It’s perhaps the greatest unknown for a southern hemisphere rugby fan going into the first Tests of the year.
What on earth will my team look like? Who will make the first selection of the year? Will Super Rugby form carry over?
In many ways, those unknowns are what makes this first week of June so exciting. All slates are similarly clean. Even with South Africa kicking off a week early, the first twenty minutes against Wales in Washington may well have Springboks fans hoping their slate is clean coming into the first Test against England, too.
Normally on a Thursday, you’d be hearing from my esteemed colleagues with their wit, insight, and whatever Harry relies on each week to come up with winners. But with Super Rugby on its June hiatus for one last time, the panel will also put our collective tipping feet up over the next few weeks as international rugby takes centre stage.
But my esteemed colleagues still have plenty to say come Test time, and there might be a better way to gear up for the weekend’s Internationals than to kick off discussions than to address the same question from our own perspective…
This weekend’s internationals
New Zealand v France, Auckland
Australia v Ireland, Brisbane
South Africa v England, Johannesburg
Argentina v Wales, San Juan
Japan v Italy, Oita
Canada v Scotland, Edmonton
USA v Russia, Denver
This shapes as an interesting series and a difficult one for the All Blacks. Expectations will obviously be for a comfortable series win, but I suspect will prove challenging. An opportunity none the less.
Cohesion will be tested early, given a few absences among the leadership and regular captain Kieran Read unavailable, and there is some serious pressure on several incumbents given the form of other squad members; Beauden Barrett being an obvious example.
For me personally, what I would like to see most is ruthless efficiency. I want to see the set piece carry on from the strength it was last season and add to that with sound play and decision making across the park.
While the attacking threat of the New Zealand side is well known I feel that at times it can break down during the course of a match and too much ‘frilly’ stuff permeates the performance and it goes without saying that maintaining a cutting defensive edge is a must.
In short, I wish to see the French ring-fenced in their own half for the majority of the series like cattle and dismantled methodically and without mercy. I want to see straight hard running with support on both shoulders and rucks cleared like a homeless man chasing a KFC voucher (but without the teeth).
I want the French runners put down brutally, cut in half so as to avoid the nipple line and the set piece so dominant that their props fake injury to allow golden oldie scrums. I want revenge for my 2023 World Cup dream in South Africa being smashed by their bulging wallets like a galleon on the rocks of some unforgiving shoreline off the coast of Madagascar.
I want blood and to see them crushed, but obviously done in the right spirit of the game; you know, nicely. Tick those boxes and I will be a happy Digger.
With a foot in two camps I get to have a stab at events on both sides of the Tasman. (okay, a big foot in one camp and a toenail in the other…)
For me, the series in New Zealand is all about what France bring. Or don’t. Despite their fractured preparation the All Blacks will set the agenda and dominate the series if they are allowed to. But if France want to be in the fight – and there are hints from their camp that they just might be – then this could be a very tough series for the home side.
I’ll be looking for a solid platform – with possession and pressure retained over longer periods than what the All Blacks often manage early in the season – to allow Beauden Barrett to confirm that his recent form is down to the Hurricanes’ pack, not his own failings. And once that’s ticked off I want to see plenty of game time across the series for Richie Mo’unga – New Zealand will need both of these guys if they want another World Cup win in Japan next year.
In Australia, I expect the Wallabies to come out rapid-fire exactly as they did last year against England. Only this time with a plan to blend in a better appreciation for kicking for field position and varying their attack. Ireland, on the other hand, are experts at meeting fire with fire – which is why everyone is salivating about this series.
Murray and Sexton have the smarts and magic in their boots to put extreme pressure on the home side. The series could even come down to how well the Wallabies cope with these pressure moments and if they can keep their discipline (so far not a defining feature of Cheika’s side) and not give away kickable penalties.
NZ to cover France 3-0, and 1-1 in Australia leading into the decider. I’ll come back to you later on that one.
I’ve made several references in the last week or so to the Australian players collectively and individually finding some form, and even if it wasn’t arguably the strongest Ireland squad to ever land on Australian shores, that makes this series really exciting for Wallabies fans.
Therefore, I hope this newfound form does translate into the Wallabies jersey. I hope that next week we’re talking about a superb set-piece and breakdown performance and a backline functioning with fluidity and speed, and not what we’ve talked about during recent June Test post-mortems.
I hope that Ireland are as good as we all think they will be, but that the Wallabies are more than capable of matching them. I hope Bernard Foley’s kicking is every bit as crucial as Jonathan Sexton’s.
More than anything, I want to see a clear gameplan and an ability to adapt to whatever Ireland happen to throw at them. Too often we’ve seen an Australian side that has played predictable, one-dimensional rugby that is easy to pick off; I hope there’s numerous levels to the Wallabies this year, and signs that they know how to change the pace when they need to, and that they know when and where they need to play from.
This will be the first season in which the Wallabies’ coaching team hasn’t been heavily involved in Super Rugby, so I’d also like to hope that we see a very different Wallabies side on the field. A really dangerous-looking side in attack; a solid defensive alignment with as few moving parts as possible.
First and foremost, I hope to see a Wallabies side that’s easy to be proud of. I’d love nothing more than to be able to tell people that they’ve really missed out by not watching them this series.
I try not to hope or wish. I try not to even use those words. I prefer ‘do’ or ‘did’ or ‘will.’
This resistance to having lofty expectations is especially true of the Boks, recently.
But if I have to hope, I would list the following: (1) smooth, crisp set pieces; (2) at least two lineout steals per Test; (3) a crumpled, pinged English scrum; (4) a brutal Bok breakdown battery; (5) Faf and Pollard using variety from clean, fast ball.
(6) no soft Pom tries; (7) bravery in the air; (8) counter-rucking; (9) pinpoint Bok-calibre kicking from tee, restart, and hand.
(10) ferocious and intelligent defence; (11) aerial dominance; (12) Am to be who he is; (13) smart Bok toughness all across the park; and (14) lethal counter-attacks from the back.
And of course, a tearful, bitter Eddie.
Los Pumas are playing Wales at the province of San Juan, and Daniel Hourcade has called 27 players with five possible debutants: Bautista Delguy, Nicolas Leiva, Juan Cruz Mallia, Santiago Medrano, and Javier Diaz.
Once again, none of the players in Europe receive the call for this window so you will basically see the same Jaguares team in action but with a different outfit. Will we see the same performance?
It will be interesting to see how the players that have been in the hands of Mario Ledesma since the beginning of the year will adapt and respond to the different coaching and strategies. Staff that will be under pressure to impress the public in the same way that the new head coach from Jaguares has done.
Daniel Hourcade has been under the intense pressure the last two years, not only for the poor results, but the performances on the field of his teams that have resulted in the fall on the world rankings and its consequences.
I hope to see that players do not get mix messages that confuses them, and we can see some continuity on what Jaguares have been doing in Super Rugby.
Otherwise, the same question I have been asking for the last two years without a reasonable answer will become louder: Why do we need two different coaching staff for the same team with a different outfit? What is the benefit of this strategy?
RECAP: Last week’s Super Rugby tips – Harry’s bold strategy didn’t go so well, and we’ll resume tipping in a few weeks’ time. Enjoy your rugby this weekend…