The crisp, cool air of Autumn and the arrival of the Southern Hemisphere giants to show their northern friends how to play real rugby. The pitches should, on the whole, be better, thankfully, given the recent installation of hybrid “Desso” surfaces at both Murrayfield and the Millennium Stadium. No more parasite infestations in Edinburgh, no more strips of turf coming up in Cardiff. Hopefully.
An Autumn Clean Sweep?
New Zealand? Betting on an All Blacks Autumnal sweep (England, Scotland, Wales) at 4/11 is only marginally better odds than betting on them to simply beat England on Sunday at 1/3 and your money’s tied up for a much longer time.
France? I fully expect them to mess up one of their Autumn tests against Fiji, Australia and Argentina. Since they’re France, they’ll win all three to spite me.
Of the Six Nations teams only France are favoured this weekend, and by a healthy amount (-24 points vs Fiji). Each of the other five home sides is an underdog, ranging from Scotland (+1 vs Argentina) to England (+8 vs New Zealand).
Ireland vs South Africa
New Zealand might have won the 2014 Rugby Championship but South Africa put in some impressive performances, notably in ending the All Blacks unbeaten run with a 27-25 win in Ellis Park one month ago.
South Africa kicked the ball from hand 28 times per match in the tournament, allowing opponents to have 18 minutes of active possession per game. Both figures were the highest in the tournament; they’re not measures of success, instead they perhaps reveal the type of game that Ireland will expect at Aviva Stadium.
Avg Kicks From Hand per game, Rugby Championship 2014:
- 28 South Africa
- 27 South Africa’s opponents
- 24 New Zealand
- 22 Argentina
- 16 Australia
This tactic rubbed off on South Africa’s opponents too. And with both Conor Murray (below) and Jonathan Sexton very capable of playing a tactical kicking game, it could be a territorial boot-fest. Munster and Saracens kicked the cover off the ball recently at Thomond Park. This could be similar, only with bigger beef on show and, unfortunately for Ireland, more game-breaking runners in the visiting ranks.
In the 2014 Six Nations Ireland were top of the stats class in many categories – ruck retention (96 per cent), lineout success rate (93 per cent), scrum success (89 per cent) and more. But this will be a far different outfit than the springtime champions. Rory Best’s contribution at the breakdown will be sorely missed while four of the seven Ireland backs didn’t play a single minute of that tournament (Tommy Bowe, Simon Zebo, Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw). It’s almost certain that the team will be defensively weaker, which against a Springbok side that has become a real attacking force is not a good thing.
South Africa (1/3 to win) are six point favourites on the handicap. That’s probably about right.
England vs New Zealand
New Zealand, 6/4 favourites for the 2015 Rugby World Cup are also favourites (-8 points) in Twickenham facing an England side featuring the exciting Bath wing debutant Semesa Rokoduguni (above). The All Blacks, Rugby Championship winners, averaged almost ten line breaks per game in the tournament while leading the way at the set piece (89 per cent lineout, 90 per cent scrum).
England might take heart, however, from New Zealand’s ruck retention rate of 92 per cent, unusually low for a top team. To put that figure in context, in the 2014 Six Nations Italy had that same low mark. To stand a chance against New Zealand Stuart Lancaster’s men will need to be savage at the breakdown to give themselves a fighting chance.
*Credit: all playing stats courtesy of Opta
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