Tomorrow sees the start of the hotly anticipated Autumn internationals. It is an Autumn that expects much from both the home nations and the tourists as all sides seek to prepare for the upcoming 2011 World Cup. The Northern Hemisphere sides will aim to compete at a level that proves they will not just be making up the numbers in New Zealand while the sides arriving from the Southern Hemisphere will be hoping they can enjoy a successful tour of the British Isles. Nouse gives you the definitive guide to the six teams playing this weekend and highlight a few individuals to look out for.
The Wallabies have had a season of extremes. The very good; their first win on the South African Highveld for over 60 years and a great comeback against New Zealand in Hong Kong last week, combined with the bad; being whitewashed by the All Blacks in this year’s Tri Nations and losing to a far from settled England side on home soil.
However the general feeling amongst many remains that Robbie Deans’ side may be on the edge of something special coming into a World Cup year. They are a young squad no doubt, but one with outstanding talent and skill that have had plenty of exposure at this level. Australia’s stellar group of youngsters including David Pocock, Will Genia, Quade Cooper and James O’Connor are all under the age of 23 yet have more than 20 caps at international level already, England take note! There are reservations about the side’s ability to grind out tight games and how their scrum will fare on this tour but they are undoubtedly playing some excellent rugby right now.
Key Man: Rocky Elsom. Arguably the most accomplished forward in world rugby right now. The Wallabies skipper is a supreme athlete, with guts and determination to match. He leads his troops by example through thick and thin.
One to Watch: Quade Cooper. This year has not been without controversy for Cooper with a burglary charge, misconduct and constant speculation about a move to Rugby League. However these were only minor distractions to what was an outstanding Super 14 season which saw him named Australian player of the year, and claim the Wallaby fly- half position as his own. His unique and adventurous playing style makes him one of the most game breaking playmakers around.
Sqaud: Ben Alexander, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Kurtley Beale, Richard Brown, Luke Burgess, Mark Chisholm, Quade Cooper, Rod Davies, Ben Daley, Huia Edmonds, Rocky Elsom (c), Anthony Faingaa, Saia Faingaa, Will Genia, Matt Giteau, Scott Higginbotham, Matt Hodgson, Peter Hynes, Van Humphries, Salesi Ma’afu, Pat McCabe, Ben McCalman, Pat McCutcheon, Drew Mitchell, Stephen Moore, Luke Morahan, Dean Mumm, James O’Connor, Nick Phipps, David Pocock, Benn Robinson, Nathan Sharpe, Rob Simmons, James Slipper, Lachie Turner
It is hard to describe just how good this New Zealand side actually are but maybe a few hard facts will help. In the IRB world rankings the All Blacks in first place are further ahead than second placed Australia than the Wallabies are to ninth placed Wales. In this year’s Tri Nations they won every single game and before their defeat last week in Hong Kong were on a 15 game winning streak. It will be a huge task for any of the British sides to overcome them as the men in black aim for another Grand Slam of the home nations. They are a vastly experienced squad with few weakenesses and a potent mix of steel, flair, precision and power. With the World Cup on home soil in exactly a year’s time they look in better shape than ever to finally claim their second title after 24 years of hurt.
Key Man: Dan Carter. It seems that he has been making the All Blacks tick for an age, yet Carter is unbelievably only 28. He is undoubtedly the most influential player in the world with a fantastic all round game and the second highest points scorer in rugby history. Put simply when he plays well the All Blacks play well.
One to watch: Sonny Bill Williams. Williams is the only uncapped player in the New Zealand party, but far from an unknown. A very high profile league convert, Williams has returned to New Zealand after a brief spell in Europe in order to become an All Black. He is an exceptional athlete with size, power, speed and skills in abundance and will be a threat to any side he encounters.
Squad: Andy Ellis (Canterbury), Daniel Carter (Canterbury), Jimmy Cowan (Southland), Stephen Donald (Waikato), Hosea Gear (Wellington), Cory Jane (Wellington), Alby Mathewson (Wellington), Mils Muliaina (Waikato), Ma’a Nonu (Wellington), Joe Rokocoko (Auckland), Sitiveni Sivivatu (Waikato), Conrad Smith (Wellington), Isaia Toeava (Auckland), Sonny Bill Williams (Canterbury), John Afoa (Auckland), Anthony Boric (North Harbour), Daniel Braid (Auckland), Tom Donnelly (Auckland), Hikawera Elliott (Hawke’s Bay), Ben Franks (Tasman), Owen Franks (Canterbury), Andrew Hore (Taranaki), Jerome Kaino (Auckland), Richie McCaw (Canterbury, captain), Keven Mealamu (Auckland), Liam Messam (Waikato), Kieran Read (Canterbury), Brad Thorn (Canterbury), Sam Whitelock (Canterbury), Tony Woodcock (North Harbour).
The world champions arrive in the British Isles low on confidence and preparation, with a squad ravaged by injury. As a result the home nations will be fancying their chances against South Africa, who are perceived to be in decline after a very poor Tri Nations campaign. However ‘beware the wounded Springbok’ goes the famous saying, and there is no doubt they will still be a handful with their brutal physicality, high intensity and rock solid set-piece. The Springboks are a fiercely proud team whose reputation has taken a bit of a battering in recent times and with their Coach Peter De Vielliers’ job in the balance expect them to come out fighting on this tour.
Key Man: Victor Matfield. Named tour captain after an injury to John Smit, Matfield will need to call on all his experience and leadership after a disastrous Tri Nations for the Springboks. Regarded as one of the best line out forwards of his generation
One to Watch: Francois Hougaard. A rising star of South African rugby, this feisty scrum half was one of only a few South Africans to emerge with their reputation enhanced from the Tri Nations
Squad: Gio Aplon, Bjorn Basson, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Adrian Jacobs, Elton Jantjies, Ricky Januarie, Zane Kirchner, Patrick Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo, Wynand Olivier, JP Pietersen, Morne Steyn, Willem Alberts, Bakkies Botha, Schalk Burger, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Dean Greyling, Alistair Hargreaves, Ashley Johnson, Ryan Kankowski, Werner Kruger, Victor Matfield, Gerhard Mostert, Tendai Mtawarira, Coenie Oosthuizen, Dewald Potgieter, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Danie Rossouw, Juan Smith, Adriaan Strauss, Pierre Spies, Deon Stegman, CJ van der Linde, Flip van der Merwe, Duane Vermeulen.
The brilliant Grand Slam win of 2008 feels like a distant memory for this Welsh squad as they have slipped to ninth in the IRB rankings. It could be a tough autumn for the men in red as they have a punishing schedule, playing the ‘big three’ from the southern hemisphere and the always dangerous Fijians. Wales in full flow are a joy to watch and one of the best attacking sides in the world with a number of world class performers. However they have a small pool of players and so injuries are always keenly felt, this autumn for instance they are without key men such as Lee Byrne, Jamie Roberts and Ryan Jones. Wales also seem to have lost consistency and solidity in recent times with their set- piece and game-plan increasingly erratic. Welsh fans would do well to lower their expectations, for this autumn at least.
Key Man: Shane Williams (wing). The undisputed talisman of the squad. When the Welsh look for some wizardry, more often than not, Williams steps up and delivers. The pint-sized winger is regarded as the most elusive back around and has a formidable strike rate at this level. A real matchwinner.
One to Watch: G North (wing). The 18 year old was a suprise inclusion and is almost unknown outside his club side Llanelli Scarlets. It is unclear how much game time he will get this autumn, but he is likely to be involved at some point. Four tries from his first four games this season has convinced the Welsh management he has what it takes at international level. Extremely big and powerful for his age, Warren Gatland commented that ‘the last time he saw a pair of thighs like that was on the Samoans, back in New Zealand.’ Could make a big impact.
Squad: G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), P James (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), S Andrews (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), H Bennett (Ospreys), R Hibbard (Ospreys), AW Jones (Ospreys), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), D Jones (Cardiff Blues), I Gough (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Dragons), J Thomas (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), R McCusker (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys), R Rees (Cardiff Blues), T Knoyle (Scarlets), S Jones (Scarlets), D Biggar (Ospreys), J Hook (Ospreys), A Bishop (Ospreys), J Davies (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys), L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), W Harries (Dragons), G North (Scarlets), L Byrne (Ospreys), T Prydie (Ospreys)
This is a massive series for English Rugby, make no mistake. A 50% win rate combined with good all round performances will send England into World Cup year full of confidence and optimism. Heavy defeats and turgid rugby will cause the voices of dissent to grow thunderous and the Red Rose management will be under even more intense pressure. The prospects are looking up however after a sensational victory over Australia in Sydney this summer with real talent such as Ben Foden, Courtney Lawes and BenYoungs breaking into the team. The real question that remains though is whether England can throw off their shackles of conservatism and play dynamic, incisive rugby combined with their stereotypical power and solidity in the forwards. The ingredients appear to be there and Lord knows they have enough preparation time under the elite player squad arrangements to get it right, it is definitely time to start delivering the goods.
Key man: Tom Croft (flanker). Croft is the most dynamic and talented forward England have produced since Lawrence Dallalgio, and one of the few world-class players in the squad. A star of the lions tour in 2009, he has to start delivering consistently for England as he is no longer a novice.
One to watch: Ben Youngs (scrum-half). After his fantastic performances down under this summer everyone is raving about the 21 year old from Leicester as the saviour of English rugby. So no pressure then? Well Youngs has handled it thus far and has the buzzing service and lighting break to get England firing, and set the autumn series alight.
Squad: D Attwood (Gloucester), G Chuter (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), T Croft (Leicester), P Doran-Jones (Gloucester), N Easter (Harlequins), H Fourie (Leeds), D Hartley (Northampton), J Haskell (Stade Francais), C Lawes (Northampton), L Moody (Bath), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Payne (Wasps), S Shaw (Wasps), A Sheridan (Sale), S Thompson (Leeds), D Wilson (Bath), J Worsley (Wasps), D Armitage (London Irish), C Ashton (Northampton), M Banahan (Bath), D Care (Harlequins), M Cueto (Sale), T Flood (Leicester), R Flutey (Wasps), B Foden (Northampton), S Hape (Bath), D Strettle (Saracens), M Tindall (Gloucester), D Waldouck (Wasps), J Wilkinson (Toulon), B Youngs (Leicester).
Probably the most consistently good European side of the last decade, Ireland have a core of battle-hardened veterans such as Brian O’Driscoll and David Wallace still in their ranks combined with a new generation of outstanding players such as Stephen Ferris, Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney. The Irish play a structured, precise game that can adapt according to the match they are in. They pride themselves on their intensity and physicality and in recent years have developed very dangerous runners in the back three. Weaknesses to this side are not obvious, However the tight-five, especially without its fulcrum Paul O’Connel will be targeted and the Scrum is always referred to as their Achilles heel, however it is never quite demolished like people predict. This autumn sees the opening of the new Lansdowne Road stadium, renamed the Aviva stadium, so expect the Irish team and fans to give it a warm welcome back.
Key man: Jamie Heaslip (no.8). Despite Brian O’Driscoll still being captain and an inspirational figure, Ireland need to start looking to a future without BOD and Heaslip is a firm favourite to be his long term successor. One of the premier No.8’s in the game, his influence on the team seems to grow every time he pulls on the green jersey.
One to watch: Johnny Sexton (fly-half). A huge amount is expected of this young man from Leinster and he has shown glimpses of his outstanding skill as a playmaker, however has been plagued by inconsistency, especially in his goalkicking. Has a massive opportunity this autumn to assert himself as Ireland’s first choice 10 leading up to the World Cup.
Squad: R Best (Ulster), I Boss (Leinster), T Bowe (Ospreys), T Buckley (Munster), T Court (Ulster), S Cronin (Connacht), G D’Arcy (Leinster), G Duffy (Connacht), K Earls (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), S Horgan (Leinster), J Hayes (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster), M Horan (Munster), R Kearney (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), J Muldoon (Connacht), J Murphy (Munster), D O’Callaghan (Munster), R O’Gara (Munster), S O’Brien (Leinster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster), M O’Driscoll (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster), M Ross (Leinster), D Ryan (Munster), J Sexton (Leinster), P Stringer (Munster), D Toner (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster), D Varley (Munster), D Wallace (Munster), P Wallace (Ulster).
This weekend’s fixtures
England v New Zealand, 2:30 pm
Ireland v South Africa, 5:30 pm
Wales v Australia, 2:30 pm