Every Friday lunchtime I look ahead to the weekend's rugby for the Irish provinces and beyond.
Remember, remember, these Tests in November
As the long rugby season is fought
And surely it’s treason and lacking all reason
To mock Schmidt this soon, is it not?
Bet you can’t tell what movie I watched on the 5th?
Anyway…after England and the Wallabies kicked things off a week early, the remaining top nations in world rugby join the fray in this traditional month of matches which are meaningless in the grand scheme of things but still manage to get us justifiably pumped up nonetheless.
Also this weekend we see the start of the LV= Cup across the water…a wonderfully ironic entity where English and Welsh clubs try to qualify for the Heineken Cup by resting all their best players throughout an entire tournament, something even the Irish don’t do.
Here are my previews.
Friday, November 8
Ulster Bank League Division 1A
I gave the powers-that-be a hard time last week for scheduling a UBL match between Dublin teams at the same time Leinster were playing, so I guess to be fair I should give them credit for shifting this latest round of games to the Friday so as not to clash with the Samoa match.
Tie of the round is another Dublin derby for 3rd-placed Tarf as they host the unbeaten league leaders UCD at Castle Avenue. Meanwhile the 4-times champions Cork Con, lying in 2nd and also unbeaten, have a derby of their own as they host Dolphin, a match which it sot be streamed live on IrishRugby.ie.
Clontarf v UCD, 7:30pm
Dolphin v Cork Con, 7:30pm
Garryowen v Young Munster, 7:30pm
St Mary’s College v Lansdowne, 7:30pm
Scarlets v NG Dragons, 7:30pm
Cardiff Blues v Worcester Warriors, 7:30pm
London Wasps v Saracens, 7:30pm
Sale Sharks v Bath, 7:45pm
Leicester Tigers v Ospreys, 7:45pm
Saturday, November 9
Italy v Australia, 2pm
Very, very tempted to predict an upset here, but my head just won't let me. If it happens Link will be under enormous pressure early in his reign though it may be. This could be why they have practically named the same side as last week and not rested anyone, maybe this could augur well for the Irish who face them the following week? Meanwhile on the Italian side of things, Alberto di Bernado is the latest winner of the Number 10 Lottery. Australia by 9
Scotland v Japan, 2:30pm
Clever scheduling by the SRU getting in a “weaker” nation first to kickstart their test season with a bit of confidence. Thing is though…even without Visser they still have decent squad and could give the Boks and Wallabies a challenge in the coming weeks anyway. With Richie Gray and John Barclay to spring from the bench this should be a comfortable home win. Scotland by 20
England v Argentina, 2:30pm
I described last week’s win over the Wallabies as a game of “Pass The Parcel” with neither side seeming happy to hold the lead and England just about ending up with it. Of course the simple fact that they had more points than their opponents was enough for the English press to hail it as a stunning victory! I can see similar happening today, possibly with bigger media superlatives. England by 18
Wales v South Africa, 5:30pm
Forget France v NZ…THIS is the match of the weekend. Warren Gatland’s first chance since the Lions tour to show that even if he won’t pick BOD, he still doesn’t need players from the other home nations to beat southern hemisphere sides. It’s a shame this is happening at the same time as the Ireland match, for it could be a classic as the Springboks are only bettered in world rugby right now by an out-of-this-world All Black outfit. South Africa by 7
IRELAND v SAMOA, 5:45pm
On Thursday I outlined what I expected from the early days of the Schmidt era…let’s see how his first starting lineup stacks up to those expectations.
- THREE MEN IN EVERY POSITION - Although this first matchday 23 is strong, we already see planning for the future in the selection of Jack McGrath at tighthead and Paddy Jackson at outhalf. Both will gain great experience from this start.
- DEFENCE - They may not be as pacy as they were in their early years, but I can think of no better way to establish a strong defensive culture in this Ireland squad than having Darce & Drico in the centre.
- SET-PIECES - This will be Devin Toner’s chance to really shine for Ireland, and so far this season he had acquitted himself well for Leinster. It will all boil down to how the lineouts are called. As for scrums, well with Steve “Look At Me” Walsh in charge we’ll call it a toss up as to how things will go on the day. Restarts will be key as well, somewhere else that Toner can take charge.
- DEFINITIVE STYLE - With Sexton unavailable with a niggle, even though I’m a Leinster fan I can’t argue with the selection of Paddy Jackson - he has had the better start to the season and besides, Schmidt has already had a good look at Ian Madigan starting for Ireland in the summer so this is the perfect chance to have a look at the Ulster youngster. It will be interesting to see how he settles, but with such strong experienced heads around him I reckon he will be fine.
One selection that was a potential minefield was that of captain, and I have to say Joe played a blinder here, though I wonder if this was all his call or can we feel the influence of the new IRFU Director of Communications Stephen McNamara in the background.
Not only does POC as overall captain with Jamie as vice make perfect sense, we have heard all the right noises from the players themselves…Heaslip stating he is happy with the role, BOD stating he would rather focus on his game without the captaincy, it all not only made sense but displayed an air of unity throughout the senior members of the organisation that was greatly lacking last year.
Meanwhile on the Samoan side of the equation, they have named what they consider to be a “weakened” team, but expect weakness on the day at your peril. Their outhalf Tusi Pisi has a style similar to that of Madigan so our defence will need to be on their guard, especially with skipper for the day Kahn Fotuali’i, who needs no introduction for Irish fans, inside him at 9.
They had several disciplinary issues during their summer series in South Africa, so if that carries through to Saturday we will no doubt have our own temperament tested to the full. Yes, I'm looking at you, Mr O’Mahony!
In the Samoan pack watch out for tight head Logovi Mulipola, not only for his distinctive mop of hair but he can also carry as well. When given the chance the Sa moans like to move quickly whether it be down the middle or through the hands.
I’m not looking for us to blow them away on Saturday. I want to see solid, organised defence and strong basics at the set-pieces and I will be happy.
There may not be spectacular tries, the odd crossfield kick may go awry and a knockon or two may happen. But if we come out on top with a decent performance I defy anyone, even George Hook & his clones, to go negative. Ireland by 7
France v New Zealand, 8pm
Like I said I’d rather have Wales v SA to look forward to after I leave the Aviva today, but this makes for a decent consolation prize. Something of an experimental French 23 with Remi Tales still getting the nod at 10. The home side could stay in this until late as they have interesting options off the bench like Claasens and Fickou but the All Blacks are just hyper-awesome these days and I can’t bet against them. Consider this my Upset of the Week for France to beat the 12-point spread offered by the bookies. New Zealand by 8
Ulster Bank League Division 1A
Old Belvedere v Ballynahinch, 2pm
Exeter Chiefs v Harlequins, 3pm
Northampton Saints v Gloucester, 5pm
Sunday, November 9
Northampton Saints v London Irish, 3pm
Be sure and enjoy your rugby this weekend wherever you are. JLP