June International Series – Home Nations Preview
After all of the drama and non-drama of the domestic and european finals, the rugby attentions of Britain and Ireland are now solely focused on lands beyond the British Isles and the Irish Sea.
With just 15 months before the start of Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan; there is still time for a little experimentation and confirmation of whether certain combinations and tactics will turn out for the best.
Eddie Jones started this period of internationals with an uncapped game against the Barbarians at Twickenham at the end of last month – and boy oh boy, did the Barbarians expose the cracks in Eddie Jones’ systems.
34 offloads and 9 tries, a hat trick coming from Chris Ashton within the first half an hour, England should certainly be concerned, especially in defence, almost an area of crisis, with Paul Gustard leaving after the tour to South Africa. With a second-string Springboks running Wales close in Washington DC, England will have to be on high alert as to what a resurgent South Africa can conger.
Eddie Jones’ selection has raised the eyebrows for some. Chris Robshaw needs a big game after a poor defensive effort against the Baa Baas, and Mike Brown’s selection on the wing has caused concern for fans. The biggest question will be how well can George Ford perform? After a poor end to the regular Aviva Premiership season, he played averagely against the Barbarians. With Danny Cipriani not even included on the bench for the first test, Ford will have to prove his selection, otherwise trouble could lie ahead for the Leicester ten.
Another big talking point from the selection of the England team for the first test is Hurricanes Brad Shields coming onto the bench for potentially his first cap for England. Again this has been questioned by many, especially after the fantastic performances of Don Armand this season in the Aviva Premiership.
Farrell as captain will be interesting too; an excellent general and a person that has a big voice on the pitch, his leadership qualities will be tested to the next level. The Springboks scrum was very impressive but the main impression made from the Wales clash, was the ferocity within the contact area; whether protecting their own ball, or counter rucking the opposition. And with England’s problems at the breakdown, the Red Roses will have to match the physicality of South Africa if they are to stand any chance to become the first English team to win a test series on South African soil.
England can catch the Springboks out though, forcing South Africa to concede penalties in the contact area and being smart in defence. With the prospect of being on a four game losing streak, Eddie Jones will want to rectify that against the team he helped to win the Rugby World Cup in 2007. This first test, that many would have thought was a forgone conclusion 5 months ago, has now taken on huge proportions. If England want to get to the Rugby World Cup Final in 2019, it starts tomorrow.
England vs South Africa: 9th June 4pm Sky Sports Action
The second best team of the world travel down under to the face the team that was always the bridesmaid to the All Blacks at the top of the rugby world rankings. With the Irish players collecting most of the accolades recently in the Guinness PRO14 and in the European Champions Cup, not to mention achieving a Grand Slam in this year’s Six Nations; everyone will be looking in anticipation to the match up between these two teams.
The last time these nations met, Ireland snatched victory right at the death at the Aviva Stadium. This crop of Australian internationals have had a mixed bag of a success in Super Rugby thus far, but the big players such as Pocock and Beale have been performing well. Ireland and Joe Schmidt are under pressure to win a series against the Wallabies if they are to back up the success of their Six Nations campaign.
A big talking point is Joey Carbery being selected ahead of Jonathan Sexton as the starting outhalf for the first test. Carbery, who recently signed a 2-year deal with Munster to gain more game time as a starting 10, has the ultimate chance to really contest against Sexton for the Irish 10 jersey. Apart from that, it is business as usual for the rest of the team. Jordi Murphy starts at 7 instead of Dan Leavy and the omission of Tadhg Beirne will be looked at carefully before and after this first test, after his impressive form against the Scarlets. Michael Chekia would want to climb above Ireland and New Zealand, and with the recent Cricket scandal, he would want to provide some cheer for the Australian public.
Ireland vs Australia: 11am 9th June Sky Sports Action
The Thistle men will want to continue their form from the Six Nations, but the real question for the Scots is this, can they replicate the Murrayfield performances away from home? Last year they achieved a win over the Wallabies, but this time they will face tough teams from the Northern and Southern American continents. The Scots, on Sunday morning, will start their June Test Series against Canada in Edmonton, Alberta. They will go onto play the USA Eagles and then Los Pumas. For Gregor Townsend, it is a chance to see new faces in the squad and to develop players that have just started their international careers.
This reflects Townsend’s first selection with Edinburgh’s Jamie Ritchie and Harlequins’ James Lang getting their first caps and Blair Kinghorn starting at fullback. The Canadians have not been successful recently, and with the opportunity to impress in front of a home crowd, they will certainly be up for it.
Scotland should be at least aiming to gain two victories against Canada and the USA, the crucial test will come against Argentina. If Scotland get it right, they will offer something different to Wales and could capitalise on opportunities laid out by a tired Los Pumas team. Townsend will be looking to getting three wins on the road, to create a culture of winning both away and at home; if Scotland are to do well in the next Rugby World Cup, these three games are crucial.
Scotland vs Canada: 2am 9th June (Sunday Morning) BBC Scotland
Wales got their June Summer Series with a 22-20 win over the Springboks in Washington DC. Both sides decided to give new or less seasoned players the chance to showcase what they can do; the Springboks had 7 debutants in their starting XV, Wales only had one.
However, Tomos Williams certainly showed he is international quality, getting a try on his first cap and in the second half making a crucial charge down that lead to the winning try for Wales scored by replacement Hooker, Ryan Elias. Another star of the show for Wales was Captain Ellis Jenkins, coming in from his rich vein of form from the Cardiff Blues.
Once again, Jenkins was magnificent, getting crucial turnover penalties and being consistently quick in defence, as he needed to be for that game. However, Wales should count themselves lucky to get their third consecutive win over the Springboks. The new crop of the men wearing Green and Gold will give new Head Coach Erasmus a high amount of confidence that he has depth within his squad of players that can operate at a high standard, bringing their form from the first ten rounds of Super Rugby.
Wales’ remaining fixtures, two games against Los Pumas in Santa Fé and San Juan will certainly show where the new crop of players are. Most of the Argentine squad have been performing well in Super Rugby, with the Jaguares winning against some of the best Australian and New Zealand Teams recently. Warren Gatland has gone with a selection with the premise to continue to experiment with his squad.
That being said, it was surprising to see Ellis Jenkins being rested, missing the cut all together and James Davies being given a second start in the 7 jersey and Adam Wainwright to make his debut from the bench should the opportunity arise, both players will have to play extremely well to compete for a spot in the back-row with Jenkins. A big factor for both of the tests will be the scrum. The Welsh scrum against the Springboks was poor to the standards of a Gatland team and Los Pumas with their seasoned front row and Captain Augustine Creevy, means that Wales will have to improve their scrum considerably in order to get a foot hold in the game.
Wales will also have to be careful with their discipline, with Boffeli offering a boot to match Leigh Halfpenny, he can kick from almost anywhere. If Wales come away with one win against Argentina, the tour will still be considered a success, although Warren Gatland will still be looking for a 2-0 series win. That being said, Argentina had a poor season last year, their last victory only coming from a trip to Rome; and they will want to improve on that. It is still hard to call how the first game will go between Wales and Argentina, but I think that the Argentineans will run Wales very close indeed.