Bring on the Autumn Inter­na­tion­als and a Feast of Ques­tions Answered

By in Ian Stafford

The autumn rugby inter­na­tion­als are almost upon us and for the home uni­ons it is the chance to once again flex their muscles against the might of the four south­ern hemi­sphere powers (and yes, I include Argen­tina here) as well as the fast emer­ging nations from the Pacific and East­ern Europe. It all begins this week­end when Wales take on Aus­tralia in Cardiff and, of par­tic­u­lar interest, Ire­land face New Zea­l­and at Sol­dier Field, Chicago.

Rugby is repor­ted to be the fast­est-grow­ing sport in the US at school level and it would be of no sur­prise to me if, assum­ing the sport wants to glob­al­ise fur­ther, the rugby world cup does not end up in Amer­ica in 2023 or 2027.

This will be of little import­ance to the Irish, how­ever, who get another chance to record a first ever win against the mighty All Blacks. So far their record stands at played 28, drawn 1, lost 27. New Zea­l­and, on the back of win­ning yet another Rugby Cham­pi­on­ship, will have no inten­tion of break­ing that duck.

Wales have failed to beat Aus­tralia since 2008 and will be keen to put that right at a Mil­len­nium Sta­dium that almost always sees tight encoun­ters between the two nations. They will be without newly-appoin­ted Lions coach War­ren Gat­land, with Robert How­ley step­ping up to take tem­por­ary charge, but will be des­per­ate to emu­late the suc­cess many of their squad exper­i­enced when the Lions won down under three years’ ago. And with every test per­form­ance now closely ana­lysed by Gat­land wear­ing his Lions cap, there will be even more onus on the play­ers to per­form, that’s if they want to spend next sum­mer in New Zea­l­and!

Next week Eng­land come to the party against a Spring­boks’ side seem­ingly riddled with internal battles and external con­sequences. Rarely do an Eng­land team fancy them­selves against the phys­ical South Afric­ans but even though Eng­land will miss a num­ber of key play­ers — headed by Maro Itoje, George Kruis and James Haskell — their strength in depth and con­fid­ent run of wins so far this year will make them favour­ites at HQ.

Scot­land have the chance to notch up another win over the Walla­bies too, whose mind­set will be moul­ded by what occured the week before in Cardiff, and Wales will take on the increas­ingly dif­fi­cult Argen­tina, again either buoyed or hurt by their Aus­tralian encounter.

Week three throws up some more inter­est­ing match ups. Eng­land enter­tain Fiji at Twick­en­ham, a repeat of their world cup open­ing group game last year when everything at first appeared rosy in the Eng­land garden. This is the test where Eng­land, tra­di­tion­ally, like to try other play­ers before the sup­posedly harder fix­tures involving the big four from the south, but every player will tell you they know they have faced a Pacific Island nation when they can barely move the next day.

Wales play Japan, the stand out team in many ways of last year’s world cup, and a nation that looks to con­tinu­ally improve as we head at some speed towards the 2019 world cup in Japan. They will not be com­ing to Cardiff just to say they played there. Scot­land have the chance to make a fur­ther state­ment against the Pumas and Ire­land v New Zea­l­and part two takes place, this time in Dub­lin where Ire­land may, just may, believe they can achieve some­thing.

Week­end four sees Eng­land play Argen­tina, which has rarely proved an easy fix­ture for the home side, Ire­land take on Aus­tralia, Wales face a South African team who so nar­rowly beat them in the world cup quarter final last year, and Scot­land play a Geor­gian side who I believe deserve the right, if they win the 2017 Six Nations second tier, to play the Six Nations top tier bot­tom club in a play-off to determ­ine the make up of the 2018 Six Nations.

Finally, on Decem­ber 3rd, Eng­land play an Aus­tralian team who, if they can get past Wales, Scot­land and Ire­land, will be look­ing for a Home Nations Grand Slam. Eng­land will be look­ing for their own Slam, how­ever. Under Eddie Jones Eng­land have played played nine and won nine in 2016, includ­ing a Grand Slam in the Six Nations and a 3–0 white­wash in Aus­tralia in the sum­mer.

Four wins in the autumn will make it 13 and 0 for 2017, some achieve­ment by the nation’s favour­ite Aus­tralian. He and his play­ers will not be look­ing bey­ond South Africa on Novem­ber 12th, though. I have the lux­ury of pre­dict­ing Eng­land will pull it off. But that can wait. First up is Sat­urday, and in the streets of Cardiff and, impress­ively, Chicago, we get under way.

Writ­ten by Ian Stafford