It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt arrives in the Planet Rugby prediction hot-seat to give us his calls. Week Two of June today.
We continue in the international window with games set for Christchurch, Melbourne and Johannesburg to name but a few. Expect some feeling in those as revenge will be in the air.
Remember you can contact Russ with all your comments and questions on Twitter - @rpetty80.
World Cup hangover? Not a chance. Despite a bright start from Ireland that saw the scores remain within 6 points for the first 25 minutes, it always seemed a matter of 'when' not 'if' the visitors would be breached. Whilst it didn't seem the case at the time, the World Cup injury to Dan Carter may yet prove to be an advantage to Steve Hansen, as the ultra-talented 10 appears to be using the feeling of missing out to drive him to higher performance levels in a Black shirt. He will now be receiving crisp service from Aaron Smith, who on that showing looks capable of bringing his quick, accurate passing game to the international stage. The duo carried 16 times for 131 metres, much greater than their Irish counterparts who made just 2 runs between them for 4 metres. Another debutant, Julian Savea had already made his presence felt with a clattering tackle on Rob Kearney before scoring a 17 minute hat-trick. Sean O'Brien did disrupt the breakdown and made 23 tackles, but a look at the stats reveals Ireland were on the wrong side of possession, territory, offloads, clean breaks, defenders beaten...the list goes on. They did, however, commit less turnovers than the All Blacks, although given how much more ball the home side had, that's not too surprising. Ireland are hampered by missing key men and with Declan Kidney still resistant to playing Eoin Reddan and Jonathan Sexton together and reverting to Gordon D'Arcy at centre, it is becoming increasingly difficult to shake the notion that his time in charge is fast drawing to an end. Worryingly for the Irish, the Kiwis will want to improve and the added emotional element of playing at Christchurch cannot be underestimated. A comfortable win looks certain again. All Blacks to win by 26.
It's clear from both the first Test and the midweek fixture against the Brumbies that the Welsh are having issues with the breakdown Down Under. Whilst they may feel aggrieved by the way Craig Joubert refereed that aspect of the game last week (the words 'Gold 7, hands off' were heard a fair few times), they can look closer to home for the reasons for the loss. Handling errors, in particular 2 crucial Rhys Priestland knock-ons, missed tackles and the fact that they looked off the pace for much of the game all contributed. It was also the case that Will Genia put in a world-class performance and at times looked unplayable. He was backed up by a great performance from his pack who established a solid platform and caused Wales grief in the contact area. The Australians responded to their Scottish defeat with a much improved performance but there was still a Waratahs-like slump in the second-half which needs to be worked on, especially against a nation that scores the majority of their points after the break. The early loss of George North and the injury to Toby Faletau disrupted the Welsh effort but they should take heart from the fact that there actually isn't too much to separate the sides, and with coach Warren Gatland returning and some of the rustiness shook off - there is still a chance to salvage something from the tour. They have added the experience of Alun Wyn Jones and Ryan Jones to the pack, who will surely be briefed with dealing with Scott Higginbotham and company in contact and putting the half-backs under pressure. Exciting prospect Ashley Beck gets a chance to start at centre. Australia have the momentum and home advantage (as well as the far superior head-to-head record), but I'm backing Wales to improve and keep the series alive with a win by 3.
England should view last week as a missed opportunity to grab a win against a side that now hold 8 straight victories over them. Beginning the tour at sea level, against a side with little preparation time, with a new coach was a huge advantage and the decision by Heyneke Meyer not to select Heinrich Brussow (or another fetcher) looked set to backfire as England skipper Chris Robshaw and his pack won numerous turnovers at the breakdown. But the visitors failed to capitalise in the first half and in scenes also echoed in the JWC U20 match this week, the Boks put on a ferocious second-half display to seal a win. Manu Tuilagi aside, England lost most of the collisions and will hopefully have learnt that trying to overpower South Africa isn't going to work. Positively, England continue to show spirit under Stuart Lancaster and will have learnt lessons from that first Test. The selection of Toby Flood and Jonathan Joseph for the second Test suggests they're approaching the game with attack in mind, but as usual in South Africa the battle will be won up front, so a base needs to be established first from which the backs can attack. Facing the Boks at altitude is a tough ask and Morne Steyn will look to both keep the England team pinned back in their own half and punish any errors with his goal kicking. England scored 70% of Six Nations tries and 65% of 2011 World Cup tries in the second-half, but cannot rely on late scores again, especially with the added fatigue factor. The issues such as early engagement in the scrum can be worked on but finding a way to stop a rampaging Willem Alberts et al isn't as easy. I am expecting more of the same from South Africa and an improved England to threaten early before struggling in the second half with the conditions. Home victory by 9.
Italy have lost their last 17 away games and 20 of their last 27 matches, in total. With a defeat to a second-string Argentina at San Juan, and no inspirational skipper Sergio Parisse to lead them, it's not been the most impressive of starts for their tour. 11 of the squad are members of the Aironi team which lost their status as a regional side at the end of the season and with the U20's conceding 157 points in 3 times it's fair to say Italian rugby could do with a boost. Their last 2 matches against Canada saw 30+ point victories, but with the Canadians having established players such as Chauncey O'Toole, Jebb Sinclair and DTH van der Merwe, who has a sound 12 tries in 22 matches, the hosts may approach this fixture with more motivation than their opponents and I can see them winning by 5 points.
Andy Robinson's first game in charge was a 23-10 win over Fiji back in November 2009. From the team that started that day, only Ross Ford, Al Kellock, Alasdair Strokosch and John Barclay are in this week's XV. The win over Australia broke a streak of 7 losses in a row and 5 consecutive away defeats. Their defence was immense, with the pack making 113 tackles, missing none. The torrential conditions prevented any attacking rugby but to suggest (as many pundits did) that the Scots prefer the wet conditions is wrong - they, much like their opposition in this game, favour an offloading game. Fijian captain Netani Talei will have been able to provide his side with plenty of information about Scottish rugby, including the dangers of allowing space for Edinburgh club-mate Tim Visser. Fiji have only won 4 of their last 16 matches and 1 in the last 5, and introduced 12 new caps in the last 2 Pacific Nations games. It's a rare chance for them to play northern opposition at home, but with another 8 changes to the squad, cohesion may be lacking. Scotland haven't scored more than 17 points in a match in their last 9 games, and will look to improve that against a side that have conceded an average of 33 points per game over the last year. Scotland by 12.
If recent events are anything to go by, Argentinian rugby is on the up. The U20 side have reached the semi-finals of the Junior World Championship, topping their Pool after beating Australia, France and Scotland. With the Rugby Championship looming, coach Santiago Phelan has decided to give key players a rest for these matches and it was largely a second-string XV that beat Italy by 15 points last week, revealing a decent strength in depth for Los Pumas. That strength will be tested against France, as he has all but named a third XV to take on les Bleus. Argentina have won 7 of their last 10 games against France and their last 4 home matches in this fixture but will rely heavily on Felipe Contepomi, who has scored 5 tries in his 12 games against the French, as well as amassing 124 points. The French have only won 2 of their last 6 games and 3 of their last 10 away. The Top 14 season started at the end of August, and only ended last week and fans will be hoping they see more tries than occurred in both semi-finals and the final. With France coach Phillipe Saint-André also choosing to rest players, I am going for Argentina to take the win by 6 points.