While distraught Australian fans are still reeling from the 6-9 loss to Scotland on Tuesday night (June 5), the Wallabies prepare to take on Wales on Saturday in the first of three Tests.
The defeat is reminiscent of last year’s season-opening loss to Samoa, which put a dampener on the whole season. Australian administrators must shoulder some of the blame for scheduling four tests in three weeks.
While Australia plays Wales in three Tests, England begins a three-Test tour of South Africa and Ireland begin a three-test tour of New Zealand.
Wales vs Australia
Wales could beat Australia, having just won the Six Nations crown, after narrowly losing to Australia in the world cup in November.
Wales coach Warren Gatland is on the injured list after breaking both his heels after falling from a ladder a month ago. He will miss Saturday’s Test in Brisbane, but hopes to be in Melbourne for the second Test a week later.
Rob Howley is the caretaker coach for the Australian tour, which includes a game against the Brumbies.
The Australians will have a new captain, young flanker David Pocock, following the absence, through injury, of captain James Howill. The world-class Pocock is viewed as a future captain and captains the Force.
The Wallabies have three key backs out through injury, flyhalf Quade Cooper (who has resumed SuperRugby), fullback Kurtley Beale and utility James O’Connor. All three are instinctive, game-breaking players, so they are irreplaceable.
England vs South Africa
England meet a South African side revitalised by the naming of new coach Heyneke Meyer, who won a Super title coaching the Bulls.
He was seen as a breath of fresh air after the controversial former coach Pieter de Villiers. However, Meyer has created controversy by naming 13 Bulls players in his 32-man squad. He selected only three players from the Stormers, who are the leading South African Super side.
Despite this, new players were needed because of retirements. It seems that Meyer is also bringing a new, expansive approach, typified by the young Bulls. If so, the Springboks could build into an exciting, running side.
New captain Jean de Villiers typified Springboks rugby when he said: “This is an honour that is not bestowed upon many people and I really hope I can do my country proud.”
South Africa plays England in Durban on Saturday. The two sides drew 3-3 when they first met at Crystal Palace 106 years ago.
Former Springboks captain John Smit said England “certainly have a good chance” of winning in Durban.
Ireland vs New Zealand
New Zealand has its own controversy. Half-back Piri Weepu was selected despite sitting on the bench for the lowly Auckland Blues. The perennially plump Weepu has qualities that All Black coach Steve Hansen obviously values.
The Irish will be hard-pressed to match the talent-packed All Blacks when they meet in Auckland on Saturday. Irish Captain Brian O’Driscoll, 117 Test matches, will play his final series in New Zealand; the outstanding All Black centres, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams will give him a farewell befitting a champion.
Both the Super 15 and the much-anticipated Tests – with four in three weeks – have been compromised.
For the first time, SuperRugby has been put on hold for the duration of the June internationals. Nothing will happen for the next three weeks.
After 15 rounds, the main contenders for the Super finals are moving out from the field.
South Africa has three teams in contention, the Sharks, the Bulls and the Stormers. Yet, on Saturday, the Sharks were toppled by the lowly Lions and the Stormers defied the odds to beat the Bulls.
New Zealand has four teams in contention, the Chiefs, the Crusaders, the Highlanders and the Hurricanes. The Crusaders bumbled through the season, then hit form two weeks ago. On Saturday they defeated the Highlanders 41-18, despite the Highlanders playing well.
Australia has two teams in contention, the current champions, the Reds and a resurgent Brumbies. The Waratahs were beaten 12-33 at home by the Hurricanes.
Suddenly every game is crucial, which increases the pressure on the contenders. Cellar-dwellers like the Lions, have nothing to lose so the pressure slips away and the thrill of under-dog victories increases.
The Waratahs and the Blues represent the biggest cities in Australia and New Zealand, respectively. Both are filled with international players. Yet both are cellar-dwellers—but cellar-dwellers capable of beating the best.
Peter Lalanabarvi has over 30 years’ experience as a rugby writer.
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