We run through all this weekend's matches with rankings implications with a special mention going to South Africa prop Tendai 'The Beast' Mtawarira and Portugal second-row Goncalo Uva who are set to win their 100th caps.
RUGBY AFRICA GOLD CUP 2 Days to #Kickoff! Join #Zimbabwe vs 🇿🇼#Morocco🇲🇦 & #Namibia🇳🇦vs #Tunisia🇹🇳 games on 16th June.#RAGC18#RoadtoJapan19@RugbyAfrique@WorldRugby@zimbabwerugby@RugbyWorldCuppic.twitter.com/YeTCvxQwoR— Rugby Afrique (@RugbyAfrique) June 9, 2018We run through all of this weekend's matches with rankings implications
RWC 2019 QUALIFIERS
The Rugby Africa Gold Cup starts this weekend with four of the six competing teams in action.
Namibia, title holders for the last four years, begin their bid to make it through to a sixth consecutive Rugby World Cup with a home game against Uganda while Zimbabwe play host to Morocco. Kenya, champions in 2011 and 2013, are not in action until 23 June when they face a trip to Morocco.
The overall winner of the region’s elite-level competition earns direct qualification to RWC 2019 and will line up Pool B as Africa 1, while the runner-up will proceed to play a global repechage tournament later in the year against sides from the Americas (Canada), Europe and Asia/Oceania for the final slot in Japan.
ZIMBABWE (44) v MOROCCO (38)
Teams yet to be announced
- Zimbabwe competed at the first two Rugby World Cups in 1987 and 1991
- Former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers is spearheading their bid to win their first elite African title in six years
- Two-time winners Morocco (2003 and 2005) beat Ivory Coast 8-3 to win the Silver Cup last year and promotion to the Gold Cup
- The three previous matches have been low-scoring encounters with an average of 23 points scored
- It is two decades since the last meeting which Morocco won 15-9. Zimbabwe won the first two encounters
With one and a quarter points on offer for a win by more than 15 points, the Sables could be propelled five places up to 39th. Similarly, Morocco would drop five to 43rd. Morocco can climb three places to 35th if they win well.
NAMIBIA (24) v UGANDA (37)
Namibia have named an experienced starting line-up for their Africa Gold Cup opener with 11 of the starting line-up having played at RWC 2015. Only hooker Obert Nortje, second-row Ruan Ludick, World Rugby U20 Trophy graduate Cliven Loubser and right winger Leslie Klim did not appear in England three years ago. Full-back Chrysander Botha is set to win his 50th cap, while centre Johan Deysel, who scored a famous try for Namibia against the All Blacks at RWC 2015, captains the side.
Only seven players survive from the Ugandan team beaten by Kenya last month in the first leg of the Elgon Cup, including captain and prop Asuman Mugerwa and vice-captain and winger Justin Kimono. The other returnees are second-rower Eliphaz Emong, openside Brian Asaba, winger James Odong, centre Pius Ogena and full-back Adrian Kasiito.
- Namibia are bidding for an unprecedented fifth consecutive Africa Cup title
- Uganda’s only title success came in 2007
- Namibia lead the head-to-head 3-1. Uganda’s only win was 20-19 in Kampala in 2007 - the year they won the competition
With nearly 10 points separating them, Namibia’s rating will not be affected by the outcome. A defeat, though, could cost them as many as three places, resulting in them dropping to 27th if the margin is more than 15 points. In such a scenario, Uganda would climb to 34th.
GERMANY (29) v PORTUGAL (23)
Germany welcome back all-time record points scorer Raynor Parkinson for this do-or-die clash. The South African-born playmaker lines up in midfield having sat out the entire Rugby Europe Championship campaign. Other key players such as physical flanker Jaco Otto and experienced scrum-half Sean Armstrong also return to boost Germany's chances of making through to a home-and-away play-off against Samoa.
Gonzalo Uva joins his brother Vasco in reaching 100 caps for Portugal. The 33-year-old second-row is a veteran of Os Lobos’ only ever Rugby World Cup appearance in 2007 and is likely to be a key player in their attempts to get to a second tournament. The side is captained by blindside flanker Santos Salvador.
- The winner will play Samoa in a home-and-away double-header for the right to go to Japan 2019 as the Play-Off Winner
- Portugal secured back-to-back Rugby Europe Trophy titles earlier this year with a clean sweep of wins
- Germany ended a five-game losing streak against Os Lobos when they won 50-27 when they last met in Hanover
- Portugal lead the head-to-head with six wins to four
- Portugal need 11 tries for 500 in tests
Germany will overtake Kenya and move into 28th place if they win well. Namibia and Belgium are set to benefit from a heavy loss for the Portuguese, as a defeat of more than 15 points would drop them two places to 25th. A big win would result in Os Lobos climbing a place to 22nd at the expense of Hong Kong.
WORLD RUGBY PACIFIC NATIONS CUP
While no doubt keeping a keen eye on events in Heidelberg, Samoa’s main focus is on Tonga this weekend as they look to bounce back from a 24-22 loss to Fiji in round one. Fiji and Georgia, both winners in the opening round, meet in the other game at the ANZ Stadium in Suva.
FIJI (9) v GEORGIA (12)
Former NRL star Semi Radradra makes his first test start for Fiji at outside centre in a team showing just two changes of personnel and one positional from last week. Nemani Nadolo is named on the wing in place of Vereniki Goneva, while Viliame Matu and Akapusi Qera swap roles in the back row and wear seven and eight respectively.
Georgia stick with the same front row, but there are changes to the rest of the pack with Konstantine Mikautadze coming into the second row. Elsewhere, Giorgi Tsutskiridze and Viktor Kolelishvili line up at flanker, while Otari Giorgadze switches to number eight from openside. Lasha Malaguradze is named as David Kacharava's latest partner in midfield, while the only other change in the backs comes on the right wing where Tamaz Mchedlidze replaces Anzor Sichinava. Sichinava is on standby on the other flank in case Alexander Todua fails to pass a fitness test.
- Fiji are bidding for a fourth consecutive PNC title
- Georgia have yet to lose on Pacific soil having beaten Tonga 16-15 in round one and gone unbeaten on their historic three-match tour of the region in 2016
- Fiji need six tries for 1,000 in tests. Georgia need six for 600
- The Lelos are 28 points shy of scoring 5,000 in tests
Fiji matched their all-time rankings high of ninth last weekend, but further progress is impossible seven days later even in victory. However, a resounding victory would see them close the gap on a beaten France to just 1.6 points. Georgia’s reward for a convincing win would be a place in the world’s top 10 for the first time since the rankings were introduced in October 2003. Ninth is even possible if Argentina lose badly at home to Wales.
TONGA (13) v SAMOA (16)
Tonga have made four changes of personnel and one positional from last week's narrow loss to Georgia. Siua Halanukonuka comes in at tight-head for David Lolohea while the only other change in the pack sees the highly experienced Steve Mafi start on the blindside. In the backs, Cooper Vuna and Viliami Lolohea are named on the wing with David Halaifonua shifting to full-back.
Samoa coach Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua has rung the changes in a bid to end their recent poor run of results, retaining just six players – split equally between backs and forwards – in the starting line-up. Chris Vui leads the side once again from the second row and Piula Faasalele and Jack Ram retain their places in the back row.
- Samoa have won 33 of the 62 previous meetings between the sides, with four draws, dating back to 1926
- Tonga won their previous match in last year's competition 30-26
- Samoa are bidding for their 100th win in tests
- Samoa are on an eight-match losing streak
There are not enough points on offer (a maximum of 1.19) for Tonga to improve on their current position of 13th, but Samoa could replace them there if they win well and Italy lose in the second of their tests against Japan.
Barring Wales’ win over Argentina, it was the southern hemisphere heavyweights who came out on top in the first full round of June internationals. But the likes of England, Ireland and France get the chance to go again and put right the wrongs of last week.
NEW ZEALAND (1) v FRANCE (8)
Les Bleus coach Jacques Brunel has reacted to last week’s crushing defeat at Eden Park by making five changes. With Rémy Grosso ruled out through injury, Gaël Fickou makes his second start on the wing on the occasion of his 37th test. Benjamin Fall is another change to the back three. In the forwards, Bernard Le Roux comes into the second row while Kélian Galletier and Mathieu Babillot are named at flanker.
- The winning margin of 41 points in Auckland last weekend was the fifth biggest in the history of fixtures between the sides
- For the first time in eight matches, New Zealand found themselves behind at half-time as Les Bleus led 11-8
- France have never won in Wellington in six previous attempts. The closest they have come was on their last visit in 2009 when they lost 14-10
- New Zealand brought up 2,018 test tries in their first match of 2018
New Zealand cannot improve on their substantial lead at the top of the rankings, due to there being nearly 15 points and seven places between themselves and Les Bleus. France, however, can move up a couple of places to sixth if they win by more than 15 points and other results go their way.
"They're working hard to make sure we win the next game."— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) June 14, 2018
Eddie talks Shields, Cipriani, and preparation for Saturday's Test in Bloemfontein
SOUTH AFRICA (7) v ENGLAND (4)
Coach Rassie Erasmus makes two changes to the starting line-up that fought back to beat England 42-39 last weekend with Pieter-Steph du Toit replacing Jean-Luc du Preez in the back-row and Frans Malherbe returning at tight-head prop after a lengthy injury absence.
Brad Shields earns his first start for England at blindside flanker in place of Chris Robshaw. The other change sees lock Joe Launchbury return to the starting line-up after recovering from a calf injury with Nick Isiekwe the man to miss out. Danny Cipriani will be hoping for some game time from the bench after being named amongst the replacements.
- England suffered a record test defeat on South African soil on their last visit to Bloemfontein, losing 58-10 in 2007. However, England’s only other match there in 2000 ended in 27-22 victory
- Mike Brown was one of five England test debutants in the 2007 match
- Handre Pollard needs six points to overtake Joel Stransky in fifth place on the Springboks’ all-time top point scorers chart
- Tendai Mtawarira will play his 100th test match, the first Springbok prop to reach the milestone and sixth overall
It is possible for both sides to climb up to third if they win. For that to happen, England need to beat the Springboks and hope Ireland also do the business against Australia. For South Africa, any form of win is guaranteed to lift them above England and Scotland and, with one and a quarter points up for grabs for a comprehensive victory, they could potentially leapfrog Wales and Australia too. A heavy defeat for England could drop them as low as sixth.
AUSTRALIA (3) v IRELAND (2)
Michael Cheika has named an unchanged Australia line-up for the first time in his four-year tenure as Wallabies coach that spans 46 tests. Michael Hooper leads Australia for the 28th time.
Johnny Sexton returns to the No.10 jersey as Ireland make eight changes for Saturday’s second test in Melbourne. Andrew Conway and Garry Ringrose are the other new faces in the backs. Cian Healy, Niall Scannell and Tadhg Furlong form an entirely new front row, while Devin Toner replaces Iain Henderson in the second row, with Dan Leavy in for Jordi Murphy in the back row. Tadhg Beirne is set to make his debut off the bench at Suncorp Stadium.
- Last week’s 18-9 defeat in Brisbane ended Ireland’s 12-match winning run
- Ireland suffered two narrow defeats (17-16 at RWC 2003 and 18-12 in 2008) on their previous visits to Melbourne
- Australia are seven conversions short of 1,000 in tests
Australia will take second place off Ireland if they claim a 2-0 series lead. As many as one and three-quarters of a point are up for grabs for a big Irish win, which would cement Joe Schmidt's side in second place.
ARGENTINA (10) v WALES (5)
Wales have made five changes to the starting XV for their final summer tour test. Cory Hill continues as captain as Ellis Jenkins, Tomas Francis, Ryan Elias, Aled Davies and Owen Watkin all come into the side for the game in Santa Fe.
- Last week’s 23-10 victory in San Juan was Wales’ first in Argentina since 2004
- Wales need 25 points for 500 in tests against Argentina (from 17 matches)
- George North became Wales’ third joint-highest try scorer in history after drawing level with Ieaun Evans on 33 tries in San Juan
- Argentina have only won two out of their last 10 tests at home
Wales are one of four teams who could, in theory, occupy third place by the end of the weekend. A second straight win over Los Pumas by a similar margin to last Saturday would see them pick up just over half a rating point. For Wales to reach the dizzy heights of third, though, they need to win by more than 15 points and hope that South Africa beat England and Ireland turn the tables on Australia. Los Pumas cannot slip outside the top 10 even if they are beaten badly.
USA (15) v SCOTLAND (6)
Full-back Stuart Hogg will captain a Scotland side that features two starting debutants – Glasgow Warriors team-mates Matt Fagerson (back-row) and George Horne (scrum-half) – both of whom will make their first test appearances alongside their respective elder brothers Zander and Pete. Second-row Ben Toolis, winger Blair Kinghorn and Byron McGuigan are the only players to retain their places in a side that will see a further five players make their first start for Scotland at the BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
- The last meeting was at RWC 2015 and ended in a 39-16 win for Scotland at Elland Road in Leeds
- Scotland have a 5-0 record against the USA
- Former coach Vern Cotter celebrated his debut in charge of Scotland with a 24-6 win in Houston in 2004. Fly-half Finn Russell was one of four debutants that day
- USA’s 62-13 win over Russia last weekend was their eighth biggest in test history
- The Eagles are on a five-test winning streak
USA could match their previous best of 14th, a position they haven’t held for since RWC 2007. A new high of 13th is also possible if the Eagles win by more than 15 points and Italy fail to beat Japan. Scotland will not be rewarded with any rating points in victory, as there is a gap of more than 14 rating points between the sides.
CANADA (21) v RUSSIA (19)
- Russia are confirmed participants at RWC 2019 but Canada will have to come through the global repechage tournament in November to maintain their ever-present record
- Canada have a 4-0 record versus Russia
- Half-back Gordon McRorie scored 26 points the last time the sides met - the joint fifth-highest by a Canadian player in a single test
Any form of victory would see Canada leapfrog Russia in the rankings and move back into the world’s top 20. As many as 1.78 rating points are on offer for a big Russian win but that still wouldn’t be enough for the Bears to climb any higher than their current position of 19th. Canada would fall below Hong Kong and into 22nd place in such a scenario.
JAPAN (11) v ITALY (14)
Brave Blossoms head coach Jamie Joseph has opted to keep faith with the majority of the side that beat Italy 34-17 in Oita last week. Yoshitaka Tokunaga comes into the side at blindside flanker – in the only change of personnel – with Kazuki Himeno moving to number eight. Amanaki Mafi has to settle for a place on the bench. The rest of the 23-man squad remains the same.
Conor O’Shea has made two changes to his starting line-up with Jayden Hayward returning at full-back and Jake Polledri coming into the back row. Matteo Minozzi moves to the left wing in place of the injured Mattias Bellini. Alessandro Zanni, in his 106th test, moves up to fourth place on Italy’s all-time list most capped players. In contrast, prop Cherif Traore is in line to make his test debut from the bench.
- Italy won the first five tests between the nations but have lost the last two
- Last week's defeat means Italy have now gone eight games without a win
Japan cannot climb any higher than their current position of 11th but the Azzurri could leapfrog the Brave Blossoms and move up to 12th if they gain revenge for last week's 34-17 loss and win well in Kobe.
The World Rugby Rankings update every Monday at 12 noon BST.