Can Ireland do the double? How will England’s injuries have affected their preparations? A closer look at the major narratives ahead of Saturday.
1) After one win in 111 years, why not two for Ireland?
First things first, this All Blacks XV is far stronger than the one picked by Steve Hansen in Chicago. Getting the duo of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock back adds class to the engine room without question, and we saw last week in Rome that a scorned All Blacks outfit is some beast.
Are Ireland capable of winning again though? Absolutely. One win over New Zealand already lays down a marker – remember the hype after England’s win in 2012? – but two would be quite exceptional, given the last time the All Blacks lost two games straight to the same opponent was to Australia in 2010 and 2011. All the pressure is on the world champions.
2) Kyle Godwin’s long-awaited debut for the Wallabies
Godwin has been hovering around the Wallabies set-up for some time now, proposed as the long-term successor at inside centre to Matt Giteau given his playmaking abilities.
That his big break is coming now comes as somewhat of a surprise after an underwhelming year in Super Rugby with the Force – then again the whole side suffered – and ahead of his move to Canberra to join the Brumbies winning a first cap for the Wallabies should do Godwin plenty of good. “He’s a solid defender and I just think he’s ready for it,” were the thoughts of Michael Cheika. Time then to deliver.
3) Disruption caused by England’s injuries
First Eddie Jones moved his team announcement from 10:00 to 14:30, and then postponed it until Friday, such was the disruption caused by knocks to Billy Vunipola and Jonny May that prevented the pair from training on Thursday at Pennyhill Park. Elliot Daly switching to the wing in May’s place isn’t disastrous, but Jones could have done without the disruption. Don’t be stunned if England start a little rusty.
4) Feeding the Fiji back three
Blending together Nemani Nadolo with Benito Masilevu and Metuisela Talebula gives Fiji an outstanding threat in the back three, but will they get to see enough of the ball? John McKee’s side were well contained in Belfast by the Barbarians because they lost the battles at the set-piece and breakdown, not to mention they struggled in the conditions.
Saturday’s game at Twickenham looks set to avoid the rain and if Fiji can at least gain parity at the scrum and lineout, imagine what their backs are capable of. Improved game management from Josh Matavesi at fly-half over Ben Volavola is also essential.
5) A response from Argentina
Daniel Hourcade’s men were oddly quiet against Wales – perhaps a factor of their recent travel schedule after arriving in Cardiff from Tokyo. And when you consider the players’ Super Rugby season with the Jaguares, off the back of a Rugby World Cup, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them starting to run out of steam.
That said, Argentina have been outstanding at times this year and a bounce-back outing at Murrayfield against Scotland is expected, which given how much both teams like to run the ball and hit their opponents on the counter-attack might end up producing the game of the weekend. Another flop though would prompt bigger questions.
6 Samoa to face Georgia backlash
The word out of Tbilisi last weekend was that the Lelos never should have lost to Japan given how they dominated the Brave Blossoms, but gave up crucial points at key moments. Samoa might bear the brunt of that frustration as a result, even though the last time these two met in Tbilisi the hosts only triumphed by a point in 2013. Clermont’s Vito Kolelishvili and Toulon’s Mamuka Gorgodze should set the physical tone.