Yes, I know there was a test match last week, and in Superbru this is marked as round two, but that Wales v South Africa match was such a non-event, and the real action gets underway tomorrow.
Here are my predictions for this weekend’s outstanding lineup of rugby fixtures.
Tonga v Georgia
Not a headline fixture to kick us off. I think Georgia have the edge, based on limited recent knowledge of these tier two nations. Georgia by 3
Fiji v Samoa
This was initially supposed to be Romania playing in Fiji, but they have pulled out of their commitments, which may or may not be related to their failed appeal in the RWC qualification debacle. I’m going with Fiji in Suva. Fiji by 8
Japan v Italy
No idea really, but let’s side with Conor O’Shea’s Azzurri. Italy by 2
New Zealand v France
For all that some people think of France as the All Blacks’ bogey team, New Zealand has won the last 11 matches against them since the 2007 World Cup defeat. Some have been closer than others, but I suspect this will be fairly comfortable for a very strong All Blacks lineup. New Zealand by 23
Australia v Ireland
The current kings of European rugby, both internationally and domestically, will be aiming for a series win down under, but their away form can be suspect, particularly south of the equator. With a few personnel changes, including a new front row and Jonny Sexton on the bench, I’m tipping the home side to edge it. Australia by 6
South Africa v England
This will be a fascinating contest, with both sides short on confidence after a disappointing run of results. It seems to me that the Springboks have been lacking brains and leadership in recent years, not the personnel, and Rassie Erasmus is a significant addition on that front. If he can get them playing a coherent gameplan based on their significant strengths, they’ll be a force one more.
With Eddie Jones’ honeymoon period over, the trust is beginning to fade, and he needs a series win to get the chariot back on track just a year out from the World Cup. But this is the same Eddie that devised the plan to beat the Boks with Japan, and so surely he can find a way to do the same with the limitless resources he now has available as England coach? In Eddie we trust. England by 7
Argentina v Wales
The Jaguares have been outstanding in Super Rugby this year, and will take that confidence into this match against an understrength Welsh side. Argentina by 8
USA v Russia
We’ll need to start paying more attention to Russia now that they have qualified for the World Cup, but given it was after three teams were disqualified, I’m not expecting them to be much good. USA by 28
Canada v Scotland
It really has to be Scotland if they are to start backing up their improved performances. Some new faces, including Gavin Hastings’ son on the bench, but they ought to win. Scotland by 7
What do you think of these predictions?