There are five Saturday matches to look forward to, including the jewel in the crown, the first Lions test against Australia. The South African tournament concludes, and Georgia visit Argentina.
NEW ZEALAND vs FRANCE
Saturday, June 22, 07:35 GMT, New Plymouth
Steve Hansen has made five changes to the team that throttled the French a week ago. As if to rub salt in the wounds, veteran halfback duo Piri Weepu and Dan Carter return, with Andrew Hore adding his experience to the front row as well. Victor Vito takes up residence on the blindside flank, and Montpellier-bound Rene Ranger wins what could turn out to be his only test start. New caps Steven Luatua, Matt Todd, and Charles Piutau join Tawera Kerr-Barlow on the bench.
Meanwhile Philippe Saint-Andre has made wholesale changes. Benjamin Kayser, Alexandre Flanquart, Antonie Claassen, and freshly recalled Damien Chouly start in the forwards. New halfbacks Jean-Marc Doussain and Remi Tales face a baptism of fire in their run-on debuts, and les petits Marc Andreu and Brice Dulin enter the back three. Uncapped Eddy Ben Arous hopes to get some game time from the reserves.
After such a comprehensive defeat, it’s hard to see this one going much different, but this is France after all. The new players will have been told that this is their opportunity to put their name forward for the World Cup, and chances are some will take it. The renewed vigour will be apparent, but not enough to stave off a series blackwash. New Zealand win by 18.
Israel Dagg; Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Rene Ranger; Daniel Carter, Piri Weepu; Wyatt Crockett, Andrew Hore, Owen Franks; Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock; Victor Vito, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (capt.). RES: Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Ben Franks, Steven Luatua, Matt Todd, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau.
Brice Dulin; Marc Andreu, Florian Fritz, Wesley Fofana, Yoann Huget; Remi Tales, Jean-Marc Doussain; Thomas Domingo, Benjamin Kayser, Nicolas Mas; Alexandre Flanquart, Yoann Maestri; Thierry Dusautoir (capt.), Damien Chouly, Antonie Claassen. RES: Dimitri Swarzewski, Eddy Ben Arous, Luc Ducalcon, Sebastien Vaha’amahina, Bernard Le Roux, Maxime Machenaud, Camille Lopez, Mathieu Bastareaud.
AUSTRALIA vs BRITISH & IRISH LIONS
Saturday, June 22, 10:00 GMT, Brisbane
After four years of hibernation the Lions at last have a shot at redemption. Seven members of the starting XV have previous test experience, and for Brian O’Driscoll this will have special significance as he is the sole surviving member of the last tour to Oz in 2001.
The team itself is mostly as predicted, with the absence of Jamie Roberts and Tommy Bowe meaning Jonathan Davies and Alex Cuthbert start instead. The only surprise might be that of call-up Alex Corbisiero, whose scrummaging has earned the loosehead spot ahead of Mako Vunipola. In truth he would have been favourite for the position anyway had he not missed the Six Nations through injury, so his selection is by no means a gamble.
Robbie Deans has handed debuts to Ben Mowen, Christian Leali’ifano, and the superbly talented Israel Folau. James O’Connor has been handed the reins at flyhalf for only the second time in a test, in a decision most pundits agree could prove to be a decisive error. The rest of the side picks itself, with Michael Hooper chosen to don the crucial no7 jersey in place of injured David Pocock and George Smith.
If there is any shot at winning the series, the first game is of vital importance. A loss would be devastating for their hopes, a win puts the pressure on Australia. Expect the Wallabies to be up for it, but with three new players and possible ring-rust for the rest, the Lions have the edge in round one. Team Gats strikes the first blow with a 10 point victory.
Berrick Barnes; Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Leali’ifano, Digby Ioane; James O’Connor, Will Genia; Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander; Kane Douglas, James Horwill (capt.); Ben Mowen, Michael Hooper, Wycliff Palu. RES: Saia Fainga’a, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Liam Gill, Nick Phipps, Kurtley Beale, Pat McCabe.
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS
Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Brian O’Driscoll, Jonathan Davies, George North; Jonathan Sexton, Mike Phillips; Alex Corbisiero, Tom Youngs, Adam Jones; Alun Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell; Tom Croft, Sam Warburton (capt.), Jamie Heaslip. RES: Richard Hibbard, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Dan Lydiate, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Sean Maitland.
ITALY vs SCOTLAND
Saturday, June 22, 12:15 GMT, Pretoria
Once again Jacques Brunel has wrung the changes to the Azzurri, with ten changes in all including first caps for Zebre winger Leonardo Sarto and beefy Argentine-born second row Leandro Cedaro. Alberto Di Bernardo is back at no10, and Robert Barbieri has likely signified the end of Mauro Bergamasco’s distinguished international career with a recall to the openside spot. Leonardo Ghiraldini and Alessandro Zanni have strangely been relegated to the bench, where uncapped Alberto Chillon also finds a home at the expense of Edoardo Gori.
The Scots have been forced into three changes after injury further deprived them of Ruaridh Jackson, Peter Horne, and Ryan Wilson. Tom Heathcote is back at flyhalf, and David Denton comes into the back row. Alastair Kellock replaces Jim Hamilton at lock, with the latter headed back home to an expectant wife. Robert Harley has answered an SOS to shore up the bench that also contains test rookie Fraser Brown.
These two teams are playing for little more than pride and some IRB ranking points. Italy have completely fluffed their last two games, while Scotland gained some face against the Springboks. Expect the Italians to take Scotland on up front, where they might fair reasonably well, but ultimately Scott Johnson’s side will claim victory with a hard-fought 8 point win.
Andrea Masi; Leonardo Sarto, Luca Morisi, Alberto Sgarbi, Giovanbattista Venditti; Alberto Di Bernardo, Tobias Botes; Matias Aguero, Davide Giazzon, Martin Castrogiovanni; Leandro Cedaro, Marco Bortolami; Joshua Furno, Robert Barbieri, Sergio Parisse (capt.). RES: Leonardo Ghiraldini, Alberto de Marchi, Lorenzo Cittadini, Antonio Pavanello, Alessandro Zanni, Alberto Chillon, Gonzalo Canale, Luke McLean.
Peter Murchie; Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar, Matt Scott, Sean Lamont; Tom Heathcote, Greig Laidlaw (capt.); Alasdair Dickinson, Scott Lawson, Euan Murray; Tim Swinson, Alastair Kellock; Dave Denton, Alasdair Strokosch, Johnnie Beattie. RES: Fraser Brown, Jon Welsh, Moray Low, Grant Gilchrist, Robert Harley, Henry Pyrgos, Duncan Taylor, Tim Visser.
SOUTH AFRICA vs SAMOA
Saturday, June 22, 15:15 GMT, Pretoria
The grand finale of the new tournament pits the mighty Springboks against the powerful Samoans. Both sides have impressed in their two outings, and despite an historical advantage to South Africa this match should be fiercely contested.
Big Willem Alberts has recovered from injury and returns with Francois Louw to significantly strengthen the back row. Flip van der Merwe is strangely rotated in place of Juandre Kruger, while the rest of the side remains unchanged. The wing battle between gargantuan Alesana Tuilagi and Bryan Habana could be tremendous, though getting the ball out there might be a challenge.
The Manu have made only one change, with first choice goal kicker James So’oialo fit again to reclaim the no15 jersey from Brando Va’aulu, who returns to the bench. Alafati Fa’osiliva replaces Piula Fa’asalele in the reserves in the only other change to the match day squad. The physical loose forward trio will have their work cut out for them against their equally bruising opposites.
Physically the two sides match up fairly evenly, but the big difference will be the kicking game of South Africa. Ruan Pienaar, Morne Steyn, and Willie le Roux will put the ball behind the big Samoan runners and tire out their big forwards. Whenever there is a chance for some football to be played, the Manu could well come out on top, but that tactical advantage will pay dividends and put points on the board. The hosts take the game and the tournament with a 9 point win.
Willie le Roux; Bryan Habana, J.J. Engelbrecht, Jean de Villiers (capt.), Bjorn Basson; Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar; Tendai Mtawarira, Adriaan Strauss, Jannie du Plessis; Eben Etzebeth, Flip van der Merwe; Francois Louw, Willem Alberts, Pierre Spies. RES: Bismarck du Plessis, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Juandre Kruger, Siya Kolisi, Piet van Zyl, Patrick Lambie, Jan Serfontein.
James So’oialo; Alapati Leiua, Paul Williams (capt.), Johnny Leota, Alesana Tuilagi; Tusi Pisi, Jeremy Su’a; Sakaria Taulafo, Ole Avei, Census Johnston; Filo Paulo, Daniel Leo; Ofisa Treviranus, Jack Lam, Taiasina Tuifu’a. RES: Ti’i Paulo, Logovi’i Mulipola, James Johnston, Kane Thompson, Alafoti Fa’osiliva, Junior Poluleuligaga, Seilala Mapusua, Brando Va’aulu.
ARGENTINA vs GEORGIA
Saturday, June 22, 19:10 GMT, San Juan
A forgotten test between two nations that haven’t faced each other since the World Cup. The Lelos won the Six Nations tier 2 competition this year, but lost to both Irish and South African development sides in the Tbilisi Cup that wrapped up last week. Argentina meanwhile were soundly beaten by England in the two-test series.
The Pumas have handed Gonzalo Tiesi the captaincy in place of retired Felipe Contepomi, with Benjamin Madero slotting into the good doctor’s no10 jersey. Tomas Cubelli, Matias Orlando, and Tomas Carrio are brought in among the backs, with Esteban Lozada and Tomas de la Vega in with the forwards. From an outside observer, every player in the reserves could conceivably be considered superior to those starting ahead of them.
Georgia are fielding a largely first choice side, with talisman Mamuka Gorgodze the only significant absentee. The entire forward pack is based in France, with Toulouse hooker Jaba Bregvadze the least experienced on 18 caps. Powerful home-based winger Irakli Machkhaneli captains the side with fullback Beka Tsiklauri handed the kicking duties.
Argentina have the home advantage and certainly the Lelos are no England, but the difficulties experienced in the scrum play precisely into the hands of the carnivorous Georgian pack. This won’t be a pretty or particularly exciting game, but it will be close. The visitors have just enough firepower up front to win for the first time over Argentina via a 3 point decision.
Martin Bustos Moyano; Belisario Agulla, Matias Orlando, Gonzalo Tiesi (capt.), Tomas Carrio; Benjamin Madero, Tomas Cubelli; Guillermo Roan, Martin Garcia Veiga, Maximiliano Bustos; Esteban Lozada, Mariano Galarza; Rodrigo Baez, Tomas de la Vega, Benjamin Macome. RES: Mauricio Guidone, Bruno Postiglioni, Francisco Gomez Kodela, Tomas Vallejos, Tomas Leonardi, Martin Landajo, Benjamin Urdapilleta, Gabriel Ascarate.
Beka Tsiklauri; Irakli Machkhaneli (capt.), Davit Kacharava, Merab Sharikadze, Tamaz Mchedlidze; Lasha Khmaladze, Giorgi Begadze; Vasil Kakovin, Jaba Bregvadze, Davit Zirakashvili; Vakhtang Maisuradze, Levan Datunashvili; Shalva Sutiashvili, Viktor Kolelishvili, Giorgi Chkhaidze. RES: Revaz Belkania, Anton Peikrishvili, Levan Chilichava, Giorgi Nemsadze, Beka Bitsadze, Vazha Khutsishvili, Lasha Malaguradze, Irakli Kiasashvili.