Another eight tests on the horizon this weekend, so best to keep them in two parts once again. First, to fantasy land! A story of eagles, dragons, lions, and cockerels!
UNITED STATES vs TONGA
Saturday, June 15, 02:30 GMT, Los Angeles
The Americans look to quickly get over their heartbreak of coming up short against Ireland by finishing off a disheartened and diminished Tongan side at the Home Depot Center. Mike Tolkin has named the same lineup minus injured Luke Hume and rested Samu Manoa. James Paterson fills in on his familiar wing, and Peter Dahl comes in to openside flank, with Scott LaValla shifting over to the blindside.
The Ikale Tahi have lost three players to suspension and another to injury. Kama Sakalia comes in at loosehead, Tomasi Palu at scrumhalf bumping Taniela Moa to flyhalf, and former rugby league international Fraser Anderson wins his first cap at centre. Elvis Taione, Josh Afu, Paula Kaho and Viliame Iongi are recalled from the bench, with Samisoni Pone and uncapped duo Daniel Faleafa and Siale Fahiua brought into the squad.
While the Americans will miss the physicality of Manoa, there is greater balance to the back row and should be confident enough to move the Tongan pack around the pitch. The Islanders are by no means a pushover, and still retain a huge amount of firepower in the backs, but one feels that they might be a bit lacking in the tactical kicking department and Palu is no Kurt Morath off the tee. Pick the US in this one by 10 points.
Chris Wyles; Takudzwa Ngwenya, Seamus Kelly, Andrew Suniula, James Paterson; Toby L’Estrange, Mike Petri; Shawn Pittman, Chris Biller, Eric Fry; Brian Doyle, Louis Stanfill; Scott LaValla, Peter Dahl, Todd Clever (capt.). RES: Zach Fenoglio, Nick Wallace, Phil Thiel, Graham Harriman, John Quill, Robbie Shaw, Adam Siddall, Blaine Scully.
Viliami Hakalo; Viliame Iongi, Fraser Anderson, Sione Piukala, Viliami Helu; Taniela Moa, Tomasi Palu; Kamaliele Sakalia, Elvis Taione, Taione Vea; Josh Afu, Lua Lokotui; Hale T-Pole, Nili Latu (capt.), Paula Kaho. RES: Ilaisa Ma’asi, Peni Fakalelu, Sila Puafisi, Emosi Kauhenga, Daniel Faleafa, Samisoni Masima, Siale Fahiua, Samisoni Pone.
JAPAN vs WALES
Saturday, June 8, 05:00 GMT, Tokyo
Take two, this time at the big show, Chichibunomiya Stadium in Tokyo. Eddie Jones has recalled fit-again captain Toshiaki Hirose to the wing in the only change to his side. After the narrow defeat a week ago his charges will be inspired to take it one further against the vulnerable Welsh.
Robin McBryde has evidently agreed with most observers that he got the back row all wrong, and has brought scavenger Josh Navidi in at openside alongside adopted Cardiff captain Andries Pretorius at no8. Rhys Gill replaces Ryan Bevington at loosehead prop, and Tom Prydie wins his first cap in three years, swapping with Dafydd Howells on the wing.
This looks a more complete Welsh side who will have grown more accustomed to the heat during the week. The Cherry Blossoms will push hard once again, but this time expect more professionalism and combativeness at the breakdown from their opponents. A good match again, but Wales takes it in a more assured 9 point win.
Ayumu Goromaru; Toshiaki Hirose (capt.), Male Sa’u, Craig Wing, Kenki Fukuoka, Harumichi Tatekawa, Fumiaki Tanaka; Masataka Mikami, Shota Horie, Hiroshi Yamashita; Hitoshi Ono, Shoji Ito; Hendrik Tui, Michael Broadhurst, Takashi Kikutani. RES: Takeshi Kizu, Yusuke Nagae, Kensuke Hatakeyama, Shinya Makabe, Justin Ives, Atsushi Hiwasa, Yu Tamura, Yoshikazu Fujita.
Liam Williams; Harry Robinson, Owen Williams, Jonathan Spratt, Tom Prydie; Dan Biggar, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Emyr Phillips, Scott Andrews; Bradley Davies (capt.), Lou Reed; James King, Josh Navidi, Andries Pretorius. RES: Scott Baldwin, Rhodri Jones, Craig Mitchell, Andrew Coombs, Dan Baker, Tavis Knoyle, Rhys Patchell, Dafydd Howells.
NEW ZEALAND vs FRANCE
Saturday, June 8, 07:30 GMT, Christchurch
A late change sees Sam Whitelock come in for Brodie Retallick, who suffered a hamstring injury in training that will see him miss the next two tests. The only other changes are on the bench, where veterans Tony Woodcock and Piri Weepu are recalled at the expense of Ben Afeaki and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Poor defense appears to have cost Camille Lopez the no10 jersey after only one test, with enigmatic Freddie Michalak preferred, and embattled Yoann Huget swaps positions with Maxime Medard. Nicolas Mas and Christophe Samson return to bolster the tight five, and big South African import Bernard Le Roux is handed a debut in place of injured Fulgence Ouedraogo on the flank. Looming on the bench is local fan favourite Mathieu Bastareaud, sure to receive a warm welcome when he makes his assured appearance.
France put up a decent fight despite looking tired and a bit sloppy last week, and the All Blacks certainly looked beatable in a relatively forgettable performance. That said, New Zealand has a nasty habit of bouncing back quicker than most. Most of the side should feel as though they are on probation this week, and that should be enough to push them onto greater things. The poor French will feel hard done by, and fast Freddie will be left reeling at a barrage and a 17 point victory.
Israel Dagg; Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea; Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith; Wyatt Crockett, Dane Coles, Owen Franks; Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock; Liam Messam, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (capt.). RES: Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Ben Franks, Jeremy Thrush, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Beauden Barrett, Rene Ranger.
Maxime Medard; Adrien Plante, Florian Fritz, Wesley Fofana, Yoann Huget; Frederic Michalak, Maxime Machenaud; Thomas Domingo, Dimitri Swarzewski, Nicolas Mas; Christophe Samson, Yoann Maestri; Thierry Dusautoir (capt.), Bernard Le Roux, Louis Picamoles. RES: Benjamin Kayser, Vincent Debaty, Luc Ducalcon, Sebastien Vaha’amahina, Yannick Nyanga, Brice Dulin, Remi Tales, Mathieu Bastareaud.
NEW SOUTH WALES WARATAHS vs BRITISH & IRISH LIONS
Saturday, June 8, 09:30 GMT, Sydney
Will the Waratahs prove tougher than the Reds? Will Jonny Sexton’s hamstring pull through unscathed? Will Sam Warburton take a step forward and vault back into test leader status? Questions that need to be answered, and ones that will drive the narrative at the Allianz Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Another story line just starting is that of Simon Zebo, who makes his Lions bow on the wing, and with whispers of George North’s own hamstring troubles in the air, it could be a big day indeed for the drafted-in Irishman. The rest of the lineup has a hint of test side about it, with the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell, and Adam Jones propping up a powerful scrum. On the bench Rob Kearney has finally recovered sufficiently to make an appearance and earn his tour spot.
Michael Cheika has only four capped Wallabies in his side, but there are several Super Rugby regulars, and genuine class in the form of playmaker Bernard Foley at no10. Both wingers combine size with pace, and speaking of size the second row features two particularly large individuals, with big Willie Skelton leading the way at a massive 135kg. Brendan McKibbin is solid if unspectacular but has a bit of Greig Laidlaw about him with his consistent right boot.
The Lions will come away victorious, of that there is little doubt, but the margin of victory is difficult to predict. The Waratahs will be motivated and will play above themselves, the visitors will either romp or flatter to deceive. It should be a cracker, with the men from the home nations ultimately out-classing the home side to a 15 point win.
NEW SOUTH WALES WARATAHS
Drew Mitchell; Cam Crawford, Rob Horne, Tom Carter, Peter Betham; Bernard Foley, Brendan McKibbin; Jeremy Tilse, John Ulugia, Paddy Ryan; Willie Skelton, Ollie Atkins; Jed Holloway, Pat McCutcheon, Dave Dennis (capt.). RES: Luke Holmes, Sam Talakai, Richard Aho, Lopeti Timani, A.J. Gilbert, Matt Lucas, Ben Volavola, Tom Kingston.
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS
Leigh Halfpenny; Sean Maitland, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Simon Zebo; Jonathan Sexton, Mike Phillips; Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Adam Jones; Alun Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell; Tom Croft, Sam Warburton (capt.), Jamie Heaslip. RES: Richard Hibbard, Alex Corbisiero, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Dan Lydiate, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Rob Kearney.