Autumn Nations Series: Five storylines to watch this weekend including England desperate to bounce back

Dylan Coetzee
Marcus Smith

With the Autumn Nations Series resuming this week and more intriguing clashes on offer, Planet Rugby dives into five storylines ahead of the action.

England to bounce back against Japan

Pressure is once again compounding on England head coach Eddie Jones after his team fell short to Argentina 30-29 on Sunday. Jones took responsibility for the loss claiming he was experimenting ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Regardless of the reasoning, England lacked energy and cohesiveness on the day. Jones’ selections have come into question after Maro Itoje did not shine at flank as he had hoped, while the Marcus Smith-Owen Farrell axis did not fire.

England should bounce back against a spirited Japan side but must be very careful not to underestimate the Brave Blossoms, who ran the All Blacks very close in a 38-31 defeat only a few weeks ago.

However, for England and their fans, the Test against Japan needs to provide more than just a result, as answers are required for many questions with the World Cup only a stone’s throw away.

Another thriller awaits in Marseille

France only just edged out the Wallabies in Paris last weekend thanks to a moment of brilliance from wing Damian Penaud to score the winning try only minutes from the final whistle. The victory extends an impressive winning run from the French side, who are yet to lose in 2022.

The challenge for Fabien Galthie’s men this week is against a Springboks side who narrowly lost to Ireland in Dublin, and undoubtedly another tight affair awaits in Marseille.

Both teams are extremely physical and boast impressive quality throughout, making for a mouth-watering contest. However, the Springboks will need to get more dominance at set-piece and in the collision than they did against Ireland; otherwise, France will be able to disarm the world champions and boss the Test.

France will stick to their formula where they kick deep to keep their forwards fresh and in the game whilst playing a lot of rugby in and around the ruck to open holes for the ever-impressive Antoine Dupont to exploit.

Los Pumas to claim Wales’ scalp and build on an impressive season

Argentina have been a team on the rise this year, claiming the impressive scalps of the All Blacks, Wallabies, Scotland and now England. The South Americans are playing with passion and identity under Michael Cheika in 2022 and look as if they will continue going from strength to strength.

Los Pumas faces Wales this weekend, who come off a big loss to the All Blacks and will only be looking to win. However, with their powerful forward pack, electric backline and the pin-point boot of Emiliano Boffelli, it would be hard to bet against another Argentina win.

Momentum certainly favours Cheika’s men, who continue to grow in confidence. Their high-profile wins in 2022 make Argentina a scary prospect for almost any rugby union opponent.

With just about everything in Test rugby being looked at through a World Cup lens, it will be fascinating to see just how good Los Pumas will be at the showpiece in France next year.

All Blacks to continue building momentum

After making an underwhelming start to the 2022 international campaign, the All Blacks appear to have turned a corner during the latter stages of the season, and they go into this weekend’s Test against Scotland at Murrayfield on a five-match winning streak. This, after they finished their Rugby Championship campaign with a huge win over Argentina and back-to-back victories against Australia before they started their end-of-year tour with triumphs against Japan and Wales in recent weeks.

They had to work hard for that 38-31 win against the Brave Blossoms, but head coach Ian Foster will take that result as the start of his tour was disrupted due to several withdrawals from key players. He was always going to field an understrength team in that fixture, and despite their narrow winning margin, they bounced back with an outstanding all-round performance in their next fixture, against Wales in Cardiff, and eventually cruised to a dominant 55-23 victory. That sets them up nicely for their clash with the Scots, whose bet result against the All Blacks were two draws in 1964 and 1983 which means New Zealand have won the last 19 matches in this fixture. They will fancy their chances of extending that winning run.

Italy to trouble Australia

Despite losing all 18 of their previous Tests against Australia, the Azzurri will be quietly confident of changing that statistic when these sides go head-to-head at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence on Saturday. Kieran Crowley’s charges’ optimism stems from the impressive start to their Autumn Nations Series campaign when they sealed a comfortable 49-17 win over Samoa, who themselves came into the end-of-year Tests in a confident mood after winning the Pacific Nations Cup earlier this year.

Under Crowley’s guidance, Italy has become a competitive unit, and despite struggling during the early stages of the Six Nations, they ended their 36-match losing streak in that competition when they beat Wales in stunning fashion in Cardiff earlier this year.

Against Samoa, they outscored the Pacific Islanders by six tries to three, while the decision to employ two playmakers in Paolo Garbisi and Tommaso Allan was a masterstroke which should come in handy against Australia as well.

Although the Wallabies won their opening year-end Test against Scotland and suffered a narrow defeat to France at the weekend, they have not been at their best in 2022, and they go into this fixture with Italy having won just four out of the 11 Tests they have played this year.

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