2019 Summer Tests – What we’ve Learned So Far

As we approach the mid-way point of the Rugby World Cup 2019 warm-up tests, now seems as good a time as any to reflect on what we have – and haven’t – learned so far about the state of international rugby ahead of Japan.

France – les Dark Horses?

Yes, they may at the time of writing have only played one game against an abysmal Scottish team but this French side look strong. At long last, the huge potential of this team has begun to be unlocked; aided by the arrival of Fabien Galthie.

Fotosport/David Gibson

Although he won’t officially take over from Jacques Brunel as Head Coach until after the Rugby World Cup, by all accounts it sounds like Galthie has been in complete control during France’s pre-season camps.

With Argentina struggling, they look in a solid position to reach the knock-out stages. Make it that far and they’ll be in serious contention to progress further in the tournament.

Wales on a High

It’s baffled most but somehow Wales are now the top ranked nation in the world, overtaking New Zealand after their victory against England last weekend.

For a team that have been historically inconsistent at World Cups, it is crucial that Warren Gatland’s men use this new title as inspiration rather than an extra burden of pressure as they come up against Australia and Georgia in their pool.

For now though they simply need to stay healthy. The loss of Gareth Anscombe and Taulupe Faletau have been enough. Any more and they risk losing the core of that squad that have deservedly taken them to the top of the world over the last year.

Predictable All Blacks

In reality, New Zealand couldn’t care less about the result of this year’s Rugby Championship.

Sub-par performances against South Africa and Argentina followed by that huge loss to Australia led many to quickly assume that the All Blacks were losing form as they seek a third successive Rugby World Cup.

In reality, New Zealand couldn’t care less about the result of this year’s Rugby Championship.

Every game has featured experimental combinations – Beauden Barrett at 15 a major change – and even with a makeshift team they still crushed the Wallabies 38-0 last weekend.

The last two years that the All Blacks haven’t won The Rugby Championship or Tri Nations were 2015 and 2011. Both years they would go on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.

Too Long a Warm Up?

As injuries creep into most sides, many have questioned the sheer number of fixtures being played ahead of what for many players will be the pinnacle of their careers: playing at a World Cup.

Fotosport/David Gibson

In 2007 and 2011 Scotland played just two summer fixtures before embarking on World Cup campaigns; this year that number is up to four.

There is no denying that Northern Hemisphere teams need warm-up fixtures – evident when you see some of the mediocre performances being made. But does the number of (ultimately meaningless) fixtures put players at unnecessary risk pre-Japan?

Also spare a thought to Ruaridh McConnochie, twice named to win his first cap for England and twice having to pull out injured at the last minute. Will it be third time lucky?…

Time to Chuck the Tombola?

Traditionally the pre-World Cup tests have given nations an opportunity to experiment with combinations or players who usually would never get another opportunity at international rugby, only confirming their strongest side at the start of the tournament.

The strongest performances so far this season have come from teams who clearly know their place in the squad with a core leadership – Wales and France the examples. Scotland and Ireland have tried new partnerships and captains, only for a lack of structure to hamper their game plan.

Long been famed for ‘Toony’s Tombola’, is it time to bring in a more regular, structured squad?

With so many fixtures to play, some coaches may choose players lower in contention for a squad place to keep star players safe from the brutalities of test match rugby. A huge risk however is that they emerge in Japan unprepared for playing at the very highest level.

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