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Autumn Nations Series and November internationals: Five things to look out for
Ahead of another packed weekend of Autumn Nations Series matches, November internationals and more, we look at five things to keep an eye on.
When it comes to international rugby, November is the month that keeps on giving.
This weekend kicks off when Ireland Women host the USA on Friday night, while France’s encounter with the Black Ferns and England’s match against Canada are not to be missed.
On Saturday, the Autumn Nations Series continues with Argentina’s trip to Italy and over the course of the weekend every team in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini top 10 will be in action.
With all of that to come, we picked out five things that you should keep an eye on.
📋 𝐓𝐞𝐚𝐦 𝐀𝐧𝐧𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐜𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) November 11, 2021
Here it is! Presenting the Ireland Match Day 23 for Saturday's #AutumnNationsSeries clash against the @AllBlacks at a sold-out @avivastadium 👊#TeamOfUs | #IREvNZL
Centurions club set to welcome latest member
One week after Johnny Sexton made his 100th Ireland appearance in the win over Japan, his long-term half-back partner Conor Murray could become test rugby’s latest centurion.
Murray was a replacement last weekend against the Brave Blossoms and has again been selected to start on the bench against the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium.
It means that barring a late injury, Murray will have the opportunity to win his 91st cap for his country on Saturday, which would take him to a ton of test appearances when added to his nine British and Irish Lions outings.
Murray will become the ninth Irishman to reach the milestone, which seems fitting considering it is the number he has worn with distinction for so long.
Of his previous 99 test appearances, Murray has won 56 – including two victories against the All Blacks – while scoring 100 points. Could he mark his special occasion with a try on Saturday?
No respite for the Black Ferns in France
The last team the Black Ferns would want to face following back-to-back defeats against England is France.
Having waited 22 years to beat New Zealand for the first time, Les Bleues have won the last two encounters between the sides.
Olympic silver medallist Caroline Drouin scored 15 points in the first of those, a 30-27 victory at Stade des Alpes three years ago, and was back in the blue number 10 jersey for France’s 46-3 win over South Africa last weekend.
France ran in seven tries at Stade de la Rabine in Vannes to warm-up for back-to-back tests against the Black Ferns in style.
New Zealand confirmed Grace Brooker would miss the matches in France through injury, but the squad is still packed full of talent.
Stacey Fluhler and Portia Woodman hinted at the quality contained within the Black Ferns backline last weekend and they will hope to get more front-foot ball at Stade du Hameau this Saturday.
The return of Maisashvili and Georgia in Bordeaux
Georgia are set to play their first test match since July when they make their Autumn Nations Series debut against France in Bordeaux on Sunday.
The Lelos wrapped up a fourth successive Rugby Europe Championship title in June but saw their tour of South Africa the following month disrupted by an outbreak of COVID-19 that left coach Levan Maisashvili fighting for his life.
Les touristes 👌🇫🇷 pic.twitter.com/wWIFekRLv8— Georgian Rugby (@GeorgianRugby) November 10, 2021
Maisashvili told the Telegraph in October that he was given a two per cent chance of survival by doctors in Johannesburg and lost almost 25kg in weight as he battled the virus.
It will be a highlight of the weekend, therefore, to see him back on the touchline as Georgia go in search of a first test victory against Les Bleus.
Speaking to reporters about his remarkable recovery this week, Maisashvili said he was “feeling very well” and insisted that his side “has a good opportunity” against first France, and then Fiji this November.
Scottish women raring to play in front of home crowd again
Scotland Women will play their first match since securing their place at the Rugby World Cup 2021 Final Qualification Tournament when they take on Japan at DAM Health Stadium on Sunday.
Sarah Law maintained Scottish hopes of qualifying for a first Rugby World Cup in more than a decade when she converted Chloe Rollie’s late try, to give her side a 20-18 win against Ireland at the RWC 2021 Europe Qualifier in Parma on 25 September.
Law, Rollie and their team-mates will now get to play in front of a home crowd for the first time in almost two years as they make their debut at the new stadium in Edinburgh.
“I am really looking forward to the atmosphere on Sunday and I’m just thinking how good it will be to play in front of a home crowd, I am super excited,” prop Leah Bartlett said earlier this week.
Scotland will take on Samoa, Colombia and either Hong Kong or Kazakhstan next year for a ticket to RWC 2021, and Japan – whose own place in New Zealand was confirmed last month – will provide a good test of where the squad is.
Evergreen Steyn set to extend Springbok record into 15th year
Frans Steyn’s player of the match performance against Wales last weekend suggests that the 34-year-old still has plenty to offer on the test stage.
Steyn came off the bench to replace Damian Willemse early in the first half and made more metres with ball in hand (65) than any other player on the pitch. He also kicked a long-range penalty that proved pivotal to the Springboks’ 23-18 win.
South Africa face Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, and the full-back has again been picked to start the match on the bench.
But should he be called on at any time during the 80 minutes in Edinburgh, Steyn’s 73rd cap, and 33rd as a replacement, would make him the first Springbok to stretch his test career beyond 15 years.
Victor Matfield, whose last cap came 14 years and 122 days after his first, previously held the South African record but Steyn has already outlasted the legendary second-row. Saturday’s encounter with Scotland comes 15 years and two days after Steyn made his test bow against Ireland in Dublin.