks haven't won away in France since 1997, but think they'll correct that this weekend. They are too cohesive a unit, and the kicking games of Ruan Piennar and Morne Steyn will put the squeeze on the hosts.
Jaques Fourie to score anytime is 3/1 with Sky Bet. Bet now
It is not rocket science, but working out a winning formula to combat it has proven too much for all bar the All Blacks - the Boks' four defeats in their last 17 games have all been to New Zealand.
For South Africa I'd keep an eye on Jaques Fourie (3/1 anytime) and Bryan Habana (13/8 anytime) and with Alberts coming good last week, Francois Louw is surely due a score - the Bath star has been in top form recently and is at 7/2.
For France, consider the danger men of Wesley Fofana (16/1 first try) and Yohan Huget (11/4 anytime). But South Africa should finish the year with a win by 6-10 at 4/1.
Italy v Argentina
Italy have only won three of their last 12 games, Argentina only two of their last 12. Two sides in poor form, with obvious faults but I think Argentina have a bit more about them.
They've been playing in a tougher competition and seem to fare well against the Azzuri, having won eight of their last 12 meetings and on their last five trips to Italy.
Parisse (11/4 anytime) and Castrogiovanni (16/1 a/t) were both born in Argentina, so have an extra something to play for while Luke McLean has scored in both matches this November, and is 11/4 to complete the set.
For Argentina, Juan Imhoff is one of their strike runners and sits at an appealing 15/2 for a double.
I also like the physicality of Juan Manuel Leguizamon at 9/2 a/t who often works his way into try scoring positions, and expect Argentina to come through narrowly by 1-12 on the alternative margin (13/8).
So all of the above considered, that gives us an accumulator of New Zealand, Australia, Wales, South Africa and Argentina at 11/4 with Sky Bet. And as for the trio of try scorers - Nonu, Genia and Jaques Fourie which gives you the Hail Mary option at 66/1.