Weekend Preview: World Cup warm-ups and ranking battle showdown

Andy Baber
16 August 2019

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A host of Guinness PRO14 heavyweights will be back in action this weekend for their national sides as teams all over the globe continue their Rugby World Cup preparations.

Wales welcome England to Cardiff with revenge on their minds following their 33-19 defeat to Eddie Jones’ Red Rose outfit at Twickenham in their first warm-up match last weekend.

South Africa will look to back up their Rugby Championship success against Argentina, while Italy take on Russia and an Edinburgh-heavy Scotland squad travel to France.

With New Zealand and Australia also facing off in a Bledisloe Cup decider, three different sides could finish the weekend as the world No.1 – here’s a look at how it could all play out.

Family affair for Wales in Cardiff

Scarlets will be well represented when Wales look to get their World Cup preparations back on track after England ended their 14-game unbeaten run last weekend at Twickenham.

Warren Gatland has selected six players from the Guinness PRO14 side, including brothers James and Jonathan Davies, Jake Ball, Nicky Smith, Ken Owens and Hadleigh Parkes.

The Davies duo will make history when they line-up alongside each other in a Welsh jersey for the first time, becoming the first brothers to do so since Nicky and Jamie Robinson in 2006.

Ospreys will also feature heavily for the hosts at the Principality Stadium, with George North, Nicky Smith and captain Alun Wyn Jones retaining their place in the team.

Cardiff Blues have one player in the starting XV as Grand Slam-winner Josh Adam lines up on the wing, with Aaron Wainwright and Ross Moriarty representing Dragons.

And with Gareth Anscombe suffering an unfortunate injury at Twickenham, all eyes will be on the battle between Scarlets’ Rhys Patchell and Cardiff Blues’ Jarrod Evans to fill the void left by the new Ospreys fly-half.

World number one ranking tussle

Having briefly flirted with the world number one ranking last weekend, Wales will move ahead of New Zealand should they beat England, who could also take top spot with victory.

Wales will jump ahead of New Zealand at the top of the rankings irrespective of the result at Eden Park, where the All Blacks face Australia in a Bledisloe Cup decider.

Gatland’s men could have taken the official number one spot had they beaten England at Twickenham, but their 33-19 loss meant the All Blacks remained on top.

Competition clashes: Patchell vs Evans and Italian back-row battles

Should they suffer the same fate again against England, the Red Rose could instead move ahead of both Wales and New Zealand should the results go in their favour.

Jones’ England side, who are currently ranked fourth in the world, can also leapfrog the rest to go top even if the All Blacks win as long as they beat Wales by more than 15 points.

Meanwhile, Ireland could also be number one in the world without even playing if Australia win or draw against New Zealand and Wales and England also draw later on Saturday.

Scotland pack with Edinburgh flavour

Edinburgh players make up seven of the eight forward positions as Scotland kick off their Rugby World Cup build-up with their opening warm-up game against France.

Hooker Stuart McInally captains the side in Nice alongside new addition Jamie Bhatti, who joined Edinburgh from Glasgow Warriors following the end of the season.

They will be joined by Edinburgh teammate Simon Berghan in the front row, while Ben Toolis and Grant Gilchrist – both based in the Scottish capital – make up the second row.

Former captain John Barclay will make his first Test appearance since March 2018 after recovering from a ruptured Achilles, with Jamie Ritchie starting on the other flank.

Huw Jones, Adam Hastings and Ali Price will be the only Glasgow Warriors players in the starting XV, although the 2018/19 Guinness PRO14 finalists have several players on the bench.

George Turner, Zander Ferguson, Scott Cummings, Matt Fagerson and George Horne will all be waiting in the wings against Les Bleus, along with Edinburgh’s Blair Kinghorn.

Coetzee gets chance to shine

Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee will be bidding to impress Rassie Erasmus when he lines up in the back row for South Africa in their one-off Test against Argentina in Pretoria.

Fresh off their Rugby Championship triumph, the Springboks take on the Pumas for the second successive weekend with Coetzee given the nod to start at No.8.

The men in Green and Gold defeated Argentina 46-13 last weekend to seal their first Southern Hemisphere title for a decade, having last claimed victory in the Tri-Nations in 2009.

But with their World Cup opener against New Zealand on the horizon, Erasmus has decided to ring the changes for their latest contest with the Pumas at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium.

Back-rower Coetzee is among those to benefit as he attempts to stake a claim for a place in the 31-man World Cup squad, while fit-again former captain Siya Kolisi is also set to start.

 

 

Italian squad battles and club partnerships

Elsewhere, the battle for a place on the plane to Japan is heating up in the Italy squad as the Azzurri prepare to face Russia with a host of Benetton and Zebre players in the team.

And in what is Italy’s only warm-up match at home, coach Conor O’Shea is desperate for a big performance from his team.

He said: “We’re not happy with the defeat in Ireland but there were good things that we can take away and work on to keep improving.

“We are taking on a team who have made their physicality a strong point. We want to bring home a victory imposing our game and our rhythm while keeping the focus on us.”

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