Autumn internationals: Strengths and weaknesses of England's opponents New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa and Australia

The lowdown on the southern hemisphere sides coming to Twickenham

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The Independent Online

England take on New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa and Australia in the upcoming Autumn internationals. We take a look at their strengths and weaknesses.

NEW ZEALAND

Head coach: Steve Hansen

Captain: Richie McCaw (pictured above)

Strengths: If we start on this, we may never finish: complete mastery of the widest possible skill set; superior fitness; immense physicality; the ability to score clean-cut, uncomplicated tries from distance, apparently with the minimum of effort; a deep-rooted sense of certainty that the only people on earth capable of beating the All Blacks are the All Blacks.

Weaknesses: This won’t take long. There, told you.

Best player: Where to begin? Richie McCaw isn’t bad, Conrad Smith knows a thing or two, Kieran Read is fair to middling, Julian Savea can pull the odd trick. At the moment, though, the lock Brodie Retallick may be playing better than anyone.

Beatability potential: 2/10

 

SOUTH AFRICA

Head coach: Heyneke Meyer

Captain: Jean de Villiers

Strengths: Brute force springs to mind – “The South Africans don’t just want to beat you; they want to beat you up,” said Andy Robinson during his spell as England coach – but there is more to Meyer’s side than overt belligerence. With Willie le Roux and Bryan Habana playing outside the exceptional young outside-half Handre Pollard, they have the ability to score heavily.

Weaknesses: Weirdly, given their traditions, they are not the greatest scrummagers. They can also be vulnerable mentally if the opposition stands firm in the close-quarter conflict.

Best player: Probably Eben Etzebeth, the ferocious lock from Cape Town, although the  No 8 Duane Vermeulen is playing the house down.

Beatability potential: 5/10

 

SAMOA

Head coach: Stephen Betham

Captain: David Lemi

Strengths: The most dangerous of the South Sea Island sides, Samoa pose an individual rather than collective threat, because they spend zero time together as a team. They have an excellent batch of back-rowers, considerable skill at half-back and centres who can rattle the teeth in the tackle. One other thing: they are as proud as any rugby nation on earth.

Weaknesses: Lack of preparation, an even greater shortage of money, age-old struggles in the second-row department and injury issues surrounding two of their box-office attractions, the midfielder George Pisi and the prop Logovi’i Mulipola.

Best player: Kahn Fotuali’i. On his day, he is a wonderful scrum-half.

Beatability potential: 8.5/10

 

AUSTRALIA

Head coach: Michael Cheika

Captain: Michael Hooper

Strengths Low on numbers compared with most of their top rivals, the Wallabies turn this to their advantage by identifying talent early and fast-tracking it towards Test rugby. They are clever, resourceful, combative and, when the force is with them, able to live with the All Blacks as an attacking unit.

Michael-Cheika.jpg
Matt Hodgson, coach Michael Cheika and Matt Toomu

 

Weaknesses: They used to be obvious: the loose-head prop and the tight-head prop. Things changed under Ewen McKenzie, who brought some solidity to the front-row operation, and it is unlikely that Cheika, his successor, will let things slide. The main issue now is an inability to absorb injuries.

Best player: The captain is quite something, but the full-back Israel Folau (right) is something else.

Beatability potential: 5.5/10

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