The whispers around the All Blacks starting fly-half position for the defence of their World Cup title are beginning to grow more boisterous with each passing Super Rugby round.
I’m very pleased to report that I managed ten from ten tips correct for last weekend’s tour games with most of the margins close or correct.
If only I opened up a multi. Here are some more brief previews and tips for the upcoming weekend.
Romania (15) vs United States (16) – Ghencea Sports Complex, Bucharest
The Americans have come from their first ever victory over Samoa last week and are having one of their best years to date.
Romania won the last meeting 23-10 in 2016 but America boasts a 6-2 head to head record. This will be extremely tight and the hardest pick of the round for me. Bucharest will be a tough place to play this time of the year so going with the home team.
Tip: Romania by 3
Uruguay (18) vs Fiji (10) – Hartpury College, England
Fiji will have too much class here. Both sides met last in 2015 with Fiji taking it out 47-15. Uruguay have improved but not enough to bridge that gap. Fiji will be highly motivated from their lopsided defeat to Scotland last week.
Tip: Fiji by 20
Italy (13) vs Australia (7) – Stadio Euganeo, Padua
Banana skin game. These two teams should have contrasting confidence levels. Italy have come off a win over Georgia whereas the Aussies are coming off a run of poor performances and/or losses.
This will be a great opportunity to get a win on the board and get some confidence back for the Wallabies. I’d actually be more worried about this game from the Australian perspective if they won last week, complacency will be less of an issue now.
Australia are historically 17 from 17 against the Italians and this should continue but am not expecting it to be a smashing, let’s not forget when the Azzuri almost beat the Wallabies last year in Brisbane.
Tip: Australia by 9
Georgia (14) vs Samoa (17) – Avchala Stadium, Tbilisi
Pacific sides often tour Georgia this time of the year and usually lose. Coming from the South Pacific to play in cold Tbilisi might have that effect.
The last time these sides met was in 2016 where Georgia won 20-16. Samoa have been struggling as of late. No reason to go against the home side.
Tip: Georgia by 10
Wales (3) vs Tonga (12) – Millenium Stadium, Cardiff
You would think the biggest issue for Wales here would be complacency coming off a huge win over the Aussies but their coach Warren Gatland announced that he will be naming a vastly different side so motivation for a better performance will be higher for individual players wanting to step up.
Tonga defeated a fairly useful French selects side last week and have pulled off an upset or two in their time but probably not this time.
Tip: Wales by 20
Spain (20) vs Namibia (22) – Estadio Nacional Complutense, Madrid
The Spanish national side has improved immensely over the last couple of years and seem to draw decent crowds at home.
Namibia will be flying down from Russia where they were soundly defeated by the home side. Spain leads the head to head at a surprising 4-1. The teams seem evenly matched in terms of rankings but predictably home ground advantage is big here.
Tip: Spain by 5
England (4) vs Japan (11) – Twickenham Stadium, London
Eddie Jones has been making a big point publicly about the need for England to “smash” his former side Japan after their tight controversial defeat to New Zealand. This Japanese side doesn’t seem to have trouble scoring tries and points against tier one sides like Argentina, Australia and New Zealand but appear to have a tough time keeping the opposition out.
Japan will look to experienced players like Fumiaki Tanaka, Yu Tamura and Michael Leitch to steer this team. The Japanese managed a draw against France this time last year in a match they should have won but beating a 2018 England is a lot tougher than last year’s France. Expecting England to score over 50.
Tip: England by 25
Scotland (6) vs South Africa (5) – Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
South Africa are definitely on a run of form, they’re not destroying teams but they are in every contest which is a clear contrast from last year. Scotland has been a mixed bag in the last coupe of years.
They’ve managed big wins against England, Australia and Argentina but suffered losses to the United States and Fiji. Head to head strongly favours South Africa 21-5. Home ground and crowd advantage won’t be enough but it will be tight.
Tip: South Africa by 5
Chile (30) vs New Zealand Maori (N/A) – Estadio San Carlos de Apoquindo, Las Condes
Should be a great occasion for Chilean rugby and a sellout crowd is expected but realistically they are no chance.
The Maori strangely got their scrum dismantled by the Brazilians last week so it should be interesting if they fix that up. The Maori have now had more time to acclimatise to the conditions and I expect them to be a bit sharper this week.
Tip: Maori by 50
Hong Kong (24) vs Kenya (29) – Pierre Dulort Stadium, Marseille, France
Kenya has struggled to translate their sevens success into fifteens and suffered a surprising blowout loss to the Canadians last week.
Hong Kong rarely play teams from outside of the Asian sphere and rarely play games outside of Asia itself which I feel will be a disadvantage.
These teams have also never played each other before so this is new territory. As there is so little to go on, I’m picking Kenya on the weak point of the inclusion of four of their world class sevens players into their squad (including a favourite of mine, Colins Injera).
Tip: Kenya by 1
Canada (21) vs Germany (26) – Pierre Dulort Stadium, Marseille, France
The other match part of the repechage tournament. The winner of this will likely qualify for Japan 2019. Canada is traditionally a much better side then Germany but the Canucks have struggled the last couple of years.
Positively for Germany they have acquired (thanks to a contribution from a German billionaire) a world class coach employed specifically for this tournament in order to qualify. The new man in charge is former coach of Toulon, Mike Ford.
There has probably never been a more important match in Germany’s rugby history and so nerves might be a factor here whereas Canada have plenty of battle tested players who have played on many big occasions like Ray Barkwill, Phil Mack and Hubert Buydens which I think will be an important difference here.
Tip: Canada by 15
France (8) vs Argentina (9) – Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Villeneuve-d’Ascq
These two teams are very evenly matched and the rankings reflect that well. The French and Argentines have a long history of matches with France leading the head to head 35-14 but in the last 10 meetings it is 5-5.
Argentina have had a slightly better year and played courageously well against Ireland last week. France only just lost to the South Africans last week in a match they were leading 23-9 at half time. The capitulation resulted in a “very annoyed” French coach Jacques Brunel and should serve as a motivation to turn up with a much improved performance this time.
Tip: France by 6
Ireland (2) vs New Zealand (1) – Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Oh yes match of the round time featuring ranked 1 versus 2, Six Nations winner against Rugby Championship winner.
There is very little doubt these nations have been the best 2 best over the last couple of years. This rivalry has been growing ever since Ireland finally ended their winless drought against the men in black on Chicago soil back in 2016.
Ireland have looked unstoppable at home but the New Zealanders always step up on these huge occasions. I generally don’t tip against New Zealand because statistically that isn’t smart, not changing that method here.
Tip: New Zealand by 1