You could be forgiven for thinking that the only international rugby team in the British Isles is led by Martin Johnson and wears a white kit as a result of all the media coverage that the England team has received over the past week or so.
It just happens that the majority of the British Isles will be wearing either Green, Red or Blue tinted glasses this weekend as Ireland, Wales and Scotland trot out for what is a heavyweight weekend of international rugby.
Scotland v New Zealand
Scotland face the biggest challenge in the All Blacks – especially given their recent victory in the Bledisloe Cup against the Wallabies. Scotland and New Zealand have both rung the changes for Saturday’s game at Murrayfield, with the men in blue perhaps showing more intent. Frank Hadden has made seven changes to the side which defeated Argentina in the summer, with the return of the likes of Jason White at 6, Simon Taylor at 7 (despite playing the majority of his club rugby at lock with Stade Francais recently), Nation Hines and Jim Hamilton in the boiler house, Sean Lamont and Thom Evans on the wings, and Nick de Luca in the centre.
New Zealand have also made the most of their impressive squad by making 12 changes to the side that took to the field against Australia with the inclusion of 3 new caps in their line-up, and a certain Dan Carter dropped to the bench.
The experience of the gnarly Scottish pack against the youth and dynamism of the relatively fresh-faced All Blacks (with the exception of the 62 cap, captain for the day, Keven Mealamu) will make for a riveting match.
Scotland: Paterson; Evans, Cairn, De Luca, S Lamont; Godman, Blair (capt); Jacobsen, Ford, E Murray, Hines, Hamilton, White, Taylor, Barclay.
Replacements: Hall, Dickinson, Mustchin, Gray, Lawson or McMillan, Parks, Southwell.
Wales v South Africa
Heading south to Cardiff, the Welsh play host to the current World Champions, South Africa. Warren Gatland has gained a reputation of picking on form and being a fair coach, and this philosophy is more than apparent in his team selection. The “shock” call is the inclusion of Gareth Cooper at scrum-half over Dwayne Peel, but let’s delve into this one a bit more.
Cooper played very well against the Springboks in the Summer – particularly in the second test, and has been on form for Gloucester as well. Peel on the other hand, has been used primarily off the bench at Sale, and has struggled to reach the lofty heights of his Lions form, so is this selection really that surprising?
Gatland has also included two new caps in the team, with U20 Wales international Leigh Halfpenny of the Cardiff Blues being rewarded for his fine form with a start, and Andy Powell winning his first cap at number 8. Gatland has also moved Jamie Roberts to 13 at the expense of Tom Shanklin (his 4th different appearance in 4 starts for Wales).
With an experienced bench, and a partisan crowd in the Millenium Stadium, this game will certainly get the hairs on the back of your neck tingling.
Wales: Byrne; Halfpenny, Roberts, Henson, S.Williams; Jones, Cooper; Jenkins, Rees, Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Evans, Stephen Jones (capt), M.Williams, Powell.
Replacements: Hibbard, Duncan Jones, Gough , Dafydd Jones, Peel, Hook, Shanklin.
Ireland v Canada
The final game of the weekend for the Home Nations features Ireland versus Canada, in what is essentially a warm up for Ireland’s game against New Zealand next week. Declan Kidney names an experimental, and frankly, an interesting side for this game, with the young Munster tyro Keith Earls (spotted by The Rugby Blog as one to watch) starting his first test at full-back.
Ireland are clearly using this game as a chance for their peripheral players to stake a claim, with Stephen Ferris starting at 6, Shane Jennings starting at 7, Tony Buckley at tight-head, and Luke Fitzgerald (yet another one to watch on The Rugby Blog) starting at 12.
With all the home nations in action and the clubs taking a well earned rest, Ian McGeechan will be on the lookout for players to step up and claim those coveted red jerseys for the summer Lions tour to South Africa. I can’t wait for the weekend…shame it’s only Wednesday.
Ireland: Earls; Bowe, O’Driscoll, capt, Fitzgerald, Kearney; O’Gara, Reddan; Horan, Flannery, Buckley, O’Callaghan, O’Connell, Ferris, Jennings, Heaslip.
Replacements (from): R Best, Hayes, Caldwell, Quinlan, D Wallace, P Wallace, Stringer, Horgan.