Autumn Internationals preview: England v New Zealand; Wales v Australia

England v New Zealand headlines an exciting weekend of international rugby union
England v New Zealand headlines an exciting weekend of international rugby union

The Autumn Internationals move into their second weekend, and if you think last week delivered drama, nerves and quality, then you've seen nothing yet.

After England's one point win over South Africa, which went to the last whistle, and a pulsating clash between Wales and Scotland, it might seem strange and unfair to say "this weekend is when it gets really serious", but it really does.

England host the World Champions; Wales take on an Australia side they haven't beaten for years, while Ireland and Scotland meet the physicality of Argentina and Fiji. This weekend will be the biggest marker yet to where our home nations are in preparation for the World Cup

England v New Zealand

England's Owen Farrell
England's Owen Farrell celebrates victory over South Africa

Huge credit to England for their scrappy victory against South Africa last weekend, especially as they were second best for the majority of the game.

England showed their famous mental strength, character and game management to grind out the win, when not at their best. It's this factor that always makes them contenders to beat anyone in the world, no matter their current form.


England fixtures

  • November 3 - South Africa: Won 12-11
  • November 10 - New Zealand
  • November 17 - Japan
  • November 24 - Australia

But how do a injury ravaged England beat the world champions? Well South Africa in this year's Rugby Championship and the British Lions in 2017 showed that you have to get in their faces; take the game to them; be physically dominant; put them under pressure. If you back off, respect them and allow them to dictate play then you are done for.

England have to apply the rugby version of Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp's famous gegenpressing.


England v New Zealand Sky Bet odds

England win: 11/2

Draw: 20/1

New Zealand win: 1/10

New Zealand to win by 11-15 points: 5/1


They did that back in 2012, when the likes of Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi smashed everything in sight, carried the ball hard and didn't hold back to earn a famous win.

If the likes of Ben Te'o, the returning Tuilagi and Ben Shields can carry the ball hard then England can get an advantage over a New Zealand side that can very occasionally be physically dominated.

The breakdown and penalties will again be England's focus for improvement. The All Blacks are the masters of the dark arts at the breakdown and England's continuously weakened back row will struggle for equality here.

Meanwhile, England conceded 11 penalties against South Africa, still way too many. Do that again and they will be punished this weekend.


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Wales v Australia

Wales proved too strong for Scotland
Wales proved too strong for Scotland last weekend

Wales warmed up for this Test with a "weakened" side comfortably beating Scotland 21-10. It highlighted just how much strength in depth Wales are enjoying at the moment, especially in their forwards.

Australia are in trouble and under pressure. They fought hard in the summer Test series defeat to Ireland, and did beat the Irish once, but in reality should have lost it 3-0. Only a late comeback victory in their final game against Argentina stopped them from embarrassingly finishing bottom of this year's Rugby Championship.

This is where Wales have to win. While England have proven they can beat the best nations when playing poorly, Wales need to still show they can beat the Southern Hemisphere teams consistently when playing well, let alone anything else.


Wales v Australia Sky Bet Odds

Wales win 4/6

Draw: 20/1

Australia win: 11/10

Wales to win by 6-10 points: 5/1


The Wallabies have been the albatross around head coach Warren Gatland's neck: every Autumn they look beatable in Cardiff, but every year they win.

They are unbeaten in 13 Tests against Wales, winning their last eight at the Principality Stadium.

But if Michael Cheika's side were to do so again in 2018, it would feel like a serious mental blow to Wales, 10 months before the World Cup.


Wales fixtures

  • November 3: Scotland: Won 21-10
  • November 10: Australia
  • November 17: Tonga
  • November 24: South Africa

So many Tests are settled by who wins the breakdown and these two nations possess two of the best back rows in the business. Wales are likely to go with Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate and Ross Moriarty, with Australia fielding the mighty Michael Hooper and David Pocock.

If Wales win this area of the game, manage their field position well and play in the right areas then a rare victory over the Green and Gold will finally happen.

Ireland v Argentina

Johnny Sexton
Johnny Sexton should return for Ireland this weekend, after being rested against Italy

Ireland began their Autumn International campaign with a thumping 54-7 victory over struggling Italy in America.

This week the Irish take on the Southern Hemisphere's version of Italy - a talented, developing rugby nation, who were integrated into their respective Hemisphere's annual tournaments to make them better. However, both are currently going backwards.

This is maybe unfair on Argentina, as they remain streets ahead of Italy and in the Rugby Championship they were much stronger than unexpected, as new coach Mario Ledesma enjoys a quicker than expected impact.


Ireland v Argentina Sky Bet Odds

Ireland win: 1/16

Draw: 20/1

Argentina win: 7/1

Argentina first to 10 points: 9/2


They beat Australia away, but then blew a lead in the return game to finish bottom of the table, highlighting the fact that they are not the force of recent years.

Ireland, the second best team in the world for me, should see this game through, but without doubt it's their toughest test of 2018.

Maybe their biggest challenge here is keeping both eyes on this game, rather than looking ahead to the New Zealand clash. Argentina are ruthless and if they smell you aren't 100 per cent on it then they will rip you apart.


Ireland fixtures

  • November 3: Italy (in Chicago): Won 54-7
  • November 10: Argentina
  • November 17: New Zealand
  • November 24: United States

Ireland's professionalism and focus will be as important as their skill and fight in this game. Also, after resting some of his key men last week, how long will it take for Joe Schmidt's returning stars to get back up to Test Match speed?

Expect Argentina to fly out of the blocks, but Ireland to eventually see the game out as they continue their amazing 2018.

Scotland v Fiji

Gregor Townsend will expect Scotland to continue their impressive home form against Fiji

After defeat away to Wales, Scotland return home to fortress Murrayfield. This is where they are happiest and have produced their best performances over the last two years.

At home they've defeated England and France in the Six Nations and Australia in last year's Autumn Internationals, while they lost to the All Blacks by just five points.


Scotland v Fiji Sky Bet odds

Scotland win: 1/14

Draw: 20/1

Fiji win: 13/2

Scotland to win by 13+ points: 20/27


But looking back to last year also shows us why Scotland are still a developing side, who lack consistency. Those two impressive displays hid a close call against Samoa, winning by just six points.

That, and their defeat to the USA in the summer, highlights the fact that Scotland can sometimes get distracted by the bigger boys and fail to fully shine against the tier two nations.

Fiji are one of those and while not as strong as Samoa, they are streets ahead of the USA. They are powerful and skilful and a joy to watch when they open up.


Scotland fixtures

  • November 3: Scotland (in Cardiff): Lost 21-10
  • November 10: Fiji
  • November 17: South Africa
  • November 24: Argentina

Both these sides love to run the ball and play the right way, but both can lack clever game management and discipline - so expect an exciting game with plenty of points.

Scotland will have a much stronger team out this weekend, with the likes of Stuart Hogg back, so expect another Murrayfield win for Gregor Townsend's side.

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