November Test Predictions - Round 3: Will Ireland show New Zealand who's No.1?

Can Scotland build on their home run against South Africa? And will England's second-string side impress against Japan? ESPN assesses the biggest talking points and players to watch.

Ireland vs New Zealand

Saturday 7:00 p.m. (GMT), Aviva Stadium, Dublin


Player to watch: Johnny Sexton. To put it simply, you need your best player to turn up and perform if you want to beat the best team in the world. For Ireland and head coach Joe Schmidt, that man continues to be Sexton, whose display against the All Blacks will be crucial in determining the outcome of Saturday's eagerly anticipated clash. Sexton, much like the entire Ireland team, was poor against Argentina last weekend, but the fly-half will be fully focussed as the All Blacks come to town. Owen Farrell was good as England were narrowly defeated last week. Sexton is going to need to be even better in the battle against Beauden Barrett.

Biggest talking point: Ireland will never get a better opportunity to lay down what would be such a significant win this close to a World Cup, and their forwards will be crucial to that. England's pack terrorised New Zealand in the first half last weekend, with Sam Underhill in particular disrupting the All Blacks' flow as he forced countless errors, but the Irish will need to sustain their effort across the whole 80 minutes. The injury to flanker Sean O'Brien -- who broke his arm against Argentina -- will make that task considerably harder, with Dan Leavy stepping in to replace him in the starting XV.

Prediction: It feels as if Ireland's progression under Schmidt has been building up to this moment. After 16 games against New Zealand in Dublin, dating all the way back to 1905, this feels like the moment where they finally record a home win against the All Blacks. New Zealand will not give up their undefeated record lightly and will rally after going behind early, but Ireland will hang on to secure a famous win. -- Jamie Braidwood

New Zealand

Player to watch: Damian McKenzie. England enjoyed some early success last week kicking high to McKenzie, and the All Blacks full-back should prepare for another peppering in Dublin. But once he settled, McKenzie showed exactly why he has the faith of coach Steve Hansen. From jinking runs on the counter to fearless hole running, the diminutive McKenzie began to pop up all over the field before we was replaced in the 63rd minute. His 10 runs for 53 metres, with four clean breaks, 12 beaten defenders and a try, suggest he'll head to the Aviva Stadium full of confidence. A couple of early takes under pressure will only help solidify that.

Talking point: Beaten at home by South Africa before narrow escapes in Pretoria and London, there is a belief that this All Blacks side isn't actually travelling as well as one might think. And that has already prompted calls from some in the New Zealand media for Steve Hansen to be moved on post next year's World Cup. That is, of course, a ways off. But you don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out that the All Blacks aren't the same team as they were at the showpiece event three years ago. What they are looking for is a commanding performance against one of the world's other leading nations to help restore the fear factor among the game's elite. What better way to do it than over the world's No. 2 ranked team?

Prediction: This is going to be one hell of a Test match. While the Irish will miss Conor Murray dearly, they still have the kicking game to worry New Zealand and a forward pack that can also dominate through the middle of the paddock. They will be better for the run over Argentina last week while some within the New Zealand group are running nigh on empty; Hansen has admitted as much. This will be New Zealand's second defeat for 2018. Ireland by three. -- Sam Bruce

Scotland vs South Africa

Saturday 5:20 p.m. (GMT), Murrayfield, Edinburgh


Player to watch: Huw Jones. Having had to apologise to his teammates for his performance following Scotland's defeat to Wales two weeks ago, Jones is back in Gregor Townsend's starting XV for the visit of South Africa. The Glasgow Warriors centre wasn't the only player who played poorly in Cardiff, but it was Jones who received the most criticism after his missed tackles on first George North and then Jonathan Davies led to two Welsh tries in a 21-10 defeat. Jones is one of Scotland's brightest prospects but he will be under the microscope against the physical Springboks.

Biggest talking point: Scotland have built up a formidable home record over the past two years. They have lost only one of their past nine matches at Murrayfield, a defeat to New Zealand last November, and the visit of the Springboks represents their toughest challenge since. Scotland will look to their recent home victories over Ireland, Wales, Australia and England for inspiration as to what is possible and if they add a resurgent and dangerous South Africa to that list, it will give the Scots a massive shot of confidence heading into 2019.

Prediction: Expect Saturday to unfold in a similar fashion to Scotland's defeat to New Zealand last year, in which they battled for an unlikely result only to narrowly fall short. Even in defeat, Scotland will offer plenty of encouragement to their fans in what should be an entertaining encounter. -- Jamie Braidwood

South Africa

Player to Watch: Embrose Papier. At last! After many Test matches on the Springboks' bench as an unused replacement, Papier finally gets a start in the green-and-gold jersey. Papier is considered the top scrum-half prodigy in South Africa following notable performances at junior level. His distribution is quick and his service crisp, and his threat around the fringes makes him a dangerous customer. But it's his character that will be tested at Murrayfield, because of the weight of expectation on his shoulders after many calls for him to get a proper crack at the Boks' No.9 jersey. That isn't his problem, however; Boks coach Rassie Erasmus has put the kid in that position.

Biggest Talking Point: The Springboks must get some fluency in their attack if they are to beat a Scottish team that has been really good in their own backyard over the past couple of years. The Boks dominated possession and territory against England, but a malfunctioning lineout and terrible handling and decision-making cost them victory. Against France, the Boks' were second best in the collisions for much of the fixture while their poor kicking game gave Les Bleus numerous counter-attacking opportunities. The Boks have dangerous outside backs, but they just haven't had the quality ball and space to hurt the opposition. The Boks need to find a rhythm to their play, which they seemed to discover in the latter stages in Paris. If their backs and forwards can gel as a unit, they will be hard to stop at Murrayfield.

Prediction: It's been a bit of a roller-coaster tour for the South Africans thus far, but this could be the match where we actually see that ruthless display, which combines that old South African physicality and the excitement of their new generation of outside backs. Scotland won't be a pushover, but the Boks should win. Springboks by 13. -- John Goliath

England vs Japan

Saturday 3:00 p.m. (GMT), Twickenham, London


Player to watch: George Ford is in for a crucial night in his England career as he steps into the No.10 jersey for the rested Owen Farrell. England are rather fortunate to have two world class fly-halves at their disposal, but of late, Ford has come off second best in his tussle with Farrell. With the World Cup just around the corner, Ford needs big performances in games like these to ensure that he isn't left as a bench option for when big games come around. Farrell is undroppable for the big occasion, so Ford needs to convince Eddie Jones that he is better off putting him in at fly-half and slotting Farrell over to centre.

Key talking point: One week the TMO can be your friend, the next it can be your enemy, but the decision to declare Courtney Lawes offside in the build-up to Sam Underhill's disallowed try against the All Blacks was the right one. It stung for England. After a difficult year, coming agonisingly close to beating New Zealand will be a bitter pill to swallow, but there were plenty of positives for Eddie Jones and his side. They were on fire in the opening exchanges and if England can keep that level of performance up for an entire 80 minutes, they will be more than capable of beating anyone in the world.

Prediction: Eddie Jones knows what Japan are all about having coached them through the 2015 World Cup. However, don't expect the Japanese to mount a repeat of their miracle win over the Springboks -- this will be a comfortable night for England if Japan's drubbing at the hands of a second-string New Zealand side two weeks ago is anything to go by. A win by 20 or more would do nicely heading into England's showdown with Australia next weekend. -- Sean Nevin


Player to watch: Michael Leitch. Jones made Leitch his captain in 2013 and it was the back-row who led the Brave Blossoms to their famous win against South Africa in 2015. Leitch is a formidable player and spent three seasons playing for Super Rugby side Chiefs in New Zealand.

Biggest talking point: The build-up to Saturday's match has been surprisingly acrimonious, with Jones stating that he wants England to "physically smash" his former side on Saturday, adding that they will have to "go to the temple and pray" in order to get a result. It all seems a little unfair, especially when you consider that Japan are paid only £13 per day while they are away on tour, in comparison to the £25,000 England's stars receive per match.

Prediction: Japan are a proud side and will not lie down as they visit Twickenham for the first time since 1987. However, they conceded 69 points to New Zealand two weeks ago and England could rack up as many on Saturday. -- Jamie Braidwood

Italy vs Australia

Saturday 2:00 p.m. (GMT), Stadio Euganeo, Padua


Player to watch: Sebastian Negri. His job to contain the Pocock-Hooper duo in open play and deal with one of the tallest pairs of locks in rugby in the lineout will be crucial for the Azzurri. He's been stellar all year for both Italy and Benetton Treviso and his work rate will be precious yet again on Saturday to give Jake Polledri and Braam Steyn space and time in front of the gain-line.

Biggest talking point: The much needed win against Georgia left a sense of discontent. With the match safely in their hands at half-time, the Azzurri made things difficult for themselves by not putting the game to bed. Unfortunately, Conor O'Shea's men experienced, once again, a pretty poor overall performance in the understanding of how a rugby win is earned at international level. It was another missed opportunity.

Prediction: The Italians may well be targeting the Wallabies for a November scalp. After physical encounters against Ireland and Georgia, the Azzurri can at least rely on good depth in almost every position. With a certain defeat against the All Blacks in Rome to follow next week, Italy will try and build upon their win against the Lelos with a good performance. Expect a close encounter. -- Enrico Borra


Player to watch: Jordan Petaia. He will be a name foreign to many northern hemisphere rugby fans, and probably a few disenchanted ones Down Under, yet Petaia could be exactly what this struggling Wallabies side needs. Free of the scars and repeated failure of the last two years, Petaia will make his Test debut in Padova after linking up with the Wallabies following the National Rugby Championship. That was a competition in which he showed his true potential after a couple of shining cameos for the Reds in Super Rugby. Powerfully built at 190cm and 98kg, Petaia topped the NRC try count (10) and finished third for tackle busts (33). He is the future of Australian rugby at a time when the game needs somebody to latch on to. (Editor's note: Jordan Petaia has since been ruled out with injury; Marika Koroibete comes onto the left wing as his replacement.)

Talking point: Just what does a win over Italy do for the Wallabies, and the game Down Under as a whole? There's no doubt a loss to the Azzurri would see Cheika's approval rating plunge even further, but a win over the lowly Europeans isn't going to inspire any great confidence in the coach and his deputies either. What Cheika and the Wallabies need is a big win, but one in which they dominate scrum and lineout, their attack flows and they concede few points on defence. That has been the problem throughout 2018: Australia simply can't get it all together on the same day. Execute. Execute. Execute. One should fully prepare for a scratchy, narrow win that does little to shake up the current mire.

Prediction: Australia will win, but not before some early jitters in which a fired-up Italy throw everything at them. The game will be in the balance until the final quarter where Australia will do enough to come away with the win, and at least some skerrick of self-belief ahead of next week's trip to Twickenham. Australia by 14. -- Sam Bruce

France vs Argentina

Saturday 8:05 p.m. (GMT), Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille


Player to watch: Gael Fickou. France coach Jacques Brunel said "continuity" from the June tour was the main reason he had unaccountably left the in-form Fickou on the bench last week against South Africa. When he did get on, in place of the ineffectual Geoffrey Doumayrou, the Stade Francais centre wasted little time finding the tiniest gaps in the heavy traffic of green-and-gold juggernauts. Given the 12 shirt against Argentina due to Doumayrou's shoulder injury, Fickou -- who has scored six times in seven Top 14 outings -- will be expected to make a complete nuisance of himself among Puma ranks from the first whistle. A mention, too, for Yoann Huget, who will play his first game for France in more than a year in Lille on Saturday.

Biggest talking point: As Les Bleus look to win their first game in six outings and avoid their worst losing streak for half a century, the question on everyone's lips is how they managed to throw away a game they had won multiple times, when they were four points ahead and 10 metres from South Africa's line with just 40 seconds left before the clock ticked into the red. A little discipline was all they needed, but a little discipline was what they lacked. Six minutes later, they successfully missed out on victory for the third time in 2018 and the sixth time since 2016.

Prediction: It's not quite win or bust for Brunel's France -- there's a sense that the coach and his charges are surrounded by rather more goodwill than there was for the national side under Guy Noves at this time last year. But France need a shot of confidence at Stade Pierre Mauroy. A win may not work instant wonders, but it will do rather more good than harm -- and if Fickou fires, they should get it. -- James Harrington


Player to watch: Nicolas Sanchez. With his near future at Stade Francais, this is a great chance for the Argentine fly-half to showcase his skills once again in what has been, for him, an unforgettable 2018. While he is not in top shape physically, in an even match like this one his performance will be key for the Pumas' chances of winning.

Biggest talking point: The scrum. Without Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Ramiro Herrera or Juan Figallo, who returned to the team this year despite playing in Europe, the front row was left depleted, and suffered greatly against Ireland. For the Pumas to be able to play their own game it's essential to have a good platform from the scrum, and France will be a litmus test for their future success.

Prediction: France are not playing well and even though the Pumas lost against Ireland, their performance was reassuring. If Mario Ledesma's pack is able to subdue the Frenchmen and put pressure on them, the Argentine squad could end up winning just like in 2014. The Pumas will win by five points. -- Patricio Connolly

Wales vs Tonga

Saturday 2:30 p.m. (GMT), Principality Stadium, Cardiff


Player to watch: Liam Williams was something of a surprise omission from Wales' 23 to face Australia, but the Saracens man now has his chance to play his way into Warren Gatland's plans as he lines up against Tonga. The problem for Williams is that Gatland sees Leigh Halfpenny as his undisputed choice at full-back while he has several other options at wing -- George North, Josh Adams and Steff Evans to name a few. It means that the British & Irish Lion is a bit of an enigma, but with Wales' attack looking a tad on the blunt side against the Wallabies, Williams has the chance to show his skills.

For Tonga, keep an eye on Ma'afu Fia, the Ospreys prop who will face several of his regional teammates as he finally looks set to make his long-awaited international debut at the age of 27. Injuries and raising a family has previously got in the way of Fia making his international bow, but he will be keen to make an impression ahead of next year's World Cup.

Biggest talking point: Wales have finally beaten Australia! Just spare a thought for anyone that had to sit through it all. Some may call Wales' victory "tense" or "nail-biting", but they won really by virtue of not being as bad as the Wallabies, who look in utter disarray at the moment. Still, a win is a win, and while Warren Gatland won't admit it, ending the 13-match losing run ahead of the two teams' meeting in Japan next year for the World Cup is invaluable.

Prediction: Forwards coach Robin McBryde said that World Cup places will be on the line against Tonga. This match-up will certainly provide the second string with the opportunity to impress ahead of bigger things to come in 2019. Wales have won all eight of the meetings between these two sides and they should get things done comfortably -- expect a win by at least 14 points. -- Sean Nevin