Italy (+33) v New Zealand (-33)
Premier Sports HD, 2pm
With less than a year to go ahead of the World Cup, New Zealand have been reminded of their mortality twice in the last two weeks, but England and Ireland are genuine contenders for the Webb Ellis trophy, and it’s hard to say the same about Italy.
The Azzuri have improved in recent years, especially at club level, but they took the wooden spoon with just one solitary point and their Autumn limitations were exposed when a much-changed Irish side smashed through them 54-7 and whilst they bounced back to beat Georgia in a comprehensive fashion, they were beaten by the Wallabies last week.
Perhaps that game should have been closer with Tito Tebaldi and Braam Steyn both having tries disallowed for Italy before the Wallabies kicked on, but this is a New Zealand outfit which has six of the XV that beat the Wallabies by 17 points in Japan to kick off their Autumn and in any case, New Zealand’s changes will hardly weaken them.
This will be a completely different test than the one that faced them against Ireland last week and we should see Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie have much more freedom to find gaps here and the presence of Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape means that the All Blacks have two complete game breaks in the centres – not forgetting Waisake Nahaolo and Jordie Barrett on the wings.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the backrow of Kieran Read Ardie Savea, and Vaea Fifita is perfectly set to general quick ball and this should be a good leg stretching before the All Blacks go home. A handicap of 33 points can be passed and Beauden Barrett looks big at 6/4 to get a try.
Advice: 3 pts New Zealand -33 (10/11 general), 1 pt Beauden Barrett to score a try (6/4 Betfair)
Scotland (-7) v Argentina (+7)
BBC 1 HD, 2.30pm
Scotland have had a hit and miss Autumn Internationals, but they are still very much a force in World Rugby and they can round off the year with victory against Argentina. Gregor Townsend’s men played their part in one of the games of the year as they went toe to toe with South Africa last week. Their two tries, especially the first from Peter Horne, were products of wonderfully inventive running rugby that has become the trademark of Scotland in recent years, and their try from the lineout was another sharp price of thinking that has become crucial to their game.
They were only just outmuscled, but there was no shame in that and they ought to match up just a little better to the visiting Pumas.
They were smashed by the Scots in midsummer when the Pumas were floundering under Daniel Hourcade and have since improved with the tutelage of Mario Ledesma, but they have been beaten fair and square in their two Internationals so far, going down 28-17 to Ireland and 28-13 to France in consecutive weeks.
They proved to be obdurate opposition for both but were eventually worn down by Ireland and found the creative skill of Gael Fickou too much for them last weekend. Fickou and his centre partner Mathieu Bastareaud combined for 10 tackle breaks which spells danger given that Finn Russell has been moved to outside centre whilst Huw Jones is outside him. If the Pumas cannot keep a handle on either of them then Stuart Hogg and Sean Maitland will ruin rings around the rest.
Argentina’s Nicolas Sanchez kept them in the game against Ireland and France, and Scotland will need to make sure that there aren’t too many gaps for Emiliano Boffelli, and Bautista Delguy to run through. However, an open game suits Scotland more and they can pull away from Argentina – they have nine wins in their last eleven home games, the defeats coming to New Zealand and South Africa.
Peter Horne scored last week, but Huw Jones was a constant threat and playing outside Finn Russell, could well shine today.
Advice: 2 pts Scotland -7 (10/11 general)
England (-8) v Australia (+8)
Sky Sports Main Event HD, 2pm
15 years ago, England and Australia were the world cup finalists, and 15 years on neither of these two sides are in the top two for the Webb Ellis trophy. It shows just how times change; At the last World Cup Australia were finalists at this very ground, and a year or so on from that England had won 15 and were seen as the chief threat to New Zealand.
Moving on, both sides have has had tough years, but this has been a good Autumn for England after what had been a horrendous year and they are rightful favourites to end with a win. That would make it three wins from four fixtures, a fine return given the slump they hit in summer and the injury issues they’ve had at this point.
Jones has found a number of new exciting prospects through this injury crisis, with Mark Wilson rising magnificently to the task of filling in at Number 8 whilst Sam Underill’s breakout performance against New Zealand gives him a much-needed backrow option with Japan not too far away. The scrum has also generally held up since their mauling against South Africa, with Kyle Sinkler outstanding in those two games.
England managed to raise their game massively for the visit of New Zealand, but their tenacity in staying with South Africa and edging a win was an important mental boost and they are recovering well. A change side played last week against Japan and was given the run around, but this XV is sure to be much more familiar.
The same cannot be said about Australia. Michael Cheika’s men have won just 4 out of 10 tests this year and whilst more than half of those have come against New Zealand and Ireland, they have not appeared strong in the Autumn. A first defeat to Wales in 13 years was tight but fair and their 26-7 win against Italy was not entirely convincing.
The score flattered them as Tito Tebaldi and Braam Steyn both had tries disallowed for Italy and the Matt Toomua and Bernard Foley combination didn’t appear to work brilliantly, albeit being tried for the first time. The brilliance of David Pocock and Michael Hooper can do so much for them but the former missed the game through injury and the hosts have responded well to set piece pressure this autumn.
England will need to keep a lid on the visitors’ backline, but they have plenty of weapons themselves and they are facing an Australia side that has had camp sickness. England have covered an eight-point handicap in the last two meetings between the sides and can do so once again.
Advice: 2 pts England -8 (10/11 general), 1 pt England to win by 11-20 points (11/4 general)
Wales (-1) v South Africa (-1)
BBC2 & S4C, 5.20pm
If you had offered Welsh and Springbok fans their current positions at the beginning of the year, then both would have snapped your hand off. Warren Gatland’s Wales have had a storming 2018, taking second in the 6 Nations and sweeping their summer tests against the Springboks and South Africa, before finally ending their long losing streak against Australia in the Autumn.
South Africa have changed coach to Rassie Eurasumus and reared the full rewards of that benefit, first of all taking a series win against England and then taking with a runners’ up spot in the Rugby Championship. That included a win over New Zealand on All Black soil and another brilliant showing against them when perhaps they should have completed the double, and they have won two of their three Autumn Internationals since a narrow defeat to England.
There’s every argument for suggesting that should have been a win but becoming only the second side to beat Scotland in 12 months underlined their status as one of the peak forces in World Rugby and there’s no question that, just like Wales, they are hitting form and finding players just in time.
The hosts showed plenty of grit to grind down the Wallabies in a deserved win and showed their increasing depth with a battering of Tonga from a change side that showed an impressive amount of fluency for an entirely new XV.
The only difference from the side that edged Australia is Liam Williams, who replaces Leigh Helfpenny at fullback. There is ballast in the centres thanks to Hadleigh Parkes and Johnathan Davies that can match Jesse Kriel and Damien De Allende, whilst Josh Adams and George North make for a lighting quick back three.
South Africa can match them pound for pound, with Willie Le Roux, Sibusiso Nkosi, and Aphiwe Dyanyi as a back three whilst Handre Pollard is fresh from 18 points against Scotland.
For all that talent, this will be a heavyweight clash too. In the Welsh pack Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate, Alun Wyn Jones, Tomas Francis, Ken Owens, and Nicky Smith whilst the Springboks will line up with Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert, RG Snyman, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, and Steven Kitshoff. Long story short, this will be close and the draw, currently at least 20/1, is a big price on a back to lay level. You can, at the time of writing, get 27/1 on the exchanged.
Advice: 2 pts back to lay draw (27 Betfair Exchange)
Ireland (-35) v USA (+35)
Channel 4 & RTE 2, 6.30pm Saturday
This has been the year of all years for Ireland and markets are expecting them to finish a clean sweep of the Autumn Internationals with a comprehensive victory against America. Joe Schmidt’s men are almost completely changed from last week – only Gary Ringrose keeps his spot from last week – but Ireland will be fielding a team that is largely similar to the one that smashed Italy 54-7 in Chicago.
Those players all shone there and will be looking to shine again against an in-form USA side. They have beaten Canada, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Russia and Romania alongside wins against an Argentinian XV, Scotland and Samoa. They are clearly not to be underestimated and the influence of Northern Hemisphere coaching staff in their play and improved results is clearly evident, with head coach Gary Gold formerly being of Newcastle, Bath and Worcester whilst two of the side’s key players have numerous Premiership experience n the shape of Blaine Scully (Leicester) and Will Hooley (Exeter).
They deserve respect, but their performances have come at a cost and a long injury list ahead of this trip could hamper them. Shaun Davies, Nate Augspurger, Mike Te’o, Peter Malcolm, only Lamborn, Dylan Audsley, Eric Fry, and AJ MacGinty are all out and whilst there’s plenty of talent in the squad, Ireland’s depth is likely to be too much.
Joey Carbery has impressed with each game since moving to Munster and this is a long overdue start for ulster scrum-half John Cooney whilst Will Addison, Andrew Conway and Darren Sweetnam impressed against Italy. The pack is arguably even more impressive, with a start for Tadhg Beirne after he impressed in Chicago whilst Jack Conan, Jordi Murphy and Rhys Ruddock make for a really powerful backrow.
The last time the two met an Ireland team missing their Lions contingent won 55-19 in New Jersey and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a similar result here. Ireland piled on the pressure in the second half against Italy and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they pulled away late with a strong bench too. Anytime try scorers are short but John Cooney is likely to get a good few chances behind the pack and can cross over whilst Ireland.
Advice: 2 pts Ireland -18.5 on Second Half Handicap (4/5 Paddy Power), 1 pt John Cooney to score a try (2/1 Betfred)
France (-19) v Fiji (+19)
Premier Sports HD, 8pm Saturday
France ended a nine-month losing streak with victory over Argentina last week and they should be able to build on their feel-good factor with for victory over Fiji. A try in each half for winger Teddy Thomas and a free pick up for skipper Guilhem Guirado snapped a five-game losing streak but France’s performances have been better than their results over much of this year.
Their three-match tour of New Zealand predictably ended 3-0 to the All Blacks but the games were all much closer than the scorelines suggested with the refereeing decisions playing a big part, and they were perhaps unlucky not to beat South Africa, who stole victory with the last play of the match. France would have taken a relatively convincing win had Sebastien Vahaamahina picked the ball from a kick off and they were fairly comfortably superior over Argentina last week when Gael Fickou ran the show from midfield.
Fiji are loaded with superstar attacking talent, but their open games can be an Achilles heel and after a great start against Scotland they found themselves outrun as the hosts romped to a 54-19 victory. France have plenty of players capable of breaking the lines, all ably supplied by Baptiste Serin and Camille Lopez, and they can also count on a heavy hitting pack which included the likes of Louis Picamoles, Artur Iturria, Wenceslas Lauret, and Yoann Maestri. They should be too good.
Advice: 3 pts France -18 (10/11 Skybet)