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Autumn Nations Series and November internationals: Five things to look out for
Ahead of another packed weekend of men’s and women’s tests we pick out five things to keep an eye on.
It is the final weekend of the Autumn Nations Series, while eight of the teams that have qualified for Rugby World Cup 2021 will also be in action.
On Saturday, there will be a repeat of the RWC 2019 final and a sneak preview of the opening match of RWC 2023 in France.
RWC 2021 hosts New Zealand are in action against Les Bleues in Castres, while Ireland will say goodbye to a legend in Dublin and England and Wales hope to maintain their perfect end-of-year records.
Your @FranceRugby team for the mouthwatering clash with @AllBlacks 💥#AutumnNationsSeries #FRAvNZL pic.twitter.com/dytoef77Av— Autumn Nations Series (@autumnnations) November 18, 2021
With all that to come, and more, here are five things to keep an eye on…
RWC 2023 dress rehearsal in Paris
There are lots of reasons to be excited about New Zealand’s trip to the Stade de France on Saturday.
It is, of course, a dress rehearsal for the opening match of RWC 2023 in less than two years and France know they can lay down a marker for their home tournament with a first win against the All Blacks since 2009.
New Zealand have scored 49 points or more in the fixture three times since then but have arrived in Paris licking their wounds following defeat to Ireland in Dublin last weekend and will not want to sign off from a record-breaking 2021 with third loss in six matches.
Both line-ups are studded with stellar names. World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year nominee Antoine Dupont will lead Les Bleues, while Will Jordan – up for Breakthrough Player of the Year in association with Tudor at the World Rugby Awards 2021 – should take his place in the All Blacks back-three.
Romain Ntamack, meanwhile, has been given the nod for France at fly-half and has a great opportunity to make his case to be Les Bleues’ starting 10 on the road to Rugby World Cup.
Another player hoping to impress will be French hooker Peato Mauvaka, who is set to make only his second test start on Saturday. Having scored three tries in two appearances as a replacement this November, he has certainly earned it and could come up against another free-scoring number two, in All Black Codie Taylor.
End of an era for Ireland as Griffin prepares to captain team for final time
Ireland Women will bid a fond farewell to captain Ciara Griffin on Saturday, as the curtain comes down on her international career against Japan in Dublin.
Griffin revealed this week that, at 27, she had taken the decision to retire from tests in order to “turn my focus to my life outside of rugby”.
𝐂𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐚𝐢𝐧. 𝐋𝐞𝐚𝐝𝐞𝐫. 𝐉𝐮𝐧𝐢𝐨𝐫— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) November 16, 2021
As @griffinciara94 prepares to play her final game for Ireland this weekend, we look back through her career in green 👇#ThanksCiara | #NothingLikeIt
The back-row made her international debut as a replacement against Wales during the Women’s Six Nations 2016 and was handed her first start later in that year’s Championship against England at Twickenham.
Last weekend Griffin described herself as the “proudest person in the country” as she led Ireland to a 20-10 defeat of the USA in Dublin, but Saturday will be her 41st and final appearance in a green jersey.
“It has been a childhood dream come true to play for my country," the Munster player said. "Being afforded the opportunity to captain the national team has been the highest honour.
"It has been an incredible journey filled with many highs and lows and I am very grateful for all the life skills I have developed through my involvement in high performance sport.”
England and South Africa to get reacquainted in London
Tom Curry insisted this week that England’s encounter with South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday was “not about avenging anything”.
Curry is one of six players in the England starting line-up who toured South Africa with the British and Irish Lions earlier this year, but this is the first time the hosts have faced the Springboks since the RWC 2019 final.
South Africa won 32-12 in Yokohama to lift the Webb Ellis Cup, and although an England victory on Saturday would do little to soothe the scars from Japan, there is plenty for both sides to play for.
Having reclaimed their place at the top of the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, the world champions will want to consolidate that position. Their hosts, meanwhile, will hope to maintain their momentum and complete an Autumn Nations Series clean sweep.
One area of the England team that is sure to come under pressure is the inexperienced front-row, which must get to grips with the Springboks’ much-vaunted ‘Bomb Squad’. But the hosts’ scrum coach, Matt Proudfoot – part of the South African backroom team during RWC 2019 – insisted he has “a lot of confidence” in the forwards picked.
Plenty to play for in packed weekend of women’s tests
With less than a year to go until RWC 2021, playing in 2022, each women’s test match provides the competing teams with an opportunity to take another step towards being competitive in New Zealand.
That is particularly true this weekend as eight of the 11 teams who have qualified for the showpiece tournament go head-to-head in Europe.
An intriguing weekend of action kicks off in Castres on Saturday as the Black Ferns attempt to finish their so-far winless tour on a high against a French team who were impressive in beating them 38-13 last time out.
Gains for Game Day 💪🏽— Black Ferns (@BlackFerns) November 16, 2021
Merci for having us again, @StadeToulousain#FRAvNZL #LoveEveryMinute pic.twitter.com/zkbGFyTkCM
Les Bleues will know that another win – their fourth in a row against New Zealand – would give them valuable ratings points as they look to improve on fourth position in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini.
Later on Saturday, Ireland can make it two wins from two in November when they take on Japan in Dublin. However, the Sakura 15s have caused both Wales and Scotland problems this month and will not want to sign off from 2021 with defeat.
England look set to be cheered on by a passionate crowd on Sunday as they attempt to consolidate their place atop the women’s rankings with an 18th win in a row, when the USA visit Worcester.
Cardiff is the venue for the final match of the weekend, as Wales – buoyed by wins over Japan and South Africa – take on the world’s third-best side, Canada. The Canucks gave England a run for their money for an hour at Twickenham Stoop and will hope to end their European tour with victory.
Fiji and Georgia renew prolific rivalry
One thing it seems that’s guaranteed when Fiji face Georgia is points, and lots of them. Only once since the sides first met in a test match in 2012 has the fixture yielded less than 40 points – Georgia’s 14-3 win in Suva five years ago.
The five encounters so far have averaged 45.8 points per match, and it isn’t just those lucky enough to have a ticket for Saturday’s meeting at Estadio El Deleite that are in for a treat. The match kicks off at 14:30 GMT and you can watch it right here on world.rugby!
Murrayfield was the setting for the most recent fixture, during last year’s Autumn Nations Cup, and the sides shared nine tries. Nemani Nadolo’s hat-trick proved decisive in a 38-24 win for the Flying Fijians.
Georgia were beaten 41-15 by France last weekend, while Fiji ran Wales close despite being reduced to 14 men early on at the Principality Stadium. Both will be hoping to end their November assignments on a high.
“We know Georgia will be playing to their strengths, which is a gnarly forward pack,” Fiji coach Vern Cotter said. “They tried to move the ball against us this time last year and I think they’ll probably come back to their favoured scrum and lineout driven [approach]. Try and tighten us up, wear us out, make us fatigued and get scores later in the game.”