<
>

June Tests predictions: Tier 1 team-by-team guide

By Matt Browne/Sportsfile via Getty Images

As teams prepare for next year's Rugby World Cup, the mid-year international window offers international coaches their last chance to blood new stars and their final opportunity to tinker with their starting line up.

Several sides have been hampered by injury, but the June international window offers players a chance to book their spot to Japan.

So how will the injury hit sides of Australia, New Zealand, England and Wales fare in the opening Test of the June window? Our experts have their say.

Japan vs Italy

Saturday 3:45pm (AEST), Oita Stadium

Japan

Player to watch: William Tuppo - The New Zealand-born outside centre made his debut for the Japan in 2017 against Ireland and brings a real attacking threat to their back play. The Sunwolves player is a great strike runner in the wider channels and will give the Japanese team a bit of size and physicality in the back division.

Biggest talking point: Plumtree to assist the Brave Blossoms - Hurricanes assistant coach John Plumtree will join Jamie Joseph's coaching staff ahead of the June Internationals against Italy and Georgia. Plumtree, who will take over as Hurricanes head coach next season, is regarded as one of the best forward coaches in the world and will definitely help to fix one of the areas of concern for the Japanese team against a hostile Italian pack.

Prediction: There is a lot of excitement about the World Cup, and Japan is still basking in the glow of their historic win over the Springboks at the last global showpiece in England in 2015. But with just over a year to their event, they are still grappling with combinations and knowing what their strongest team is. Italy will win comfortably. -- John Goliath

Italy by 16

Italy

Player to watch: There will be a number of Italian players to watch in Japan. From wonder-backrowers trio Jake Polledri-Giovanni Licata-Sebastian Negri to rugby-gifted lock Federico Ruzza and debutant-prop Cherif Traore; there will be a whole lot of talent ready to rock for the Azzurri from this June. But the midfield is where you need to watch, as that's where things are sure to have dramatically changed from this year's Six Nations. Former Treviso pairing Michele Campagnaro and Luca Morisi are back in the mix and we can expect big things to come from the duo or their possible combinations with Tommaso Castello and Guilio Bisegni. Especially now that they will be supported by some strong runners like Mattia Bellini, Matteo Minozzi and Tommaso Benvenuti.

Biggest talking point: It's going to be a pretty key year for Italian Rugby. The lack of results in the Six Nations (17 straight losses) recently revamped the flames of a changes in the Tournament's format. Critics would love to see other nations like Georgia (two places ahead of the Italians in World Rugby rankings) somehow involved in the Six Nations system. Italy will face Japan twice before hosting the Lelos in November, in what may be the game that will put everyone to rest. Or that will create a huge crisis in European Rugby. So Mid-Year Tour is important but look at November for the real deal here, folks.

Prediction: Despite the infamous Six Nations record, Conor O'Shea's men have the qualities and, now, the playing structures to provide a pretty unpredictable upset in the series against the next World Cup hosts. Saturday's debut at the Oita Bank Dome will be interesting to understand how the Italians are progressing in the path to the "next step" of their development process. The influence of Kiwi-guru Wayne Smith, now officially on-board on a consultancy basis, will definitely provide a huge experience-boost both on and off the field. They surely can win a game. Maybe even the series. -- Enrico Borra

New Zealand vs France

Saturday, 5:35pm (AEST), Eden Park, Auckland

New Zealand

Player to watch: Ben Smith. After a ten month sabbatical from the All Blacks, Ben Smith has been pushed out of his favoured fullback position in his first Test back by young Jordie Barrett, but his time away from the side certainly hasn't hampered the 31-year-old. The oldest starting winger in All Blacks history, Smith has looked stronger, faster and has been producing razor-sharp play for the Highlanders. No stranger to the right side role, after being regularly shunted to the side in his early Test days, expect Smith to make plenty of sniping attacks on the French defence and is sure to be a weapon under the high ball.

Biggest talking point: If you were to name the All Blacks supposed 'bogey' team, France would surely take the moniker. While the New Zealand side has the vastly superior win record between the two, the French have managed to produce some of the biggest upsets against the world's best; simply look back at their rousing 2007 World Cup upset. Despite France's mixed results in the Six Nations and their injury-hit squad, the All Blacks would be foolish not to learn from past mistakes and underestimate the French.

Prediction: The All Blacks aren't a side easily beaten. At home, they're almost impossible to defeat, and for France this won't be a comfortable tour. The No.1 team in the world may have lost the services of captain Kieran Read and one of their most destructive players in Brodie Retallick, but they're in no means lacking in talent. It may be their first Test match of 2018, but don't expect any rustiness, instead expect a side that will produce fast-paced, hammering rugby. -- Brittany Mitchell

All Blacks 40-25 France

Line up: J Barrett; B Smith, Lienert-Brown, Crotty, Ioane; B Barrett, Aaron Smith; L Whitelock, Cane, Squire; S Barrett, S Whitelock; Franks, Taylor, Moody. Reserves: Harris, Tu'inukuafe, Tu'ungafasi, Fifita, Savea, Perenara, McKenzie, Laumape.

France

Player to watch: Teddy Thomas. The Racing flier, 24, made quite the impression on his international debut, scoring a hat-trick against Fiji in November 2014. How many caps do you reckon he has won in the four years that have followed? The answer is 10. But, remember, he has scored eight times in those 10 outings, and would surely have had many more of both to his name, but for a combination of ill-timed injuries and the vagaries of French selection over the past four years. Juan Imhoff, who is no slouch, believes Thomas is quicker than him - and there's no doubt he knows where the tryline is. Definitely the player most likely to impress the demanding New Zealand crowd.

Biggest talking point: The standard of the France squad touring the strongest rugby nation on the planet. It's not the strongest, or the most experienced, due to a spate of injuries and France's over-eager implementation of a long-overdue youth policy. The recalled Morgan Parra is the only player in Brunel's 32-strong squad to boast more than 50 international caps, after the head coach decided to give captain Guilhem Guirado the summer off. Interesting selection, too, taking just the two scrum-halves (Parra and Serin) and two 10s (Belleau and Plisson) - of course, it's handy having the France Barbarians on a sister tour, just in case.

Prediction: It can only be 3-0 to the All Blacks, despite Steve Hansen's insistence that France possess the best defensive line in the world right now. The rest of it - the end of a long domestic and European season for the French players; the inexperience of the squad; the number of withdrawals - is just window-dressing and excuses. The inconvenient truth for Jacques Brunel is this is France's Tour from Hell. The only question that remains is how close Les Bleus will be able to keep the scoreline. And the one thing that matters is what this nascent French side learns from what will on occasion be an uncomfortable experience. For there will be positives that could stand this side in good stead going into November, the 2019 Six Nations and preparations for the World Cup. -- James Harrington

Line up: Medard; Thomas, Bastareaud (c), Doumayrou, Grosso; Belleau, Parra; Gourdon, Sanconnie, Cancoriet; Maestri, Gabrillagues; Atonio, Chat, Priso. Reserves: Pelissie, Baille, Rabah, Slimani, Le Roux, Lapandry, Serin, Plisson, Fickou.

All Blacks - France

Australia vs Ireland

Saturday 8pm (AEST), Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Australia

Player to watch: David Pocock. The last time Pocock pulled on the gold jersey was in 2016 and his teammates included Quade Cooper, Dean Mumm and Stephen Moore. Now after 18 months away from the Test set up, Pocock will be expected to produce the same impact at the breakdown as he had in 2016. Luckily for Wallabies fans, the flanker has demonstrated throughout the Super Rugby season that the new breakdown laws won't hinder him as he pillages the ball from the opposition, while his support play and combination with Michael Hooper will be worth keeping an eye on.

Biggest talking point: Australia's dearth of experienced hookers was highlighted with the naming of Michael Cheika's squad last week, with just two Test caps across the three. Their hooking stocks took a further blow when two Test capped Jordan Uelese suffered a season ending knee injury. Cheika was quick to call in Waratahs' Tolu Latu, but with rookies Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Folau Fainga'a expected to fight for the No.2 jersey, all eyes and plenty of pressure will be on these young guns shoulders'. Fortunately for the Wallabies, Ireland's captain and most experienced Test rake Rory Best withdrew from the squad through injury, but Australia would be foolish to believe Ireland's scrum was weakened, with Best's long-term back-up, Sean Cronin (61 Test caps), expected to fill in Best's boots.

Prediction: While the Wallabies will run out with a far more settled backline, their forward pack will face plenty of questions from the Six Nations champs. Naming a debutant hooker and with plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Wallabies second row and locks, the game is likely to be run and done through the forwards. Meanwhile, as one of the most ill-disciplined sides on the international stage, the Wallabies face being kicked out of the game by Johnny Sexton, and with just a week together in camp ahead of the opening Test, there's sure to be plenty of rust that needs to be worked out. -- Brittany Mitchell

Australia 22-25 Ireland

Line up: Folau; Koroibete, Kerevi, Beale, Haylett-Petty; Foley, Genia; Timu, Hooper, Pocock; Coleman, Rodda; Kepu, Paenga-Amosa, Sio. Reserves: Latu, Alaalatoa, Tupou, Simmons, Tui, Samu, Phipps, Hodge.

Ireland

Player to watch: Joey Carbery has been in the headlines at international and provincial level in Ireland this year, but while the hype train has been going for some time, Joe Schmidt will be wary that his prized fly-half, whom he played a part in moving to Munster has some ways to go to be a quality fly-half. The fact that Leo Cullen has opted for Ross Byrne at 10 for Leinster when both were available shows that the he's not at a level to be trusted in high-profile games. Starting the first test against Australia is a huge test of not only his ability but also his mental strength.

Biggest talking point: Ireland's fly-half depth. Forget having Johnny Sexton on the bench for Ireland's first test against Australia. With Paddy Jackson no longer an option Joe Schmidt needs to strengthen his depth in the 10 area, and he should have given Sexton an off-field leadership role rather than playing the Leinster linchpin. That would have seen Byrne given the chance off the bench this weekend, and this is where he can learn rather than waiting for Sexton to get injured before giving him the backup role. The last World Cup showed the danger with not giving the backup 10 enough game time.

Prediction: Prediction: Ireland are well oiled machine at this stage under Schmidt and it is inconceivable that the Wallabies could turn them over. But a lot will depend on the first Test and how well Carbery does at 10. If he is overwhelmed by the occasion, and if Sexton can't give Ireland victory, Ireland face an uphill task. If he can get Ireland off to a winning start, get a 13th consecutive win, Ireland could leave Australia with 15 straight wins and could face New Zealand in November hoping to equal the record of 18 straight wins by a tier one team. Now that's a prospect. -- Cillian O Conchuir

First Test [Brisbane]: Australia 21-25 Ireland

Line up: Kearney, Earls, Henshaw, Aki, Stockdale, Carbery, Murray. McGrath, Herring, Jo. Ryan, Henderson, Ja. Ryan, O'Mahony, Murphy, Stander. Reserves: Cronin, Healy, Furlong, Roux, Conan, Marmion, Sexton, Larmour.

South Africa vs England

Sunday 1:05am (AEST), Ellis Park, Johannesburg

South Africa

Player to watch: Aphiwe Dyantyi - The Lions speedster is one of four debutants in the Springboks' team for Saturday's first Test against England. The 23-year-old has scored some spectacular tries in his debut Super Rugby season. His biggest strength is definitely his blinding speed, while he also possesses wonderful footwork and a natural ability to be in the right place at the right time. Will he be the successor to Bryan Habana's throne?

Biggest talking point: How will the Rassie Erasmus era start? Last Saturday's match Test match against Wales was basically a money spinner for SA Rugby, and a chance for new Springboks boss Rassie Erasmus to give a few youngsters a taste of international rugby. So this weekend's first Test against England is actually the match where people will get an actual glimpse of Erasmus' plans to pick the Springboks up off the canvas after a couple of horrible years. Can he be the Bok saviour?

Prediction: While England let in 60 points against the Barbarians before heading south, they should be a lot more settled than the South Africans, who begin a new era with a lot of fresh faces and many returning stalwarts. The Springboks always play well at Ellis Park, though, and altitude will come into play after England decided to train at sea level since arriving in South Africa. It's going to be close one, and the Boks will sneak it. -- John Goliath

South Africa by 6

Line up:

England

Player to watch: Owen Farrell takes up the captaincy for the tour of South Africa in Dylan Hartley's enforced absence. All eyes will be on England's No. 12 to not only keep the scoreboard ticking over with his boot but also to provide the leadership and discipline that was clearly lacking during the Six Nations campaign. Billy Vunipola has already backed his Saracens teammate, touting him as a future Lions captain, but if he can help steady the England ship, surely Eddie Jones will have to reconsider Hartley's position as permanent skipper.

Biggest talking point: All eyes will be on Danny Cipriani as he returns from the wilderness to take up a spot in the England squad for the first time in three years. Undoubtedly a player bursting with talent, it has never quite happened for the Gloucester-bound back on an international level. With just 14 international caps, 10 of those from off the bench, this will be Cipriani's time to prove that he is not a loose cannon. England's fullback position looks up for grabs in Jones' side, and with the form Cipriani was in during the domestic season with Wasps, it is certainly a position that he can stake a claim to - but he must be on his best behaviour just to get onto the pitch against the Springboks.

Prediction: England's Six Nations campaign was, quite frankly, shambolic -- as was their warm-up match for this tour -- a 63-45 defeat at Twickenham to a Barbarians side that only trained three times. Eddie Jones' side, then, clearly need to get back on track if they are to be seen as genuine contenders for next year's World Cup. Given England's recent problems, the first Test at Ellis Park is going to be a tight affair, but if the Springboks are to take a victory in this series, a win in Johannesburg is vital. However, I believe England will take wins in Bloemfontein and Cape Town to take a 2-1 series victory. -- Sean Nevin

South Africa 24-20 England

Line up:

Argentina vs Wales

Sunday 5:40am (AEST), Estadio San Juan del Bicentenario, San Juan

Argentina

Player to watch: Nicolas Sanchez has yet to become the leader Los Pumas need at halfback but he has the capability. With Juan Martin Hernandez retirement earlier this year, he can finally emerge from the shadow of Hernandez. In a perfect world, Argentina need three victories to build some confidence ahead of next year's Rugby World Cup. Sanchez is a wizard but his own decision-making is replicated by those of his teammates, often running from inside their own 22 and being caught out.

Biggest talking point: Consistency. Argentina lost 10 out of 12 Tests last year. Without doubt, they had the toughest schedule of all international teams, starting with a home tour against England, followed utside of the All Blacks, depth is an issue for every team. Argentina are not the exception to that rule. Last year they began with defeat to England in two Tests and after an abysmal Rugby Championship, they fell to defeat to England and Ireland. Something needs to change.

Prediction: Three wins would be unthinkable for an Argentina side that have struggled to put back-to-back performances together last year but with Wales lacking confidence these three summer Tests provide an excellent chance to create a winning formula around a team that came fourth in 2015 and third in 2007, with a quarterfinals defeat in 2011.

First Test [San Juan]: Argentina 32-25 Wales

Line up:

Wales

Player to watch: Warren Gatland is taking an inexperienced squad to Argentina with George North one of the few stalwarts selected. Inconsistency both at international and club level has plagued his progress over the last five years or so, but Gatland needs to see North come to the fore and lead by example. With Steff Evans' injury, sustained in the warm-up win against South Africa in Washington DC, North's role in the side becomes even more important, and he will know that making an impression ahead of his return to regional rugby with Ospreys is crucial.

Biggest talking point: The likes of Alun Wyn Jones are not getting any younger, and that is why Wales' side for their tour of the Americas is set to have a youthful exuberance about it. Warren Gatland's forward pack for the first Test against the Pumas has just 65 caps between them, with stand in captain Cory Hill and Ross Moriarty the only two of those to have more than 10 caps. However, with Gatland looking to move away from the direct style that has defined Wales over the last couple of years, the injection of new blood could well be a positive rather than a negative for them.

Prediction: Argentina is never an easy place to play rugby, and with several of Wales' big hitters rested, this could be a tough Test series for Gatland's team. Add to that the fact that Argentina's players all play together for inform Super Rugby outfit Jaguares, and Wales' lack of cohesion could come back to bite them. If Wales can come away with a 1-1 series draw with some good individual displays put in, the tour can be labelled as a success -- with Wales' victory more likely in the second Test than the first. -- Sean Nevin

Argentina 17-10 Wales

Line up: Amos; Adams,Williams, Parkes, North; Patchell, Davies; Jones, Dee, Lewis, Beard, Hill, Davies, Davies, Moriarty. Reserves: Elias, Evans, Francis, Turnbull, Wainwright, Davies, Anscombe, Watkin.

Canada vs Scotland

Sunday, 11am (AEST), Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton

Scotland

Player to watch: James Lang will make his debut for the Scots against Canada and he could be a big addition to Gregor Townsend's squad if he can hit the ground running in America. The centre played 17 times last season for Harlequins and with his ability to play fly-half, it gives a new dimension to Scotland's attack. His performances impressed the Scottish coaching team with his ability with ball in hand and in defence.

Biggest talking point: Scotland face the same questions Ireland faced last year when they faced lesser opposition but like Ireland it provides them with an opportunity for the inexperienced within their team and give Townsend some depth ahead of next year's Six Nations and Rugby World Cup. With that in mind this Scottish team needs many to step up to help the likes of Greig Laidlaw and Stuart Hogg.

Prediction: Two relatively easy victories await in North America before a rude awakening against Los Pumas. Scotland have struggled to gain consistent performances and with some of their first team players missing, it is hard to see them gaining much from this tour. Quality opposition is hard to come by for Canada and the Untied States and when the lesser tier one nations treat it as a training game, it won't help them. -- Cillian O Conchuir

First Test [Edmonton]: Canada 21-35 Scotland

Line up: Kinghorn, Jones, Harris, Lang, McGuigan, Jackson, Hidalgo-Clyne. Dell, Brown, Berghan, Toolis, Gilchrist, Bradbury, Ritchie, Denton. Reserves: Turner, Bhatti, McCallum, Carmichael, Hamilton, Price, Hastings, Bennett.