While some are feeling daunted by the prospect of the busy international fixture list over the coming weeks, I am looking forward to it. As a Southern Hemisphere resident, November is the month when sleep deprivation kicks in. 3am wake-up calls become the norm, endless cups of tea are required to stay awake and every effort must be made not to disturb the sleeping family with over-exuberant reaction to the rugby entertainment.
I will pick and choose as a connoisseur will with a wine list. The tragics will want to taste the entire list and good luck to them – I admire their stamina. There are obvious must-watch tests featuring the rugby powerhouse nations but there will also be some other games worth tuning in for.
If there is any doubt as to whether the games are of value, hundreds of thousands of supporters will pack the major grounds in Europe. Some lucky children will experience the thrill of seeing the Haka performed live for the first time. Others will be inspired by watching Dan Carter, Tendai Mtawarira or David Pocock. Meanwhile local players will be thinking ahead to the Lions tour and looking to stake a claim for a place in the squad.
Any time the All Blacks play England or Wales, is like manna from heaven for rugby lovers. There’s too much history for these games to be ignored. Will the suspected frailties of the All Black front five be shown up? How far has Stuart Lancaster’s England come? Can Wales get its first win over the All Blacks since 1953? These questions will be answered over the coming weeks.
There is no doubt that the English camp felt they deserved a win on the summer tour to South Africa and they will fancy their chances against the Boks at Twickenham. The Wallabies will take on England, France and Italy before they play Wales. Wales have lost five times to Australia in the last 13 months but with an average margin of only four points. They desperately want a win against the Ockers. Ireland will be eyeing a fourth win out of the last five games against the Springboks.
There is also more incentive than normal for wins during November, with IRB World Rankings as of December 3rd determining the seeding for the twelve teams who have directly qualified for World Cup 2015. These will then be divided into three bands depending upon ranking. Movement within the top twelve is likely this month and victories will be significant in deciding into which of the three bands the teams will fall. England could slip out of the top four and be replaced by France or Wales. Scotland will want to move up from their current ninth position, to eighth or higher and a place within band two. If they do so, it will be at the expense of Ireland or Argentina.
Samoa, Tonga, Russia, Canada and USA will contest the new IRB International Series in North Wales. While Fiji, Romania, Japan, Uruguay, Portugal, Georgia and Chile will also be in action during the month. This programme of games for tier two and three teams is designed to help them be more competitive in 2015. Watch out for the re-run of the game between USA and Russia from the last RWC and the opportunity to see Tonga face USA.
England ladies also take on New Zealand in a three test series later in the month. The Black Ferns will be out for revenge after losing the series last year. The final test at Twickenham on December 1st will follow the England v All Black game – not a bad curtain raiser for the ladies and definitely a game that should be supported!
The November tests will provide ample opportunity for top quality rugby. Some of the best players in the world will be performing with plenty at stake. Make sure you plan your viewing campaign. Complete family or other commitments in time to sit back and enjoy the rugby on offer. If you are in the southern hemisphere, prepare for sleep deprivation or make sure you have plenty of space on your hard drive to record the overnight rugby. Bring it on, I say!