Plenty of bangers on tap in the rugby union world this weekend as we creep ever closer to the Rugby World Cup opener between Japan and Russia in mid-September. New Zealand remain the 1.40 favourites to win the World Cup with BetXChange, but their defeat last weekend against Australia shows that anything can happen at the top level.
Here are the games worth watching this weekend:
New Zealand vs. Australia – Auckland, NZ
There is an argument that the best thing that could have happened to New Zealand in a World Cup year was the 47-26 dressing down that they took from the Wallabies one week ago in Perth. Their air of invincibility – which was already rocking – has been shattered, and now they get to show everyone what they are made of.
The first salvo from head coach Steve Hansen is to make five changes to the team that lost last week. Changes on both wings – including dropping Rieko Ioane – see George Bridge and Sevu Reece getting game time, while Sonny Bill Williams and Nepo Laulala are in to prove their form ahead of the World Cup.
Australia were great at home, but playing in Auckland is a different matter altogether.
South Africa vs. Argentina – Pretoria, SA
The new Rugby Championship title holders look to back up their 46-13 win over Argentina last weekend with another big win here. One outstanding aspect of the game last week was the Boks resilience as they didn’t let their heads fall after conceding the first try and, instead, looked cool and composed throughout the game.
For Argentina, the defeat was a frustrating one given how well they played against both New Zealand and Australia. Their World Cup pool – which sees them facing both England and France with only two teams advancing – leaves no margin for error so they will want to have a bounce back performance here.
Best Bet – Argentina to be better than last week and cover at +12.5 at 2.00.
Wales vs. England – Cardiff, Wales
England ended Wales 14 match unbeaten run last weekend and in doing so stopped the Welsh from becoming the No. 1 ranked team in the world. It was an interesting game to watch, with a somewhat inexperienced England side helped by the rigors of a Welsh training camp that led the visitors to Twickenham looking a step slow to the breakdown.
England fans will see the debut of World Cup bound winger Ruaridh McConnochie, with Joe Cokanasiga selected on the other wing ahead of the rehabbing Anthony Watson. Jonathan and James Davies will both start for Wales, with fly-half Dan Biggar back in the starting lineup over the injured Gareth Anscombe.
Best Bet – Wales will bounce back with a win. Something in the 6-10 point range at 5.50 seems reasonable.
Italy vs. Russia – San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy
This is a game Italy needs as they have lost eight games in a row going back to their whitewash in the 2019 Six Nations. If they are to turn their form around they will be doing it with fresher players as only Matteo Minozzi retains his place from the starting team that lost to Ireland last weekend. Inspirational captain Sergio Parisse is back in the side.
Russia are playing with house money as they approach only their second-ever World Cup. Their 2019 European Nations Cup campaign was a little all over the place, but anything they do against Italy here will be seen as a bonus given the supposed gulf in class between the two sides.
Best Bet – Italy will win this and it is a game to sit off of in terms of betting.
France vs. Scotland – Nice, France
This is a tough game to predict as both these sides are playing their first World Cup warmup ties this weekend.
The big team news for Scotland is the selection of Duncan Taylor at centre as he plays for the national side for the first time in two years because of a string of injuries. Mercurial fullback Stuart Hogg is also in the side with Adam Hastings getting the nod at fly-half.
Prop Jefferson Poirot will captain France with Guilhem Guirado missing this first warm-up encounter. The key to the French side will be their ability in the halves, with Antoine Dupont and Camille Lopez starting together for the first time.
Best Bet – Scotland can always score points and France are slow starters. Take the underdogs at 2.00