Ireland vs. Argentina Preview

Sean O’Brien makes a timely return

After an emphatic victory over Italy last weekend in Chicago, Ireland lock horns against Argentina at the Aviva Stadium. The team selection made by Joe Schmidt is strong and shows the respect that the Ireland team have for the Argentinians. Hawkeye Sidekick runs the rule over the selections. 

Sean O’Brien returns for Ireland

Given the strong squad depth chart for Ireland, the omissions of Rob Kearney, Garry Ringrose and Tadhg Beirne are noted but not devastating to the Ireland setup.

The key talking point is the return of Sean O’Brien to the back row unit where he slots in alongside Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander. Injuries issues aplenty for the Tullow native but it is clear that Joe Schmidt has selected O’Brien to provide abrasiveness in his ball carrying, tackling and all round play. O’Brien needs to impress given the huge depth chart in the back row position. Josh van der Flier, Dan Leavy, Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy all chomping at the bit to get game time. Tadhg Beirne is a viable option in the unit too.

This is a strong lineup to kickoff the home Autumn International series. The front five looks compact and Iain Henderson will be keen to impress alongside James Ryan in the second row given that Devin Toner is on the bench and Tadhg Beirne is out of the matchday squad. The front row looks incredibly strong with Healy, Best and Furlong looking to unsettle an Argentine front row which has struggled in set piece this season.

The half back partnership will be keenly watched. How will Marmion manage the game? Can Marmion provide quick ruck ball for Sexton to launch his runners?

The three quarters and back three are loaded with talent and physicality. Aki and Henshaw will carry with abrasive purpose while Larmour, Earls and Stockdale will look to impress in the back three. Larmour’s attacking lines are superb but want to see him tested defensively and under the high ball against Argentina to get a full read on the player. 

Argentina shift personnel and captaincy

Mario Ledesma has shifted the team with six changes and a change in captaincy. Creevy starts at hooker but loses the captaincy to Matera. The key theme from the selection is the added bulk to the back row as Petti (a lock) slots into the back row; an indication that Argentina want to meet Ireland head on in the set piece (line out) and pack exchanges.

Sanchez at ten is a superb footballer and will look to Cubelli to provide quick ruck ball to allow  him to launch an exciting back line containing Delguy and Boffelli. A solid outfit which should experience as severe cohesion issues as typically seen by national teams this time of year as all the squad are from the Jaguares. 

Game Plan

It is an interesting question to pose. Argentina have evolved their game plan in recent year. Their dependency on total pack supremacy on the back of a slick aerial game has significantly reduced as the Jaguares and now the national team have refocused to play a more expansive style of game. They will look to spread the ball out wide to test Ireland’s outside defense early doors. 

What do Ireland do? To engage in a highly unstructured game would favor Argentina but the smart play will be to focus initially on pack platform, look to expose the visitors in the scrum. The line out looks interesting with the inclusion of Petti in the Argentinian side; a third viable line out jumper for the South Americans.

Sexton will be eager to launch his runners but I think the theme will be patience; play the phases in the tight and when the opportunities arise, launch Henshaw and Aki to secure gain line advantages that will utilize the Ireland back three. 

Verdict

A good solid test match for Ireland ahead of their New Zealand challenge on November 20th. Ireland will be tested by Argentina in their fast attacking game but the pack platform advantage lies with Ireland here. This is the focal point for victory and despite Argentina’s resiliency, think this is a test match where Ireland will look to issue a statement of intent to all others. Ireland by ten points. 

Argentina: Ireland’s Nemesis

Argentina poses threats to Ireland

After the Chicago Soldier Field test match, Ireland must reset and focus on their next assignment, an assignment against an opposition who have broken their hearts in previous RWC tournaments.

Argentina form guide

Argentina come to the Aviva Stadium on the back of a strong Rugby Championship where the South Americans beat South Africa (H) and Australia (A) and were competitive against New Zealand in both fixtures.

The sore point for Argentina in the Rugby Championship was their second half collapse at home to Australia surrendering a huge lead to lose 34-45, the collapse was the second biggest comeback win in the history of test match rugby. It has prompted a change in captaincy as veteran Creevy is relieved of the captaincy in favor of the youthful, exuberance of back row forward Pablo Mantera. 

What is the squad makeup? 

The Argentinian squad is one which should be cohesive in the pack and back line. This is because the vast majority of the side ply their club careers with the Argentine franchise Jaguares who are in the Super Rugby competition. They have progressed well in the competition, progressively rising up the rankings with a respectable seventh position this season after finishing tenth in 2017 and thirteenth in the standings for the 2016 season. A squad which is evolving with the Jaguares should see improvement as well for the national team come RWC 2019.  

Head Coach

A name that Ireland will know very. Mario Ledesma was an accomplished hooker who had a successful playing career in France and National side. A natural leader, Ledesma led Argentina superbly in the 2007 to a semi-final appearance and continued in that same vain in 2011 RWC where Argentina succumbed to New Zealand in the quarter finals. Coaching stints in Australia and France developed his managerial skill set to take over Jaguares and Argentina national teams in 2018. A man who will make the tough decisions evident in his demotion of Creevy as captain before this tour. 

Game Plan

The Argentinian style of play has evolved quite significantly in recent years. The routine box kicking and pack platform supremacy game plan of the past has fundamentally shifted. The side likes to express themselves with ball in hand, look to be expansive when the opportunities arise with a steadily improving offloading game. 

Players to Watch

The back three threat at the weekend have pace, power and footballing skill to keep Ireland on their toes. Delguy and Boffelli had excellent seasons with their club Jaguares and their pace and ability to create line breaks were seen in the Rugby Championship this season. Moyano is a player who given time and space will destroy opposition. 

The half-back partnership is very experienced. Sanchez is a quality fly-half operator who will ping to the corners when required but his ability to bring his back line unit into the game is a key strength. Landajo is a solid scrum half, no frills and will look to distribute fast ruck ball. Ireland’s back row unit will need to slow down ball to contain the half-back threat of Argentina. 

The back row unit led by Pablo Mantera will look to cut loose in their ball carrying. Mantera is a back row who loves to carry endless ball and will look to offload at every opportunity and will be ably assisted by experienced operator Leguizamón. 

Potential Weak Point

The second row unit contains the brilliance of Lavanini in the ranks. His line out and set piece execution is genuinely world class. However, questions have persisted on the front five cohesion during the summer and Rugby Championship test match series. 

The front row, traditionally an area of strength has become an area where squad depth has being exposed. Ledesma will hope that the front row unit containing Creevy and Herrera can provide the stability required but after that, squad depth quality in the prop positions dips and this is an area of concern for Argentina ahead of the Autumn and RWC 2019 fixtures. 

November Rugby Union Internationals: Squad Announcements

With less than twelve months to go to the RWC 2019 tournament in Japan, the squad announcements for the November internationals in recent weeks have being more scrutinized than an usual squad announcement. For some players, it is an opportunity to stake a late claim for RWC 2019 squad inclusion.

For others, misdemeanors and lack of form have usurped an international recall meaning squad inclusion is bleak for the World Cup next year. Hawkeye Sidekick runs the rule on the squads announced in recent days. 

England: Squad Selection Debate

England squad selection interesting reading

The England Rugby Union squad selection is always keenly observed and this announcement did not disappoint. Eight uncapped players join the camp and there were some surprising omissions. 

The new players coming into the squad for next month’s are Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby), Nathan Earle (Harlequins), Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors), Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby), Ben Moon (Exeter Chiefs), Michael Rhodes (Saracens), Nick Schonert (Worcester Warriors) and Elliott Stooke (Bath Rugby). 

The omissions though are the main talking points. Danny Ciprani on the field has had a superb start to the season with Gloucester Rugby; his play making and game management have being on point but did the early season arrest scupper his squad selection? Don Armand is also excluded, the player is so consistent for Exeter Chiefs and his abrasive style of play I thought would have being invaluable for England for next month’s test against New Zealand in particular. 

There are several withdrawals in the form of  Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers), Nathan Hughes (Wasps), Nick Isiekwe (Saracens), Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Dan Robson (Wasps), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby) so it is a genuine opportunity for the uncapped players announced today to take their opportunity with both hands but it is going to be tough with New Zealand and a re-energized South Africa coming up. 

New Zealand: Focus on RWC 2019

Steve Hansen looking to RWC 2019 with extended squad selection

New Zealand have named a very strong 32-man main squad. Dane Coles, Joe Moody, Brodie Retallick and Liam Squire all return.

Dalton Papalii is a new face to the All Blacks side and Matt Todd is a surprise selection given that the players is playing his rugby in Japan and the policy to only name players plying their trade in New Zealand. 

An additional nineteen players have being called up to train and prepare for the Japanese test match. Tyrel Lomax, Reuben O’Neill, Gareth Evans, Bryn Hall, Brett Cameron, George Bridge and Matt Proctor are all uncapped players; a chance to impress Hansen and coaching staff. 

A potent squad brought to the NH, there is no complacency in this player group. The focus and eyes are set on RWC 2019 on this selection. Anyone out of this squad selection can probably kiss their World Cup hopes goodbye apart from anyone injured (Sam Cane a classic example). 

Australia: Backs Against Wall Selection

Surprise midfield inclusion for beleaguered Australians

It has being a tough tough couple of months for Michael Chieka, backroom staff and Australian Rugby Union playing squad. Apart from a spirited second half fightback on the road to Argentina last time out, there has being precious little to cheer about. 

Changes were required, a chance to run the rule over new players and see if they are up to test match standard. Step forward 
Jed Holloway, Jake Gordon and Angus Cottrell to impress and they are joined by Samu Kerevi (center) and Jack Dempsey (back row) who return after a stint on the sidelines injured. Kerevi’s ball carrying ability in the three quarters has being keenly missed. 

The squad selection right now is the third Bledisoe Cup fixture in Japan but the nucleus of this squad will feature in the NH next month. 

Wales: Solid squad selection 

Two uncapped players in the Welsh squad

Two uncapped players in the Welsh squad for the November test match series. Holmes (winger) and Morgan (winger) come into the squad; both have had excellent starts to the season. 

The squad selection is teak tough with few surprises thereafter. Faletau and Scott Williams will be missed but there is substantial back row cover and the three quarters is boosted by the return of Jonathan Davies. 

Wales look formidable and test matches against Scotland, South Africa, Tonga and Australia (yet again). Patchell is following return to play protocols. A solid squad selection and one that should look to run the tables against their SH opposition. 

Scotland: Notable Inclusions Key

Scotland squad selection looks exciting

Three uncapped players join Scotland’s squad. Blade Thomson, Sam Johnson and Sam Skinner have being standouts this season and are noteworthy inclusions for Scotland. 

Alex Dunbar, Jonny Gray, Huw Jones, Greig Laidlaw, Sean Maitland, Willem Nel, Gordon Reid, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour, Ryan Wilson and Hamish Watson all return to the squad as well to boost quality in the ranks. 

The interesting development will be on the club vs. country row with Thomson and Johnson having to request approval to play against Wales because it falls outside the test match rugby calendar. You may not hear the end of this before this fixture is over. 

France: In Bamba we trust 

Brunel calls up Bamba, drops Slimani 

November test match series has to be the catalyst for an upturn in results and performances from France. Key note inclusions are Demba Bamba (twenty year old prop) and Louis Picamoles who returns after being dropped after the Scotland game (disciplinary issue). Julien Marchand also comes into the side as well. 

Long term injuries Dupont (scrum-half) and Lopez (fly-half) make welcome returns to the squad. France are scheduled to play South Africa, Australia and Fiji in November. It will be interesting to see if there is any genuine improvement to the side. 

Argentina: Homegrown Talent Selection

A provincial 38 player squad was selected by Mario Ledesma who focus on homegrown talent is evident in that only Herrera (Stade Francais) and Figallo (Saracens) are the only players plying their trade away from Argentina. The majority of the squad are playing for Super Rugby side Jaguares. 

What to expect from Argentina? Aviva Stadium faithful will be pleasantly surprised by the game plan of Argentina next month. It is far more expansive with back line flair coming to the fore. Ireland have a tricky squad selection to decide on this fixture. 

2018 FIFA World Cup Preview: Group D

Group D looks tough. Argentina will look to Lionel Messi for the inspiration, creativity and goals to advance but the side defensively look vulnerable when you consider that Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria are group opponents. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the squads.

Argentina

Jorge Sampaoli has a delicate balancing act to achieve with this Argentinian squad loaded with attacking talent in striker and midfield positions but unfortunately there are questions on how defensively solid the side are with this talent in the side. The friendly loss to Spain at the start of this year was evidence if evidence was needed that Argentina defensively as a team is a work in progress and whether Sampaoli can fix this during training camp is ambitious at best.

The pros for the side are the attacking talent options. Aguero, Messi, Dybala, Di Maria, and Higuain are incredible options to have. How Sampaoli keeps these players happy with sufficient game minutes to partner the mercurial Messi is the another fine balancing act required?

Plenty of defensive leadership and responsibility is going to rest on the likes of Mascherano and Otamendi. They will need support from their central midfield area with the likes of Biglia will need to be on point in their defensive duties. Banega is another player who could have a positive impact for Argentina in this tournament.

The lack of defensive nous collectively in the team is going to give group opposition an opportunity in these opening round fixtures. Argentina to just sneak into the second round but this opening round will see vulnerabilities in this Argentinian side which a potential last sixteen side will gleefully accept despite the brilliance of Messi.

Iceland

A team of the sum of all its parts. The many years of cultivating a well run, efficient youth development system to unearth Icelandic talent has reaped its rewards. Iceland feature in yet another marquee tournament. Their support and the trademark hand clap will be greatly appreciated from the World Cup organizers.

The pluses for the side is their organization; hard to break down defensively and well organized. Their ability to execute superb set piece delivery led by Gylfi Sigurrdson and Johann Berg Gudmunson has created numerous goals and will be a live threat to all opponents. Their ability to go direct plays to the strengths of their forward line options such as Finbogason.

The negatives for the side are that they will be up against potentially at least two of the most potent attacking units in the tournament. Argentina’s attacking arsenal and their electric pace will test Iceland’s rearguard who at times have struggled to contain pacy attacking sides; elude to France quarter final loss in the UEFA Championships. The personnel has not changed drastically from this encounter. Croatia have the potential to pass a team into exhaustion.

Iceland will need to realistically get something from the Argentina and Croatia games to have a realistic chance of advancing to the second round.

Can Iceland evolve their game plan to throw different looks to their opposition? I have my doubts and I think they will at times look incredibly one dimensional. Alas, Iceland to go out in the opening round of the tournament.

Croatia

A team which should get to the semi-finals of this tournament. They are an incredible solid squad; defensively solid and with marquee midfield and attacking options to cause endless issues to opponents in this campaign.

The pros for the side are the midfield options. Luka Modric has the ability to beat teams on his own; his ability to change tempo when required, his passing range and ability to come up with decisive goals from long range are huge pluses.

Mateo Kovacic has the ability to be a player of the tournament. The Real Madrid central midfielder ticks all the boxes; good with the ball, defensively on point and ability to support his strikers with searing runs from deep.

Ivan Perisic, Nikola Kalinic and Mario Mandzukic are quality front men and offer pace, power and aerlal threat for the national side. Mandzukic in particular has had another terrific season with Juventus at club level and if provided with good service, will be scoring plenty.

If there is a negative, it can be that Croatia can at times take their foot off the pedal during a fixture. It cost them during the European Champions and the qualification saw a couple of indifferent end of campaign results due to complacency during the game.

I would be disappointed for Croatia if they cannot emerge from this group as winners. They are the standout team in this group; experience and no genuine weak links in the squad. Their passing game has the potential to destroy teams in this group. Group winners for me.

Nigeria

The African nation is known for its pace and powerful football. From their cameos in USA ’94 where the likes of Finidi George became a household name to the footballing world, this side have not being afraid to express themselves on a football pitch.

There have being years of turmoil between the association and players but this is all behind the country as they look forward to this tournament.

The side have experience straight down the spine of their side with the likes of Obi Mikel, Moses, Musa, Etebo, Ndidi, Iwobi and Ighalo. They have pace and power to exploit teams on the counter attack which could cause issues for their pool opponents.

The negative is in the defensive squad depth. The goalkeeping position in particular is quite inexperienced with Ezenwa with only twenty-six caps, the other keepers have only a handful caps between them.

The defensive options are for me personally something of an unknown and I fear that the team may be prone to a couple of defensive lapses which will cause decisive goals being conceded.

Entertaining football is the objective but whether defensively they can be solid enough is a big question mark and for this reason, it looks like an opening round exit.

Autumn Internationals: What to expect?

November. The end of season Southern Hemisphere tours are upon us and with 2019 Rugby World Cup looming on the horizons, these fixtures will be seen as an initial assessment on squad depth and where improvements are required. Hawkeye Sidekick casts his eye on what we should expect in the coming weeks.

New Zealand keen to reestablish dominance on tour

A drawn series against the British & Irish Lions in July, a series where New Zealand will feel that they left behind. This tour will be a chance to showcase their talent and provide an ominous statement of intent against NH rivals. The fixture list is intriguing as the All Blacks lock horns against France twice in the space of three days. November 18th sees a trip to face Scotland with a final tour game against Wales on November 25th. What to expect from New Zealand? Squad rotation will be seen to full effect next week with the fixture in Lyon. New Zealand have abundance of talent in their ranks and the likes of Perenera, Laumape, Fifita will look to deliver and give Steve Hansen evidence to continue in the side. This is a tour where Sam Cane could be the standout back rower for the All Blacks; his ability to read breakdowns and win turnover ball will be huge in this set of fixtures. The Welsh clash for the breakdown battle will be worth the gate admission fee. You cannot see how New Zealand will be beaten in this tour. Barrett is playing sublime rugby this season both from hand and boot and with an exciting set of backs to be unleashed at any time, the tour opponents have being duly warned.

Australia looking for consistency

Victory over New Zealand last month was a much needed tonic for Michael Cheika’s side to gain confidence. Consistency issues against New Zealand have being duly punished in recent test match fixtures so it was imperative that the Wallabies competed against the All Blacks first and foremost. The win was bonus territory and Australia come into this tour on good confidence scoring sixty-three points against Japan. Defense is a work in progress as thirty points were leaked. Arguments on the merits of this point but the late try concessions will have disappointed Cheika. Australia’s tour will see fixtures against Wales (familiar foe), England and Scotland. The key performance point for Australia on this tour will be how the front five perform as an unit. Consistency issues this season and the scrum has gone backwards against all SH teams at different intervals. Australia are an exciting side to watch in full flow, their speed of pass and running lines are excellent. Kuridrani is a key player in all that Australia in early phases. His power and running style means gain line breaks. Speight is a player who if given ball will create issues for all the NH teams. If the pack can go well on this tour, 2019 RWC chances are elevated. A key tour for Cheika and team beckons.

South Africa keen to impress new coaching ticket

Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Niebaner have departed Munster and will look with interest at the progression of this South African side. They commence the tour with a much anticipated tussle against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. Recent form suggests South Africa are rebuilding nicely after a terrible shut-out loss to New Zealand this season. It was a pivotal fixture; the players have regrouped well and produce stirring performances thereafter running New Zealand to a close loss. Pride was restored in the jersey. This tour will be to identify key personnel to build the side around for the 2019 RWC. This is when South Africa typically start to show signs of promise and Ireland will be duly warned. Etzebeth and De Jager are a massive second row partnership, solid set piece execution. Jantjies at ten is developing into a world class ten. His ability to eye a pass is to the fore but his kicking game is a work in progress. Kriel provides energy and skill to the three quarters; excellent movement where gain line meters are gained. The Ireland test match will go some way to determine how South Africa approach the rest of the tour where they face France and Italy to conclude their tour. With changes to the management team, players will be keen to impress the newly joined Erasmus to the coaching ticket. Niebaner’s defensive skills will be an added boost to the Springboks; all starting to point to a revitalized South African outfit in 2018 and 2019.

Argentina looking to end season on a high note

A tough season for Argentina this season. They have competed for good stretches of test matches but have being let down by lapses in concentration and discipline have being exposed to the max. The most recent results against South Africa illustrated this point perfectly, several well worked tries scored but a red card to Lavanini (home game) opened the gates for South Africa to win with a bit to spare. Talented side with an abrasive front row who will test any side with their scrummaging ability. Creevy and Herrera are world class front row players and England have being duly warned on their prowess from last season’s encounter. Leguizamon is a superb eight, great skill set to the player and with Hernandez pulling the strings at ten, this side will not fear any opponent. England, Italy and Ireland are scheduled this month. The squad depth is a source of concern and it will be interesting to see if Argentina can reveal a couple of new players on tour to increase confidence and momentum ahead of RWC 2019. A disappointing international season but this November international series is an opportunity to end the season on a good note. Abrasive but well capable of exposing defensive weakness out wide, the Pumas deserve plenty of respect.

England look to continue improvement

Eddie Jones has being in bullish form ahead of the November internationals. His side went last season unbeaten until Ireland beat them at the Aviva Stadium in March and there was plenty of positives for Jones to reflect upon from last season. The pack were solid in set piece where Maro Itoje and George Kruis had excellent international seasons. Itoje’s work rate and pace for a forward is sublime and his versatility switching from back row to second row is such a valuable asset to England. Set piece was solid but questions remain on the hooker position. George vs. Hartley. Hartley getting the nod due in part to being captain but Jamie George has grown in stature last season and the British & Irish Lions tour has made him an even better player. Billy Vunipola’s injury will be an interesting subplot; a chance for Jones to run the rule over a couple of candidates. England’s attacking lines improved as the season progressed last year. Farrell and Youngs looking to hit back line players with pace hitting the line incredibly flat. The back line has being an interesting side-note to the international series. Yarde has being omitted. Solomona has had an opportunity to impress but it looks like May and Daly will be the key attacking threats for England. Test matches against Argentina (pack workout beckons), Australia and bankrupt Samoa will tell more about England but the key contest will be against New Zealand, all in good time.

Ireland move on without Zebo

Simon Zebo’s decision to move to France next season has seen the player omitted from the national team squad. Joe Schmidt quite clear on his intentions with Zebo, a player with creativity and flair from full back. Ireland will miss the player particularly in games where creativity is required to break up the field. Ireland’s squad selection apart from Zebo had few surprises. Sexton and Murray will be asked to control game management. Murray with his spiral kicks. Sexton looking to launch his back line at regular intervals. The front row looks excellent. Furlong is in incredible form currently and with Jack McGrath alongside, the scrum should go well. The question mark is the set piece; statistics for the Ireland hooker players are less than stellar and South Africa will look to expose this facet of play this weekend. The back row options are endless. It will be interesting to see how CJ Stander goes against his native homeland, excellent ball carrier and work ethos. This series of games will see hopefully who is best placed to fill the full back and ten positions. O’Halloran and Carbery will get game time at full back. Carbery potentially may get game time against Fiji at ten. Ireland’s weak point in recent RWC cycles has being their inability to find an adequate squad to fill multiple positions when injuries arise. Schmidt must take note of failures from the past. Argentina game will be abrasive; the pack exchanges will be interesting to observe.

Wales fresh faces looking to make impact

November has not being a good month for Wales in recent years; not many wins. Gatland has changed up the squad dropping the likes of Jamie Roberts, Sam Davies, Scott Williams and Luke Charteris from the squad. Excellent players but is this a sign that Gatland and management are switching their style of play. Australia do not seem to be buying it and are expecting physicality in ball carrying, abrasive breakdown contest. The squad dynamics though would suggest that if Wales can gain parity in the pack, a back line with the likes of Liam Willams, Steff Evans, Leigh Halfpenny must surely indicate fast ball out wide under the roof of the Principality Stadium. The back row has always being a strong area for Wales, hoping Josh Navidi gets game time as the Cardiff Blues player has being a consistent high performer in Pro 12 / 14 leagues this year. The front five will be an area where Australia and New Zealand will look to turn the screw at scrum-time. The front row looks vulnerable without the likes of Samson Lee in the ranks. Gatland looking to see new talent, will be intriguing if the players impress against Australia, Georgia, New Zealand and South Africa. Does Gatland bring back the players left out this time around?

Scotland look to continue upward progression

Scotland were the most progressive NH side last season. Under the management of Vern Cotter, the RBS 6N tournament went well. Despite the mauling against England, the side competed well and earned notable scalps against Ireland, Wales and Italy with an exciting brand of rugby. The back line play of Jones, Fife, Hogg and Seymour were to the fore and with solid game management from Russell and Laidlaw at half-back, the team played with an increased attacking threat. The pack were competitive. Gray’s leading from the front but there were issues defending opposition mauls and the scrum did struggle at times against England and France. New head coach Gregor Townsend will look to address these issues but also look to build on the expansive attacking style seen last season. His tenure for Glasgow Warriors means that the national side will look to execute an expansive style of play. The fixtures look tough with visits from New Zealand and Australia but confidence should be high before this with a visit from Samoa who are financially bankrupt and the appetite of the players on national duty may not be what it should be.

Italy need to build momentum

Conor O’Shea will look for Italy to follow the lead of Benetton Rugby and Zebre Rugby with more determined, competitive performances. There has being an upturn in performance with the two clubs this season and it is hoped that the national side will improve as a result. Plenty for O’Shea and management to work on. The pack is a work in progress, discipline and penalty count needs to be reduced and this is the key indicator to see where Italy are at after this month’s fixture list. Increased penalty count will lead to points conceded for Italy. The back line and half-backs need to be better; lack of threat out wide meant that opposition could stifle ball carrying from the pack creating turnover ball. November is a time where Italy need to show signs of improvement in all areas of the pitch. Let us not be started on the kicking off the tee; abysmal last year. Hopefully, there will be a positive run of performances from Italy but the fixture against Fiji will make or break this side. Fiji will fancy their chances. Italy need to send out a statement of intent. Argentina and South Africa are teams which Italy will look to compete well against but this weekend is their proverbial cup final to build confidence and momentum.

France: Club vs. Country

The fact that two fixtures against the All Blacks are within a three day period says a lot on French rugby, national vs. club is rearing its head. National team has suffered due to lack of training camps during the season when compared with other RBS 6N teams. Guy Noves is facing an uphill task; he has the players now but the game plan will be conservative. It has to be given the lack of training sessions that the squad has had. New Zealand (first test) will be interesting. Can the French pack be competitive for long enough to allow the back line enough ball to create try scoring opportunities? The second fixture against All Blacks in Lyon is a bit of a mystery. Is this a representational side or an actual test match? South African game will be a true indicator of where the team is at. France, mysterious as always. The clubs are patiently waiting for their assets back to resume league action next month. The disparity between national side vs. professional club is growing by the day. Sad development.