THE major rugby-playing nations meet again this weekend, with the main attractions being the ones starting after midnight Saturday Malaysian time, beginning with Wales taking on Australia at 1.15am.
There is an overlap of this one with the Ireland-South Africa game starting 15 minutes later but not with the France-New Zealand tie in Paris which starts at 4.
Earlier, on Saturday evening, Scotland takes on Samoa, followed by the England-Argentina game. There are a few matches earlier involving the likes of Georgia, Germany, Brazil, Italy, Canada and Fiji.
As of now the Scotland-Samoa will go ahead despite confirmation a few days earlier that the Samoa Rugby Union has gone bust financially. There was concern that the islanders’ matches this month would have to be called off, with the problem of insurance coverage stated as one reason, but this is not correct since Tier Two teams have their insurance underwritten by governing body World Rugby.
The union’s chairman and the country’s prime minister Tuila’epa Sailele Malielegao, when announcing the union’s status on radio, also pleaded to his people to donate money but not many expect this to go very far in the impoverished Pacific Island nation. Past problems with governance by the union could be another roadblock.
There is news that the England RFU, hosts of the Samoans in two weeks’ time, will donate 75,000 pounds as a goodwill gesture similar to the one last year for the Fijians, but the Scottish union will not do the same.
Over in Wales, coach Warren Gatland fancies his boys’ chances in the next World Cup in two years’ time but they need to start winning consistently if they are to be taken seriously. In the last Six Nations Wales won only two out of five.
The country has been in every World Cup since the first in 1987 but the results have been mixed. It is the now that is crucial and Wales does not have a good record with the Wallabies.
They have lost 12 in a row with the Aussies, with their last win nine years ago.
It cannot be ignored that the Wallabies have been playing better since a rather poor June Tests and last week trounced Japan in Yokohama 63-30.
Most commentators instead look at England and Ireland as the northern teams most likely to bother those from the south in the world’s premier tournament and this month England should have it easy against Argentina and Samoa but can expect stiffer opposition from the Wallabies who they play the following weekend.
Ireland too is not expected to be unduly tested this autumn, with Fiji and Argentina their next two opponents after the Springboks.
Aki achieves his ambition
The attention in Dublin will be on New Zealand-born centre Bundee Aki, who qualifies through residency.
He joined Connacht soon after the provincial championship in New Zealand in 2014 and when announcing earlier in the year his decision to move north, Aki, who has Samoan parents, declared that his future ambition was to wear the green of Ireland. He has now achieved that, though not everyone agrees with the decision to call him into the team.
Aki, first real name Fualaofi, has qualified within the rules of World Rugby and that’s exactly how team officials see it.
Not many though can dispute the form that has earned him selection, for Aki was Player of the Season in the Guinness Pro 12 in 2015/16 and has been outstanding for his club this season.
The last game of the weekend will see the All Blacks playing with just about their current strongest side, minus those injured.
The French have named four debutants in the starting 15, two in the forwards, and have a generally young side, meaning that it has been difficult for the All Blacks’ coaches to anticipate how they will play.
No doubt it hasn’t been a good season for Guy Noves’ boys, winning only three of eight Tests this year. The defeats include a 3-0 series defeat by the Springboks in June.
But as always not many dare to write the French off, whatever their problems on and off the field, and many too will remember how they came close against the All Blacks last year also in Paris before losing 19-24.