RUGBY

AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

STAR PREVIEW Sat: Summer Internationals Series Deciders

International rugby fans are in for a thrilling day of action on Saturday, with four series deciders involving eight of the world’s biggest sides. England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales bounced back from defeats last Saturday in their respective second Tests which has created deciding games across all four series, meaning a mouth-watering schedule to decide who takes the honours.

We begin with New Zealand’s series decider against Ireland.

New Zealand v Ireland (8.05am)

Ireland’s bounce back win in the second Test last week brought New Zealand back down to earth after a comprehensive win at Eden Park and we can expect a bruising encounter here.

The All Blacks will be feeling the heat after their heaviest home defeat in 29 years, when ill discipline proved to be the deciding factor as Angus Ta’avao was shown red on 31 minutes and Two Andrew Porter tries combined with the reliable boot of Johnny Sexton saw the Irish home.

The men in green were full value for that win – the All Blacks were lucky that they were just three points behind at half time, and Ireland missed chances when they had a two-man advantage – but they will need to be just as good, if not better this week.

New Zealand’s remarkable inaccuracy eventually opened the door for Ireland but it’s notable that they failed to find a way past 13-man defences on two occasions (something which was also a factor in the first Test) and we surely will not see such indiscipline from the hosts this week.

The return of Veteran lock Sam Whitelock to the starting XV ought to be a great help, along with the move of Scott Barret to blindside flanker and the return of tighthead prop Nepo Laulala. That should lead to better balance this week and a more even performance against the Irish pack, led in magnificent style by Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, and Tadhg Berine.

Ireland have shown that they can go head to head with the All Blacks – as we saw in the opening quarter of the first test as well, when they ought to have scored far more than the five points that Keith Earls’ try gave them – but it would be unwise to expect the same off colour performance from the hosts here.

Ireland’s improvement from the Tour has been hugely impressive – and they should take plenty from it going forward – but a more balanced All Blacks side should be able to impose themselves more on the game this week.

Assessing the 11-point handicap generally given to Ireland is a hard task but we can expect a strong showing from the visitors, who should have plenty of confidence after last week’s turnaround. However, New Zealand should surely manage to avoid the major discipline issues that stopped their challenge last week and they can take the series, although Ireland should aim to push them all the way.

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Australia v England (11.00am)

England managed to level the series last week thanks to an extremely fast start, the boot of Owen Farrell, relentless intensity and cool heads when Australia launched a second half comeback. That was a contrast to the opening test, when Eddie Jones’ men had looked Ellis Genge went over early in the second half but the hosts mounted an extraordinary comeback despite being a man down.

England were much improved last week and will take stopping if they – and particularly Jack van Portfliet, Owen Farrell, and Billy Vunipola – can bring the same level of performance this time around.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie – who has done a fine job of rebuilding Australia’s international side – appears to have gone for a more dynamic approach by choosing Harry Wilson at flanker and Nick Frost at lock over Rob Leota and the injured Cadeyrn Neville, suggesting that Australia want to avoid an arm-wrestle.

That’s understandable not only given the size of the English pack and Jones’ approach, but the ten injures that the Wallabies have suffered during this series – six from the first test and a further four last week – leaving them notably short of options at full-back and in the second row.

That could take a massive toll – notably in the second half – and whilst England will miss Maro Itoje, they look in better shape overall for a series win. Take the visitors to win by 1-12 points.

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South Africa v Wales (4.05pm)

No matter what happens during this third test, Wales have surpassed expectations and given hope to their fans – along with some much-needed time for Wayne Pivac, who was under severe pressure following a disastrous Six Nations.

Wales were given an 18 point handicap for the first test but lost a 32-29 thriller with the final kick of an incredible game, when they matched the hosts physically but couldn’t overcome four yellow cards, culminating in Damian Willemse’s last minute penalty.

Last week was even more sptacular for Welsh fans, as Gareth Anscombe’s 79th-minute touchline conversion earned a first win for the Welsh against the Springboks in South Africa – after the Springboks had gone 12-3 up thanks to four Handre Pollard penalties.

Two sensational defensive performances from Dan Lydiate and Tommy Reffell – along with a fantastically put together shift from Taulupe Faletau – played a massive part in that victory, whilst the Welsh pack once again fronted up extremely well after many had predicted they’d be blown away,

The visitors deserve full credit for their performances so far this series, but last week’s result has to be taken with the context that South African head coach Jacques Nienaber made 14 changes to the side that won the first test and 19 changes to the match-day 23.

The full first XV – bomb squad and all – have returned here and their freshness combined with a bruising tour could tip the finale in their favour, although a 15 point handicap looks large based on the evidence of the first Test. The Springboks can take the series, but the 2/1 on them winning by 1-12 points makes much more appeal than a hefty handicap. That can be combined with a 15 point start for the visitors, who can push the Springboks to the limit once again.

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Argentina v Scotland (8.10pm)

All credit to the fans who are still going by this point – but Argentina v Scotland is another must-not-miss game.

Argentina were deserving victors in the first test, when they kept Scotland out of their 22 in the first half when dominating what was a particularly abrasive contest – with a commanding lead proving to be too much for the Scots to claw back.

However, that form was turned upside down for the second test last week when tries from Hamish Watson, Mark Bennett, Matt Fagerson and Sam Johnson saw the Scots romp to a 29-6 victory. A crucial part of that victory was Scotland’s dominance around the fringes – they constantly broke through the home defence and also consistently made line breaks through the 10-12 channel, something which has been a feature of Scottish paly in recent years.

Weighing up the third test is difficult given such contrasting performances and taking into account the eight changes that Gregor Townsend has made to his XV – and there’s little appetite to get behind Argentina either as Michael Chieka has made 11 changes to his starting XV. This might be best left.


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