Stephen Ferris previews England v France and Ireland v Scotland in the Autumn Nations Cup
England v France
The final of the Autumn Nations Cup will be played this Sunday at 2pm in Twickenham stadium between England and France. One team will be full strength and ready to rock and roll… the other team, France, will be playing fringe players who have limited international experience due to the dispute between the FFR and Top 14 teams.
The French stars have been limited to how much game time they are allowed during this Autumn Nations Cup, and with close to 20 players unavailable, surely there is a huge mismatch now on the cards! Not one player of the starting XV that won against England in February will feature in this match, how disappointing is that? Very.
England will be looking to make it 4 wins from 4 and raise the cup above their heads on Sunday in an empty Twickenham Stadium. There will be no fans singing “Swing low, sweet chariot” during the 80 minutes, but Eddie Jones and his well drilled team will be singing long into the night if they give the French a pummelling on their home patch.
The bookies have England 17-point favourites for this game and they are 1/14 for the win. These odds would be significantly different if France could field their strongest team. No Vakatawa, Dupont, Ntamack, Alldritt, Fickou, Bamba…… the list goes on and on. I was so looking forward to this clash, not so much now.
The French fielded a much-changed team against Italy last weekend. A lot of the same faces that will be starting against England on Sunday, will be off the back of a good hitout from the Italians. Yes they haven’t had the same high level exposure over recent weeks, but at least they won’t be travelling to play the 2nd best team in world rugby completely under cooked.
The French players need to front up physically to keep the scoreboard close, but also play with some French flair when they are in possession. The late Christophe Dominici will be weighing heavily on a lot of French minds on Sunday after he tragically passed away recently. If there was one man who played with flair, it was him.
Emotionally charged players can have a huge impact on the outcome of rugby matches, but over the course of 80 minutes against the power of England, it’s in my opinion that France will run out of steam and will fall short.
How far short will they be? If England dominate the set piece and chop the French down in defence like they have been doing to every team, then who is going to argue with me that England will beat the Handicap of 17 points? Weather conditions, no fans, choice of referee, will all play a part in how many points England win by.
They beat a full-strength Wales away from home last week by 11 points and Owen Farrell missed 8 points off the kicking tee. He usually doesn’t back up a poor place-kicking performance with another one. However, this is a final. And I expect France to put up a fight.
First try scorer – Jonny May or Jamie George
Anytime try scorer – Ben Youngs
Ireland v Scotland
It’s the 3rd/4th place play off on Saturday between Ireland and Scotland at 2.15pm in Dublin. This is probably the game of the weekend.
The reason I say that is because Ireland are under significant pressure after their dreadful display against Georgia last weekend. Ireland were expected to stick 40 points on the Georgians, but instead they stumbled over the winning line with a performance that was littered with errors and more worryingly, a lack of physicality. If Ireland turns up with the same attitude and mindset against Scotland then they will suffer a home defeat, and that is the reality of it.
Scotland had a weekend off last week as their match with Fiji was called off, so they will be ready and raring to go come kick off. The Scots should be fresh, however they are still missing a few key players through injury.
Finn Russell and Adam Hastings who are stuck on that injury list will be hoping Jaco Van Der Walt can fill their boots and drive this Scottish team around the park and also help execute a winning game plan. Scotland should get parity around the set piece and if they can bring the same annoyance and frustration to Ireland’s attack through making the breakdown a bit of a mess, then the 9-point handicap in Scotland’s favour is the bet I would be edging towards…
Ireland will have their captain back in the starting lineup who will be demanding a huge increase in intensity. Jonny Sexton has been answering questions this week about his international future, and he is very keen on leading his team through to the next Rugby World Cup.
That is still 3 years away, and instead of answering questions about the future, Jonny and Ireland need to answer the questions that stand over the team at the minute. Why are Ireland struggling for form? Why are Ireland getting physically dominated? Why is the accuracy at the breakdown not of international standard?
Ireland will have a much-changed team from the Georgia game that should bring energy and also a little more quality. We have witnessed Ireland beat Nz and win Grand Slams on English soil, but how do we get back to those dizzy heights? Well that’s exactly what Andy Farrell is trying to figure out during these games and he will learn a lot more about his squad when they take on Scotland this Saturday.
Ireland vs Scotland is a game that everyone looks forward to. Let’s hope it lives up to my expectation of being a proper, full blooded, palpable test match…
First try scorer – Bundee Aki
Anytime try scorer – CJ Stander. Loves a pick and go close to the try line. Can be selfish in this area and backs himself a lot.
Tip – Expect this game to be very close to the handicap margin. Look at alternative betting for a little more leeway on the spread.