The Southern Hemisphere teams are invading Europe on their end-of-year tours.
The All Blacks and Springboks are in fine form as usual and will be tough to beat for any team; the Wallabies will be ready to fight back from adversity, and Los Pumas could cause some surprises this year.
Here is a review of how the four teams competing in The Rugby Championship have performed, and a form guide for their visits.
The Wallabies have been in turmoil after the resignation of their coach and the appointment of a new one just days before their departure for Europe.
The Aussie press has given them, and rugby union generally, a huge serve, and the European rugby press is sticking the knife into the ribs now also, and enjoying it.
This is the time for the Wallabies to stand up and get some self respect back—they need it.
Michael Hooper – has to lead Aussies in getting self-respect back
They started the season well with a 3-0 series win against France, who were wretched in two of the three tests.
The All Blacks played poorly in the first game of the TRC but the Wallabies could only draw the match. In some ways this was worse than the thrashing the Blacks gave them in Auckland the following Saturday, because nobody could have withstood the Kiwis that day.
Australia had two scratchy wins at home against the Boks and the Pumas, but Argentina had several chickens come home to roost for them in Mendoza. The Aussies got the rough end of the pineapple from the referee for a change, instead of Argentina, and this writer was happy for them once his brain became capable of processing the thought.
Wallabies played well in Brisbane but lost
The Wallabies played best in the TRC during two games they lost: after leading with eleven minutes remaining in Cape Town, and in Brisbane when the All Blacks scored in the last minute to win.
These losses highlighted the biggest negative of the Wallabies: the performance of their bench players at the end of games. And when many of them got to start against the Barbarians on the weekend, they showed scarcely any improvement.
The ability of the Wallabies to exit from their 22 was also sub-standard as was their kicking generally, and their chasing of kicked ball. Their restart work was dodgy on receipt of the ball and unimaginative on dispatch.
Their set piece muddled along but it confirmed that the Wallabies had few who could manage a lineout properly and only two decent scrummaging props.
Sekope Kepu – decent prop
Their discipline was groaningly poor at key moments, and often when the action was not going to be productive anyway.
At least their starting forwards showed some mongrel in the physical contests in more games than when they didn’t, and one hopes that this tour will see all their matchday forwards front up in all the tests.
If the forwards step up one should not be too worried about the backs.
The Wallabies lost all three away test matches this year and now they are away for four in a row, which does not augur well.
Of the countries they are playing: they’ve had the wood over Wales in recent times but the Taffs will fancy their chances with the Aussies now in disarray. The Wallabies have won only one of their last three tests in both Ireland and England, and won’t forget the thrashing they got in Paris the last time they played there, in 2012.
The prospect is not great but if any coach called in a few days before his team left for overseas, can make a difference, it is Michael Cheika.
Sean McMahon – memorable outing against the Barbarians
There were hardly any surprises in the touring party. Gill could have traveled at a pinch, and he returned from injury to play in the NRC; but it was a good excuse to have a look at McMahon in a Wallabies’ environment and indeed, he had a memorable outing against the Barbarians.
Because of their lack of quality depth compared to what New Zealand and South Africa have, Australia will suffer more from the unavailability of players than the other two will. They also lack the level of on-field leadership in those teams.
Although the performance of their fourth and fifth-string hookers has been decent, the injuries to their two best rakes, Moore and Polota-Nau, will be damaging. The end-of-season form of Scott Fardy will be missed, as will the line bending of Palu. Beale’s absence from the bench to provide impact and to sub for Folau, should he be injured, may be harmful also.
Tevita Kuridrani – a handful for all opponents
Players to watch out for:
Tevita Kuridrani – is the most improved Wallaby this year and has been a handful in most games that he has played. The outside centre plays is the bruising type of centre we have been missing since Mortlock. He plays like George North of Wales, who may be opposing him directly next Saturday replacing Jonathan Davies; so well did North play the position in his last game.
James Slipper – the best Wallaby in the year-to-date is not often defeated in the scrums, and is reminiscent of a younger Gethin Jenkins in general play. His running game, offloading and even pilfering is splendid.
Israel Folau – is not the perfect fullback in custodial matters but is rated higher overseas than he is in parts of Australia. Test opponents know better of the threat he presents to their teams on practically every ball carry, and that when he attracts the attention of unneeded defenders his offloads can be lethal.
Israel Folau – attracts unneeded defenders
Wallabies’ touring squad
Backs: Israel Folau, Rob Horne, Joe Tomane, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tom English, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali’ifano, Kyle Godwin, Matt Toomua, Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Nic White, Nick Phipps.
Forwards: Scott Higginbotham, Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper (c), Matt Hodgson, Sean McMahon, Luke Jones, James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Sam Carter, Will Skelton, Benn Robinson, Ben Alexander, Sekope Kepu, James Slipper, Tetera Faulkner, Saia Faingaa, James Hanson, Josh Mann-Rea.
Uncapped players: English, Speight, Godwin, McMahon, Jones, Faulkner.
Wallabies not available include: Scott Fardy, Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, David Pocock, Scott Sio, Nathan Charles, Stephen Moore, Liam Gill*, Kurtley Beale**
* Was just coming back from injury. ** Not considered due to hearing about off-field issues.
Sat 8 – Wales v. Australia, Millennium Stadium – 14:30 GMT, 01:30 AEDT +1day – Fox Sports 2
Sat 15 – France v. Australia, Stade de France – 21:00 local, 07:00 AEDT +1day – Fox Sports 2
Sat 22 – Ireland v. Australia, Aviva Stadium – 16:30 GMT, 03:30 AEDT +1day – Fox Sports 2
Sat 29 – England v. Australia, Twickenham – 14:30 GMT, 01:30 AEDT +1day – Fox Sports 2
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