England will play four games this autumn: three against traditional southern hemisphere superpowers and a fourth against the hosts of next year’s Rugby World Cup, Japan.
Rugby4Cast has predicted three wins for England over South Africa, Japan and Australia, but how will the recent injuries to Eddie Jones’s squad impact their performance? Despite recording a good win in the final test against South Africa this summer, there are a number of question marks over the England team, namely around consistency of selection in the backrow and centres, and their tendency to concede far too many penalties.
The first of England’s games in the Quilter Autumn Internationals sees England play South Africa for the fourth time this year, having thus far lost two and won one.
England are ours and the bookies’ favourites for this one, given England’s imperious home record (they have only lost once at home in the last three years in a test match) with Rugby4Cast predicting a home victory by 8 points. However, on the other side of the coin, England’s loss did come in their last competitive fixture at home (against Ireland in the last round of the Six Nations) and South Africa pulled off a once-in-a-decade shock victory in New Zealand, less than two months ago and thus South Africa’s chances are significantly stronger than this time a year ago.
Based on the respective selections, South Africa appear to be relying on their traditional power game, picking one of the largest packs in world rugby. It is interesting to see how England will counter this, given that England’s power game tends to come from injured forwards Mako and Billy Vunipola and Courtney Lawes. The relatively lightweight pack selected for Saturday’s game might look to tire the heavier South African forwards out, or at least nullify them to some extent.
What a difference a year makes. Despite a few signs that England weren’t quite as dominant as they had been in the previous 18 months, England would certainly have backed themselves to beat New Zealand at home although our model would still have had New Zealand winning this relatively comfortably.
Now, back to 2018. Currently Rugby4Cast has New Zealand as comfortable victors, with a predicted winning margin of 8 and to be honest, this shouldn’t be at all surprising, given that New Zealand have not lost away since October 2017, clocking up 764 points away whilst only conceding 446 since then (an average away victory of 33-19).
New Zealand will largely be at full strength for this one, with Dane Coles back from injury and a genuine first team set to play England and Ireland. However, even if they were missing a few front-line players, you would still back the All Blacks to beat England. The fact that New Zealand have rested their entire 23 man squad for the test in Japan shows you what strength in depth they have. England will be hoping that they can put in the kind of performance they did in 2012 when a Manu Tuilagi-inspired England ran out as comfortable 38-21 victors but this time round, few are expecting that. However, a good performance and a comfortable win against South Africa will restore some of the belief that the England squad and fans have perceptibly lost in the last year and no doubt the conversation will turn to the chances of a possible upset.
England are, unsurprisingly, favourites for this one, being ranked 4th in the world against Japan’s 11th. However, Japan are no strangers to an upset having famously beaten South Africa in the 2015 World Cup in England (known as rugby’s, and perhaps sport’s, biggest ever upset) and Wales in Japan. England should look to win this one comfortably, with Rugby4Cast currently predicting an England win by 30 points.
However, given the proximity of Japan’s home World Cup in 2019 as well as England’s recent malaise, Japan will sense an outside chance of pulling off another shock victory.
Both England and Australia have had 2018s they will be glad to see the back of, with England’s three wins in nine games being only slightly better than Australia’s three wins in ten games and no doubt both sides’ coaches will be feeling the pressure with the world cup just ten months out.
England are currently Rugby4Cast’s favourites and we predict them to win by nine points. However, given that England and Australia are playing three and two games prior to the 24th , a lot could change between now and then.
The pre-game conflict between the sides’ respective coaches is always fascinating with both looking to get under each other’s skin. However, given the recent diminishment in performance, perhaps the rhetoric will be rather less bellicose than in previous seasons as each coach focusses more on their own squad rather than on the opposition.
In any event, whether it’s to do with the number of games the two sides have played against each other over the past few years, whether it’s to do with the grating personalities of the two coaches, or whether it’s simply because this fixture can almost always go either way, 24 November looks to be a fascinating clash between two World Cup hopefuls.