Australia v France – Third Test, Sydney
After producing an infallible cure for insomnia via their dour 6-0 win over France in the second Test, the Wallabies head to Sydney for the final encounter against ‘Les Bleus’ with designs on a series whitewash – and a far more convincing display than they produced in Melbourne.
Giant NSW Waratahs lock Will Skelton will make his Test debut, coming into the pack for James Horwill. In the Wallabies’ only other change to the starting XV, Wycliff Palu returns at No.8 for Ben McCalman after missing the second Test through injury. Horwill and McCalman drop back to the bench, where they will be joined by new inclusions Scott Sio and Rob Horne.
The tourists, buoyed by a vastly improved performance after their dismal 50-23 first Test defeat, have made two changes to their side. Coach Phillipe Saint Andre has recalled Hugo Bonneval, who played fullback in the first Test, to replace winger Maxime Medard. Fulgence Ouedraogo is the other inclusion, slotting in at openside flanker, with inspirational skipper Thierry Dusautoir moving to the blindside.
France will be looking to replicate the nation’s 1990 touring side, who avoided a 3-0 cleansweep with a 28-19 third Test victory – the last time ‘Les Bleus’ enjoyed victory in Sydney.
New Zealand v England – Third Test, Hamilton
Despite predictions of a complete mismatch, the All Blacks and England have produced a desperately close-fought series so far – the opener a dour but tense penalty goal-fest, and the second a hard, open and entertaining thriller. The hosts have won both, 20-15 and 28-27 respectively.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has resisted the temptation to rotate his squad despite the dead-rubber status of the third Test in Hamilton, making just two changes. Dazzling Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa receives his first Test start, replacing Conrad Smith, who broke his hand in Dunedin. Kieran Read, the reigning IRB World Player of the Year, returns to the side at No.8. Jerome Kaino reverts to his preferred blindside role, with Liam Messam dropping to the bench.
Former Melbourne Rebels flyhalf Danny Cipriani starred in England’s 38-7 midweek thrashing of the Canterbury Crusaders, with the tourists running in six tries against the Super Rugby powerhouse in what was dubbed as an unofficial ‘fourth Test’. Cipriani has nabbed a place on the bench on Saturday.
England has made seven changes to its starting side for the Hamilton showdown. Former England Rugby League internationals Chris Ashton and Kyle Eastmond come back into the side at wing and second five-eighth respectively, while Manu Tuilagi returns from the wing to centre, setting up a mouth-watering duel with Fekitoa. England has another new halfback combination, with Freddie Burns and Ben Youngs replacing injured duo Owen Farrell and Danny Care. Courtney Lawes, Dylan Hartley and Billy Vunipola are the forward pack additions.
International Rugby around the world
After unconvincingly overcoming the USA and Canada on the North American leg of its tour, Scotland travels to Argentina to take on the Pumas, who went down 2-0 in their home series against Ireland. Wales will look to dust itself off after a 38-16 drubbing in the first Test against South Africa, taking on the Springboks again at Nelspruit.
Italy, smarting from recent Test losses to Fiji and Samoa, take on Japan in Tokyo; Japan is unbeaten after two matches of the Pacific Nations Cup. Two grudge matches loom this weekend in the six-team Pacific Nations Cup: Fiji hosts Samoa, and the USA takes on Canada in Sacramento.
South Africa and England face off in the final of the IRB Junior World Championship at Eden Park on Friday. The Junior Springboks upset hosts New Zealand 32-25 in the semi-final, while England trounced Ireland 42-15 in the other semi.
Follow Commentary Box Sports on Social Media!