Time for Tank Lanning to run the rule over the 5 matches making up the Rugby 5 bet this week ... No Aussie derbies to clutter the scene ... Just 4 Test matches, some tougher to call given last week's performances, and the final game, yet another warm up match, this time in Sydney, for the touring British and Irish Lions.
Each Rugby 5 bet comprises 5 matches, which are labelled M1 to M5. In each match the home team is shown as Team A and the other as Team B, and you must predict the results of all 5 matches using one of the following 5 result options:
1 = Team A to win by difference of 1 to 12 points (say 7-3, 10-9, 24-12 etc)
2 = Team A to win by difference of 13 points or more (say 19-6, 20-3, 32-6 etc)
3 = Draw
4 = Team B to win by difference of 1 to 12 points
5 = Team B to win by difference of 13 points or more
So a look at the weekend then ...
M1: New Zealand vs France
There is a bit of a scrummaging theme to this weekend's piece, given the influence I think it will have on all the games' results, but perhaps none more so than this first game. Last week the 17 scrums at Eden Park lasted more than a minute each, robbing the Test of 20 minutes' playing time. 10 scrums ended with a penalty or free kick, 8 of which went to the All Blacks, playing a big part in their 23-13 win. The All Blacks use the speed of the hit to gain ascendancy, while for the French it is more about the battle after contact. Having had a week of knowing what they're up against, there should be less collapsing of the scrum this weekend, but one has to wonder if the French scrum, once a much-vaunted asset, has perhaps suffered as a result of many of the Top14 sides using foreigners up front? No changes to the All Blacks as Steve Hansen sticks with a winning formula, which is a good call in my book. The All Blacks looked rusty in their first game last week, and will be a much better side this week, although there must have been a temptation to start the mercurial Rene Ranger. French coach Philippe Saint-André will have enjoyed their 38-15 midweek win over the Blues, but might that have been a distraction? He makes the bold call of bringing Frédéric Michalak - not shy to mix brilliance with bad - back into the No 10 jersey, and Nicolas Mas at tighthead will have Wyatt Crockett a little more nervous. But it's played 52, won 39 for the All Blacks, and I do not see that record changing in Addington.
My Rugby 5 pick: 2
M2: Waratahs vs British & Irish Lions
So how good are these Lions? Given the opposition thus far, it's a fair question, with perhaps the Reds the only team to have offered any form of defence, and even in that game, Quade Cooper looked to be trying just a little too hard. The Lions travelled by road two hours down the coast from Newcastle - scene of the 64-0 midweek victory over a Combined Country XV - to Sydney, where they were greeted by leaden skies and pouring rain- manner from heaven for the tourists! Waratahs captain Dave Dennis and inside centre Rob Horne will join their state side, as will Bernard Foley and Matt Lucas, who have been released from the Australian Sevens side. And given that the Tahs have been the form Aussie side in the latter part of Super Rugby, especially up front - again adding to this week's scrumming theme- we might just see more than a speed bump for the Lions. Jonny Sexton and Mike Phillips, likely starters for the Test side, are the half backs on Saturday, which is captained by tour skipper Sam Warburton. Former Leinster boss Michael Cheika will send out a fired-up Waratahs team, but this is a slick, and well organised machine able to call on the best that Europe has to offer.
My Rugby 5 pick: 5
M3: Samoa vs Italy
Without doubt the toughest of the games to call this weekend. They have played each other only 4 times, with the Samoans winning 3 of them, but in 2001, there were only 8 points in it, and in 2009, the Italians cleaned up 24-6, so the swing is certainly toward the Italians, who have no doubt benefitted from being part of the Six Nations. But the Samoans have added a little structure to their game, which is an extremely physical one, one that some might argue borders on the dirty. Previously being a fairly helter skelter side looking to run from anywhere on the field, they now have a scrum and line-out that held it's own against the Scots last week. Asked if they Samoans could hold their own in the face of what is a good Italian scrum, former Italian coach Nick Mallett said: "Yes, I think so" ... Interestingly, the inclusion of prop Sakaria Taulafo is the only change to the Samoa starting line-up to face Italy, and if he can keep Martin Castrogivanni and company at bay, then Alesana Tuilagi could do to the Italians what he did to the Scots last week! So the one thing I might be willing to bet my house on is that only options 1 and 4 are in play for this game, so it might be worth using both ...
My Rugby 5 pick: 1, 4
M4: South Africa vs Scotland
And still the Boks continue with 2 loosehead props on the bench, even when the increased squad of 23 encourages a full front row. Against a second string Scotland, surely a chance to have a look at what is in the still very bare tighthead prop cupboard? Not that it will matter too much. Geoff Cross was the second prop to be ruled out after Ryan Grant was called up to the Lions. Hooker Pat MacArthur was sent home due to injury, while there was uncertainty over the availability of Euan Murray. This after they were physically bullied by the Samoans last week in Durban, especially by man-beast Alesana Tuilagi. The Boks will miss Francois Louw, but I like the fact that they have replaced like with like, and will continue having a fetcher in the mix in the second half, with Siya Kolisi on the bench. Jano Vermaak is the big loss. He is a scrum-half that looks to make his backline look good via a crisp pass and giving them the best ball, rather than using it himself. Ruan Pienaar has been known to take a step or two before passing, and this might set Morne Steyn, so good with Vermaak servicing him, back. South Africa and Scotland have played each other 22 times since 1906, with the Boks winning 17 and losing 5. The Boks have scored 539 points and 68 tries and conceded 247 points and 25 tries for an average score of 25-11. The 2 teams last met in November 2012 in Edinburgh, where the Boks won 21-10. It will be a lot bigger than that on Saturday.
My Rugby 5 pick: 2
M5: Canada vs Ireland
With the Lions calling on so many players, it is pretty tough to call the form of the affected sides ... Ireland beat the US Eagles 15-12 in Houston last Saturday, while the Canadians overcame Tonga in a bad-tempered encounter. The sides have played each other 5 times, with Ireland winning 4, and there being a 27 all draw in 2000. The average score across all 5 games is 37-13 to Ireland. The Irish, though, have suffered a tummy bug this week and have not been able to train as a full squad once, and they lost Simon Zebo to the Lions. On the Canadian side, coach Kieran Crowley has had to delay the finalising his team as he counts the toll left by an extremely physical encounter with the Tongans. Three players are recovering from concussion! After coming through in difficult circumstances in Houston last week, Ireland have faced far more familiar conditions in Toronto where it has rained heavily since they arrived. It seems the North Americans are fired up for some rugby though, there being a record crowd at the BBVA Compass Stadium last weekend, and the same expected this week in Toronto. Expect the Irish to be pushed hard, but sneak it in the end.
My Rugby 5 pick: 4
By Andrew 'Tank' Lanning