Rugby mourned the loss of the Honey Badger, Nick Cummins, to Japan (for the most noble of reasons), but Saturday sees the test debut of rugby’s newest wild-haired Wallaby wing: Henry Speight. Sporting an afro of rare magnificence the Fijian-born Brumbie averaged nine metres per carry in 2014 Super Rugby and is 13/5 to score a try on debut against Ireland, behind Adam Ashley-Cooper’s 9/4 and the gifted Israel Folau at 17/10.
Australia are used to having a lot of ball in recent games, forcing their opponents into large tackle counts. Although this Ireland side has shown they are comfortable in such contests it will be interesting to see if Joe Schmidt has some trick up his sleeve to throw Australia off balance. The Wallabies lost 29-26 in Paris last week and this weekend bring Kurtley Beale, the text-messaging wonder, onto the bench to provide more attacking options. Quade Cooper will sit alongside him. Ireland might be two point favourites but with that bench few leads will seem comfortable. They are frightening talents capable of breaking open any defence, no matter how organised.
Since losing to Australia and New Zealand in the Autumn of 2013 Ireland have lost just one of nine tests (13-10 to England in Twickenham). They were superbly efficient in dispatching South Africa and the Ireland second string decimated Georgia a week later. It’s 8/11 for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland to win and continue that impressive run on Saturday with, perhaps, a cheeky couple of quid on a draw at 20/1.
Irish wings Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo are both 23/10 to score a try with Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney at 3/1.
According to Opta, New Zealand’s current 25-match winning run against Wales is the longest winning run versus one opponent in test rugby history. While the All Blacks were perhaps not up to their usual magnificence in Murrayfield last weekend it’s worth remembering that it was essentially a second team. The big guns are now restored, both in the pack and the backline. New Zealand are healthy 14 point favourites and 1/8 to win. This is a great All Black side that should cover the points.
One particular contest will be worth watching as two genuinely great wings will be on display: Julian Savea and George North. North, with 47 caps at just 22 years of age, has scored 21 tries for Wales and the Lions while being in ludicrously good form for Northampton this season. Savea’s strike rate is a scarcely credible 29 in 32, just under a try per appearance. Each has played in this fixture before, failing to cross the whitewash. Savea is 4/5 to score a try on Saturday; North 23/10.
Over the last fortnight England lost by three points to each of the top two sides in the world, but it’s hard to get away from the fact that they’ve now lost five games on the bounce. This match is not projected to be close with Samoa 10/1 to win and 20 point underdogs. The Samoans have been in disarray off the pitch with the match at one stage under threat of being left unplayed. There’s a serious rift between the playing group and their union, the head of which also happens to be the Samoan Prime Minister.
The Samoan PM will not take the field in Twickenham, however. Instead it will be the “little brats”, as he branded them. Adversity can forge a powerful bond. Samoa, playing for each other, to finish comfortably inside that handicap.