What to watch out for in Round 1 of the Autumn Nations Series

The Autumn Nations Series gets into full swing this weekend with all six Guinness Six Nations outfits in action against the best of the southern hemisphere.

The Autumn Nations Series gets into full swing this weekend with all six Guinness Six Nations outfits in action against the best of the southern hemisphere.

And with the 2023 Championship now just three months away, these games will give us the chance to see where the teams stand as everyone looks to succeed France as champions.

World No.1 take on the world champions

In terms of the game of the weekend, it is hard to look past a clash between the team at the top of the world rankings and the current World Cup holders.

In Dublin on Saturday, Ireland will test their status as the top side in the world against the Springboks, who lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in Yokohama in 2019.

For Ireland, Conor Murray wins his 100th Test cap back in the starting line-up, alongside skipper Johnny Sexton, while Stuart McCloskey has been brought in at late notice in the midfield in the absence of Robbie Henshaw through injury.

It will also be interesting to see how Robert Baloucoune gets on out wide, handed a rare start on the wing after some fine performances for Ulster.

Up front there is a familiar feel to the pack, with the likes of Tadhg Furlong and Tadhg Beirne looking for some revenge after last year’s series defeat with the Lions in South Africa.

Grand Slam winners against their last conquerors

The last time France were beaten was in July 2021, and on Saturday in Paris they get the chance to avenge that loss against Australia.

It is fair to say, the team that toured Down Under was very different to the one that will take on the Wallabies on Saturday evening, led by Antoine Dupont in his first-ever game against Australia.

From a personnel point of view, it will be interesting to see how the lighter second row combination of Cameron Woki and Thibaud Flament get on, while Charles Ollivon has a chance to slot back into the side with François Cros injured.

And the back three should also be of interest, Thomas Ramos with a rare start at full-back, only his second under Fabien Galthié, and Yoram Moefana getting the nod on the wing, as he did twice in the Guinness Six Nations.

Wales target long-awaited All Black success

Will this be the time that 1953 can be consigned to the history books once and for all?

A full 69 years since their last win over the All Blacks, Wayne Pivac is hoping to mastermind a success against the country of his birth, under a new captain in Justin Tipuric.

The flanker is back for the first time in Welsh colours in more than 18 months because of injury, and takes on a new responsibility in the absence of Dan Biggar.

Gareth Anscombe, meanwhile, has the task of filling Biggar’s No.10 jersey, helped by an in-form pair of centres in Nick Tompkins and George North.

Most intriguing could be how rookie winger Rio Dyer, the 22-year-old from the Dragons, gets on after being thrown in at the deep end against the All Blacks.

New Zealand beat Wales comfortably this time a year ago, but that was a match played outside the international window. With a stronger deck to choose from, can Pivac and his team spring a surprise?

Farrell back as captain to take on Los Pumas

With Courtney Lawes absent, Owen Farrell will lead England for the first time in a year against Argentina at Twickenham on Sunday.

Farrell has come through the return-to-play protocols following a head injury to take his place in the midfield alongside Manu Tuilagi, with Marcus Smith at fly-half, the first time that 10-12-13 combination has been employed from the start.

Elsewhere, Alex Coles gets a debut in the second row, with Maro Itoje shifted to the back row as England go for power up front.

And there is no lack of power in the backline, with Joe Cokanasiga starting on the wing as part of a back three that features Freddie Steward and Jack Nowell.

Hastings gets his shot at ten for Scotland

Much was made of the absence of Finn Russell from the Scotland squad, and after Blair Kinghorn last week, this time it is Adam Hastings who gets the opportunity in the fly-half jersey.

The Gloucester No.10 has been in fine form for his club side and will be keen to stake a claim for the spot long-term against Fiji.

Elsewhere, there is no shortage of experience in the backline, with Stuart Hogg and Chris Harris back at full-back and outside centre respectively, while Cameron Redpath returns at inside centre having suffered with injuries since making such an impressive debut in the 2021 Championship.

Up front, Richie Gray starts for the first time since 2017 while George Turner is promoted to the starting line-up in place of the injured Dave Cherry. On the bench, Murphy Walker could be in line for his debut.

Huge test for Italy against in-form Samoa

Italy go into their clash with Samoa without the two heroes from their win in Cardiff in the Spring, both Ange Capuozzo and Edoardo Padovani are injured for this one.

That means a first Test start at full-back for Tommaso Allan, who has featured there for Harlequins domestically, while Monty Ioane comes straight back onto the wing.

There is also a return in the midfield for Luca Morisi, while Paolo Garbisi pulls the strings at fly-half.

And watch out for uncapped No.8 Lorenzo Cannone, who gets his first taste of international rugby in Padua.