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The Lineout: International Rugby Edition

We preview this weekend's round of international matches, as teams like the All Blacks begin what will be a new era without a number of last year's World Cup-winning players.
June 10, 2016, 1:07am
Image via Twitter user @AllBlacks

The Lineout was on hiatus last week as Super Rugby began its break for the mid-year test window. But we're back again for this weekend's round of international games, as teams like the All Blacks begin what will be a new era without a number of last year's World Cup-winning players.

Eddie Jones is back in Australia, coaching the English, and has already been firing shots at his countrymen. Meanwhile South Africa host a resurgent Ireland in Cape Town.

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The South Hemisphere nations always talk a big game about how these mid-year tests show the gap in quality between them and their Northern pals.

Well, let the famous rubber meet the famous road over the coming weeks. Ever at the ready, The Lineout holds up the ledger to see if that dusty old idea still has merit.

Samoa vs Georgia in Apia, tomorrow

Talk about two international sides coming off completely different World Cup campaigns in the United Kingdom last year.

Georgia was one of the gutsy up-and-comers of the Cup, beating Tonga and Nambia before pushing the All Blacks to a deceivingly close 43-10 defeat in Cardiff. They finished third in their pool, securing automatic qualification for the 2019 tournament.

Samoa, meanwhile, flopped; managing only one win, against the United States. That caused a shake-up in Samoan Rugby, with former All Black Alama Iremaia taking over as the new coach last December.

On conditions alone, they should be considered favourites. But if the match becomes dominated by the forwards and the Samoan halves can't release their speedy backline, expect the Eastern Europeans to dominate.

It might not be super-pretty to watch, but expect the hosts to hang on.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Samoa: Greg Foe, loose-forward. Georgia: Lasha Malaghuradze, first-five.

PREDICTION: Samoa by 5.

Georgia upsetting Samoa in Tbilisi in 2013

New Zealand vs Wales in Auckland, tomorrow

The All Blacks will play their first test since beating Australia in the World Cup final at Twickenham last year, and will be up against a Welsh team running on inconsistent recent form.

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Wales, who will be captained by iconic flanker – and former schoolmate of Gareth Bale – Sam Warburton, have only three of their last six games, with two humiliating defeats to England.

The All Blacks, meanwhile, will field a team vastly different to their 2015 World Cup vintage. Gone are Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu and Tony Woodcock. In come the likes of Aaron Cruden, Ryan Crotty, Joe Moody and Sam Cane.

This is a new era for New Zealand, and Wales can take comfort in the fact that the All Blacks are usually incredibly rusty in early season tests.

Let's not fool ourselves though. There is almost no chance of an upset here. While New Zealand has far too much gas outside, an interesting battle will be between Warburton and future All Black skipper Sam Cane at the breakdown. If Cane struggles there, the score line will be tighter.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: New Zealand: Sam Cane, flanker. Wales: Sam Warburton, flanker.

PREDICTION: New Zealand by 16.

Australia vs England in Brisbane, tomorrow

Ex-Wallabies coach Eddie Jones is back and he doesn't mind telling you about it either. England has been resurgent under Jones' leadership, and come to Australia confident of tipping over their much-hated hosts, and avenging last year's World Cup loss.

Even though England are coming off a Grand Slam victory over the northern winter, it's hard to judge how they might rate against the world no. 2-ranked Wallabies. Michael Cheika has done a fine job since taking over from Robbie Deans as coach, and has stocked a heavyweight backline for the Brisbane test.

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Expect new English first-five Owen Farrell to cope a lot early from the Wallabies, who should be superior at the breakdown thanks to David Pollock and Michael Hooper.

This could go either way, and should be the game of the weekend, viewing-wise.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Australia: Israel Folau, fullback. England: Mike Brown, fullback.

PREDICTION: Australia by 1.

Australia beating England in pool play at last year's World Cup

South Africa vs Ireland in Cape Town, Sunday

Heading into last year's World Cup, Ireland looked like the North Hemisphere side most likely to tip over the red-hot All Blacks. They didn't even get a chance after being humped 43-20 by Argentina in the quarterfinals. Very sad.

Joe Schmitt and his men are back this season with a squad that looks like it could mature into something special by the time the 2019 Cup in Japan arrives. Most intriguing are new first-five Paddy Jackson and South African-born second rower CJ Stander, while Kiwi-born Jared Payne is as consistent as any international side would like at fullback.

South Africa is still licking their wounds after a wildly underwhelming Cup of their own last year, that saw them defeated by minnows Japan before limping out in the semis against the ABs. They've undergone some changes too - but retain the ever-present size of their forward pack. Look for front-rowers Tendai Mtawarira, Adrian Strauss and Frans Malherbe to lay the platform for victory this weekend.

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PLAYERS TO WATCH: South Africa: Pat Lambie, first-five. Ireland: Paddy Jackson, first-five.

PREDICTION: South Africa by 10.

Argentina vs Italy in Sante Fe, Sunday

The Argies have had a tough time of it in Super Rugby this year, but should have an easier time of it against the Italians on Sunday.

Italy is nowhere near the class of Argentina, who are notoriously difficult to beat at home. Los Pumas possess a better forward pack, backline and bench, simply put.

If there's a blow out this weekend, expect it to happen in Sante Fe.

PREDICTION: Argentina by 20.

Canada vs Japan in Vancouver, Sunday

Even though Japan was the Cinderella of last year's World Cup with their victory over South Africa, we know that you won't be probably watching this game.

All strength to both sides, but we understand if you're all rugby-ed out by the time the whistle blows on this one.

PREDICTION: Japan by 3.

BONUS: Classic mid-year internationals throwback

It was one of the most earth-shattering tackles in the history of international rugby.

All Black Jerry Collins, who tragically died in a car accident in France last year, made it on Welsh no 8 Colin Charvis in a mid-year test in Hamilton in June 2003.

The hit knocked Charvis out cold, and while play continued, All Black centre Tana Umaga stayed behind to place the Welshman in a recovery postion to ensure his safety.

On ya Tana, and Jerry, mate, we still miss you.