After a series of warm-up matches over the weekend, we got a slightly clearer insight into what we can expect from the big guns going into the Rugby World Cup.
England produced a dominant display to thrash Wales while New Zealand came unstuck against Australia.
South Africa, meanwhile, have gone from strength to strength and they are stating a serious claim to be crowned world champions.
All Blacks checked
The All Blacks will have to regroup and now they have food for thought ahead of the World Cup. Their 47-26 defeat against Australia was their heaviest against the Wallabies and it was compounded by the sending off Scott Barrett. Steve Hansen is in no doubt that there are areas for the reigning world champions to work upon before they board the plane to Japan.
He said: “We're disappointed, Australia played particularly well.
“The red card didn't help us, but we didn't help ourselves either. Our discipline was poor early in the first half… there were numerous occasions we got offside when we didn't need to.
“They're the sort of things we need to go away and fix up.”
Nevertheless, there has been little change in terms of their odds and they are still trading as the short priced favourites of [2.62] to get their hands on the Webb Ellis trophy once again.
There were some hugely positive signs from the victory over Wales yesterday at Twickenham. Eddie Jones‘ men produced an energetic start and ensured they ended the visitors' 14-match winning streak and denied them the chance to top the world rankings. Of course, there was an injury scare when Tom Curry came off the field after 28 minutes after hurting his arm.
But Anthony Watson produced a man of the match display in his first England appearance since March 2018. His performance merited a place in Jones' 31-man squad. Northampton flanker Lewis Ludlam and uncapped Bath wing Ruaridh McConnochie both earned shock call-ups while there was no place in the squad for centre Ben Te'o whose fall from grace has been dramatic.
Jones has gone with just two tighthead props in Kyle Sinckler and Dan Cole, while Jack Singleton was named in the squad just 24 hours after winning his first cap. There were some other notable absentees, including Dylan Hartley and Chris Robshaw, but it is a squad packed with depth.
Although Jones went early with his squad announcement, England's World Cup odds have shortened slightly over the past few days and they are now trading at [6.20] to go all the way.
South Africa momentum
Momentum has been the buzzword for the Springboks and they are enjoying a renaissance under head coach Rassie Erasmus. An authoritative display was underlined by Handre Pollard running home 31 points to help his side win the Rugby Championship – their first international trophy for 10 years.
Captain Siya Kolisi could return for a one-off test against Argentina at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, although Rasmus has warned that his reintroduction will be carefully managed.
He said: “He is a guy we desperately want to be involved on Saturday and we will involve him but it will be limited minutes. We won't rush him – we need to carefully manage his return.”
South Africa have been building up steam and their odds have been cut with Betfair as they are also currently at [6.20] to lift the World Cup.
The manner of the defeat against England will have surprised Warren Gatland. It was a high intensity game and, at times, Wales looked a little breathless during breaks in play. Perhaps they pushed too hard in their training camps in Cardiff and Switzerland.
Wales have a chance to get their revenge this weekend against England and Gatland knows his men have to step up. After the match, he said: “England probably have a few more headaches than we do. It looked like a pre-season game for us and we will definitely be better next week.”
Gatland's side have seen their odds lengthen slightly and they are now at [11.00] to lift the World Cup, falling behind Ireland who are at [9.80].
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