x

Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Five must-see autumn Tests as rugby's powerhouses prepare for 2019 World Cup

England face South Africa and New Zealand at Twickenham aiming to get out of their current slump under Eddie Jones

Manu Tuilagi, right, is set to play his first Test for England in more than two years. Getty Images
Manu Tuilagi, right, is set to play his first Test for England in more than two years. Getty Images

Rugby’s leading Test teams will get some valuable game time in November as they each build towards the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

The competition is less than a year away, and the autumn Tests will provide some early pointers as to what to expect when the main competition rolls around.

Can anyone stop New Zealand making it a hat-trick of titles? Are South Africa credible contenders, following their revival under Rassie Erasmus and Siya Kolisi?

Is England’s slump under Eddie Jones terminal? And can Warren Gatland sign off after 12 years in charge of Wales with the biggest prize of all?

Ahead of the autumn Tests, here are five fixtures to look forward to.

England v South Africa

Twickenham, Saturday, November 3, kick off 7pm UAE

Familiar foes. This will be the fourth consecutive Test the two sides have played against each other.

South Africa won the summer series at home, but England did at least finally break a six-match losing streak – including at home to the Barbarians – in the final dead rubber.

Back then, Danny Cipriani played a key role in that win. But the maverick England fly-half has since made the wrong sort of headlines off the field, and been jettisoned from the squad.

Manu Tuilagi is in line to play his first Test in over two years for the home side.

England v New Zealand

Twickenham, Saturday, November 10, kick off 7pm UAE

John Mitchell has joined England's backroom staff as defence coach. Getty Images
John Mitchell has joined England's backroom staff as defence coach. Getty Images

Where England and the Springboks are overly familiar with each other, the home team and the All Blacks are basically strangers.

The two sides have not played each other since 2014 – meaning never on Eddie Jones’ watch. The coach has apparently been shielding his side from playing the might of the world champions.

The All Blacks have won 32 of the 41 Tests they have played against England, and there is little to suggest the world’s No 1 side will not steamroll their hosts this month, too.

Whether England gain much from the appointment of former All Blacks coach John Mitchell to run their defence remains to be seen.

Wales v Australia

Principality Stadium, Saturday, November 10, kick off 9.20pm UAE

Alun Wyn Jones is the only player in the Wales squad to feature in the 2008 win over Australia. Getty Images
Alun Wyn Jones is the only player in the Wales squad to feature in the 2008 win over Australia. Getty Images

This Test match falls 19 days shy of exactly a decade since Wales last beat Australia in a Test match.

Alun Wyn Jones is the only player likely to feature who figured in that 21-18 win for the home team at the Millennium Stadium in 2008.

Wales might not get a better chance to break their Wallabies’ hoodoo. Australia have been in miserable form, winning just two of their past nine Tests, putting coach Michael Cheika’s job as coach in doubt in the process.

Ireland v New Zealand

Aviva Stadium, Saturday, November 17, kick off 11pm UAE

New Zealand have only lose to Ireland once in 111 years - the November 2016 defeat in Chicago. EPA
New Zealand have only lose to Ireland once in 111 years - the November 2016 defeat in Chicago. EPA

Over the past two meetings with New Zealand, Ireland have an even record. Before that, not so much.

That win in Chicago in November 2016 was momentous, given that it followed no wins in 111 years of trying against the same opposition.

A repeat this month would mark the Irish out as genuine contenders for the World Cup next year.

Conor Murray will likely be conspicuous by his absence. No other British & Irish Lions tourist emerged from last year’s tour of New Zealand more admired by opposition fans than the scum-half.

He is expected to miss Ireland’s November programme because of a neck injury.

Wales v South Africa

Principality Stadium, Saturday, November 24, kick off 9.20pm UAE

South Africa are enjoying a resurgence under head coach Rassie Erasmus. Getty Images
South Africa are enjoying a resurgence under head coach Rassie Erasmus. Getty Images

Wales have won four of their past five meetings with the Springboks, which is remarkable, given they had only a solitary win in the 30 Tests they had played leading up to that point.

Most recently, they beat them in Washington in June, but that was realistically before the Bok resurgence under Rassie Erasmus had started.

Three wins and three defeats, adding up to a second-place finish in the Rugby Championship, was not exactly much to write home about for South Africa, but their confidence is definitely returning.