Whole swathes of Guinness PRO14 players are fighting it out for selection as France host Italy on Friday night before Saturday afternoon brings a double helping, Wales hosting Ireland and Scotland travelling to Georgia.
O’Shea flexes Azzurri muscles
First up at 8:10pm on Friday night we have an intriguing clash as Conor O’Shea’s Italy head to the Stade de France for their penultimate warm-up match.
O’Shea has made three changes to face Les Bleus with a side that looks close to the 23 that could face the All Blacks and Springboks in Japan.
Simone Ferrari, Marco Riccioni and Alessandro Zanni all come into the pack in the only alterations to the Azzurri team which claimed a dominant 85-15 victory over Russia last time out.
Despite looking so good against Scotland a fortnight ago the pressure is back on France after that 17-14 defeat in Edinburgh – the pack containing five Benetton Rugby forwards will be out to cause an upset.
O’Shea said: “We want to continue from where we left off. The victory against Russia gave us some good points but it is in the past now. Our next objective is France.
Happy Friday rugby fans! 🤩 🏉
There’s a big weekend of action ahead of us from RWC warm-ups, Pre-Season, Celtic Cup & Currie Cup #ThatsBig
Just as big as the Welsh Captains Lats you might say 😂
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) August 30, 2019
“It will be a tough match and very interesting for a number of reasons.
“We want to show our true worth trying to take home a positive result to get ever closer to peak form with regards to the Rugby World Cup.”
Ireland redemption and Welsh experimentation
On to Saturday afternoon (2:30pm BST) and Principality Stadium as the Guinness PRO14-dominated clash between Wales and Ireland swings in to view.
The first of a double-header, you get the sense this one’s more important for Ireland given their heavy defeat at Twickenham last time out – fast improvements are sought.
With that in mind Joe Schmidt has rung the changes, with Connacht’s Jack Carty earning a first Test start at fly-half, playing alongside clubmate Kieran Marmion at half-back.
11 changes have been made in all, with Peter O’Mahony skippering from openside, Tadhg Beirne on the blindside and Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell partnered in midfield.
Final 31 squad selection is imminent, even more so for Wales, who expect to name their Japan travel within days.
Following the intense win over England a fortnight ago Warren Gatland’s fringe men earn a shot – with many in the rugby world delighted to see Josh Navidi skippering from the first time from No.8.
Fellow Blues Owen Lane and Jarrod Evans are also in, at wing and fly-half respectively, with Lane and Saracens prop Rhys Carre making their debuts.
Over 2,500 miles away, Scotland arrive in Tbilisi in a far greater mood following victory against France last weekend.
Gregor Townsend’s men were on the wrong end of a thumping against France two weeks ago but responded in brilliant fashion on home turf, edging to a tense 17-14 win at BT Murrayfield.
But a trip to Georgia is a trip into the unknown and Townsend has made ten changes, including a return for Sam Johnson at centre in what will be his first piece of international action since the Guinness Six Nations.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) August 29, 2019
On the wing, Blair Kinghorn and Darcy Graham both return to offer youthful energy, while John Barclay, Hamish Watson and Matt Fagerson make up the back row.
“We’re pleased to welcome Sam [Johnson] back into the side,” Townsend said. “Having performed so well for us in the spring, while a number of other players also get the opportunity to build on Saturday’s performance.
“There were improvements in our back-to-back games against France, in particular in defence, game management and at scrum, as well some elements of our attack.
“All of these will be put to the test against a very good Georgian side who we expect to be extremely motivated by their passionate home support.”
Cheetahs on the move
Head almost 7000 miles south from Tbilisi and the Toyota Cheetahs are in action in the Currie Cup semi-finals against the Cell C Sharks on Saturday.
It’s the 22nd time the Cheetahs will play in the last four, nine of which have come against the Sharks.
Franco Smith has selected a strong side, including familiar Guinness PRO14 stars Clayton Blommetjies, William Small-Smith and Tian Schoeman.
The match kicks off at 5pm local time.