The road to the Rugby World Cup begins here

The Webb Ellis Cup will be lifted in London in less than two years

The Webb Ellis Cup will be lifted in London in less than two years

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, I view this year’s Autumn Internationals (which begin on Saturday) as vitally important for the northern hemisphere nations.  There’s less than two years to go before the Rugby World Cup arrives on English shores and history tells us that to win a World Cup you must beat at least one of the big three of Australia, New Zealand or South Africa (when England won the tournament in 2003 they toppled two of the SANZAR countries).  History will also tell us that a win against these sides is probably required if a team is to claim a top-three finish.  Put simply, European success in rugby’s biggest tournament is dependent on beating the big boys.  The good news for each of the respective Six Nations is that RWC2015 takes place in a familiar climate and in familiar surroundings, i.e. there is no need to bag the elusive ‘win down under’ as was the case back in 2003 and, more recently, 2011 where a successful Wales side failed to beat the Springboks and Wallabies in their march to fourth place.  However, the European nations must get into the habit of beating these sides on their own turf if a northern hemisphere team is to win the upcoming ‘home’ World Cup.  That habit must start now.  We’ve heard a lot of guff over the last couple of weeks from the likes of Warren Gatland, Scott Johnson and Stuart Lancaster who believe the autumn fixtures will be about strengthening the depth of their respective squads.  Don’t trust a bit of it!  Yes, this series of matches will uncover a few more names for the 2015 roster, but the coaches will already know the bulk of their squad for two year’s time.  This November is about laying down a marker to the rest of the world.  Post-Lions tour, the road to the Rugby World Cup begins here.   With that in mind, this week the blog looks ahead to each round of the autumn fixtures and predicts the winners (in bold) and losers.  It would be great to hear your predictions too.

Week One

Nov 2                    Japan v New Zealand

Nov 2                    England v Australia

New Zealand begin their ‘summer’ tour with what should be an easy win in the (brilliantly named) Chichibunomiya Stadium.  The game of the day will be at Twickenham though where the English will be looking to avenge a surprise defeat by the Wallabies in last year’s series.  The Aussies are apparently on the comeback trail but I’d expect an England side growing in confidence to beat them by 10.

Week Two

Nov 9                    Italy v Australia

Nov 9                    England v Argentina

Nov 9                    Scotland v Japan

Nov 9                    Wales v South Africa

Nov 9                    Ireland v Samoa

Nov 9                    France v New Zealand

The second round gives us a full card of fixtures; many of which should go down to the wire.  The Italians came within a whisker of beating Australia last year and will be looking to go one step further, but another gallant loss for the Azzuri is predicted.  England should make it two from two by beating an Argentine outfit on a poor run of form while Scotland should win comfortably enough.  Wales last played South Africa at the 2011 Rugby World Cup when a couple of missed kicks from James Hook resulted in a 17-16 loss.  That game followed several closely-fought games in the preceding years and this fixture is likely to keep the pattern.  Can Wales notch up a second ever win against the Springboks?  It’ll be close but I fear another agonising defeat is on the cards: South Africa to win by two.  Ireland must be wary of a Samoan side itching to gain a scalp (this will be their only match against a top ten nation this month) but I would expect the Irish to win their first home match under Joe Schmidt by a score.  The French had an awful summer thanks to the Kiwis and have a chance to restore a bit of pride at the Stade de France.  They won’t though because they’re dreadful at present.  New Zealand by fifteen.

Week Three

Nov 16                  Italy v Fiji

Nov 16                  England v New Zealand

Nov 16                  Wales v Argentina

Nov 16                  France v Tonga

Nov 16                  Ireland v Australia

Nov 17                  Scotland v South Africa

Another bumper weekend of international rugby awaits in round three which should begin with a routine win for the Italians.  The Fijians have fallen away somewhat since the lofty heights of 2007 where they made the RWC quarter-finals.  As such, don’t be surprised if Italy win by two clear scores.  England wrap up their campaign against an All Black side that remains unbeaten in 2013.  The Red Rose achieved a famous victory against them last year and, if they can repeat that success, the 2015 hosts could be looking back on an unbeaten autumn.  Make no mistake though, New Zealand will be targeting this game and are likely to step up a gear (if that’s possible): the Kiwis to win by twelve.  Wales should dispel the ghost of a shocking 2012 loss to the Pumas with victory in Cardiff.  Tonga will find it hard to repeat their RWC2011 victory over France whereas Ireland have a really good chance of repeating their 2011 success over the Aussies.  In the Sunday fixture, Scotland will make it difficult for a touring South Africa side but I expect the Springboks to run out clear winners in the last twenty minutes of the game.

Week Four

Nov 22                  Wales v Tonga

Nov 23                  Italy v Argentina

Nov 23                  Scotland v Australia

Nov 23                  France v South Africa

Nov 24                  Ireland v New Zealand

Round four opens with the dreaded Friday night fixture for Wales:  a game where a usually experimental line-up has often come unstuck.  This year’s opponents are the Tongans who will be eyeing up their first win on tour.  Wales should sneak home though by ten.  The game at Stadio San Paolo is a difficult one to call but Argentina may just sneak the away win.  Should Australia lose to Scotland at Murrayfield, their year of misery will be topped off with one fat brown cherry.  You can see it happening though, or at least I can:  Scotland by five.  The French should have a torrid time against a rampaging South Africa who, unlike the French, don’t pick their best players out of position.   Finally, Dublin will be rocking in the build-up to the biggest game played at the Aviva Stadium in years but Irish enthusiasm is likely to be dampened just after kick-off as New Zealand let rip to complete a historic unbeaten calendar year.

Week Five

Nov 30                  Wales v Australia

And so we come to the fixture that sums up all that I’ve mentioned at the start of this blog.  2012 for Wales was characterised by a succession of last-minute defeats to the Wallabies:  they lost the three-test series Down Under by a total of eleven points and, even worse, lost this corresponding fixture last December when Kurtley Beale dived over for an eightieth minute try.  Since then, Wales have gone on to achieve another Six Nations title and provided the bulk of the British and Irish Lions squad that completed a series win in Australia for the first time since 1989.  In doing so, the Lions totally outclassed the Wallabies in the third and final test…but you don’t need me to tell you that.  It’s now time for these players to beat their old foe while wearing the red shirt of Wales.  We know the Dragons are a match for anybody in Europe but, as Sam Warburton identified this week, it’s time to step up to the next level.  Beat the Aussies and the Welsh will be on track in their preparations for RWC2015.  Lose, and they’ll have very few opportunities left to prove they’re genuine World Cup contenders.  Will they do it?  I’m betting on it, and I predict it’ll be by a significant margin.

Wales, Europe, the North…it’s over to you.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “The road to the Rugby World Cup begins here

  1. Pingback: We’re begging for a New Year’s Resolution | wales watching

  2. Pingback: Remember, remember the Tier 2s this November | Red Rugby

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s