The November autumn series of 2018 are upon us this weekend ; one of the last curtain raisers before the rugby world cup in Japan next year. All teams will be looking to fine tune their squads and possibly get the core of the teams identified within this campaign.
Week one sees the All Blacks play the world cup hosts Japan as they aim to get some game time against real opposition, an all northern hemisphere encounter in two games that feature Wales vs Scotland and six nations champions Ireland against Italy.
There is a calm before the storm for majority of the fixtures except England who host the Springboks in a repeat of the June series that South Africa emerged victorious in. Eddie Jones and his troops will have something to say about this on home soil while in front of 82,000 fans at Twickenham – the English have fallen to a sudden slump after their victory in the 2017 six nations, injuries have also plagued the team as many core players around whom the team is built haven’t featured for a year or more.
Billy Vunipola, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph are the most common casualties – they have been joined by Billy’s brother Mako, Sam Simmonds, Nick Isiekwe as some of the major names; the team also faces several suspensions in the form of Nathan Hughes and Alex Lozowski leaving quite a dent in the English armour.
On a brighter side, the return of renown finisher; Chris Ashton, will be a big boost to their campaign as Eddie Jones looks to right the wrongs of previous dips in form.
In the Irish camp, coach Joe Schmidt has decided to rest his captain and vice captain; Rory Best and Jonny Sexton for their clash with Italy as he saves them for bigger encounters and as a way of reducing the workload they have had coming from club level – this is also an opportunity for younger understudies to make their mark prior to the rugby world cup.
A reduced 26-man squad travels to the USA on Monday where they will face Italy as uncapped Leinster fly-half Ross Byrne will compete with Joey Carbery for the number 10 jersey in Sexton’s absence.
Wales and Scotland released their squads for the autumn series earlier than the rest and will be hoping to prove the mettle of the northern hemisphere as the two meet up before they join the party that hosts the visiting Southern hemisphere powers the following weekend.
Wales hooker, Ken Owens wants Wales to prove the gap between the northern and southern hemispheres is narrowing by taking the “sweetest of scalps” against Australia which shows that they play Scotland with one eye on the next fixture already.
Japan vs New Zealand
Wales vs Scotland
England vs South Africa
Ireland vs Italy