Rugby’s November internationals continue this weekend, with all of the sport’s major powers again looking to test themselves ahead of next year’s World Cup. The competition will get underway in England in 10 months’ time, with New Zealand favorites to defend the trophy they won on home soil in 2011. As well as those nations looking to position themselves at a run for glory, the United States Eagles will also continue a series of games that began with a historic match against the All Blacks in Chicago.
Here’s the pick of this week’s matchups:
USA Vs. Fiji (Friday, Nov. 21, 1 p.m. EST)
After a predictable hammering at the hands of New Zealand, the Eagles traveled to Europe where Mike Tolkin’s men secured an impressive 27-17 win over Romania in Bucharest, before falling heavily, 40-12, to Tonga in Gloucester, England last weekend. The Eagles complete their tour on Saturday when they will again be without the majority of their overseas-based players as a condition of having them available to take on New Zealand. It promises to be another tough 80 minutes against a Fiji team sitting 13th in the International Rugby Board rankings that, after suffering an emphatic defeat to France, lost narrowly to Wales last week.
Ireland Vs. Australia (Saturday Nov. 22, 11:30 a.m. EST -- live stream on PremiumSports.tv)
After their big win over South Africa to kick off their end-of-year internationals, Ireland will now attempt to down another of the southern hemisphere big three, when Joe Schmidt’s men welcome Australia to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. Ireland backed up their 29-15 victory over the Springboks, by dismissing Georgia, 49-17, last weekend and will now welcome back hooker Rory Best. Meanwhile, Robbie Henshaw will stake his claim for the No. 13 jersey for so long worn by Irish legend Brian O’Driscoll. Australia will hand a debut to Fiji-born winger Henry Speight as part of four changes to the Wallabies side that suffered a 29-26 defeat to France in Paris last week.
Wales Vs. New Zealand (Saturday Nov. 22, 12:30 p.m. EST -- live stream on PremiumSports.tv)
After scraping an unexpectedly slender 24-16 win over Scotland in Edinburgh a week ago, New Zealand will look to get back to their best when heading to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium to take on Wales. It will be a special day for Richie McCaw, who will captain the All Blacks for an extraordinary 100th time against the same opposition and in the same arena that he first led out his country a decade ago. As against Scotland, New Zealand will again be coming up against one of their own. Wales’ Kiwi coach Warren Gatland has achieved much in his seven-year tenure, but he has never beaten the country of his birth in six attempts. That record is almost as poor against the rest of the southern hemisphere’s traditional three powers, having only recorded one win, against Australia in 2008. Following another loss to Australia on Nov. 8, Wales defeated Fiji on Saturday, 17-13.
England Vs. Samoa (Saturday, Nov. 22, 2 p.m. EST -- live stream on PremiumSports.tv)
Looking to gather momentum heading into their hosting of the World Cup next year, November has so far not gone to plan for England. On the back of losing a trio of matches to the All Blacks in the summer, England have gone down by three points to both New Zealand and South Africa in the past two weeks to leave them with five straight defeats for the first time since 2006. Coach Stuart Lancaster has admitted the pressure is on him and his side, with a big win and an encouraging performance now required at Twickenham on Saturday before their November schedule concludes against old rivals Australia next week. In a sign of the problems endured by England’s backs, Owen Farrell has been moved from fly-half to inside-center, with 21-year-old George Ford coming into the side in Farrell’s place for his first international start as one of five changes. Samoa beat Canada, 23-13, last week after going down to defeat in Italy.