Scotland (-14) v Fiji (+14)
BBC1 & BT Sport 2, 2.30pm Saturday
Scotland ought to be happier back at Murrayfield a week after they were slightly disappointing in the eyes of some against Wales as they take on Fiji at Murrayfield.
This ought to be a very entertaining start to what could potentially be a great day of rugby and Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has described Fiji as “the Brazil of rugby” in the lead-up to Saturday’s game.
The visitors are more than capable of fitting that title and they did manage to turn over Scotland 27-22 in Suva in 2017, so any let ups in performance will be punished. Scotland will certainly have top be sharper than they were against Wales last week, but nine changes have been made to the side by Greig Townsend and we should see a different performance here.
The return of Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg ought to provide a lot of pace to the backrow with Tommy Seymour and Alex Dunbar also adding pace and power too.
Fiji can more than match that star factor, with Edinburgh number eight Viliame Mata, former Glasgow Warriors second-row and brilliant offloading machine Leone Nakarawa, and the power packed Semi Radradra who is playing at 13. The Fijians have only played a test together once this year and lost to Tonga, and it’s no surprise Scotland are strong favourites.
At home, they’ve beaten England and France in the Six Nations, and in last year’s Autumn Internationals they’ve gotten the better of Australia while they lost to the All Blacks by just five points. However, the threat of rain – there’s at least a 35% chance of precipitation during the game – could just clip the attacking prowess of these two sides which would be a shame. A small bet on overs looks to be the choice.
Advice: 1 pt Over 51.5 points (10/11 Bet365)
England (+14) v New Zealand (-14)
Sky Sports Action, 3pm Saturday
A year ago, some people might have said that New Zealand’s toughest test on the horizon would have been this game – their first trip to Twickenham since 2014 and their only one before the World Cup. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then – England have finished fifth in the Six Nations and been beaten in South Africa – but this is still a must watch fixture.
It’s one which England can claim some small momentum going into as well. Owen Farrell was the different maker for them last weekend as they snuck past South Africa by a point, making a great escape after being dominated for the first half, with Farrell himself avoiding the concession of a late penalty for a shoulder-first tackle on Andre Esterhuizen.
The debate over that tackle has raged ever since which has overshadowed the fact that South Africa missed out on victory by a manner of inches as Handre Pollard hit the post and late on the Springboks inexplicably decided to turn down a drop goal with inside the 22. South Africa led 8-6 at halftime through a try for winger Sibusio Nkosi but that was a minuscule return for a first half which saw the Springboks control 78% of the territory and 68% of the possession but have just a two-point lead.
In the end, they managed to get their hands on more of the ball and the difference between forwards and backs was marked – they made 13 clean breaks to our for South Africa and had eight offloads to none for the visitors, whilst Elliot Daly, Johnny May, Henry Slade and Jack Nowell all managed to find space.
Those signs are encouraging ahead of this game, but the All Blacks are a different matter. For one, they will be travelling with a full complement as this game is in the first week of the proper test window despite many teams having played once already. The dynamic duo of scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, and fullback Willie Le Roux were absent whilst they also missed Bath flank Francois Louw, Toulouse’s Cheslin Kolbe, and lock Franco Mostert.
New Zealand arrive with a full contingent here apart from Joe Moody and his replacement is arguably the world’s best rookie, Karl Tu’inukuafe. Much of the 23 has had gametime out in Asia – either with the 37-20 victory against Australia in the third Bledisloe Cup encounter or their 69-31 win against Japan.
This is a first chance to see Jack Goodhue on European soil but he has already more than proven himself in the Rugby Championship and a partnership with Sonny Bill Williams could be something special. Rieko Ioane has scored 22 tries in 21 tests already but whilst he is the future, Ben Smith performs miracles every single weekend and his presence on the wing allows for Damian McKenzie to potentially show his best from fullback. Oh and Beauden Barrett is presumed to be the world’s best 10.
Life becomes harder for England when one considers their injuries in the back row, where Tom Curry has been ruled out of the remainder of England’s autumn series by the ankle injury sustained against South Africa, whilst many are surprised that Zach Mercer, destructive on the ball last week, did not make the cut for the 23 this week. England conceded 11 penalties last week and a similar performance against Kieran Read, Ardie Savea, and Liam Squire will spell trouble.
It’s no surprise that the handicap is as high as 14 but some caution is required before heading down that road. New Zealand have won their last five against England since their 2012 defeat but four of those five have been by single-figure margins and the exception took place in New Zealand.
Indeed, given that England generally are efficient at stopping teams getting over the tryline – only their 55-33 win against France has seen them concede more than three tries at Twickenham in the last ten years. The argument for them staying within 14 points can be a rather solid one, but New Zealand have won 19 of 21 tests since the Lions tour and New Zealand find a way to get the job done. Those who think this will be a dominant win can look at the price to win both halves – the All Blacks have done this eight times in the past year.
2 pts New Zealand to win by 1-12 points (2/1 Betfair)
2 pts New Zealand to win both halves (4/5 Betfair)
Wales (-1) v Australia (+1)
BBC2 & S4C, 5.20pm
There is less than a year to go until the World Cup and for Wales, there might not be a less important game than their encounter against Australia before then. The pair are in the same pool next year and that matters because Australia are the Welsh’s bogey team – They last beat the Wallabies in 2008 when Shane Williams and Lee Byrne made the difference – and only Alun Wyn Jones remains from that side.
However, on many of those occasions Australia, fit from the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup, have had an edge on their hosts and Warren Gatland will hope that edge is reduced this year. Wales started their autumn campaign with a 21-10 defeat against strong opposition in Scotland (their first opening Autumn International win in 16 years!).
Australia will bring more to the table than Scotland side that had poor midfield defence and discipline last week, but that was another positive step forward for a Welsh side which has improved over the past year. Their win over Scotland made it five in a row including two deeply impressive performances in the summer against Argentina when they won by 13 and 18 points respectively.
Gatland has kept twelve of the starting XV that beat Scotland last week, with the benefit of a settled lineup and a powerful bench – Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Dan Biggar, and Liam Williams are four of the players named on the bench.
Australia have played five tests against the first and second ranked sides in the World, so their record this year needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and they pack an awful lot of backline power.
The roof will be closed, which should ensure a strong running game and this could be one for the backlines.
Australia, win or lose, have been scoring plenty of tries and Israel Folau, their chief threat, has scored in three of their last four tests and can be backed to score again whilst both sides can post plenty of points on the board.
Advice: 2 pts Over 45.5 points (10/11 Paddy Power), 1 pt Israel Folau to score a try anytime (8/5 Betfair)
Ireland (-17) v Argentina (+17)
Channel 4 & RTE2, 6.30pm Saturday
Revenge is not something that Joe Schmidt thinks about all day and night, but his Ireland side have been knocked out of the World Cup in 2007 and 2015 by today’s opponents, Argentina.
However, much water has passed under the bridge since their increasable quarter-final meeting in Cardiff when an Irish side that had been decimated by injury was run off it’s feet and Joe Schmidt’s side look to be leading contenders for Japan next year.
They have lost just once in their last 16 tests – that defeat coming down under before they turned around their series against Australia – and it’s no surprised they’re heavily favoured to win their last match before taking on New Zealand next week.
Schmidt is building a side that is now heavily focused upon World Cup success and they showed their strength in depth with a 54-7 win against Italy with a second-string side in Chicago last week. That could prove beneficial given that Rob Kearney and Garry Ringrose are injured, so Jordan Larmour – who scored a sensational hat-trick last week – can keep his spot at fullback and Bundee Aki can line up alongside Robbie Henshaw for an abrasive pairing in the centre.
Perhaps the most important run out today will be Sean O’Brien, who played for the men in green against, you guessed it -Argentina a year ago.
The Pumas suffered an incredibly disappointing summer, with wide margin defeats to both Wales and Scotland at home (and with changed teams as well) but the replacement of Daniel Hourcade has brought around a marked improvement in standards as Mario Ledesma replaced him. He had led Los Jaguares to a Super Rugby quarter-final and in the Rugby Championship they claimed wins over South Africa at home and Australia away.
Indeed, they looked set to do the double against Australia when they led 31-7 at half time before an incredible 24 point comeback and they have the weapons in the backline as well as their pack to cause damage with Nicolas Sanchez and Tomas Cubelli having Emiliano Boffelli; Bautista Delguy, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo de la Fuente and Ramiro Moyano to aim at.
A handicap of 17 in general – and 18 in a place – feels large given that Argentina pushed Australia close, and in none of the three matches that Ireland and Australia played in the summer was the winning margin over 10 points. A closer look at Argentina’s results since the Summer shows that they’ve lost by 18 points or more on only two occasions, and both those defeats came to New Zealand.
Advice: 4 pts Argentina +18 (evs BetVictor)
France (+4) v South Africa (-4)
Premier Sports 1, 7.45pm
South Africa started their Autumn International tour with the narrowest of losses against England last week, but they can get back on the winning track with victory against France.
A culmination of late events – mainly a Handre Pollard penalty that shaved the post and then a shoulder-first tackle on Andre Esterhuizen that did not produce a penalty – denied them victory but they should have taken the game beforehand.
The Springboks controlled 78% of the territory and 68% of the possession but went into half time with just a two-point lead despite their dominance, and after the break England found their way back into the game through their backs. However, it was still a performance which did not get the reward it deserved.
That form looks much better now after England’s pulsating encounters with New Zealand, and it’s worth remembering (although it’d be nearly impossible to forget) that South Africa came within minutes of doing the double over the All Blacks.
Rassie Eurasmus also comes here with an even stronger side thanks to the fact we are now in the test window proper, meaning that they can now. Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, fullback Willie Le Roux and lock Franco Mostert all come back into the side whilst Cheslin Kolbe and Vincent Koch are on the bench.
France have not beaten the Springboks since 2009 but they cannot be underestimated. Under Jacques Brunel they are showing signs of improvement and they were much better than the scorelines indicated in their 3-0 defeat against New Zealand. Those results aside, they have not lose a game by more than five points since facing New Zealand here a year ago and they can keep South Africa within 12 if they go down.
Advice: 2 pts South Africa to win by 1-12 (13/10 Ladbrokes)