Rugby betting expert Iain Spragg looks ahead to this weekend’s Autumn Internationals…
When Eddie Jones reviews England’s performances through 2017, the head coach can do so with a justified sense of satisfaction. Eight wins in nine Tests is close to perfection, and should the Red Rose dispatch Samoa this Saturday at Twickenham in their final game of the year, the Australian can reflect on a job well done.
England v Samoa (25/11) 15:00
The narrow defeat to Ireland in March doubtlessly still hurts; it cost England a second successive Grand Slam. But after their recent demolition of the Wallabies at HQ, it’s unthinkable their impressive 2017 record will be further tarnished at HQ this weekend.
The seven previous meetings between the Red Rose and Samoa have all ended in comfortable English victories. They last crossed swords at Twickenham three years ago with the home side running out 28-9 winners courtesy of a couple of tries from wing Jonny May.
The Pacific Islanders, in contrast, have endured a nightmare 2017. Rumours persist the Samoan Rugby Union is bankrupt, while on the pitch the team has lost all seven Tests this year, most recently going down to Romania in Bucharest last weekend.
Samoa’s woes and England injuries mean Jones will field a new-look XV on Saturday. Exeter’s Sam Simmonds is set to start in the back row for only his third cap with both Nathan Hughes and Sam Underhill nursing knocks. Regular starters Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson have both been released back to their club Bath but full-back Mike Brown could return after a concussion.
Wales vs New Zealand (25/11) 17:15
Wales made wholesale changes for their game against Georgia last weekend and escaped with a 13-6 victory in Cardiff. Warren Gatland will recall his big guns for Saturday’s showdown with New Zealand and all will need to fire on all cylinders if the home side are to take down the reigning world champions
The Welsh do know what it’s like to beat the All Blacks. They’ve done it three times but their most recent win was way back in 1953. Since then they’ve lost 29 Tests on the bounce and in last summer’s three-match series in New Zealand, the tourists leaked 16 tries as the Kiwis ran riot.
Wales fans can at least take some crumbs of comfort from Scotland’s performance against the All Blacks at Murrayfield. Their 22-17 defeat was tantalisingly close and proved Steve Hansen’s team are almost human.
The good news for Gatland is the return of flanker Justin Tipuric to training, however, he’s lost backs Liam Williams and Alex Cuthbert to injury. New Zealand will definitely be missing wing Rieko Ioane and second row Luke Romano to injury, and there are also question marks over skipper Kieran Read and back rower Ardie Savea.
Welsh fans are eternally optimistic, but this isn’t reflected in the betting. The home side are out at 13/2 to spring a surprise in Cardiff but the All Blacks are as short as 1/10 to continue their long dominance over the Principality.
Scotland vs Australia (25/11) 14:30
Scotland’s first-ever victory over the Kiwis didn’t quite materialise last weekend in Edinburgh. It was ultimately a heroic failure, but Gregor Townsend’s team know they have what it takes to beat Australia this Saturday.
The Scots faced the Wallabies in Sydney in June and came away with a famous 24-19 win. It was their second successive triumph Down Under and their third success in the last six matches against the Green and Gold. Unlike facing New Zealand, Scotland do not suffer with any inferiority complex against the Australians.
The Wallabies also lost last weekend, shipping three late tries in a 30-6 reverse against England. It was their biggest margin of defeat in the 108-year history of the fixture and Michael Cheika’s team must shake off the shellshock at Murrayfield this weekend.
Townsend has called up Saracens wing Sean Maitland and Warriors hooker Fraser Brown as injury cover. Australia have no major injury problems to contend with but the game will be a 129th and final Test cap for hooker Stephen Moore before he retires.
The Scots’ display against the All Blacks and recent record against the Aussies does not translate to the odds. Townsend’s end troops are still clear second favourites at 6/4 with the tourists 13/25 to bag their third win of the tour.
Ireland vs Argentina (25/11) 17:30
Ireland are looking to make it three victories this autumn when they take on Argentina at the Aviva. Joe Schmidt’s team were imperious in beating South Africa 38-3 but flawed in their 23-20 triumph over Fiji. The question is which Ireland will show up for this weekend’s clash with the Pumas.
The game is a repeat of the side’s World Cup quarter-final showdown in Cardiff two years ago. Argentina blew the Irish away that day with a 43-20 win and Schmidt and his troops will be eager to banish that painful memory.
The Pumas are undoubtedly there for the taking. Daniel Hourcade’s side have managed just two victories in 11 Tests in 2017 so far, and those successes came against Georgia and Italy. Form and confidence are both in worryingly short supply in the Argentinean camp.
Ireland picked up only one significant injury against Fiji. Leinster fly-half Joey Carbery fractured his wrist in Dublin and is ruled out but Schmidt otherwise has a healthy squad from which to select.