Weekend Preview: World Cup warm-ups and The Bledisloe Cup

Paul Eddison
09 August 2019

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This weekend should keep rugby fans enthralled with matches all over the world, from Suva to Salta, Dublin to Perth – and that is just on Saturday.

For Guinness PRO14 fans, all eyes will certainly be on Ireland’s clash with Italy in Dublin, the first World Cup warm-up match for each team.

And they will also be keen to see what Warren Gatland’s Wales team can come up with away to England at Twickenham.

But those two games are far from the only shows in town on one of the busiest rugby weekends of the summer.

AVIVA ACTION

Where else to start but in Dublin where Ireland take on Italy in the opening World Cup warm-up clash for both sides.

It is fair to say that both sides look fairly experimental, inevitable given the circumstances, but that makes the game no less interesting.

From an Italian perspective, there is certainly plenty of excitement at seeing Marco Riccioni make his Test debut after a breakthrough season for Benetton.

And similarly, the club connections will be crucial with an all-Zebre back row featuring the returning Giovanni Licata and a Benetton midfield including Marco Zanon in his second international appearance.

Ireland have a pair of debutants of their own, Munster pair Jean Kleyn and Mike Haley, the former in the starting XV.

Kleyn will be looking to push his case for one of the last lock spots in Ireland’s 31-man squad, and starts alongside Devin Toner.

Just as interesting could be how the half-back duo of Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery gets on. It is tough to second-guess what Joe Schmidt is thinking, but that could well be Ireland’s back-up half-back pairing in Japan and the two know each other well from Carbery’s time at Leinster.

BLEDISLOE CUP

Australia might have struggled against their Trans-Tasman rivals in recent years, but that takes no gloss off a Bledisloe Cup encounter in Perth on Saturday.

The game will give us another chance to watch the Richie Mo’unga/Beauden Barrett combination in action after they were named at fly-half and full-back respectively.

Ardie Savea also slots in at blindside flanker in a clear desire to get the best back-rowers on the pitch, regardless of position.

For Australia, the return of James O’Connor to a starting line-up for the first time in six years is probably the standout news from their team announcement.

But Christian Lealiifano continues in the fly-half role, thriving since his return to the Test arena, and will get another chance to stake a claim for that No.10 jersey in the long-term.

BOK CHAMPIONSHIP?

New Zealand have won the Rugby Championship six times in the last seven years, but their hopes for a seventh title since Argentina’s arrival are out of their hands.

South Africa, under former Munster boss Rassie Erasmus know that a bonus-point success in Salta will clinch the title, regardless of what happens in the Bledisloe.

As a result, Erasmus has named a very strong team but it will not be easy against a Pumas team that almost got the better of the All Blacks on home soil in their Rugby Championship opener.

This Springbok side looks close to first choice and can lay down another marker ahead of their first World Cup clash against the All Blacks.

CONAN’S DEBUT

Sticking with New Zealand and another thing to look out for this weekend will be when former Connacht prop Conan O’Donnell makes his Mitre 10 Cup debut for Counties Manukau.

The Irishman, who made 15 appearances for the Province, has been named in the team to face Taranaki in Pukekohe on Saturday alongside All Black superstar Sonny Bill Williams.

PACIFIC FACE-OFF

The Pacific Nations Cup continues this weekend with Tonga taking on Canada in Lautoka before a double-header in Suva.

Fiji against Samoa is packed with Guinness PRO14 talent, notably Bill Mata against the Welsh-based centre pairing of Rey Lee-Lo and Kieron Fonotia.

Both teams have won one and lost in the competition so far, but while their title hopes have evaporated, there is no less incentive for victory in this island rivalry.

Then in the second game the USA take on Japan in the battle for the PNC title.

The World Cup hosts have been hugely impressive so far, beating Fiji and Tonga on home soil, and will look to complete a clean sweep.

But the USA Eagles are also two from two, thanks to former Connacht man AJ MacGinty’s last-gasp penalty against Samoa last weekend.

They could claim a first-ever PNC crown with victory over the Japanese in Fiji.

HISTORY MADE

Finally, back to the northern hemisphere where history will be made on Sunday when Wales and England begin their World Cup preparations as they clash at Twickenham.

Ospreys stalwart Alun Wyn Jones will become Wales’ most capped rugby player when he captains his nation in a strong-looking line-up against an inexperienced English outfit.

The lock will be making his 135th cap, 126 for Wales and nine for the British and Irish Lions, as Warren Gatland has opted to stick with what he knows best ahead of Japan.

Wales will be looking to build on their impressive run of form of late and will also be fielding other Guinness PRO14 heavyweights including Ospreys man George North and Scarlets’ Jonathan Davies while it will be interesting to note how Dragons number eight Ross Moriarty does at the base of the scrum.

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