THE FIVE MUST-SEE AU­TUMN TESTS

▶ As next year’s World Cup in Ja­pan looms on the hori­zon, Paul Radley looks at the key clashes this month

The National - News - - SPORT | RUGBY UNION -

Rugby’s lead­ing Test teams will get some valu­able game time in Novem­ber as they each build to­wards the 2019 World Cup in Ja­pan.

The com­pe­ti­tion is less than a year away, and the au­tumn Tests will pro­vide some early point­ers as to what to ex­pect when the main com­pe­ti­tion rolls around.

Can any­one stop New Zealand mak­ing it a hat-trick of ti­tles? Are South Africa cred­i­ble con­tenders, fol­low­ing their re­vival un­der Rassie Eras­mus and Siya Kolisi?

Is Eng­land’s slump un­der Ed­die Jones ter­mi­nal? And can War­ren Gat­land sign off after 12 years in charge of Wales with the big­gest prize of all?

Ahead of the au­tumn Tests, here are five fix­tures to look for­ward to.

Eng­land v South Africa Twick­en­ham, Satur­day, kick-off 7pm (all UAE times)

Fa­mil­iar foes clash­ing once again in Lon­don. This will be the fourth con­sec­u­tive Test the two sides have played against each other.

South Africa won the sum­mer se­ries at home, but Eng­land did at least fi­nally break a six-match los­ing streak – in­clud­ing at home to the Bar­bar­ians – in the fi­nal dead rub­ber.

Back then, Danny Cipri­ani played a key role in that win. But the mav­er­ick Eng­land fly-half has since made the wrong sort of head­lines off the field and again been jet­ti­soned from the squad.

Manu Tuilagi is in line to play his first Test in over two years for the home side.

Eng­land v New Zealand Twick­en­ham, Satur­day, Novem­ber 10, kick off 7pm

Where Eng­land and the Spring­boks are overly fa­mil­iar with each other, the home team and the All Blacks are ba­si­cally strangers.

The two sides have not played each other since 2014 – when New Zealand ran out 24-21 win­ners at Twick­en­ham – mean­ing never on the watch of Ed­die Jones’.

The coach has ap­par­ently been shield­ing his side from play­ing the might of the world cham­pi­ons.

The All Blacks have won 32 of the 41 Tests they have played against Eng­land, and there is lit­tle to sug­gest the world’s No 1 side will not steam­roll their hosts this month, too.

Whether Eng­land gain much from the ap­point­ment of for­mer All Blacks coach John Mitchell to run their de­fence re­mains to be seen.

Wales v Aus­tralia Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium, Satur­day, Novem­ber 10, kick off 9.20pm

This Test match falls 19 days shy of ex­actly a decade since Wales last beat Aus­tralia in a Test match.

Alun Wyn Jones is the only player likely to fea­ture who fig­ured in that 21-18 win for the home team at the Mil­len­nium Sta­dium in 2008.

Wales might not get a bet­ter chance to break their Wal­la­bies’ hoodoo. Aus­tralia have been in mis­er­able form, win­ning just two of their past nine Tests, putting coach Michael Cheika’s job as coach in doubt in the process.

Ire­land v New Zealand Aviva Sta­dium, Satur­day, Novem­ber 17, kick-off 11pm

Over the past two meet­ings with New Zealand, Ire­land have an even record. Be­fore that, not so much.

That win in Chicago in Novem­ber 2016 was mo­men­tous, given that it fol­lowed no wins in 111 years of try­ing against the same op­po­si­tion. A re­peat this month would mark the Ir­ish out as gen­uine con­tenders for the World Cup next year.

Conor Mur­ray will likely be con­spic­u­ous by his ab­sence. No other Bri­tish & Ir­ish Lions tourist emerged from last year’s tour of New Zealand more ad­mired by op­po­si­tion fans than the scum-half.

He is ex­pected to miss Ire­land’s Novem­ber pro­gramme be­cause of a neck in­jury.

Wales v South Africa Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium, Satur­day, Novem­ber 24, kick-off 9.20pm

Wales have won four of their past five meet­ings with the Spring­boks, which is a re­mark­able, given they had only a soli­tary win in the 30 Tests they had played lead­ing up to that point.

Most re­cently, they beat them 22-10 in Wash­ing­ton in June – cour­tesy of a late Ryan El­lis try – but that was re­al­is­ti­cally be­fore the Bok resur­gence un­der Rassie Eras­mus had started.

Three wins and three de­feats, adding up to a sec­ond-place finish in the Rugby Cham­pi­onship, was not ex­actly much to write home about for South Africa, but their con­fi­dence is def­i­nitely re­turn­ing.

Getty;

Clock­wise from top: Man Tuilagi, right, could play his first Test for Eng­land in over two years; South Africa have found some form un­der the lead­er­ship of Rassie Ras­mus; New Zealand face key clashes against Eng­land and Ire­land in Novem­ber

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