Ireland, England, Wales and France are all on tour this summer. Here, Iain Morrison looks at what’s in store for them.
IRELAND in Australia
After England’s 3-0 whitewash over the Wallabies in 2016, anything other than a series win from Europe’s finest would seem like failure – although it promises to be an intriguing summer. The Waratahs revival suggests the Wallabies may be repeating their favourite trick of peaking just in time for a World Cup, especially if Michael Cheika can prise flanker Peter Samu from his Crusaders’ contract to play for the Wallabies.
Joe Schmidt must find a back-up ten in case Johnny Sexton takes another knock to the noggin and he could do with more depth at nine because Conor Murray could break a leg and still get selected on crutches.
ENGLAND in South Africa.
England have entered a world of trouble ever since Scotland burst Fast Eddie’s bubble, with three losses and a fifth place finish in the Six Nations. To rub salt in the wound they came second to a scratch and, if Pat Lam is to believed, hungover Barbarian team last weekend.
England have not had much luck in South Africa, three wins throughout a relatively brief history of touring there, and you fancy Jones would accept a series defeat if it means the two losses are close and his team comes away with one victory to bolster morale.
But can new coach Rassie Erasmus and new skipper Sila Kolise put some menace back into the Bokke whose aura is a little tarnished?
WALES against South Africa in Washington DC and then Argentina
A Test match outsider the Test window in the capital of a neutral country all because RIM (the marketing arm of USA Rugby) tried to make a buck and miscalculated the level of interest amongst American punters. It’s (almost) enough to make you sympathise with Premier Rugby Ltd boss Mark McCafferty.
A host of Lions’ tourists are being rested while the Springboks are unrecognisable so the first match is anyone’s really because no one quite knows what to expect. After that a young Welsh team will get a decent work out from an Argentine side based squarely on Los Jaguares who are on a Super Rugby roll with six wins on the bounce.
FRANCE in New Zealand
This one has blackwash written all over it but the matches themselves may be closer than some predict, well one or two of them. After a decade in hibernation La France showed signs of stirring in the last Six Nations when they beat Les Rosbifs. Jacques Brunel is missing 18 players in all, including Guilhem Guirado (rested) and Louis Picamoles (surgery), but the All Blacks are also short-staffed.
Sonny Bill Williams has just undergone knee surgery, skipper Sam Whitelock and centre Ryan Crotty have concussion, Joe Moody has enjoyed only 55 minutes of rugby this season and his front-row buddy Owen Franks has fared little better due to injury and suspension.