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Can northern lights dim southern glow?

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Bryn Palmer | 09:47 UK time, Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Building blocks. Waymarkers. Stepping stones on the journey. Call them what you will.

The autumn internationals that get under way on Saturday with a mouthwatering trio of matches do so with the spectre of a World Cup looming large.

The 2011 global gathering in New Zealand is only 10 months away, the clock is ticking, and now is the time for big statements if any of the home nations have serious pretensions to challenge the southern hemisphere's current dominance.

Saturday's opening clashes could all be dress rehearsals for World Cup quarter-finals next November, with two in particular looking probable.

Home Nations rugby union captains

Lewis Moody, Brian O'Driscoll, Al Kellock and Matthew Rees, the captains of the Home Nations

If the World Cup group stages go according to rankings and current form, South Africa - expected to win Pool D - will be facing likely Group C runners-up Ireland in Wellington, while probable Pool C winners Australia will be tackling possible Group D runners-up Wales, also in Wellington.

And if England don't finish top of a hazardous Pool B also containing Scotland and Argentina, then - assuming they finish runners-up - they are likely to face the All Blacks, probable winners of Pool A, in a Christchurch quarter-final.

Of course, that sort of conjecture does not allow for upsets in the decisive group games - and Wales may be relieved simply to make the last eight given Fiji (their 2007 conquerors) and Samoa (1991 and 1999 victors) are in their pool with the Springboks.

But it illustrates the point that, for all the strides made by the home nations at different times over the past few years, all of them face a huge task to progress beyond the last eight at next year's World Cup.

And while it would be foolish to pretend that events in Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh and London over the next four weekends provide a wholly accurate guide as to what will transpire in New Zealand next year (England's surprise run to the 2007 final after a dire autumn in 2006 ensures caution), a few pointers are likely to emerge.

England famously beat all three of the Tri-Nations giants in successive weeks in November 2002, providing the springboard for their assault on World Cup glory.

The All Blacks' 31-28 defeat at Twickenham that year remains a significant moment - the last occasion they lost to one of the home nations on British or Irish shores.

That statistic is daunting enough, even before you consider that the world's number one ranked team have not even conceded a try on their European travels in the past two years and swept all before them in this year's Tri-Nations.

That tournament featured some extraordinary games and astonishing scorelines, with a 100% increase in tries scored (an average of nearly six per match) on the 2009 edition, a 35% increase in the average number of passes and an average of 37 kicks out of hand per game compared to 60-odd the previous year.

While changes in interpretation of how the breakdown area is refereed have undoubtedly contributed to this exhilarating revival in attacking rugby at the highest level, not everyone is happy about it, on the surface at least.

"That for me isn't Test rugby," England defence coach Mike Ford bemoaned on Tuesday, highlighting recent Tri-Nations try fests (Australia 28-49 New Zealand, South Africa 44-31 Australia, South Africa 39-41 Australia).

Ford may have a point. Only one World Cup (the inaugural 1987 event in New Zealand) has been won by the side with the best attacking armoury. Defensive efficiency and kicking prowess have been the more potent weapons ever since.

So will those England supporters heading to HQ on Saturday expecting to witness some of the pizzazz that marked their victory in Australia in June be disappointed?

Apparently so. "We want to make this a good, old-fashioned Test rugby game," Ford said. "We're pretty confident about what we can do defensively. When the players keep hearing about how exciting it is, deep down they will be putting the shutters up."

Ford may be confident in the ability of his players to produce "one of the best defensive performances ever" - and no doubt it will take something of that stature to stop the All Blacks from progressing towards a third "Grand Slam" over the home nations in six years.

But was it just a ruse to dampen down red-rose expectations and make New Zealand think they will encounter the lumbering, defensively minded England of 12 months ago, when Ayoola Erinle was whistled up from the wilderness to play inside centre?

After all, didn't England belatedly show signs of progress under Martin Johnson (played 23 won 9 drawn 1 lost 13) by throwing off the shackles in Paris in March and Sydney in June?


Rocky Elsom, Richie McCaw and Victor Matfield will captain Australia, New Zealand and South Africa respectively

Listening to some of the All Blacks on Tuesday, they expect a more enlightened England on the basis of what they saw in Sydney, when the thrusting talents of Ben Youngs, Ben Foden, Chris Ashton and Courtney Lawes came to the fore.

Ominously, though, they are upset with themselves for "tripping up" - Richie McCaw's words - against the Wallabies in Hong Kong last Saturday and missing out on the chance to equal the world record of 17 Test victories (shared by their compatriots of 1965-69 and the Springboks vintage of 1998-99) at Twickenham.

"It would have been nice but it isn't easy," McCaw said of the missed opportunity.

"Everyone was hurting on Saturday but it wasn't the main reason we were disappointed. [the winning streak] is a by-product of doing your job and we didn't do that. But you learn your best lessons when you come second."

Will we hear a similar, familiar refrain from the home nations when the month is over?

If victories over the All Blacks are rare birds indeed (Scotland and Ireland are still waiting for their first ones, Wales for their first since 1953), is there any hope elsewhere of the northern lights dimming the glow around their southern foes?

Wales, who have slipped to ninth in the world rankings, would struggle to match an improving Wallabies side with a full complement of players at their disposal.

Depleted by injuries to key personnel (Lee Byrne, Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts and Ryan Jones are all hors de combat ), they look vulnerable on Saturday going in cold against opponents who are currently very hot and who thumped them 33-12 in Cardiff a year ago.

Their second match against South Africa may present the best prospect of a major scalp for Warren Gatland's men this autumn but even if Wales traditionally improve as November progresses, it would be no surprise if a solitary win over Fiji was the extent of their achievements.

The Springboks - like the All Blacks - play all four home nations but the world champions arrive without 13 senior players including captain John Smit, scrum-half Fourie Du Preez and flankers Schalk Burger and Heinrich Brussow.

Ireland, with captain Brian O'Driscoll on board, look a reasonable bet to repeat their Dublin victories of 2004, 2006 and 2009 over the Boks in their first game at the new Aviva Stadium.

But with Paul O'Connell missing from the Irish pack, scrum-half Tomas O'Leary also absent and props Cian Healy and Tony Buckley still earning their Test spurs, it may require a touch of magic from O'Driscoll or Tommy Bowe to sneak a tight game.

And what of Scotland, who backed up victory in Dublin in their last Six Nations match by winning back-to-back Tests in Argentina in the summer, a remarkable achievement in anyone's book?

Andy Robinson's men pipped Australia at Murrayfield last November. Could they end 105 years of failure against New Zealand a week on Saturday? Probably not, with the All Blacks far more battle-hardened, but it may be closer than usual, and a victory over South Africa the following week is not beyond the Scots.

The wonderful Samoans are also in town, lest we forget, playing Ireland, England and Scotland, while Argentina belatedly join the party on this side of the Channel on the final day of action, Sunday 28 November, against Ireland in Dublin.

But it is performances against the "big three" by which the home nations will primarily be judged over the next month, and on which their World Cup prospects will be gauged.

Slim pickings and slender hopes? Or surprise bounties and seeds of glory sown?

Let us know your thoughts.


  • Comment number 1.

    To put it simply.... I CANNOT WAIT

  • Comment number 2.

    Great article!
    It's going to be AWESOME!!!

    Always a good spectacle when the southern hemisphere come to town.

    My only concern with England is the lack of options in the midfield.
    Flood is good, plays on the gain line and takes the ball flat also adventurous and his partnership with Youngs is growing to be formidable, but there is no cover.
    Tindal is battled hardened and consistent and is such a boost to the backline when he plays, but again no cover.
    Hape is just over rated and has yet to make a serious impact in a struggling Bath side so how can he be just thrown in against the likes Conrad Smith and Nunu.

    I can see there being wave after wave of line breaks for the back 3 to have to deal with, and although the likes of Ashton and Foden are great in attack I don’t think we have the midfield with Hape playing to expose any holes to create the space for them.

  • Comment number 3.

    Great article!
    It's going to be AWESOME!!!

    Always a good spectacle when the southern hemisphere come to town.

    My only concern with England is the lack of options in the midfield.
    Flood is good, plays on the gain line and takes the ball flat also adventurous and his partnership with Youngs is growing to be formidable, but there is no cover.
    Tindal is battled hardened and consistent and is such a boost to the backline when he plays, but again no cover.
    Hape is just over rated and has yet to make a serious impact in a struggling Bath side so how can he be just thrown in against the likes Conrad Smith and Nunu.

    I can see there being wave after wave of line breaks for the back 3 to have to deal with, and although the likes of Ashton and Foden are great in attack I don’t think we have the midfield with Hape playing to expose any holes to create the space for them.

  • Comment number 4.

    Mike Ford needs to get his head out of the sand on this one. Test rugby has changed, unfortunately for him (but not for the rest of us who want to enjoy watching test rugby) the game has changed and you need to score tries to win matches because the new laws mean that you can no longer shut out top quality teams willing to play at pace. Keeping it tight and kicking will not suffice any more, simply retaining the ball without being productive will only result in turnovers and conceding points. It will not be possible to beat the top sides without scoring tries, at least three I would have thought. If England shrink back into their shells and do not build on their Sydney performance then they are doomed for more big hearted failures from defensive minded teams. Please can we attack at pace and actually try to CREATE something on the field as opposed to being scared of failing and playing by numbers from a defensive coaching manual??

  • Comment number 5.

    Sorry but that picture CLEARLY isn't Mike Blair, it's Al Kellock, Mike isn't a second row player for a start.

    On the subject of the tourists, I can see Australia and New Zealand being very, very difficult to beat for all of the home nations, but I also think that South Africa are there for the taking at the moment with their extensive injury list and their poor form (by their own high standards).

  • Comment number 6.

    That is a very sad comment from Mike Ford- did he really, with reference to this years trinations say "that for me isn't test rugby"...?!!?!
    All and sundry, apparently with the exception of Mike Ford, have been uplifted by the beautiful and simply exhilirating rugby played particularly by the Wallabies and the All Blacks.
    If Ford thinks that returning to 10 man rugby and 9 v 3 scorelines is 'real' test rugby then he needs to step aside- not only is he doing a diservice to the game but he is also severely retarding england's RWC chances- if they revert to type or simply think they can lock the All Blacks out, they will be beaten very soundly.

  • Comment number 7.

    Even though we wont be anywhere near full strength I think it would be silly to write us off.
    This is a great oppurtunity for some fringe players to step up. and just in time for the World cup too.

    Come on the Bokke :-)

  • Comment number 8.

    Please could you get a picture of Mike Blair. Basic knowledge for a specialist in rugby , that he isn't a lineout forward.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm not even surprised when the BBC makes mistakes regarding Scottish rugby - remember two weeks ago, when the pre-match report for an Edinburgh game stated that Greig Laidlaw had come into the side to replace Dan Parks?

    a) They play different positions
    b) They play for different clubs
    c) Those clubs are in different COUNTRIES
    d) Dan Parks was already injured, so he wasn't being replaced by anyone!

    The only similarity Laidlaw and Parks have is that Parks plays for Scotland, and Laidlaw has just been named in the Scotland squad. That's it!

    It took the namesless BBC journalist (why are they nameless, by the way?) an entire day to correct the mistake, despite numerous articles on 606.

    Seriously, we expect better.

  • Comment number 10.

    I know scrum halves are getting bigger, but really! I'm sure that the inadvertant error was not by the usually reliable Bryn and there is a nameless Intern currently being quietly shot outside the BBC Online Sports Office.
    To the matter in hand. England are much improved and there are even some players that might get into the NZ team. However as identified already there are some key positions (namely 8, 12 & 13) where we have a significant weakness. I think Hape, Tindall & Easter are the best available in their respective positions but that ain't saying much.
    Overall England will not be strong enough and will lose by 10 - 15 points.
    Ireland should win and Wales will get a bit of doing from Australia.
    As far as pointers for RWC, any performance by NZ prior to RWC is irrelevant as it makes no allowance for the choke factor that inevitably befalls them.

  • Comment number 11.

    While I share IanBru's frustration with the lack of accurate reporting Scottish Rugby recieves from the BBC and to go a step further the complete disregard it is treated with by Sky Sports, even though I pay a subscribtion in Scotland. Which was highlighted to me after last years 6N's when they barely showed 2 mins of the highlights of the Scotland loss to Wales (best neutral game of the tournament). I fully understand that this is a problem breed from with in Scotland not from outside. Until attendances at Internationals, clud games Pro and amature, participation numbers improve within Scotland why would anyone from outside take interest. This was illistrated by another poor Lions showing for Scottish players. If we want this to improve Scotland needs to work at it which fortunately I think Andy Robinson is starting to achive lets hope he can continue the upward momentum.

  • Comment number 12.

    The Scottish captain in the picture doesn't look much like Mike Blair?

  • Comment number 13.

    Hi folks;
    Let's nip this in the bud before it goes any further. Apologies on behalf of my colleague, who put the pictures in for me this afternoon, and shall remain nameless, for the mistake on the picture caption. As no.5) Ross, no. 8) kgb212, 10) steakandale pie (thanks for your confidence in my editorial reliability!) and 12) Jinglewizz have pointed out, that is NOT Mike Blair in the first picture, but Scotland lock - and stand-in captain in the absence of Chris Cusiter - Al Kellock. Hopefully the problem should be rectified shortly.

  • Comment number 14.

    Mike Blair at second row? - come on Bryn, earn your crust.

    I can't help thinking England may be getting a little ahead of themselves following the very lucky and narrow victory over the aussies.

    Last 6 nations was largely embarrassing - for any endeavour in Paris (we did lose) you can see the woeful rugby against Italy and Scotland. Add into that some disgracefully myopic selection - Arinle, Deacon over Lawes, Monye at full back instead of Foden - and we are not exactly heading to NZ in a stable and clear perspective.

    That said, enforced decisions and injuries have led to a better selection, although it would have been better to have had some of the youngsters with more experience under their belts.

    Its difficult to ignore the horrible performances, and disgraceful selections, to focus on one night in Paris or ignore Giteau's inability to hit a simple kick and focus on the victory in Aus (we lost the first test).

    Realistically, I think that Steele at the Rfu will be challenged to carry through with his threat of England having to win 3 out of 4 tests or there will be changes.

    I don't see much reason to be optimistic.

    But I hope to god I am proved wrong.

  • Comment number 15.

    Re: no 4) pove10 and 6) willre13. Judging by the grin on Mike Ford's face when he said those words, I think there was an element of kidology going on. I think it was a deliberate attempt on his part to make the All Blacks think England are going to revert to type, knowing full well that England have actually started to develop an attacking game with an injection of fresh personnel, at least on the evidence of Paris and the second Test in Australia. Then again, it's a risky strategy, basically telling the top three sides in the world that what they've been serving up isn't proper Test rugby. The sort of comment you can be sure will be repeated if England go down heavily on Saturday.

  • Comment number 16.

    thanks for your comment.
    For what it is worth I don't think it is kidology- it is a mind set deeply entrenched in the English coaching set up.
    For mine, the minute Johnson picked Hape at 12 and Thompson and Sheridan in the front row, he signalled damage limitation rather than a chasing a win approach. Watching the AB v Wallaby test on the w/end it was like watching rugby in fast forward- when Giteau came off, Barnes stepped in and neither were chief play maker.
    The consistent references to the win in Australia aren't doing anyone any good- Johnson has got it all wrong in my opinion. That was the worst Wallaby effort of the year and possibly the best English game in 36 months.

  • Comment number 17.

    In common with everyone else who has watched England over the past few years, I have no idea what to make of the team and playstyle. It bemuses me how such a strong player base and healthy club competition can produce such dross at the highest level. England look so terrified of losing that they have forgotten how to win. Remarks like Ford's exemplify this - I don't think he was being dishonest, that certainly appears to be the way England play at the minute. I think that they will also beat the Boks and the Samoans, but will be ripped apart by Australia and New Zealand. And to be honest, I'm not sure they will beat the Samoans, and I think they will only narrowly beat an incredibly weakened Bok side. I REALLY hope I am wrong on that last guess, I have tickets for it!

    I think it will be three and one for Ireland this year, I can see them turning over the Boks, Samoans and probably the Pumas, but I can't see them getting any joy against the ABs. I really hope they surprise me (105 years is a long time to hurt! Is this chronologically the longest losing streak in world sport?) but I just don't see it.

    Wales will either be brilliant or awful, with so many senior players out I suspect they will struggle, but the replacements could inject some fire into the dragon again. I just don't know. My guesses are a loss to the All Blacks, but a spirited performance; loss to Australia, in a potentially brilliant game; and wins against the Boks and Fiji.

    Scotland are an enigma wrapped in a conundrum wrapped in a mystery. I was shocked when they beat Ireland in the 6N, and am expecting them to lose all their AIs. Bizarrely though, I wouldn't be too shocked if they beat the All Blacks. They defy logic in that way just now.

  • Comment number 18.

    I thought this thread was about the home nations... not a protracted singular article about England, with a consolutary mention about "the rest of 'um" right at the end... come on BBC, get your act together, let's be fair to all our home BRITISH nations! Every side deserves a good mention when the blog is supposed to be all about the northern teams.

    Personally, I think the Irish could still surprise this Autumn.. there's too much experience and talent to discount their ability to take South Africa and, maybe, even the Wallabies... as for England, well, who knows?? I do think a sense of reality has to be taken though, especially when people start talking about matching the achievments of 2002-3... now that was a great squad, and one that unfortunately doesn't exist any more.. this team is simply not as good... it's just the way it is... just look at Wales, still waiting for a dominant team like the one from the glory days of the 1970's... with that said, I think Gatland and co are building up Wales into a force for the coming years, and have a much better set-up for bringing through young talent from the improving Welsh regions... and Scotland.. well, they really did great to take the Wallabies last year, but they might well be the only home nation not to register a win over one of the big three this time around.. but you never, they might do something totally unexpected of them... let's wait and see... in any case, let's support all the home nations, and try and bring some glory back to the northern hemisphere game.. because we need it.

  • Comment number 19.

    Reference my post at 17 - I have just looked up the dates, and discovered Scotland's losing streak against the All Blacks is longer, by 7 days. I can't find any other losing streak going back over 100 years though...

  • Comment number 20.

    I reckon wins for Ireland and Wales against South Africa, with England perhaps tripping up New Zealand and Scotland fall to all three, although a Welsh win over SA less likely than for our Irish counterparts. Now there's a prediction.

  • Comment number 21.

    Good article but I did notice a mistake. It says that the world record for consecutive test wins is 17 and held by the Springboks and New Zealand. Its actually now held by Lithuania with 18 wins.

  • Comment number 22.

    yep a mouth watering bunch of great football
    I do hope the home nations come out with some real positives
    beating the ABs will be a huge challenge for any of them
    but as a kiwi if I had to choose who to loose to it would be Wales
    The Springboks are not great tourists normally so they may lose a couple
    and not impossible for them to lose the lot (shades of 1965)
    would love to see Wales topple the Boks for only the second time they have been so close so many times...Go boyos if I wasnt a kiwi I would be Welsh
    thanx and God Bless from kiwiland

  • Comment number 23.

    Everyone complaining about Mike Blaire not being in the picture, this is because he is not the captain, but All Kellock is, Mike Blair hasn't captained the side since 2009, on the tour of Argentina All Kellock was the captain due to Chris Cussiters injury, he has however since won the dream team captaincy, so it looks like he could keep the captaincy.
    Learn your stuff!!!

  • Comment number 24.

    "Wales, who have slipped to ninth in the world rankings, would struggle to match an improving Wallabies side with a full complement of players at their disposal"

    Actrually Bryn - the Wallabies also have issues with injuries. They are missing definite starters like Horwill, Palu, Polota-Nau, Ione and several bench players. Their backline are probably close to full strength but their pack is seriously depleted. If Wales struggle with this current team it isn't going to get any easier come next year with guys like Vickerman returning to the fold.

  • Comment number 25.

    I think the Mike Ford comments have to be ignored. They may have been intentionally made as a smokescreen, maybe not -but I think it makes no difference.

    Let's face it, with the new laws favouring the attacking sides, England will have to face up to it, they will never win if they play conservative/defensive rugby. The only way England are going to measure up to the ABs is by running the ball, ESPECIALLY in the areas that the ABs won't be expecting it from. Look at the best rugby match from the 2007 WC - NZ vs France. France let rip and rattled NZs cage which wasn't in the script and NZ didn't know how to respond. There's no other way to beat a team that's used to winning - do the unpredictable. The ABs seem to fall apart under intense and continuous pressure, when they are losing towards the end of a match (never mind the HK match last week that was snatched from under their noses) they panic - and this has been the case in the RWC since their only win in 1987 (which I watched bleary eyed at 8am as a 16 year old).

    Personally, I don't think England have the balls to beat them, and the irony is that this is all it would take for 80 mins for this England side (I support Ireland) to match these guys. Attack, Attack, Attack. How to lose to the ABs? Try and contain them.

  • Comment number 26.

    I think NZ to win all their matches. Australia likely to lose only 1, South Africa likely to win most but not against the Irish. They are missing 13 first choice players but have a wealth of new stars not yet known in the Northern Hemishphere in their ranks. With their first choice players back for the WCup and some new stars they are very strong contenders to beat NZ in NZ next year and take the cup.

  • Comment number 27.


    Great article. Ford's comments could easily be taken with a pinch of salt if he didn't have such a dismal record as defence coach. I mean, he can hardly joke about proper rugby when his England defensive line has conceded an average of 3 tries and 30 points per match against the Tri Nations teams can he? And if/when NZ do the same this Saturday, then I would hope more than one journalist will ask Ford how he can justify his position given such a dismal record.

    He may as you say be trying to kid people into thinking that England are going to revert to type when in fact they will play a broad attacking game, but I will have to see it with my own eyes first. Assuming they concede 25-30 points, which their recent record suggests they will, then they will have to score 30 points to win the match. That 2002 game you mention is the ONLY time England have ever scored 30 points against NZ.

    Overall, NZ will score too many points and England will not be able to score them back. NZ by 15.
    Although I will be happy to be proved completely wrong.

  • Comment number 28.

    I can’t wait to see the Aussi’s over there this month because they are going to absolutely dust the Northern Hemisphere sides. I can understand why they were not built up to much in this article given Matt Giteau’s death wobbles handing victories to England and embarrassingly Scotland recently.

    However, we have a totally rejuvenated and youthful side who’s preparation is specifically geared towards the world cup. Australia undoubtedly has the best backline in the world at the moment. The number of tries they scored in the tri-nations can attest to that. Although I would admit that defensively they are not as good as many of the test nations, including a few of the Northern Hemisphere teams.

    But, for those who doubt Australia’s credentials coming over, just watch the last Bledisloe game in Hong Kong. Also, I guarantee if McCaw was asked which side is their biggest danger in 2011 he would say Australia. (Although we can still barely kick the ball between the posts which will probably hurt us over there.)

    For those of you who don’t know James O’Conner, Quade Cooper and especially David Pocock yet, save your bets for the world cup until after this tour.

    Having said that I hope the Northen boys do well, in particular Ireland and Wales who try to play the game the right way. But as for Mike Ford’s comments, if that’s your retrogressive approach to modern rugby don’t even bother splashing out for a plane ticket to New Zealand next year mate, just stay home and listen to the game on the wireless.

    Also, the Aussi boys can grow some pretty sweet moustaches.

  • Comment number 29.

    Are England's backs not considerably slower than those of the Wallabies and the All Blacks? We seem to have some powerful and elusive runners, some guys who can make breaks and keep the ball alive, but hardly anyone (Ashton?) who if they make a break from their own half would be able to run in the try. Is that fair comment? And if so, does it mean that England are only really well-equipped to go wide when fairly advanced up the pitch?

  • Comment number 30.

  • Comment number 31.

    Interesting article Bryn.

    I suppose the key issue is what significance the AIs results will have regarding likely RWC 2011 form.

    As you say, in 2002 England definitely put down a marker for RWC 2003 by beating all the Southern Hemisphere nations in the AIs, but so many of the top nations seem to be works in progress now that I'm not sure we'll be able to pick a 2011 favourite come late November.

    The Aussies have a backline of immense promise, but still very inexperienced at test level, the Boks are looking to replace key elements of the ageing 2007 winners, and the ABs still don't have a settled midfield or favourite back three and are haunted by their usual RWC demons.

    Add to that Wales' perennial Jekyll and Hyde performances, England's tantalising signs of radical improvement, Ireland's revamping of the Grand Slam team, Robbo's redemption of Scotland and the impressive but still inconsistent French.

    All of which makes 2011 for me very, very difficult to call; in the 12 months between now and then a leading group will break clear of the pack, but as to who that will be, no idea. Marvellous and compelling drama and great for world rugby.

  • Comment number 32.

    Thanks for all your comments folks. Keep them coming.
    Re: No 21) kinkster. I perhaps should have added the rider 'in elite internationals' when discussing the world record run of Test victories. I was aware of the Lithuania streak (18 matches from May 2006 to May 2010, against the likes of Hungary, Norway, Bulgaria, Austria, Latvia, Andorra, Switzerland, Serbia&Montenegro, Armenia, Israel and Netherlands) but without wishing to be disrespectful, I don't think this bears comparison to the winning runs enjoyed by New Zealand and South Africa.

  • Comment number 33.

    Bryn - Re: No 32

    Of course if it were football we were discussing, the English team would be scraping goalless draws against minnows like Serbia and Montenegro :-)

  • Comment number 34.

    Speaking of the world cup - my views are there are only 2 teams that can and will challenge NZ next year and they are France and South Africa and before anyone says Im crazy look back in time and see who can and has won in NZ over the past 3 years.....

    Without sounding bias the world cup next year will be won by either SA or NZ but hey thats just my view!!!!!

    Enjoy the rugby this weekend its going to be a cracker.....

  • Comment number 35.

    If I can offer a Bok supporter's perspective, I am not especially hopeful about our chances over the coming four weeks.

    The more critical aspect of our injury list is how many of our best backs are out - we are particularly depleted in the centres. I am pretty confident we can put out a decent pack of forwards, certainly a strong tight five, but any side that competes well up front will have a very good chance of beating us this year.

    Here's a leading SA journalist's view of the likely team to play Ireland:

    I'll be quite pleased if that is the pack of forwards that is selected (with a genuine fetcher, for the first time this year), but even so, unless Ireland give away penalties by the truckload, I'm not sure where our points will come from. And I definitely don't see a scratch backline keeping O'Driscoll and co in check for the full 80 minutes.

    That said, the autumn international season is an exciting time of the year, and I really hope we get to see some great rugby. One other point worth noting is that all the high-scoring Tri-nations games you highlighted involved Australia; SA-NZ games were far more typical test matches (albeit NZ were clearly the better side), so I read this overall as more a reflection of how Australia are aiming to play the game rather than what the new law interpretations have led to.

  • Comment number 36.

    The best chance for the Northern Hemisphere to shine for many years.

    Step forward gents, and put down your World Cup markers!

  • Comment number 37.

    Afraid it is hard to see any of the home nations picking off NZ or Australia on current form. Most likely victory against the big 3 is if Ireland can catch a jet-lagged SA on a cold damp foggy day in they did last year.

  • Comment number 38.

    I sincerely believe that the home nations will have 2 winners over the weekend and it is unfortunate that Wales are blighted by injuries and a weak 6, & and 8. With Ryan and Martin playing I would be confident of 3 wins. Play a safe and defined kicking game pushing the SH teams into their 22 (just like they continually do) and then reap the benefits of the countless penalties that they will give. Maybe boring but a win is a win.

  • Comment number 39.

    Great Rugby ahead for next few weeks BUT sadly once again we will be treated to rugby being covered with same camera shots as soccer, long distance with acres of grass and play in the far distance rather than 3/4 close ups of lines out and scrums so we see the action.

    Not only is the quality of play better in the SH so too is the coverage.

  • Comment number 40.

    Good article and comments. I'm close to biting my nails: much will be revealed this weekend. A resurgence is certainly possible. England, for instance, has stuck to a selection for what England can do well: a big pack which will do well in the scrummage if it isn't forced downward and a competitive line-out, especially if the weather allows long throws, and centres picked to ride the tackles and set up drives up the middle. Much (alarmingly much) depends on those centres: Nonu and Williams are phenomenally strong on their feet and haven't been picked for subtle passing and delicate chip-kicks. If Tindall and Hape hold up and the pack delivers, Foden, Youngs and the wings might add the dimension which England has lacked. (I'm hoping that Foden will be lying deep and waiting to run onto those missed clearances - and praying for the missed clearances!) There is no other drawing-board to go back to, frankly, England may prove a little green early in the season, and New Zealand, beside being the current best in the world, are well-equipped to cope with England's likely game-plan. Each of the other NH sides is in an analogous position, so Gatland 10 and company may well be right. Still, since this weekend amounts to a preview of the world cup and nobody wants the world cup to be a procession, I guess we're united in hoping for some serious contests this weekend, however different our loyalties.

    Perhaps I'll just get on with biting my nails!


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