Weekend preview: Bouncing Bloemfontein and Dublin’s impact on Japan

Joe Leavey
06 September 2019

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The final round of Rugby World Cup warm-up fixtures is upon us, with international coaches getting their last chance to tinker with their outfits on the Test stage.

With a host of Guinness PRO14 stars now assured of selection for Japan, many will be looking to cement their positions in the starting XVs with opening pool games now just weeks away.

Bringing to a close the summer internationals are a trio of mouth-watering offerings, with Scotland hosting Georgia and Italy travelling to England on Friday night, and Ireland welcoming Wales on Saturday.

Wales seek revenge in Dublin

Two legends will collide at the Aviva Stadium as skippers Rory Best and Alun Wyn Jones go head-to-head for supremacy.

Last weekend’s reverse fixture saw Wales toppled in their own backyard, a pair of Jacob Stockdale tries enough to hand the visitors a 22-17 triumph at the Principality Stadium.

And Warren Gatland has responded with purpose, naming an imposing line-up featuring no fewer than 14 Guinness PRO14 starters.

After sitting out last weekend’s clash, Jones returns to anchor the second row amidst a fleet of changes, Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Rhys Patchell among them.

“This is our final preparation match, so it is important we get enough rugby into us, get rugby ready ahead of our RWC opener against Georgia which is just over two weeks away,” said Gatland, confirming his statement of intent.

“It is important we hit the ground running in Japan and we give the players enough time on the field.

“Saturday is the first time these players would have taken to the field as members of the RWC squad, it has been a big week and it is a big opportunity for players to put their hand up and secure spots for the starting XV in Japan.”

On the other side of the fence, the stage is set for Rory Best’s home farewell in an Ireland shirt.

The Ulster man announced that he would be stepping down from international duties after the World Cup, making Saturday’s Dublin showdown his last on Irish soil.

Johnny Sexton is set to make his first start of the summer, while the likes of Keith Earls, Jordan Larmour and Cian Healy also return.

Wilson to lead Scots under Friday night lights

It seems a long time ago since Scotland fell to a 32-3 defeat in France, but just three weeks later Gregor Townsend’s men are looking for their third win on the spin.

A gritty 17-14 win over the French at Murrayfield was followed up by a 44-10 triumph in Tbilisi last time out; now they are going for the double.

Glasgow Warriors flanker Ryan Wilson will captain his country for the first time, partnered in the back row by Blade Thomson and Jamie Ritchie.

Jonny Gray starts for the first time this summer, much to the delight of Townsend, while the head coach also hailed the returns of Thomson and Tommy Seymour.

“It’s a boost to have Jonny back in side for the first time since last season and for others, like Tommy, Blade and Duncan, to have made a return to full fitness, following their recent injuries,” he said.

“It’s another opportunity for players to get valuable game time and build on what was a very good performance last weekend in Georgia.

“We are very aware that Georgia will be much improved after their first hit out of the season and they will know much more about how we play.”

Azzurri set for St James’ Park challenge

A challenging World Cup warm-up campaign has seen Italy win just one of their three matches – an emphatic 85-15 triumph over Russia – although merit can certainly be drawn from performances against Ireland and France.

They make the trip to Newcastle for their final pre-Japan outing, with head coach Conor O’Shea naming a much-changed XV, set to be led out by Benetton’s Dean Budd and featuring the likes of Sebastian Negri, David Sisi and Braam Steyn.

“We will face one of the strongest teams in the world in a match that represents a new step in our preparation for the Rugby World Cup,” said O’Shea.

“We will have a new opportunity to assess the players’ state of form, in order to understand later how to continue the path to the debut against Namibia. Now our focus is on England.”

Cheetahs prepare for Currie Cup showdown

Over on the other side of the world, there is keen Guinness PRO14 interest, with silverware up for grabs.

The Toyota Cheetahs are all set to do battle in the Currie Cup Final in Bloemfontein on Saturday after a thrilling campaign that could yet deliver the trophy.

Only the Lions stand in their way of their sixth Currie Cup title, with the in-form Guinness PRO14 outfit looking to build on a series of eye-catching results, including a blistering 51-20 semi-final win over the Sharks.

By 7pm in Bloemfontein, they will know their fate.

Cardiff City Stadium will play host to the 2020 Guinness PRO14 Final on June 20 as one of the most exciting days in the club rugby calendar comes to Wales!

General sale tickets are available from http://bit.ly/PRO14Cardiff2020 and prices start at just £13 for concessions and £26 for adults (subject to booking fees), that’s a 15% early bird discount. Family ticket (2 adults / 2 children) prices begin at £64 and fans are encouraged to buy early to get the best value tickets.

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