Wales playing for pride against All Blacks, crunch time for Boks at Twickenham

Updated: November 23, 2012

The Autumn International Test series enters into week 3 with some crunch fixtures. Wales have endured some tough times over the second half of the year, they welcome the All Blacks, which in all likeliness will result on a 6th consecutive loss for the Six Nations Champions, South Africa are at Twickenham in a fixture that will define their season, Italy host the Wallabies, Ireland will be severely tested by the powerful Argentinians, Scotland go in search of their first win against Tonga and the French flair will be put under pressure by the physical Samoans.

World champions the All Blacks, go into the Millennium Stadium with an extraordinary record of not having lost in 27 Autumn Internationals played in since 2002, their last defeat coming at the hands of England in 2002, when they lost 31-28. Adding to this New Zealand are also unbeaten in their last 19 Test matches which includes their memorable World Cup win on home soil. This time around they have already dispatched Scotland (51-22) and Italy (42-10) with ease, and all the signs are in place that Saturday will be no different. New Zealand ooze quality in all positions and in captain McCaw they have one of the all time greats. Dan Carter has been forced to withdraw due to injury but in Aaron Cruden they have a more than capable replacement. Make no mistake Carter will be missed however given the ability of the rest of the squad, this is the only side in world rugby that can cope with such a high profile loss.

The proud rugby Nation of Wales is currently in tatters following 5 consecutive defeats since the heady heights of lifting the Six Nations. In recent weeks they have suffered defeats to Argentina and Samoa, hardly the sort of opposition they will be up against tomorrow. Hopefully they will not consider history tomorrow, as if they do, they will have been defeated already. The last time Wales managed to beat the All Blacks was in 1953 and of the 28 Test matches played between these 2 nations, the visitors have won 25. Sam Warburton returns to captain the side and much will depend on his form and leadership. George North has been ruled out which will be a big blow. Despite this there will be some interesting tussles. Look no further the midfield showdown  Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts against Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu, which brings with it crafty distribution and some really strong running. Toby Faletau has not been at his best, but he will have to be against the world’s best No.8 in Kieran Read. Of course there is the openside showdown  Sam Warburton  up against Richie McCaw, both captains and both very crafty men who knows how to push the envelope.

Over a 3 week period beginning last week against Australia, England have had a tough fixture list for this series. South Africa are at Twickers tomorrow, followed by the mighty All Blacks next week. If England wish to move from 5th to 4th in the IRB standings they must win both games. This is telling for the next World Cup draw. The Springboks arrive off the back of 2 wins against Ireland and Scotland, wins achieved by their own admission playing poor rugby for 40 minutes of each match. This is an ominous sign for England that they have still managed to churn out winning results while playing badly. It is the last game of the for the tourists in what has been a grueling season, and a win will certainly define whether it has been a successful rebuilding process or not under their new coach. The South African pack has at times been unplayable, if they can reproduce that form for 80 minutes it will be a tough day in the office for England.

England have also been experimenting somewhat during this series with limited success. A thrashing of a very poor Fiji was no yard stick and the loss to Australia last week was far worse than the scoreline suggested. Elusive men like Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi and Mike Brown and their lively scrumhalf Ben Youngs will have to be on the top of their game if they want to bring the 85000 Twickenham crowd to their feet.

Individual battles will be evident all over the park, Manu Tuilagi of the powerful force against Juan de Jongh with electric skills, big Ben Morgan against big Duane Vermeulen; the contest between the tough 21-year-olds,  Joe Launchbury against Eben Etzebeth. There will be unit conflicts as well  the scrums, where England were found wanting against Australia, the line-outs and the tackles.

Ireland have brought back the big guns this week after a second string run out last week against Fiji. Still without the likes of Rory Best, O Driscoll and Kearney, Ireland did show against South Africa 2 weeks ago that they still have strength in depth.

Argentina are perfectly capable of winning at the Aviva Stadium. They have proved in recent times that they have become a force in the world game. On this tour they have shown that their strengths don’t only lie in their powerful scrum which revolves around the superb skills of Fernandez Lobbe, but that they are also capable of delivering the killer blow from out wide with pace and flair, in the form of Juan Martin Hernandez, Gonzalo Camacho and Juan Imhoff. Ireland will have to be at their best if they want to side step a 6th consecutive defeat.

In other matches, the French look to make it 3 wins from 3 when they take on a physical Samoa, Italy look set to lose again against Australia, while Scotland find themselves facing a rare win against Tonga.