Northern Hemisphere rocks rugby’s old order – but can Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales see out the series?

So what then are we to make of rugby’s new world order? The northern powerhouse that swept aside its southern rivals over the course of an extraordinary Saturday has challenged some preconceived notions.

Ireland celebrate their second Test win over New Zealand at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Ireland celebrate their second Test win over New Zealand at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

An unprecedented clean sweep of victories by Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland over New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina, respectively, has shaken up the game.

Just for good measure, France got the better of Japan in Tokyo and it is Fabien Galthié’s side which sits atop the latest world rankings for the first time, displacing South Africa at the summit.

The World Cup holders’ defeat by Wales in Bloemfontein has seen them drop to third, with Ireland leaping two places to second as a consequence of that stunning performance in Dunedin. The vanquished All Blacks have swapped places with the Irish and are now at their lowest ever ranking of fourth, and that is perhaps the most startling takeaway from the weekend.

England's Jack Nowell tries to find a way past Australia's Hunter Paisami at Suncorp Stadium. (Photo by Patrick HAMILTON / AFP)

Scotland’s 29-6 win over Argentina in Salta means Gregor Townsend’s side have edged above the Pumas into seventh place, returning to their pre-tour position.

It’s tempting to view all this in the context of next year’s World Cup and everything appears rosy in the garden of the hosts, France. The Six Nations champions are top of the world and the only concern would be, have they peaked too soon?

Safe to say, that is not something Scotland need worry about and, as a result of the weekend’s results they find themselves paired with the countries now ranked second and third in the world at the 2023 tournament.

Wales have at least shown that the Springboks can be beaten, even if the hosts made 14 changes from the first Test.

South Africa centre Jesse Kriel feels the full force of Wales during the Boks' defeat in Bloemfontein. (Photo by PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP)

The latest set of results for the home nations was a reversal of the previous weekend’s and it means all four series are locked at 1-1 going into this Saturday’s third and final round of matches. So how will it all play out in Wellington, Sydney, Cape Town and Santiago del Estero?

New Zealand v Ireland, Sky Stadium, Saturday 8.05am BST

Ten years ago in Hamilton, the All Blacks inflicted upon Ireland a 60-0 hammering which remains their heaviest ever defeat. It is a measure of how far Irish have come that Saturday’s 23-12 victory in the second Test was not entirely unexpected. It is also a stark indicator of the problems in the New Zealand camp.

Dubbed the ‘Disaster in Dunedin’ by local press, Ireland’s win was their fourth in the last seven Tests between the teams. Not bad for a nation which hadn’t beaten New Zealand in 113 years until they did so for the first time in 2016.

Scotland's Duhan van der Merwe goes on the attack against Argentina in Salta. (Photo by Pablo Gasparini / AFP)

Ian Foster, the All Blacks head coach, is on a sticky wicket and it is hard to see him surviving if they were to lose the series in Wellington. There is already a groundswell of support for the Crusaders’ Scott Robertson to get the top job.

The knives are also out for captain Sam Cane who was reportedly ridiculed by Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony during the match in Dunedin. That is unlikely to have gone down well in the All Blacks camp. As Johnny Sexton said after the game, “New Zealand is an incredibly proud rugby nation. They’ll come out firing.”

Prediction: New Zealand win.

Australia v England, Sydney Cricket Ground, Saturday 10.55am BST

The second Test win in Brisbane ensured Eddie Jones lived to fight another day as England coach but he goes into this weekend’s decider without some key players.

Sam Underhill and Maro Itoje have both been ruled out because of concussions suffered at the Suncorp Stadium, and Tom Curry returned home last week after being concussed in the first Test.

Jones was effusive in his praise of Richard Cockerill on Saturday, crediting the former Edinburgh coach with improving England’s maul. Jones believes their dominance in that area has struck a psychological blow against the Wallabies. More mind games from Eddie? Undoubtedly, but this was a gutsy victory after the disastrous first Test. The decider will be fascinating and you fancy the home side to edge it. Just.

Prediction: Australia win.

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South Africa v Wales, DHL Stadium, Saturday 4.05pm BST

The folly of South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber’s decision to change 19 of his 23 players and rest 14 World Cup winners for the second Test was exposed by the result. Wayne Pivac’s side thoroughly deserved their 13-12 victory.

Wales came within an ace of winning the first Test at Loftus Versfeld so what Nienaber was thinking is anyone’s guess. At least the Boks will be rested and refreshed for Saturday’s final clash in Cape Town.

It’s hard to equate Wales’ performances in South Africa with the side that went down so meekly to Italy at home in March. It was their first win against the Springboks on South African soil and Pivac has re-energised his squad after a Six Nations in which their sole win came against Scotland. Nevertheless, the Boks are world champions for a reason and few would bet against them bouncing back this Saturday.

Prediction: South Africa win.

Argentina v Scotland, Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades, Saturday, 8.10pm BST

Scotland’s tour of the Argentine provinces takes them to the city of Santiago del Estero for the final Test. It has never before hosted a full rugby international but its ‘Mother of Cities’ stadium is an impressive modern bowl which has staged some big football matches since opening last year, including the national side’s 1-1 draw with Chile in a World Cup qualifier.

After a dispiriting loss in the first Test, Scotland won the second match 29-6 with a convincing second half performance in Salta and Gregor Townsend has challenged his squad to up their game again this weekend. The Scots will be without Kyle Rowe and probably Rory Hutchinson but should still have enough to claim victory in their first ever three-Test series.

Prediction: Scotland win.


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