The June International test matches between Southern and Northern Hemisphere teams looks set to be closer than expected in 2012. The structure of Super Rugby in 2012 means that the Southern Hemisphere giants of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa may struggle more than expected with limited preparation time. The touring teams like Ireland, England and Wales have had far better preparation and will have a better chance than usual of scoring a rare away series win, if Tuesday nights win by Scotland over Australia is anything to go by.
It usually takes teams a while to gel and this year there are no matches against the minnows like Japan, Italy or the Pacific Islands for the Southern Hemisphere teams to warm up with, instead it is straight into playing England, Ireland and Wales. Australia did have a warm up match against Scotland, but that was a disaster and what is also of major concern is the form of England, Wales and Ireland in more recent times and the fact that they have sent far stronger sides than other years which suggests that home victories aren’t necessarily order of the day this weekend.
This first leg of international test matches is probably the best chance for the Northern Hemisphere to get victories, but you get the feeling that by the time the third tests roll around, the Southern Hemisphere teams will be hitting their straps unless they have already won the series. These test matches are a good chance to give new caps to players on debut, with the All Blacks and South Africa having three in their starting lineups and Ireland has two.
Australia has made eight changes from the team that lost to Scotland, but you get the feeling that their lack of depth is being exposed and that the promising Wales team has the best chance of taking the silverware out of any of the Northern Hemisphere teams. Australia’s loss to Scotland has probably given the Southern Hemisphere teams a wake up call as they have named largely experienced sides, but it has also provided hope for the other Northern Hemisphere teams which unlike other years, have included most of their top players.
From a New Zealand perspective the matchup between Sonny Bill Williams and Brian O’Driscoll will be brilliant. The All Blacks backline will be tough to handle with Julian Savea a slippery customer. Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock are some exciting and mobile locks. Aaron Smith’s electric pass needs to ignite that All Blacks backline.
My predicitions. I think these first matches will be close with the All Blacks winning, but the Springboks and the Wallabies may struggle. Overall, I think the All Blacks will win their series 3-0 and the Springboks should win their series but they may drop a match, while Wales could well get the better of the Wallabies, depending on conditions.
Who are you picking to win the June Internationals? Can the Northern Hemisphere teams pick up some wins over their Southern Hemisphere opponents?