It is hard to know where to look first with all the internationals being played this weekend, but I suspect that Ireland have the best chance of turning over one of the major southern hemisphere nations. South Africa are in transition, developing a team towards the next World Cup, and that makes them vulnerable.
I am sorry that injury means that Johan Goosen, who has been replaced at five eighth by Pat Lambie, is unable to tour. Goosen is going to be a world class player. We have seen it in glimpses already. Goosen is going to be a very influential part of South African rugby in the years to come.
The All Blacks should breeze past Scotland by a considerable score. By playing everyone in the first two matches, Steve Hansen will motivate all the players to earn selection for the game against Wales.
Scotland tend to try to play football and that gives the opposition a chance, especially on turnover ball. Italy may prove a harder proposition for the All Blacks next week because they are strong up front and just play a kick and chase game. They gave us a torrid battle a few years ago.
There has been some talk about the All Blacks front five being under pressure, the loss of Brad Thorn and the age of part of the front row. But I don’t see age as a barrier. Thorn himself proved that.
I had Martin Johnson with me on the 2001 Lions tour at the age of 31 and two years later he was hugely influential at the World Cup. There is no reason why players should not play into their mid thirties these days with the right mental attitude. Nobody played better than Thorn last year.
There has also been some talk about the New Zealand number nines and there is no doubt that Aaron Smith is a pretty special player. But people have been too quick to write off Piri Weepu. He has been criticised because he is slower than Smith, but Piri has a great understanding of the game. He changed the game when he came on against Argentina in Wellington this year and his vision my well be important if the All Blacks struggle to get on top up front against the likes of Wales and England.
Argentina have a big challenge against Wales, the best team in the Northern Hemisphere at the moment. One of the challenges for Argentina going forward, and for the IRB, is how to manage the issue of player release.
Most of the top Argentinian players are with French clubs and they have already missed several rounds because of the Championship. Now they are being called on for a further three weeks and not everyone is being released on the same weeks. This week Felipe Contepomi is in and Marcelo Bosch is back with his French club.
It is a problem for everyone. The French clubs won’t want to lose players for so long in the future and so they may be reluctant to employ Argentinians. The players are professionals and the French clubs are top payers. Argentina is a country that is trying to join the top nations. It is very difficult for everyone.
Going forward SANZAR may have to be flexible and admit Argentinian players into the Super 15 to play with New Zealand, Australian and South African teams. After the next World Cup SANZAR will need to look at the prospect of professional rugby in Argentina and the admission of two teams into the Super 15. We need to look at constructive solutions to a problem that will not go away.
Finally, I feel for Robbie Deans. Australia probably have a better team unavailable than the one that is on the pitch this weekend. But I do not have sympathy for Robbie. As a professional coach in rugby you just have to get on with it and do the business. Robbie’s career as coach of Australia depends on his side having a positive tour. First up against France is a tough place to start.