Ireland v New Zealand: All Blacks can hold off Schmidt's side and edge to win
Simon Mail previews the international matches this weekend including the clash between the world's two best teams as Ireland host New Zealand...
"Ireland did pull off a stunning 40-29 win over the All Blacks in Chicago two years ago but this is their only victory against them. New Zealand have won 28 of their other clashes with only one other game finishing in a draw."
Ireland v New Zealand
Live on Channel 4
Ireland targeting another famous win over All Blacks
All eyes will be on Dublin with the game of the weekend pitting New Zealand against Ireland as the top two teams in the world face each other. Joe Schmidt's side are on a superb run which has seen them win the Six Nations Grand Slam and a series in Australia. Ireland were not convincing last weekend but their 28-17 victory over Argentina extended their run to 16 wins in their last 17 matches.
New Zealand were given a major scare last weekend at Twickenham with the All Blacks fighting back from 15-0 down to defeat England 16-15. Steve Hansen's side were certainly not at their best and their recent home defeat to South Africa shows they are far from invincible. But the world champions have a habit of finding a way to win and will take some stopping at the Japan World Cup next year.
Ireland did pull off a stunning 40-29 win over the All Blacks in Chicago two years ago but this is their only victory against them. New Zealand have won 28 of their other clashes with only one other game finishing in a draw. It is a dominant record and the visitors will be determined to make a statement this weekend at the Aviva Stadium.
The hosts' chances have not been helped by a number of key injuries. Scrum-half Conor Murray remains out while flanker Sean O'Brien broke his arm against the Pumas. Ireland deserve plenty of respect and must be a credible threat in their current form but New Zealand are fancied to show their class with a tight win. Three of their last four victories over Ireland have been by no more than 12 points and another slender success is the most likely outcome this weekend.
Scotland can keep it close against Springboks
Scotland v South Africa
Live on BBC Two
Scotland are making significant progress under Gregor Townsend but will face a major test of their development against South Africa. In their last match, Scotland scored eight tries as they eased to a 54-17 win over Fiji with a hat-trick from winger Tommy Seymour. It continued their excellent form at home where they have won ten of their last 11 matches and the sole defeat came against New Zealand.
South Africa are improving quickly under Rassie Erasmus and have shown signs the Springboks will be a threat again in next year's World Cup. Their series victory over England started their revival before a brilliant win in New Zealand in September. South Africa missed a big opportunity to win at Twickenham this month after a 12-11 defeat to England but responded by fighting back to snatch a dramatic 29-26 win over France last weekend in Paris.
The Springboks are the narrowest of favourites for this match which underlines the strides Scotland have made under Townsend. Their recent home record is superb and even in defeat to the All Blacks they were beaten by just five points. This should be a huge physical battle but Scotland have the pace and talent, with the likes of Stuart Hogg back, to trouble South Africa. The hosts may fall just short but are worth backing with a three-point handicap advantage.
Much-changed Wales may not coast to victory
Wales v Tonga
Live on BBC One
Wales are building strong momentum ahead of next year's World Cup and ended their miserable record against Australia with a 9-6 victory in Cardiff last weekend. Warren Gatland's side halted a 13-match losing streak to the Wallabies and extended their winning run to seven matches which has taken them up to third in the world rankings.
Tonga head to Wales as big outsiders and the visitors are given a handicap head start of 18 points. Their form has been hit and miss although they did win their last two matches in the summer against Samoa and Fiji. Tonga will want to make an impression, with less than a year until the World Cup where they will face England, but it is hard to see them halting Wales' winning run.
Gatland has made 14 changes for the match as he looks to his squad depth but Wales should still extend their run of victories. All eight clashes have been won by Wales although the margin of victory has been closer in recent years. The last three meetings have seen Tonga stay within 18 points and it could be worth backing the outsiders in the handicap market against a much-changed Wales.
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster
P/L 2018-19 season
Back New Zealand to win by 1-12 points at [2.9]
Back Scotland +3.5 to win at [1.91]
Back Tonga +17.5 to win @ 5/6 (Sportsbook)