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Preview: Series on the line in four blockbuster clashes

Preview: Series on the line in four blockbuster clashes

Wales v South Africa

History was made last weekend as the four home unions won away to the Southern Hemisphere’s big four for the very first time.

And there is more on the line in week three of the July Tests with deciders in every series and the chance to break new ground.

It all kicks off with Ireland away to the All Blacks in Wellington in Saturday’s opening clash, followed by England taking on Australia in Sydney.

Then in the afternoon, it’s Wales who will look to complete a series victory over world champions South Africa before Scotland round off the weekend in Argentina.

Ireland looking to make more history

You have to go back 28 years for the last time the All Blacks lost a series on home soil, but on Saturday Ireland have the chance to follow in the footsteps of that 1994 France team.

It took the Try from the End of the World by Jean-Luc Sadourny for Les Bleus to complete a 2-0 win, Ireland’s success last weekend in Dunedin was rather more convincing.

That was their first-ever success over the All Blacks on New Zealand soil, and Andy Farrell has made just one change for the decider, Bundee Aki replacing the absent Garry Ringrose.

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As well as an historic series win, Ireland would also overtake France at the top of the world rankings if they can pull off the victory, having fallen just short of Les Bleus in the 2022 Guinness Six Nations.

They face an All Black team which is rather less settled than their visitors, coach Ian Foster having made four changes for the final encounter, albeit welcoming back the experience of Sam Whitelock and the try-scoring threat of Will Jordan.

England hoping for back-to-back series wins in Australia

Prior to 2016, England had never won a Test series in Australia, now Eddie Jones is trying to repeat the feat after last week’s stunning success in Brisbane.

If the loss to 14 men in the opener was an underwhelming way to start the tour, the way England flew out of the blocks a week later showed serious intent in a 25-17 success.

Ollie Chessum and Lewis Ludlam will be charged with filling the sizable boots of Maro Itoje and Sam Underhill, both ruled out with concussion.

But perhaps the most interesting change in the starting side is the return of Danny Care at scrum-half in place of Player of the Match Jack van Poortvliet.

The Leicester youngster shone on debut but Jones was keen to take him out of the spotlight, with the experienced Care given the starting nod and Van Poortvliet back to a bench role.

Australia have plenty of injury concerns of their own, particularly in the second row but will be keen to avoid another home series defeat after 2016’s 3-0 loss to Jones’ England.

Contrast of youth and experience in Wales back row the key

Wales have never lacked for options in the back row, and in South Africa it has been a strength in each of the first two Tests against the Springboks.

In their own way, Tommy Reffell and Dan Lydiate’s success have both come as a surprise, the former thriving on his first taste of international rugby, the latter rolling back the years.

Reffell is the latest in a long line of Welsh openside flankers capable of turning the ball over at will, and that aspect of his game has been crucial against the powerful Springboks.

If he can produce a further two or three crucial steals at the breakdown, it could go a long way in Wales winning a second-ever win on South African soil, a week after their first.

Lydiate, meanwhile, appears to be back to the form that saw him star for the Lions in 2013, chopping down big runners and allowing Reffell to do his thing.

Wales will be up against it, South Africa having brought back the big guns this week after rotating their squad for the second Test.

The opening Test showed that Wales have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the Springboks’ best, but after a week’s rest, it would take an almighty effort to clinch the series.

Scotland’s next generation with chance to make a statement

Gregor Townsend headed to Argentina without some of his key players, notably skipper Stuart Hogg, fly-half Finn Russell and defensive captain Chris Harris.

When they were beaten in the first Test in Jujuy, there must have been some concerns that this young squad might struggle, but they responded brilliantly in the second Test in Salta.

Los Pumas will certainly not shy away from the challenge in the decider, but Townsend has gone with even more youth for this one.

Full-back Ollie Smith makes his debut, hoping to stake a claim as Hogg’s long-term successor, while he has the searing pace of Rufus McLean outside him.

Rory Darge, so impressive during the 2022 Championship, will look to build on a standout performance last weekend, while Ewan Ashman earns his first Test start at hooker.

Ashman has fond memories of Argentina, he finished as the top try-scorer in the Under-20 Rugby World Cup in the country back in 2019, and might build a case for a role as Scotland’s No.2 going forward with a big performance in a series win.

The experienced players will return to selection consideration in the Autumn Nations Series, but Scotland’s youngsters can put the pressure on them with a victory on Saturday.

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