Summer Internationals Preview: Rugby

10 06 2010

Once again it is that time of year when the northern hemisphere national teams head down south with a mixture of trepidation and what usually turn out to be false hopes. There are some intriguing battles over the next few weeks but, unfortunately, we suspect that by the end of these fixtures the balance on the win ledger will be firmly in favour of the southern teams.

This gap in standards and abilities, which has only ever been closed on brief occasions in the past, is as wide as it ever has been, no matter that Australia for one are still rebuilding, or that South Africa and New Zealand are choosing to experiment slightly. For most of the NH teams the same problems are still present; a lack of fluidity and adaptability in England’s case; a lack of a front row in Irelands; simply no depth in Scotland’s case meaning an innate lack of quality and with France, well, you never know if they’re interested in playing until they start. Wales are alone out of the home nations in not having a game this weekend having kicked off their Summer with a home game against the Springboks last weekend, in which they came thrillingly close, but couldn’t quite close it out.

England vs Australia (Perth)

Out of all the teams playing southern hemisphere opposition this weekend England have as good a chance as any. Australia are firstly a side of whom they are not scared (which silly as it may seem can be a factor in these tours) and are also a side going through their own rebuilding process. That they have managed to keep sneaking the odd win against the Boks and the All Blacks during this period whilst also winning most of their games against other opposition suggests that their coach is doing a better job than Johnson in his rebuilding process.

England come into this game with a couple of selections creating interest in the Aussie press, not least the selection of Toby Flood on the bench ahead of Jonny Wilkinson. A surprise perhaps to them but to any England supporters this news is hardly worth raising an eyebrow to. Flood, having come in at the tail end of the 6 Nations in March, is the man in possession and quite honestly (and this is tough to say as JW is one of our favourites here) currently the better game manager. Jonny will be back, of that we have no doubt, but he is not the 2003 super hero deluxe model any more.

The other interesting selection is Shontayne Hape, the ex All Black rugby league player, who comes in at 12 for the injured Riki Flutey. One Kiwi for another then. Here at the Compulsive Hooker this selection of foreign born players for England is a regular conundrum with which we wrestle; it now being common in many sports but particularly cricket and rugby. Truth be told it is nothing new and England are far from being alone in doing it, yet we do feel that a line should be drawn when that player has already represented a different country at senior level in another sport. Therefore, whilst we have nothing against Hape, we hope that Ollie Barkley has his own opportunity to state his case whilst still on tour. This seems unlikely to happen though as he appears to be several rungs down in the pecking order.

We are glad to see Tom Croft back in the team having come in for Joe Worsley. Croft is a serious talent and you feel would thrive if he was playing for any other team than England, enjoying as he does the wide open spaces and a quick game, and we hope Johnson can accommodate him properly.

We are also pleased to see Ben Youngs on the bench although we would much rather he was starting. We believe that he will end up being first choice England scrum half for the next five years once he fights his way into the team. He will however have to get past Martin Johnson’s strange love affair with Danny Care.

Turning on the TV last night we watched England play Ireland in the Junior World Championships currently being played in Argentina and what a joy it was. These players are still young enough that they are simply playing ‘heads-up’ rugby. Literally playing what they see in front of them rather than getting bogged down in the slowly worked and usually ineffective set piece moves and game plans so beloved of the England senior team. If senior England can show the level of invention and simply the willingness to play rugby as the junior side did, well – even a loss would be easier to stomach.

It’s time for your team to start delivering Johno – don’t let us down now.

Prediction: Australia 35-13 England

A quick look at the other two big games:

New Zealand vs Ireland

This is likely to be a difficult tour for Ireland as not only are they battling history, never having beaten the All Blacks home or away, but are also battling their own front row. This is of course overstating it a little bit, John Hayes would never do anything to harm Ireland’s cause on purpose, yet his very selection is worrying. For the last year or more the Irish pack has gone backwards regularly and spectacularly at scrum time as age finally tells on Hayes. On the other side of the scrum is Cian Healy, dynamic in the loose but still learning at scrum time and regularly out scrummaged. It is testament to Ireland’s other players and their fighting qualities that during this period they have been so successful, but we feel against the might of the AB’s only pain will follow.

Otherwise the Irish side is really as good as it’s possible to be, injuries permitting. Mick O’Driscoll is in for O’Connell and will surely do a solid job and Trimble in for Earls. O’Gara is picked ahead of Sexton whose place kicking at international level is suspect, even if the rest of his game is not, and against the All Blacks you need assurance that, when there are points on offer, they are taken.

Prediction: All Blacks 32-19 Ireland

South Africa vs France

Similarly to England, France have a reasonable chance of a win as South Africa have named an interesting team for Saturdays game. The Bok’s showed their World Champion qualities last week against Wales, doing just enough to win, yet the challenge will be that much tougher against France this week.

France have come off a 6 Nations where they demonstrated exactly how powerful an outfit they are, winning in style and well. If they can continue this form then there is no reason why they cannot beat South Africa at home. It really depends which French team turns up as even in this professional age you can never guarantee a performance from them. (Witness their win in the Autumn against South Africa, only to then get trounced by New Zealand the following week). We actually think they might win this series and it would be impossible to understate the value of this leading into world cup year in 2011.

Prediction: South Africa 21 – 29 France

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