It’s time for part three of the November squad previews, this time taking a look at Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania, and Manu Samoa. Look for part four later this afternoon!
New coach Joe Schmidt couldn’t have asked for a more difficult introduction to international rugby as his side faces an intimidating trio of southern hemisphere challengers. He’ll also have to do so without several injured players including: Richardt Strauss (heart surgery), Donnacha Ryan (knee), Iain Henderson (toe), Stephen Ferris (ankle), Tommy O’Donnell (knee), Simon Zebo (foot), and Craig Gilroy (ankle). Keith Earls (knee) will also miss at least the Samoan game. Cian Healy, Rory Best, Sean O’Brien, and Paul O’Connell have also been struggling but appear to be fit to play on the weekend.
Most of the squad are familiar faces but there are a couple surprises. Uncapped Leinster loosehead Jack McGrath has been picked for the first time, and Tom Court’s good form for Ulster means there is no place for David Kilcoyne. Veteran James Coughlan has again been picked, but is a long shot to win what would be his first cap. Robbie Henshaw is included as a centre after playing fullback in June, and Dave Kearney hopes to join his brother Rob in Irish colours sooner rather than later. Schmidt has yet to name his captain, with Jamie Heaslip, Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, and possibly Peter O’Mahony all thought to be in the running.
11/09 – 17:45 GMT – vs Samoa – Aviva Stadium, Dublin
11/16 – 17:45 GMT – vs Australia – Aviva Stadium, Dublin
11/24 – 14:00 GMT – vs New Zealand – Aviva Stadium, Dublin
It’s the same again, for the most part, for the Azzurri. Dependable fullback Andrea Masi is joined on the sidelines by prop Alberto de Marchi and flanker Simone Favaro, but otherwise the squad is at full strength. Quintin Geldenhuys has returned after missing the June tests, and will likely stand beside Marco Bortolami in the second row. Bortolami, along with Martin Castrogiovanni and captain Sergio Parisse, is likely to join the 100 cap club before the end of November, following in the footsteps of Andrea Lo Cicero’s century in the Six Nations.
Two uncapped players, both backs, have been called into the squad. Tommaso Allan, a former Scotland u20 flyhalf now at Perpignan, and Michele Campagnaro, an exciting centre from Treviso, are the new additions. Francesco Minto and Gonzalo Garcia are the most notable omissions, and Mirco Bergamasco’s international days appear to be over as he now plies his trade for Rovigo following serious knee surgery. His brother Mauro remains but at the age of 34 surely his days are numbered as well.
11/09 – 14:00 GMT – vs Australia – Stadio Olimpico, Turin
11/16 – 14:00 GMT – vs Fiji – Stadio Giovanni Zini, Cremona
11/23 – 14:00 GMT – vs Argentina – Stadio Flaminio, Rome
Former World Cup centre Frederico Sousa is the new coach of Os Lobos, succeeding Errol Brain whose contract expired in March. Sousa has chosen to wipe the slate clean and selected a hugely inexperienced squad, with 14 of 30 players untested at international level. Of the memorable 2007 team that took part in France, seven remain, including captain Joao Correia and the influential Uva brothers, dynamic back row Vasco and towering lock Goncalo. Flanker Julien Bardy, a regular for Clermont, will also be looked at to provide leadership.
All but one of the newcomers have seen game time with the Lusitanos side in the Amlin Challenge Cup, which is good for continuity but not necessarily for results as they have been trounced in both of their fixtures so far. Interestingly the team will travel to Brazil for their second match of November, and then return home to face Canada a week later. It will be the first ever test match between the two Portuguese-speaking nations, and should provide Sousa with a chance to rest his experienced players.
11/09 – 15:00 GMT – vs Fiji – Estadio Nacional, Lisbon
11/15 – 17:00 GMT – vs Brazil – Arena Barueri, Sao Paulo
11/23 – 15:00 GMT – vs Canada – Estadio Nacional, Lisbon
Lynn Howells has collected a powerful Oaks squad for the November tests that features most of his adopted country’s best players. Their traditional strength in the forwards is most evident at prop, with three quality pros to choose from and two youngsters who have impressed with the Bucharest Wolves in the Amlin Challenge Cup. Injury disruptions have been fairly minimal, with prop Andrei Ursache, back rowers Ovidiu Tonita and Daniel Carpo, and most unfortunately impressive winger Madalin Lemnaru all out of contention.
The only uncapped player is beefy lock/blindside Dorin Lazar, a graduate of the u20 program who has been training with the senior squad for a couple years now. Aggressive back rower Stelian Burcea has been recalled for the first time since the 2011 World Cup, and Iulian Dumitras has been named despite having played hardly any rugby since last year’s Nations Cup in June. Another interesting name is winger Stephen Hihetah, formerly of London Scottish and now playing for Baia Mare. Born in England with a father from Ghana and a Romanian mother, he is the first black athlete to represent Romania at any sport.
11/09 – 16:00 GMT – vs Tonga – Stadionul Arcul de Triumf, Bucharest
11/16 – 16:30 GMT – vs Canada – Stadionul Arcul de Triumf, Bucharest
11/23 – 16:30 GMT – vs Fiji – Stadionul Arcul de Triumf, Bucharest
The mighty Manu return to the northern hemisphere under the guidance of head coach Stephen Betham and feature one of their most powerful squads to date, even after injury robbed them of captain David Lemi and the reliable Paul Williams. World class tighthead Census Johnston is under an injury cloud for the first game in Dublin, with brother James set to start and uncapped 33 year old Benjamin Sa called in as cover. Daniel Leo will definitely miss out with a cracked elbow, but is expected to be fit to play the remaining matches.
Three further test rookies are in the squad, the most prominent being Wellington Hurricanes hitman Faifili Levave, who has declared for Samoa after being overlooked by the All Black selectors. Promising flyhalf Patrick Fa’apale, newly appointed captain of the 7s side, will play understudy to Tusi Pisi, and ITM Cup standout Isaia Tu’ifua is an option in the midfield. Northampton star George Pisi returns after missing the June tests, and may yet be joined by a third brother, Ken, as a replacement for Lemi. Kahn Fotuali’i, also at Northampton, has been named captain.
11/09 – 17:45 GMT – vs Ireland – Aviva Stadium, Dublin
11/16 – 19:00 GMT – vs French Barbarians – Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand
11/23 – 12:30 GMT – vs Georgia – Mikheil Meskhi Stadium, Tbilisi