The Northern Hemisphere is shaking up rugby’s old order – but can Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales see the series?
An unprecedented sweep of victories for Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland over New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina, respectively, rocked the Game.
For good measure, France got the better of Japan in Tokyo and it was Fabien Galthié’s team that took the throne for the first time in the last world ranking, supplanting South Africa at the top.
The World Cup holders’ loss to Wales in Bloemfontein dropped them to third place, with Ireland jumping two places to second following a superb performance in Dunedin. The defeated All Blacks have swapped places with the Irish and are now at their lowest ever ranking of fourth, and that is perhaps the most surprising conclusion to the weekend.
It’s tempting to put it all in the context of next year’s World Cup and all looks rosy in the backyard of hosts France. The Six Nations champions lead the world and the only concern would be, did they peak too soon?
Safe to say Scotland have nothing to worry about and, following the weekend’s results, find themselves paired with the countries now ranked second and third in the world at the 2023 tournament.
Wales have at least shown the Springboks can be beaten, even though the hosts have made 14 changes since the first Test.
The latest set of results for the home nations was a reversal of that of the previous weekend and that means all four sets are locked at 1-1 heading into the third and final round of fixtures on Saturday. So how will all of this play out in Wellington, Sydney, Cape Town and Santiago del Estero?
New Zealand v Ireland, Sky Stadium, Saturday 8.05am BST
Ten years ago in Hamilton, the All Blacks inflicted Ireland a 60-0 hammering which remains their heaviest defeat. It’s a measure of how far the Irish have come that Saturday’s 23-12 win in the second Test wasn’t entirely unexpected. It’s also a stark indicator of the problems in the New Zealand camp.
Dubbed the ‘Dunedin disaster’ by the local press, Ireland’s win was their fourth in the last seven Tests between the sides. Not bad for a nation that hadn’t beaten New Zealand for 113 years until they did so for the first time in 2016.
All Blacks head coach Ian Foster is on a sticky wicket and it’s hard to see him surviving if they were to lose the series in Wellington. There is already an outpouring of support for Scott Robertson of the Crusaders to get the top job.
The knives are also out for captain Sam Cane who was allegedly ridiculed by Irishman Peter O’Mahony during the game in Dunedin. It is unlikely that it went well in the All Blacks camp. As Johnny Sexton said after the match, “New Zealand is an incredibly proud rugby nation. They will come out shooting.
Prediction: New Zealand win.
Australia v England, Sydney Cricket Ground, Saturday 10.55am BST
The second Test victory in Brisbane saw Eddie Jones survive to fight for another day as England manager, but he enters this weekend’s decider without some key players.
Sam Underhill and Maro Itoje were both ruled out with concussions suffered at Suncorp Stadium, and Tom Curry returned home last week after suffering a concussion in the first test.
Jones praised Richard Cockerill on Saturday, crediting the former Edinburgh manager for improving England’s maul. Jones believes their dominance in this area has dealt a psychological blow to the Wallabies. More Eddie mind games? Undoubtedly, but it was a brave victory after the disastrous first test. The decision maker will be fascinating and you want the local side to border it. Just.
Prediction: Australia victory.
Scotland injury update: No plans to fly as replacement for Kyle Rowe and Rory H…
South Africa v Wales, DHL Stadium, Saturday 4.05pm BST
The folly of South African coach Jacques Nienaber’s decision to change 19 of his 23 players and rest 14 World Cup winners for the second Test has been revealed by the result. Wayne Pivac’s team fully deserved their 13-12 victory.
Wales came within an ace of winning the first Test at Loftus Versfeld, so what Nienaber thought is anyone’s guess. At least the Boks will be rested and refreshed for Saturday’s final clash in Cape Town.
It’s hard to equate Wales’ performances in South Africa with those of the team that lost so well to Italy at home in March. It was their first victory against the Springboks on South African soil and Pivac re-energized his side after a Six Nations in which their only win came against Scotland. Nonetheless, the Boks are world champions for a reason and few would bet against them to bounce back this Saturday.
Prediction: South Africa victory.
Argentina v Scotland, Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades, Saturday, 8.10pm BST
The Scottish tour of the Argentine provinces takes them to the city of Santiago del Estero for the final test. It has never hosted a full-fledged rugby international, but its ‘Mother of Cities’ stadium is an impressive modern bowl that has hosted major football matches since opening last year, including the 1- 1 of the national team against Chile in a World Cup qualifying match.
After a disheartening loss in the first Test, Scotland won Game 2 29-6 with a convincing second-half performance in Salta and Gregor Townsend challenged his side to up their game again at the weekend. The Scots will be without Kyle Rowe and likely Rory Hutchinson, but should still have enough to claim victory in their first-ever three-Test series.
Prediction: Victory for Scotland.