After an entertaining round of Test Rugby last week, the international schedule is jam-packed again this weekend – headlined by heavyweight clashes in Melbourne and Dunedin.
Australia ran in seven tries last week in routing a lacklustre and under-strength France outfit 50-23 in Brisbane, the Wallabies’ biggest-ever win over ‘Les Bleus’ on home soil. Their sixth consecutive Test victory was as comprehensive as the scoreline suggested, with France belatedly scoring two late tries to add a touch of respectability.
But the Wallabies have been forced to make a few injury-related changes for the second Test, most notably Tatafu Polota-Nau coming in for hooker Stephen Moore, who has been ruled out for the season with a knee injury. Flanker Michael Hooper takes over from Moore as captain, becoming Australia’s third-youngest leader at 22 years of age. James Horwill returns for the injured lock Sam Carter, while Ben McCalman comes in at No.8 for Wycliff Palu. The backline is unchanged.
France has also rung the changes, with 10 players introduced for the Etihad Stadium clash. Inspirational skipper Thierry Dusautoir – 10 years Hooper’s senior – returns from injury, while flyhalf Remi Tales and centre Mathieu Bastareaud, both late arrivals after playing in the French Top 14 club final, come back into the side. The Wallabies’ finely-tuned attack will again be difficult to handle, but expect a vastly improved all-round performance from the unpredictable tourists on Saturday night.
New Zealand was expected to make easy work of a ragtag England combination at Eden Park last week, but ultimately got out of jail in a tight and tense contest, requiring a 78th-minute Ben Smith try to sneak home 20-15. The All Blacks, who traditionally start the year slowly, made far too many errors, while the gritty England side was brought undone by having a Marland Yarde yellow carded late in the game – a punishment that arguably should have been meted out to a couple of New Zealanders earlier in the match.
The All Blacks have made just one change for the second Test at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium, with Smith taking the injured Israel Dagg’s place at fullback and Julian Savea coming in on the wing. Savea will mark Manu Tuilagi, who has been moved from centre to the flank in one of five changes to the tourists’ starting line-up; Owen Farrell and Danny Care represent an all-new flyhalf-halfback combination.
Elsewhere on the international Rugby scene, South Africa hosts Wales in Durban. The Springboks swept to a 47-13 win over a World XV combination courtesy of a second half blitz last weekend, while Wales warmed up for this clash with a 34-12 defeat of Eastern Province Kings.
Ireland will be looking to wrap up the Admiral Brown Cup in the second Test against Argentina in Tucuman, after prevailing 29-17 in the opening encounter – Ireland’s first-ever win over the Pumas on South American soil. Italy, smarting from a 25-14 loss to Fiji last week, travel to Apia to take on Samoa, and Scotland take on Canada in the second match of their North American tour after making hard work of a 24-6 win over the USA.
Meanwhile, the six-team IRB Pacific Nations Cup heads into its second round of matches, with Fiji facing off against Tonga and the USA hosting Japan. Last week, Japan downed Canada 35-24, and Samoa and Tonga drew 18-all.
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