The second weekend of the Autumn International season sees fixtures as follows
England v New Zealand
England hung on to nick an extraordinary, topsy-turvy contest and get their autumn off to a winning start.
An inexperienced pack were pummelled in the first half and only a series of South African errors (world player of the year nominee Malcolm Marx is a tremendous player but was poor with his line out throwing in key positions) and the excellence of Owen Farrell’s boot kept them in it at the interval.
Gradually Eddie Jones’ men found their discipline and shape, and Elliot Daly’s three-pointer from inside his own half had nudged them in front, only for Handre Pollard to knock over a penalty of his own to make it 11-9 to the Boks with time running out.
But Farrell landed his third penalty from out on the left to edge the men in white back in front, and Pollard could only hit the upright with his attempted match-winner at the death before a controversial call not to award South Africa a penalty as time expired gave England some rub of the green. The Springboks will be wondering how they lost a match they had totally dominated for the first 45 minutes.
Yet England refused to wilt, and for a team and coach under pressure, this was a precious victory with a below strength team, no matter how narrow it may have been.
Now of course it gets much tougher with the visit of the All Blacks fresh off two warm up games in Japan, beating Australia by 17 ppints then putting 62 points on Japan themselves
Previously this year New Zealand retained the rugby championship despite a loss to South Africa, without being as dominant as previously but they are still the best side in world rugby and undeniably favourites for the 2019 rugby world cup
At the time of writing New Zealand are 1/5 facourites, England 5/1 and New Zealand -13 at 10/11 on the handicap. I think New Zealand will cover -13 here especially if the talismanic Owen Farrell is cited for his tackle and misses the game
Wales v Australia
Wales claimed the inaugural Doddie Weir Cup with a 21-10 win as Scotland’s miserable run in Cardiff continued.
It was an ideal warm-up for Wales before their attempt to defeat Australia next Saturday after 13 successive losses against the Wallabies. The two sides are in the same pool in the 2019 Rugby World Cup
Wales were a bit rusty at times. For long periods of the game they were comfortable without the ball and defended well then cored some nice tries and will be better for that.
Essentially Wales have several world class players that keep them competitive in most matches even when they might look over-matched on paper. Leigh Halfpenny is one of the best goal kickers and keeps the scoreboard ticking over, and Davies and North in the three quarters are excellent. Wales’ problem going back several years is the execution has been lacking and results have been mixed but a year out from the World Cup this is a mature team that should be capable of going deep in the tournament
In the short term they are missing key players in the back row but this is still a side that can field Moriarty, Tipuric and Lydiate in their place.
In the last two years Australia have won in Cardiff 32-8 then in 2017 29-21. This time round Wales really should win. In previous years they have met Australia as the first game of the Autumn season with Australia fresh off the rugby championship and Wales a bit cold. Now Wales have had a tune up. Since last year’s match Australia have been in some turmoil and coach Michael Cheika has come under pressure. Australia have won 3 of 10 internationals this year, losing 2-1 at home to Ireland in the summer then losing 4 of six in the Rugby Championship.
For all their talent in the back line and with two world class back rows in Pocock and Hooper their talent pool (especially in the front five) is slim in other areas and the side lacks an identity, something not helped in the short term by the dropping of fly half Bernard Foley for the first time in four years and replacing him by Kurtley Beale, an outside back. The two key questions facing the Wallabies remain whether Cheika is selecting the right team and if they are playing the right style of game, and the answers so far have to be said to be no.
Here in what should be a close game Wales are 10/11 and -1 on the handicap with Bet365 and finally I see them winning here.