Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

05th November 2012 07:02

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France s lock Jocelino Suta poses at camp

New blood in France: Lock Jocelino Suta

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the November Tests...

They are the talk of the town whichever of the rugby nations you happen to be in at the moment, for varying reasons. Whatever the reason though, this November is set to be a cracker.

Leave aside the question of World Cup rankings too, there are far more intriguing questions hustling to the fore.

Here's an opener: how much will Heyneke Meyer actually experiment and when? He has already stated he is close to giving Pat Lambie a long-overdue opportunity in the number ten jersey, but does that come against an injury-ravaged Ireland who will provide a stiffer test of Lambie's mettle, or does it come against a Scottish team frothing at the mouth under new on-pitch leadership?

But there are others on the Bok tour - mostly as a result of a glut of injuries - who need to get some game-time. There is excitement over the prospect of Raymond Rhule and more of a sense of 'about bloody time' for many over Schalk Brits. Jano Vermaak's previous opportunities were scuppered by injury, but on his day he is a dangerous little mongrel of a scrum-half.

Injuries will dictate, to an extent, how Meyer goes about his business on the tour, but his detractors - and there are many - are still looking for him to make a couple of bolder moves. Conservative selection and defeat to England are an unthinkable combination for Meyer this November.

While on that subject of England, are we finally going to see from them the rebirth they've been threatening for a couple of years or are they still going to labour on the cusp of greatness once more?

The English have mastered solidity under Stuart Lancaster, playing physically, aggressively and directly, but there is more talent in the squad than the games they play in would show. Theirs is also a squad stripped bare by injury or suspension, but we do now get to see the talents of Mako Vunipola, we get to see if Joe Marler really can cut it and we get to see what looks now to be a well-polished diamond in Mike Brown.

Scotland are looking for direction after yet another change in leadership, while those on the sidelines are having to deal with the likely loss of the official term 'Murrayfield'. Opening your November Test series against the All Blacks is hardly ideal in those situations, nor is backing that up with a home game against South Africa, but should those two opt to use the Scotland game as rotation - as Australia sort of did in June - perhaps there might be a wee shock in wait for the tourists.

There's certainly a sense of change pervading the Irish camp, including the switch from a white alternative kit to a black one and the South African lining up as hooker. There's the addition of Anthony Foley to the coaching staff, on top of four new faces and a considerable number of Ireland's older guard simply being invalided out. Ireland have been stuck in a status quo for a long time, perhaps this November will see the wind of change begin to blow in the west.

Wales are trundling along comfortably under Rob Howley's guidance, although the injury that has ruled out Adam Jones may end up being a key factor in their November. But every Welsh fan will tell you: this November surely represents the best chance the Welsh have had of finishing their search for a win over the All Blacks.

Ahhh, the All Blacks. 14 of them with a new NZRU contract safely tucked into the hand luggage, a vast well of experience in the squad along with the usual sprinkling of fresh-faced rookies already blessed with skills way beyond the imagination of some teams. Can anybody stop them?

Well, Australia nearly did. But it has been a miserable year for Robbie Deans and while he has a couple of players returning from injury for the tour, one or two more key injuries could leave the Wallabies ripe for the picking; a schedule that takes in England and France up against a squad already down to the bones is hardly the ideal way to prepare for an awkward trip to Italy, never mind finishing off in Wales.

France look quietly ominous, with playing standards up in this year's Top 14 after a miserable couple of years. But again, a number of players have fallen to the injury curse working its way through November's international squads. And again, there is opportunity in adversity for bright sparks such as Jean-Marc Doussain or Guillem Guirado.

What an opportunity Italy might have too. Australia will square up to the Azzurri in Florence on the back of two arduous clashes in Paris and London. Of all the squads, Italy's looks to be the least injury-stripped: several times down the years we've seen gallant Italian home losses in front of ferocious crowds. A glorious triumph at last?

Then there's Argentina. The Pumas are only mildly less injury-stricken than Italy, and face a kind schedule of Wales first up and then Ireland a fortnight later. Those who would dismiss the Pumas' chances would do well to go and look at the highlights reel of Argentina's entry into Southern Hemisphere competition this year. It's credible to think they might wind up with two from two.

All that, and we've not even begun to dig in to the jack-in-the-box surprises Tonga, Samoa and Fiji might contrive to offer on their weekends in the limelight! Aaahhh, November!

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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