Saturday, July 13, 2024

Rugby’s summer tours live on Sky Sports: England take on All Blacks, Wales in Australia, Ireland battle South Africa

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International rugby returns to Sky Sports this summer as England, Ireland and Wales travel to face the might of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia in two-Test tours…

England seek first win over All Blacks on Kiwi soil for 21 years

Not since 2003 and the summer prior to England’s greatest day in rugby union have the nation picked up a Test victory against the All Blacks in New Zealand.

Back then, Clive Woodward’s outstanding squad of players travelled to the southern hemisphere and beat New Zealand 15-13 in Wellington, and then Australia in Melbourne as crucial preparation ahead of the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia – a tournament they would go on to win, of course.

There have been 18 Tests between the sides in the two decades since, set in New Zealand, Twickenham and neutral venues, with England having only won two (November 2012, 2019 World Cup semi-final).

Seven of those 18 match-ups have taken place in New Zealand for seven All Black victories (2-0 series win in 2004, 2-0 series win in 2008, 3-0 series win in 2014), but perhaps now is England’s best chance to travel south and pick up a marquee win again.

FPR81671/WELLINGTON NEW ZEALAND/June14/England players Ben Kay and Steve Thompson (gloves) elebrate the final whistle during the All Blacks 15-13 loss to England in the intertnational rugby test at Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Saturday..FOTOPRESS/Ross Land..MANDATORY CREDIT..2003..
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Not since June 2003 have England beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand

A poor start under Steve Borthwick which saw England finish fourth in the 2023 Six Nations after three defeats, and lose 2023 Rugby World Cup warm-up Tests to Wales and Fiji, has given way to a far more positive outlook following the 2024 Six Nations.

Denying Andy Farrell’s Ireland the chance of successive Grand Slams felt like a turning point for Borthwick’s team, dominating the game against a first-class opponent, and looking to play rugby on the front foot as opposed to employing negative tactics.

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England’s dramatic late victory over Ireland at Twickenham felt like a turning point under Steve Borthwick

England may have finished their 2024 championship with defeat to France in Lyon, but they gave Les Bleus an almighty scare in another impressive display.

Add to that the fact the New Zealand side England will be facing will be vastly different from the one which lined out in the 2023 World Cup final, and there is undoubted potential for success.

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The Blues reached the Super Rugby Pacific final for the second time in three years after victory over the Brumbies at Eden Park

Sam Whitelock
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Sam Whitelock is one of a number of All Blacks legends to have retired since the World Cup

Legends of All Blacks rugby in Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Dane Coels and Aaron Smith have retired, while others in Richie Mo’unga, Shannon Frizzell, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Nepo Laulala have left for playing opportunities overseas. New All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson may have his work cut out.

New Zealand's Richie Mo'unga
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Richie Mo’unga will not be available for July’s two-Test series with England, as he now plays club rugby in Japan

England’s summer fixtures (UK and Irish time)

Saturday June 22 – vs Japan (6.50am)
Saturday July 6 – vs New Zealand (8.05am), live on Sky Sports
Saturday July 13 – vs New Zealand (8.05am), live on Sky Sports

World champions host Ireland as No 1 play No 2

For many, Ireland were the most impressive team at the 2023 World Cup until New Zealand caught them in the quarter-finals to win an epic contest on one of the lowest days in Irish rugby history.

Within Ireland’s World Cup pool they even defeated eventual tournament winners South Africa in a titanic Paris tussle, all of which nicely sets up July’s two-Test series between the sides.

For all South Africa’s success of recent times, their bogey team has been Ireland. Indeed the last three meetings have seen the northern hemisphere side clinch victory.

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Ireland beat South Africa at the 2023 World Cup to top their pool, but were then knocked out by New Zealand

That World Cup defeat for the Springboks put them on a collision course with hosts France and could so easily have seen South Africa limp out at the quarter-final stage. Instead, three improbable one-point victories over Les Bleus, England and New Zealand saw them to another title win.

Lifting the Webb Ellis trophy saw South Africa regain the world’s No 1 ranking, overtaking Ireland who remain at No 2.

Kolisi
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South Africa clinched the 2023 Rugby World Cup after a series of extremely tight encounters, and a pool-stage defeat to Ireland

Since the World Cup, Ireland dusted themselves down to win another Six Nations in 2024, but missed out on a Grand Slam with last-gasp defeat at Twickenham, while their performance to secure the title was far from their best at home to Scotland.

Question marks for Andy Farrell then, as his side embark on what is sure to be two extremely tough assignments in Pretoria and Durban, and that off the back of Ireland’s provinces ending their seasons trophyless.

Credit - AP Photo/PA/Getty
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Ireland secured the 2024 Six Nations title, backing up their 2023 championship Grand Slam

Led by the controversial and volatile Rassie Erasmus, a host of Springboks have also been talking about Ireland in a negative light leading up to this series. Eben Etzebeth said 12 Irish players wrote off New Zealand before playing them at the World Cup, Damian de Allende claimed “Irish people aren’t emotional” and Cheslin Kolbe dismissed Ireland’s credentials as potential World Cup winners.

Former Ireland wing Simon Zebo has also claimed recently Erasmus “hates Ireland”. There is sure to be no lack of spice in this series.

Ireland’s summer fixtures (UK and Irish time) – live on Sky Sports

Saturday July 6 – South Africa vs Ireland (4pm), live on Sky Sports
Saturday July 13 – South Africa vs Ireland (4pm), live on Sky Sports

Floundering Wales seek improvement against Schmidt’s Wallabies

If there’s a side that needs a boost this summer, it’s Warren Gatland’s Wales.

A disastrous 2024 Six Nations championship saw them lose all five fixtures, including to Italy in Cardiff for the second time in three seasons.

The net result was Wales picking up the Wooden Spoon for the first time since 2003.

Gatland
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Warren Gatland’s Wales finished bottom of the 2024 Six Nations, with a first Wooden Spoon since 2003

The 2023 Six Nations saw them lose four from five fixtures under Gatland, while their 2023 World Cup campaign also ended in failure, losing to an Argentina side in the quarter-finals who would be beaten 44-6 by New Zealand in the semis.

Wales lack experience, depth and form, but they are coming up against an Australia side who have also been in disarray, and who Wales actually crushed 40-6 in the pool stages at the World Cup.

Wales players line up for the national anthem during the Six Nation ahead of their fixture against France
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Wales lack experience, depth and form as they head to play Australia

Emerging out of a dreadful period under Eddie Jones, though, the Wallabies seek a new dawn under former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, and the Kiwi is tipped to have a big impact.

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Former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has taken over Australia, after the nation’s woeful World Cup under Eddie Jones

Wales’ summer fixtures (UK and Irish time) – live on Sky Sports

Saturday June 22 – vs South Africa (2pm), live on Sky Sports
Saturday July 6 – vs Australia (10.45am), live on Sky Sports
Saturday July 13 – vs Australia (10.45am), live on Sky Sports

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