Tourists look to bridge the gap on southern hemisphere tours
The numbers make for grim reading for the three Six Nations heavyweights set to start their daunting southern hemisphere sojourns this weekend, writes Marvin France
England haven’t triumphed in South Africa since 2000, Wales have had to wait a tad longer - only 43 years - since they last won on Australian turf, while Ireland haven’t beaten the All Blacks, ever.
However, an extended Super Rugby season, injuries and a lack of form have given each of them plenty of cause for optimism for a successful summer. And if Scotland can do it - as they showed against the Wallabies - surely their more-fancied northern rivals can follow suit...
SOUTH AFRICA V ENGLAND - After restoring their battered reputation with a promising Six Nations campaign, the Red Rose are very much a team on the up, while the Springboks are in the same position England were four months ago - minus the off-field baggage. Indeed, the Boks are somewhat of an unknown quantity with new coach, the highly rated Heyneke Meyer, having less than a week to work with a squad shorn of many of its familiar faces by retirement and injury. But regardless of what state they’re in, South Africa is always a difficult place to
tour and, with a line-up including seasoned stars Bryan Habana, Francois Steyn and Bismarck du Plessis to name a few, the English could be walking into an ambush in Durban on Saturday.
KEY MEN - It’ll be a long tour for rookie fly-half Owen Farrell if the Red Rose front row can’t hold their own.
PREDICTION - England will win a Test but likely to be the last when Meyer’s blooding his new boys. South Africa 2-1.
AUSTRALIA V WALES - If Wales hadn’t been targeting a series victory they should be now after the Scots exposed the Wallabies. With a squad riddled by injury and a coach under immense pressure, the Aussies are ripe for the taking. The bounce-back factor could come into play this weekend, but with so many of their injured stars on the sidelines, it’s hard to see Robbie Deans’ men trumping Sam Warburton and Co, who’re desperate to take the next step up by winning Down Under. It remains to be seen, though, how the Dragons cope without injured coach Warren Gatland and midfield colossus Jamie Roberts.
KEY MEN - Warburton hasn’t played in 11 weeks, but must quickly get up to speed if he’s to nullify Aussie ball-pilfering ace David Pocock.
PREDICTION - The red-hot Welsh to continue to go from strength to strength by edging the series 2-1.
NEW ZEALAND V IRELAND - Ireland have had the team to topple the All Blacks for a while now, they just haven’t believed it. They’ve certainly given the Kiwis a few scares in recent years - particularly at Lansdowne Road in 2001 and Carisbrook the following year - but you sense that 100 years of failure is never far from their minds when trying to close out a win. With several of the All Blacks’ World Cup heroes running round the Super 15 like they’ve just left the victory party (for that read Piri Weepu, Ali Williams and Ma’a Nonu), Ireland’s best chance would be to catch the Kiwis cold in the first Test. But even so, the world champs still have enough firepower to survive the early onslaught and will get only better as the series goes on.
KEY MAN - An obvious choice but a maiden Kiwi scalp would cap off a stellar career for Brian O’Driscoll.
PREDICTION - Stats can often distorts things, but it’s hard to argue with a big, fat zero in the win column - and the class of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Co. Kiwis 3-0.