By Lee Dover
The eyes of the sporting world are shifting their attention to Ukraine and Poland, as there is a little football tournament about to kick-off there.
However, with a glorious summer of sport on the horizon, there is so much more to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead.
Sports fans hoping for a little bit more vigour and aggression should look no further than the rugby union action heading their way on Saturday (June 9). From the crack of dawn to the fading light of dusk, there is not one, not two, but three glorious games to enjoy.
The action starts shortly after 08:30 BST when Ireland try to take down the might of world champions, New Zealand.
Both teams are turning to fresh faces to try and gain an advantage in the first Test of a three-match series, with Ireland welcoming wing Simon Zebo and prop Declan Fitzpatrick to their camp.
Fans will also be in a state of euphoria with news that captain Brian O’Driscoll is making his international return after sitting out this year’s Six Nations due to injury.
The standout Irishman is definitely pumped for the challenge laid out before him, declaring: “We’ve said it for a few years, at some stage in the future, whether it’s this year or next year or in 20 years’ time, that some time an Irish team is going to beat the All Blacks before the world implodes and we just have to try to make it now rather than waiting for our kids or our kids’ kids to make it happen.”
Slay the All Blacks
Standing in the way of Ireland’s 107-year wait to slay the All Blacks will be a New Zealand squad that includes a trio of debutants in wing Julian Savea, scrum-half Aaron Smith and lock Brodie Retallick.
A collection of stars who helped New Zealand to put France to the sword in last year’s World Cup final and lift the prestigious trophy will also be present on the field.
The inclusion of skipper Richie McCaw, Sam Whitelock, Conrad Smith and Tony Woodcock makes it little surprise that the All Blacks are 1/14 to power past Ireland and begin the weekend in style.
Rugby fans will only have a moment to catch their breath after what is sure to be a feisty encounter in New Zealand though, when Australia and Wales clash in Brisbane.
The Aussies are still staying tight-lipped about their team selection, but Wales caretaker coach Rob Howley is sure to feel confident of victory seeing as though he has 11 of the starting XV who fought through France to clinch the Grand Slam back in March at his disposal.
Fire breathing Dragons
If supporters need any more reason to take up the 7/4 about the Dragons to continue their winning ways against the Aussies, then Howley’s statement that “we are well prepared and looking forward to the challenge this weekend” is sure to provide some confidence in the squad’s chances.
The southern hemisphere will be rocked on its axis for a third time in 24 hours when England aim to dispel the threat of a new-look South Africa outfit.
Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer has included three uncapped players in the form of locks Eben Etzebeth and Juandre Kruger and flanker Marcell Coetzee. However, the rest of the team have 458 Test caps between them and plenty of strength to go with their 1/3 price to overcome Stuart Lancaster’s men.
The England head coach has not been as forthcoming with his squad selections for the Test clash on Saturday, but a late arrival by James Haskell due to commitments with Super Rugby side Otago Highlanders will likely see him sitting on the sidelines.
Better late than never could be the motto with which Haskell can shine though, as the flanker’s appearance in the England camp sees him bringing along plenty of experience of southern hemisphere rugby.
“He is very keen to come in and make a good impression and force his way into the Test team,” Lancaster commented.