Back in November 2021, the northern hemisphere had the best of the Autumn Nations Series with a series of eye-catching wins against their southern counterparts.
England overturned their Rugby World Cup 2019 final defeat to South Africa, Ireland and France claimed prized wins over New Zealand and even Wales and Scotland, who were both inconsistent, managed to beat Australia.
But with all four home nations embarking on three-test tours of the major SANZAAR nations – South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina – there is an opportunity for the southern hemisphere to set the record straight over the coming weeks.
Add Rugby World Cup qualification matches in the Americas and Africa, the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup, which will be streamed live, and a number of other tour matches, and there is clearly a lot to look forward to as the build-up to Rugby World Cup 2023 steps up in intensity.
In the women’s game, the Oceania World Rugby Championship 2022 takes centre stage as Fiji attempt to go to Rugby World Cup 2021, played in 2022, as regional champions.
Here’s a rundown of the main events to look forward to and the key storylines.
Set to take on his former charges in a big opening test on Saturday pic.twitter.com/EU9TyLLqLQ— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 27, 2022
NEW ZEALAND v IRELAND
Having closed their November tour to Europe with losses to Ireland and France, the All Blacks are in danger of losing three tests in a row for the first time since August 1998.
To compound matters, an untimely COVID-19 outbreak in camp has disrupted preparations and led to former Ireland coach, Joe Schmidt coming in to coach the All Blacks in Ian Foster’s absence.
Ireland have their own COVID-19 and injury issues to contend with following the news that in-form winger Mack Hansen has tested positive and Iain Henderson and Rob Herring have picked up knocks ahead of what is always a formidable challenge.
Ireland’s last test on New Zealand soil was a decade ago in Hamilton and ended in a record 60-0 defeat
But the current team under Andy Farrell, spearheaded by the evergreen Johnny Sexton, is in a far better place and Ireland have actually won three of the last five meetings with the All Blacks.
Two of those have come in Dublin and one on neutral territory in Chicago, but there is a real belief that this is their best opportunity yet to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time in history.
1st test: 2 July, Eden Park, Auckland
2nd test: 9 July, Forsyth Bay Stadium, Dunedin
3rd test: 16 July, Sky Stadium, Wellington
AUSTRALIA v ENGLAND
With the Cook Cup consigned to history, Australia and England will be contesting the Ella-Mobbs trophy.
The new trophy is named after Indigenous Australian and Wallabies great Mark Ella and the former England winger Edgar Mobbs, who died while serving his country in the first world war.
Whatever the prize at stake, the rivalry between the two countries normally makes for a classic encounter.
Overall, there is very little to choose between the teams with England on 26 wins to Australia’s 25, the former edging ahead in the head-to-head stakes thanks to a 32-15 victory in the last meeting at Twickenham in November – their eighth on the bounce against the Wallabies.
That loss was one of three straight defeats in the Autumn Nations Series and the Wallabies need to make amends to go into the Rugby Championship 2022 with confidence.
Australia’s last victory against England came at Twickenham in the pool stages of Rugby World Cup 2015. Remarkably, Australia’s last home win in the fixture was in Perth 12 years ago.
England also have a point to prove after falling well short of expectations in the Six Nations and then losing heavily to the Barbarians on the eve of their tour to Australia.
It is six years since England embarked on a three-Test tour of Australia and a repeat of that 3-0 scoreline, in Eddie Jones’ first year in charge, would be the stuff of dreams.
1st test: 2 July, Optus Stadium, Perth
2nd test: 9 July, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
3rd test: 16 July, Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
Backs against the wall, can Wales pull off an underdog win against the RWC champs? pic.twitter.com/1uqJPfHEh9— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 23, 2022
SOUTH AFRICA v WALES
With the defence of their Rugby World Cup crown only 15 months away, this is a key series for the Springboks.
Home advantage makes the reigning world champions overwhelming favourites and, no disrespect to Wales, anything less than a 3-0 win for the Springboks would be seen as a surprise in most quarters.
In their last six home games since winning Rugby World Cup 2019, South Africa have only conceded three tries – all to forwards. Indeed, you have to go back to July 2019 to find the last time they conceded a try at home to an opposition back when Dane Haylett-Petty and Bernard Foley scored for the Wallabies in Johannesburg.
Wales found their defence impossible to crack, full stop, when they last met in November, relying on Dan Biggar’s kicking for all of their points in a 23-18 defeat.
As has always been the case, there is no secret behind South Africa’s success. Physicality in attack and defence, a strong set-piece and a smart kick-chase game are the foundations upon which their game is based.
Quite simply, to beat the Springboks in South Africa for the first time in history will take some doing for a Wales side still missing key individuals to injury, especially after their fifth-place finish in the Six Nations 2022.
However, they came mighty close the last time they played each other there, losing 31-30 in Nelspruit in 2014, and will be determined to confound the critics.
1st test: 2 July, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
2nd test: 9 July, Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
3rd test: 16 July, DHL Stadium, Cape Town
ARGENTINA v SCOTLAND
Never a tour for the faint-hearted, Scotland fans will be nervous about their team’s prospects in Argentina after an inconsistent Six Nations 2022 campaign and the fact they have left big stars like Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg behind.
Los Pumas’ passionate supporters always make any test in Argentina a foreboding challenge, but Scotland have a decent record there in the pro era, winning on their last five visits.
A 45-5 win for the Scotland A against Chile in Santiago has also set them up nicely for a successful trip.
For Argentina, this is very much a new era as Michael Cheika begins his reign as Los Pumas’ new head coach.
And the next few weeks will give a good indicator of how quickly the Australian can stamp his mark on a team looking to revive its fortunes just over a year out from Rugby World Cup 2023.
1st test: 2 July, Estadio 23 de Agosto, Jujuy
2nd test: 9 July, Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, Salta
3rd test: 16 July, Estadio Único Madre de Ciudades, Santiago del Estero
PACIFIC NATIONS CUP 2022
The World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup 2022 is returning after a three-year absence and will feature four teams from the Pacific region in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Australia A.
Hosted by Fiji, the quadrangular tournament runs from 2-16 July with matches taking place in Suva and Lautoka. All the action will be streamed live.
Fiji will aim to clinch their sixth Pacific Nations Cup title in front of their home crowd after finishing as runners-up to Japan when the tournament was last organised in 2019.
RUGBY WORLD CUP 2023 QUALIFICATION
Chile are two matches away from competing at a first-ever Rugby World Cup with only the USA standing in their way.
Home-and-away matches for the Americas 2 spot take place on 9 July and 16 July with the winner on aggregate taking their place in Pool D alongside England, Japan, Argentina and Samoa.
USA have only ever missed out on one Rugby World Cup before – in 1995 – and have only lost to Chile once in six previous outings.
The Eagles get home advantage in the second leg.
In addition to the drama in the Americas, a ticket to Rugby World Cup 2023 will be available to the winner of the Rugby Africa Cup 2022.
Marseille and Aix-en-Provence are the host venues for the France-based tournament which will be played on a straight knockout basis.
Past form suggests the winner will come from the top half of the draw, which features six-time Rugby World Cup participants Namibia and Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe, who also both have previous first-hand experience of the game’s biggest tournament.
The tournament runs from 1-10 July.
Fresh from their 2-0 series defeat to Japan, Uruguay have historic back-to-back home matches against Romania to look forward to.
Andy Robinson’s Oaks will be welcomed to the Estadio Charrúa in Montevideo for tests on 10 and 17 July.
Romania’s only previous encounter with Los Teros in Uruguay ended in a 21-21 draw in 2010.
Before that though, this weekend Romania welcome Italy to Bucharest for the first time since 2004.
Having had to wait for so long to return to action, the games are coming thick and fast for Japan. Following on from their twp tests against Uruguay, the Brave Blossoms take on Six Nations 2022 Grand Slam champions France on back-to-back weekends in Toyota and Tokyo, on 2 and 9 July respectively.
Given both teams like to play expansively, fans should be in for a treat.
Elsewhere, Canada have a couple of home tests in the July window – against Belgium on 2 July and Spain on 10 July.
OCEANIA WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP 2022
For Fijiana, the Oceania Women’s Championship 2022 represents another important stepping stone toward Rugby World Cup 2021, played in 2022.
The quadrangular tournament takes place in Papakura, New Zealand, from 9-17 July.
After taking on Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Samoa, Fijiana will return to New Zealand for Rugby World Cup 2021 where they will compete with England, France and South Africa in Pool C.
Head coach Senirusi Seruvakula has taken the decision to blood a number of new players, while 10 of the 28-player squad were part of the Fijiana Drua team which won the Super W in Australia.
A number of players who took part in the recent round-robin tournament against Japan and Australia have been rested. Bitila Tawake will captain the side.
Former Flying Fijians, Asaeli Tikoirotuma (backs) and Mosese Rauluni (defence) join the coaching team.
Towards the end of the month, two further women’s tests are on the schedule. Japan continue their Rugby World Cup 2021 preparations against fellow participants, South Africa, in Kamaishi, on 24 July, while on the same day Canada take on Italy in Langford.