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Autumn Nations Series and November internationals: Five things to look out for
Ahead of another packed weekend of test rugby we pick out five things to keep an eye on.
If the previous two weekends have served to whet your appetite, then you should be ready to gorge on a packed end-of-year test schedule this Saturday and Sunday.
World champions South Africa, England, France, Ireland, Argentina and Italy will all make their first appearances in this year’s Autumn Nations Series this weekend.
England Women, meanwhile, will attempt to wrap up a clean sweep against the Black Ferns, while France, South Africa, Wales and Japan will also take to the pitch.
Ahead of another packed weekend of men’s and women’s internationals, we look at five things to keep an eye on.
❝It's a different challenge to New Zealand❞— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) November 4, 2021
Wales head coach Wayne Pivac gives his thoughts on facing the @Springboks this Saturday at @principalitysta. pic.twitter.com/6vhz7lvepu
Jenkins set to make long-awaited Wales return
Ellis Jenkins will make his first test appearance in almost three years when Wales welcome Rugby World Cup 2019 winners South Africa to the Principality Stadium on Saturday.
It is sure to be an emotional occasion for Jenkins, who suffered a serious knee injury in the dying moments of a 20-11 victory against the Springboks in November, 2018.
The Cardiff flanker had been a late call-up to the starting side for that match but turned in a player of the match performance to help Wales win, before departing the pitch on a stretcher.
Jenkins missed the rest of the 2018-19 season, RWC 2019 and the entirety of the following campaign as he battled to regain his fitness.
Following more than two years out, he made an impressive comeback with Cardiff last season and his form at the start of the United Rugby Championship has earned him the recall he has worked so hard for.
Jenkins replaces the injured Ross Moriarty in the Wales back-row and will link up with Dragons pair Taine Basham and Aaron Wainwright against the world champions.
Beware the wounded Black Ferns
England might have secured a record win against the Black Ferns last Sunday, but it seems they are taking nothing for granted ahead of the teams’ second match in Northampton.
Although the Red Roses ran in seven tries to rack up a 43-12 win at Sandy Park, flanker Zoe Aldcroft sounded cautious when she discussed her side’s chances at Franklin’s Gardens.
“If we don't perform this week, last week kind of means nothing,” she said. “We know New Zealand are going to be coming out fighting. Hopefully we can get the second win and finish the job. We can't be complacent at all.”
Indeed, having blooded nine debutants in Exeter, Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore is expected to make some changes to his team, who will have benefitted from playing their first test match in 26 months, regardless of the result.
Moore could bring Olympic gold medallists Kelly Brazier and Portia Woodman back into the fold, a fact that underlines the task facing England as they bid to do the double over the RWC 2017 winners.
French backline sets pulses racing
Confirmation of the France team to take on Argentina on Saturday was greeted with a communal salivating emoji from rugby fans across the world.
The match at Stade de France will be scrum-half Antoine Dupont’s first as Les Bleus captain and it promises to be an exciting one should Fabien Galthié’s bold selection call pay off.
Having each missed the rest series against Australia in July, Dupont, Matthieu Jalibert, Romain Ntamack and Gaël Fickou will all start the Autumn Nations Series encounter with Los Pumas.
Jalibert has been selected at fly-half to continue the half-back partnership with Dupont that proved so successful during last season’s Six Nations, while Ntamack will provide a second playmaking option at 12 and there is the speed and ball-playing ability of Fickou outside of him.
With Gabin Villière, Damian Penaud and Melvyn Jaminet making up the back three, it is an exciting backline that is sure to set pulses racing among neutrals and cause alarm among Argentine defenders.
📢An historic moment for women's rugby in Wales The first contracts are set to be offered to female players as part of a major investment in our women’s performance programme— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) November 3, 2021
FULL STORY https://t.co/8Fz4HFFg8I pic.twitter.com/F7lRZ8jSmH
Japan hoping to pick up where they left off
Two years ago, Japan’s women travelled to Europe for tests against Italy and Scotland and returned home unbeaten and with reputations enhanced.
Following a 17-17 draw against the Azzurre in L’Aquila, tries from Noriko Taniguchi, Seina Saito, Makoto Ebuchi and Ayasa Otsuka, as well as two crucial conversions from Ai Hirayama, secured a 24-20 defeat of the Scots in Glasgow.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has ensured the Scotstoun victory remains the team’s most recent test outing but that will change on Saturday when the Sakura 15s take on Wales in Cardiff.
Japan have not stood still in the intervening 24 months, either, with Louise Dalgliesh joining coach Lesley McKenzie’s backroom team earlier this year.
Dalgliesh has been impressed with what she’s found. “The skill level of the players is really high,” she told World Rugby in September. “It is still quite a young squad so the potential for them to grow is massive.”
Wales head into the match on a high following Wednesday’s announcement that 25 players will be offered full or part-time contracts to start in January. They will have to be at their best to celebrate that milestone with a win on Saturday, though.
Sexton to play 100th test for Ireland
Johnny Sexton will become the seventh player to win 100 caps for Ireland when he leads his country against Japan at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Already a test centurion due to his six caps for the British and Irish Lions, Sexton joins World Rugby Hall of Fame inductees Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara, as well as Rory Best, Cian Healy, Paul O’Connell and John Hayes in reaching the milestone in an Irish jersey.
Sexton has scored 925 points in his 99 appearances to date for Ireland, which puts him second behind O’Gara (1,083) on the country’s all-time list.
Having sat out each of the teams’ four meetings over the past four years, including the RWC 2019 defeat, Saturday will be the first time the 36-year-old lines up against Japan.
Jamie Joseph’s side will be the 15th different nation that the fly-half has faced during his 12-year Ireland career. He has experienced at least one victory against all the previous 14, including two from 10 matches against the All Blacks, three from five against the Springboks and six from 14 against England.
Can he maintain that proud run and make it one out of one against the Brave Blossoms in the Autumn Nations Series this weekend?