Not Quite a Summer Holiday

This June England, Wales and Ireland travel to take on the undisputed best three international teams in the world.

Ireland go to South Africa with a list of high profile injuries. Rob Kearney will be a big miss, South Africa have a very good kick chase game, losing the man that can diffuse those situations with his prowess in the air could see Ireland suffer.

Although Rob Kearney will be missed, the biggest miss for Ireland is likely to be the fly-half Jonathan Sexton. Sexton has been such an important player for Joe Schmidt at Leinster and Ireland his absence is a cruel blow for Ireland.

Being clinical will also be crucial especially when faced with the likes of Mvovo, Habana and Pietersen. Ireland are also missing three first team wingers Bowe, Fitzgerald and Dave Kearney all of whom are unavailable for the tour.

In the forwards things are no better with Ireland missing their two best opensides, destructive carrier O’Brien and the speedy Van der Flier will not take any part in the tour.

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Sean O’Brien on one of his trademark charges against France during the World Cup.

The final casualty is Leinster prop Cian Healy but following a strong scrum in the Six Nations many now believe McGrath is Ireland’s best loosehead prop and it looks as though the 26 year old could remain first choice for years to come.

South Africa will see this tour as a chance to build a new order under new coach Coetzee following Meyer’s departure. The coaching staff is much the same as it was under Meyer which will give South Africa some stability in preparation for the tests.

Ireland looked off colour in the Six Nations and their confidence will not exactly be high, this tour does look like a step too far especially without Sexton and Rob Kearney to combat South Africa. A win is possible yet unlikely.

Prediction: South Africa win series 3-0

My Ireland XV: 1 McGrath (Leinster) 2 Best (Capt, Ulster) 3 Ross (Leinster) 4 Henderson (Ulster) 5 Dillane (Connacht) 6 Stander (Munster) 7 Ruddock 8 Heaslip (both Leinster)

9 Murray (Munster) 10 Jackson 11 Trimble 12 Marshall (all Ulster) 13 Henshaw (Leinster) 14 Gilroy 15 Payne (both Ulster)

Wales know how tough the challenge facing them is, New Zealand are undeniably the best side in the world and have been for the last nine years or so.

The Welsh team will carry some optimism that it is a fairly new New Zealand team, Ma’a Nonu, Daniel Carter, Conrad Smith, Richie McCaw and Keven Mealamu are all no longer playing for the All Blacks.

Wales have some injuries to contend with themselves despite the swift recovery of skipper Sam Warburton who is widely expected to captain Wales when they face New Zealand in Auckland on Saturday.

Dan Lydiate’s injury sustained against England at Twickenham will rule him out of the entire tour as is the quick Tipuric. Leigh Halfpenny is still recovering from a long-term injury which saw him miss out on the World Cup and Six Nations, however it looks as though he could return for the November internationals.

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Dan Lydiate’s injury at Twickenham rules him out of the tour.

Alex Cuthbert is also missing the tour, the giant wing has had some pressure put on him recently by Liam Williams and Hallam Amos both of whom have been hugely impressive in the absence of Halfpenny.

New Zealand should win the series and Wales know they are great underdogs. New Zealand have some excellent players coming through and this series is a stage for them to succeed the greats of their homeland over the coming years.

If Wales’ powerful defence can hold New Zealand out and Wales don’t suffer the slow starts they are so susceptible to, there is hope for a win but even if they are at their best the All Blacks have not lost at Eden Park since 1994, 22 years.

Prediction: New Zealand to win the series 3-0

My Wales XV: 1 Evans (Scarlets) 2 Baldwin (Ospreys) 3 Lee (Scarlets) 4 Jones (Ospreys) 5 Ball (Scarlets) 6 Moriarty (Gloucester) 7 Warburton (Capt, Cardiff) 8 Faletau (Bath)

9 Webb 10 Biggar (both Ospreys) 11 Amos (Dragons) 12 Roberts (Harlequins) 13 Davies (Scarlets) 14 North (Northampton) 15 Williams (Scarlets)

It is undoubtedly England that have the best chance in their tour. The Grand Slam champions have confidence and self belief they can win in Australia.

The win over Wales proved how much depth this squad have, they scored five tries, five tries against their nearest challengers in this hemisphere and that was without eleven players named in the squad. Not just from the wider playing squad either six of those players that started against France did not play in the Wales game (Itoje, Kruis, Billy and Mako Vunipola, Farrell and Nowell).

England are growing and beginning to develop a really powerful, precise, quick game that could make them one of the strongest teams in the lead up to the 2019 World Cup.

England will be missing very few players compared to Ireland and England, Joe Marler made himself unavailable and understandably so following a very tough season for the Harlequins prop.

The only other injury is that of wrecking ball Tuilagi, his injury means that Eddie Jones has been given a real selection headache at inside centre. Sade, Te’o and Farrell will have to fight to replace the injured Leicester centre.

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Ben Te’o is the latest league convert to be included in the England squad.

For England this is their toughest test since Jones joined England and they know that. England know this will test them like no other opposition has tested them before. England face Australia in what will be a testing yet enjoyable series for the young squad.

England fans and the players will be confident of at least one win down under, and rightly so their efforts in the Grand Slam and against Wales proved they are a side not to be doubted.

My Prediction: England to win series 2-1

My England XV: 1 M Vunipola (Saracens) 2 Hartley (Capt, Northampton) 3 Cole (Leicester) 4 Itoje 5 Kruis (both Saracens) 6 Robshaw 7 Clifford (both Harlequins) 8 B Vunipola (Saracens)

9 Care (Harlequins) 10 Ford (Bath) 11 Nowell (Exeter) 12 Farrell (Saracens) 13 Joseph 14 Watson (both Bath) 15 Goode (Saracens)

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The ‘French’ Way

France, a nation that prides themselves on having that little bit of class, a certain ‘je ne sais quoi.’ A nation that in sport brings the flair, the dazzling beauty, the spectacular piece of skill that oozes not just class but astounding physical beauty and makes any other wondrous moment seem so insignificant. Players from both rugby and football have shown us this outrageous talent for coming up with the showstopping brilliance when it matters.

In rugby France have always been the unpredictable yet brilliant to watch team. They bring an air of confidence that if they play well they can beat any challengers. This was shown at it’s best in the 2007 World Cup, a warm night in Cardiff, the hosts France having been close to their best for most of the tournament come up against the overwhelming favourites a team that had blown away all comers in their pool and blessed by the boot of the mercurial Dan Carter.. and all of a sudden that’s it Carter limps off. France win.

New Zealand fly-half, Dan Carter.

New Zealand fly-half, Dan Carter.

They have a knack for producing the big moments when it matters most, this happened 4 years later. It’s 2011, New Zealand are on home soil, but this time France meet England once again at the quarter-final stage. The Auckland air is humid and France having scraped through the pool after a horrific display against Tonga face an England team that have failed to dazzle yet have scored tries. And from nowhere France produce a stunning product, that is high on power and pace with that little electricity that courses through the veins of a Frenchman, that French way, that touch of Parisian class, that hint of French devil, that one thing that makes France French. France win.

England look dejected after losing to France in World Cup quarter-final.

England look dejected after losing to France in World Cup quarter-final.

France are without doubt one of the most talented teams in the world, they have players that make you stop and take a breath, they make your heart skip that beat, they make you fall in love with the game. Gaël Fickou showed this exact moment that player took charge in the 2014 Six Nations. England come into the game with every hope of snatching a win in France. France are low on confidence after a bruising autumn and there a huge question marks over the suitability of former Sale coach Saint-André. England lead going into the final minute, Saint-André’s last roll of the dice is to throw on the young Toulouse centre. Fickou gets the ball and then it comes as if divine intervention has sparked inside the young back, he skips past defenders leaving the English grasping at air. He glides through the defence with an aura of self belief and the glamour that you see on a fashion runway. He turns past the last defender then comes the roar of the Parisian crowd as the centre ends the game with a flourish of French ability and with such French swagger as all England do is watch the jaw dropping, mindblowing talent. France win.

Gaël Fickou scores match winning try against England.

Gaël Fickou scores match winning try against England.

This year France have had a torrid time after beating Australia things were looking up that was until a week later where Argentina bludgeoned them to win 18-14. France came into the Six Nations and can only manage wins against an ageing Italy and a very weak Scotland. France have always performed in World Cups and that showed 4 years ago in Auckland when they beat England and in the final when they lost 8-7 to hosts New Zealand in a game that they should have really won. The chips are well and truly down for France as they travel to England in September, their backs are up against the wall and once again Saint-André has failed to select the 3 Maxime’s (Machenaud, Mermoz, Médard.) France though have a chance, we know that, we know what they can produce, that fantasy land of daring, that paradise of beauty, that state of untouchable glory. If the French can play like France then they have every chance of winning the 2015 World Cup.

France head coach Phillipe Saint-André has come in for criticism over his selection.

France head coach Phillipe Saint-André has come in for criticism over his selection.

My France XV (assuming all are fit and selected):
1 Vincent Debaty (Clermont Auvergne) 2 Guilhem Guirado (Toulon) 3 Eddy Ben Arous (Racing Metro) 4 Yoann Maestri (Toulouse) 5 Alexandre Flanquart (Stade Français) 6 Thierry Dusuatoir (Captain, Toulouse) 7 Fulgence Ourdraogo (Montpellier) 8 Louis Picamoles (Toulouse)

9 Morgan Parra (Clermont Auvergne) 10 François Trinh-Duc (Montpellier) 11 Teddy Thomas (Racing Metro) 12 Wesley Fofana (Clermont Auvergne) 13 Gaël Fickou (Toulouse) 14 Yoann Huget (Toulouse) 15 Maxime Médard (Toulouse)