Simon Mail previews the opening Autumn Internationals where England face an almighty challenge against world champions New Zealand...
"England did claim a stunning 38-21 victory over New Zealand two years ago which will offer them a reminder of what is possible. That said, it remains their only win in the last 14 clashes dating back ten years."
England v New Zealand
Saturday November 8, 14:30
Live on Sky Sports 2
With less than a year to the World Cup in England, the importance of the Autumn Internationals are only enhanced. Next year's hosts face a daunting start to this month's fixtures as they take on world champions New Zealand at Twickenham. This examination for Stuart Lancaster's side will certainly indicate how much improvement is required to make them potential winners of the competition.
The two nations locked horns only five months ago in New Zealand with the home side claiming a 3-0 series triumph. But this did not tell the whole story as a committed England team pushed the All Blacks all the way in the opening two matches before a comprehensive defeat in the final match. The series scoreline suggests it was one-sided but there were plenty of positives for England from their summer games.
These defeats have extended their record to four consecutive losses against the best side in the world. This started with a 30-22 win for the All Blacks at Twickenham 12 months ago. But England did claim a stunning 38-21 victory over New Zealand two years ago which will offer them a reminder of what is possible. That said, it remains their only win in the last 14 clashes dating back ten years.
Lancaster has made a bold decision by bringing in debutant Semesa Rokoduguni. The Bath wing has been a major threat in the Premiership this season and will certainly add pace and power to the backline. Club team-mate Kyle Eastmond has been rewarded for his recent form with a spot in the centre alongside Brad Barritt while Owen Farrell resumes his partnership with Danny Care.
Steve Hansen's side have enjoyed another exceptional season although their 22-match unbeaten record was shattered last month after a pulsating 27-25 defeat in South Africa. New Zealand were staring at back-to-back defeats but a dramatic late fightback ensured the team snatched a 29-28 win. The Kiwis, who have opted not to bring Dan Carter back into the side following a long-term leg injury, had no problems warming up for this weekend's match by thrashing USA in a 12-try rout on Saturday.
Four of England's last five defeats to the All Blacks have been decided by ten points or less so it is more likely there will be another close battle rather than a rout. The world champions are hard to bet against, so a narrow win is the best bet. New Zealand wing Julian Savea is a try machine with 29 from 30 matches and an exceptional eight in four games against England. This suggests the odds on him scoring at Twickenham are too generous and have to be snapped up.
Wales v Australia
Saturday November 8, 14:30
Live on BBC One
Wales face a dress rehearsal for next year's World Cup pool match when they take on Australia at the Millennium Stadium this weekend. The sides will meet at Twickenham in the final group game and this looks a pivotal clash with England also in the toughest pool of the competition. This is only a warm-up match but there is no doubt that the victors will have a significant confidence boost less than 12 months away from their showdown.
Warren Gatland will have to manage without a number of influential players with centre Jonathan Davies the latest name to miss out through injury. His absence means Northampton Saints winger George North switches to the centre. Ospreys pair Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar start at scrum-half and fly-half respectively while Jamie Roberts lines up alongside North.
It has been a turbulent time for Australia following the shock resignation of Ewen McKenzie. The coach stepped down after their dramatic defeat to New Zealand last month and was swiftly replaced by Michael Cheika. The former Leinster coach has had very little time to work with his new players but did get off the mark last weekend in a 40-36 win over the Barbarians.
This has proved a very tough fixture for Wales over the years with nine consecutive defeats to the Wallabies. The Welsh will probably feel hard done by though because all of these matches have been closely contested with nine points the biggest margin of victory for Australia.
Another tight contest looks in store for this weekend's Cardiff clash and the hosts may fancy their chances of ending their losing run. But the smart money is on the Wallabies edging to another slender win. North scored twice in last year's 30-26 defeat and the Northampton star looks worth backing to strike again.
Back Australia to win by under 12.5 points at 2.427/5
Back George North to score in the Sportsbook at 2.89/5
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster
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