The end of year rugby tour games continue this weekend so here’s a few brief previews and quick tips to get us rolling.
Ulster vs Uruguay (Kingspan Stadium, Belfast)
The 18th-ranked Uruguay have shown improvement this year with credible results and a couple of surprise victories in the America’s Rugby Championship but will find it tough against Ulster of Ireland like they did last week to Cardiff.
Russia vs Namibia (Kuban Stadium, Krasnodar)
A team travelling all the way from Africa to play in Russia during November should struggle. Both teams met last year in Montevideo with Russia prevailing 31-10.
More of the same is expected though a Namibian win wouldn’t be a huge upset being one of the stronger African nations.
Tip: Russia by 13
Italy vs Georgia (Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence)
Perhaps the most intriguing contest this weekend. Many pundits have been claiming for years that Georgia is better than Italy and therefore belong in the 6 Nations so finally we get to find out how true that is.
These nations have only met once before in 2003 with Italy taking it out 31-22 at home. Italy don’t win often and Georgia win plenty but the calibre of their opponents are far apart, home advantage and experience against bigger nations is behind the tip.
Tip: Italy by 1
Scotland vs Fiji (Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh)
Scotland will be looking to bounce back strongly at home from a loss last weekend to Wales. Fiji are always capable of an upset but that most likely won’t occur this time.
Tip: Scotland by 18
Scotland are in fine form (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)
England vs New Zealand (Twickenham Stadium, London)
This match has been a long time coming. When England had won 18 in a row and were looking unbeatable this match looked so ripe that the RFU claimed they could’ve sold out this event 20 times over – but with England suffering a series of defeats lately the interest has dipped a fair amount.
Positively, these are world class teams that haven’t met in about four years and England is a team which has often caused plenty of trouble for New Zealand.
They will put on a fight but ultimately come up short. Should be the quality game of the weekend.
Tip: New Zealand by 8
Wales vs Australia (Millenium Stadium, Cardiff)
Wales are well overdue here, they have lost 13 in a row to Australia but the Aussies aren’t in form and Wales had a superb game against Scotland. The home side will be keen and ready to finally get the W. History says Australia win here but sorry I’m not quite so sure. Better now than next year.
Tip: Wales by 3
Wales were soundly defeated by the Wallabies in Cardiff last time around. (AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BUREAU)
United States vs Samoa (Anoeta Stadium, San Sebastian, Spain)
Before America’s loss to the Maori last weekend (both teams were short main players) the Eagles had won eight games in a row including a 30-29 win over tier 1 Scotland (Scotland B for half the game, but still).
The US has finished their inaugural season of Major League Rugby and is perhaps looking as good as they ever have. Matches between these two sides are usually very competitive but ultimately won by Samoa.
This time around Samoa has a new head coach and a run of poor form only winning 4 tests in the last three seasons.
Tip: USA by 5
Ireland vs Argentina (Aviva Stadium, Dublin)
Argentina’s improvement this year has been well documented but it would be ridiculous to tip against an at home no.2 ranked Ireland who have never been better and perhaps still have thoughts of a certain 2015 quarter final exit to the Argentines.
Tip: Ireland by 13
France vs South Africa (Stade De France, Saint Denis)
Not long ago South Africa were a basket case, but a big away win against New Zealand and a great fight against England which perhaps they should’ve won and they look world class again.
France has been generally poor the last few years but are still capable of an outstanding performance. France have lost six straight to South Africa and might have some rust as they have had a lot less recent game time.
Tip: South Africa by 8
Brazil vs Maori All Blacks (Estadio Do Morumbi, Sao Paulo)
This is a huge occasion for Brazilian Rugby with rumours of crowds exceeding 25,000. As for the contest itself, I can’t see any reason outside of home advantage why the Maori will lose this match.
Brazil’s biggest victories have been against USA, Canada and an Argentine XV, which all have come in very recent years so they are improving but it is way too soon for them to be beating the Maori.
Erik Howard winced as he felt the familiar spasms in his lower back on the physio’s table. The worse they were, the better he had played. It was a ready-made barometer of performance, although he knew the pain would not leave him in his life after football.
Israel Folau, will he or won’t he take Rugby Australia to court? Raelene Castle, will she and should she survive the whole Folau saga? Can RA afford a long drawn-out episode in the courts? These questions currently dominate the headlines here in Australia. Worse, it’s a World Cup year!