Three Key Battles: New Zealand v South Africa

This is probably the most eagerly anticipated clash of the shortened 2019 Rugby Championship and should give us a clear indication about which of these will come out on top later this year when they meet in the pool stage of the World Cup.

Last year the Springboks won at the very same stadium (Westpac Stadium, Wellington). Could there be a repeat?

  1. Shannon Frizell v Pieter-Steph du Toit

Frizell comes into this contest with just four caps but he has had a strong season in Super Rugby for the Highlanders and he will be full of confidence against du Toit.

The South African is one of only two forwards retained following South Africa’s impressive win over Australia last weekend, he played a starring role with his deft kick through which led to Lood de Jager’s try.

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Credit: Instagram (@kingnoni676)

A titanic battle Frizell is definitely in form but du Toit is becoming undroppable for Rassie Erasmus.

2. Beauden Barrett v Willie le Roux

New Zealand’s superstar fly-half Beauden Barrett being deployed so the All Blacks can deploy three times Super Rugby winning ten Richie Mo’unga. Barrett certainly has the pace, control, tactical kicking and defence to play fullback it will be interesting to see how he is utilised in attack from the back.

The South African, le Roux. Dangerous attacker with electric feet, alongside two lethal finishers in Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi out on the wings, New Zealand will certainly have their hands full.

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Credit: Instagram (@wjjleroux)

Barrett at fullback could be a sign of things to come for New Zealand whilst le Roux is tried and tested and is among the best in the world in his position.

3. Sonny Bill Williams v Lukhanyo Am

The return of Sonny Bill Williams against one of South Africa’s newest stars Am. The six cap Springbok will provide stiff opposition for New Zealand’s poster boy. Am is a strong carrier and his pairing with de Allende is certainly there to provide physicality so New Zealanders will be hoping that Sonny Bill Williams is up for a testing battle following his injury.

We all know what Williams can do. He’s a freak.

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Credit: Instagram (@sonnybillwilliams)

Definitely one to watch to see if South Africa look to expose Williams lack of match practice and then if they do to watch how he responds, knowing him probably with one of his outrageous offloads or a thundering hit. He is the ultimate big game player.

It was hard to pick three all 15 of the one-on-one match ups could have been on here. New Zealand v South Africa is always a cracker, this is set to be no different.

Should England Copy Wallaby Blueprint?

Australia despite being in limbo at the moment still have one extremely powerful weapon in there slowly decreasing arsenal. That is the back row double act of Michael Hooper and David Pocock.

Having two specialist openside flankers allows you a certain dominance at the breakdown. Both Pocock and Hooper are very good on the floor.

After years of having searched for a high quality, top class seven two have come along at once for England, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.

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Credit: Instagram (@thomascurry_7)

Now in the back row it is fair to say that Billy Vunipola is almost certain to start at number eight for England in the World Cup the starting berth on the blindside is by no means nailed down which could open the door for England to copy the Australian model.

Using both expert pilferer Tom Curry and physical defender Sam Underhill could help lift England’s game to the next level and provide England’s backs with even quicker ball and possibly more chance and when you have the finishing ability of Henry Slade and Jonny May in your team the tries will come.

Tom Curry was England’s best player in the Six Nations. He offered himself up to carry, defended extremely well and was a nuisance at the breakdown, in essence he did the basics of being an openside flanker extremely well. At just 21 years of age the younger of the Curry twins (only be 90 minutes) has the potential to get even better and challenge the very best the game has to offer.

One performance thats sums up what Sam Underhill is all about is the excellent display he put on against New Zealand. Not only was his physical defence on full display, his breakdown expertise was put to good use and he turned Hurricanes star Beauden Barrett inside out (word has it Barrett is still searching for Underhill).

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Credit: Instagram (@samunderhill)

Coupling the insatiable appetite for turnovers of Tom Curry and the physical dominance of Sam Underhill could cause the very best back rows (Australia amongst them) some serious problems.

Which World Cup Pool is the ‘Group of Death’?

The Rugby World Cup is just months away and the pools have long been public knowledge. With more teams set to be chasing the favourites New Zealand than usual we take a look at which pool could be dubbed the perilous Group of Death.

Pool A

Pool A contains hosts Japan as well as form team of last year Ireland, a vastly improved Scotland, a competitive Samoa and minnows Russia.

Japan’s heroics from 2015 are still very much in the mind and they pushed England hard at Twickenham back in November. They have some very good players in workhorse, Michael Leitch, veteran scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka and skilful centre Ryoto Nakamura.

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By 江戸村のとくぞう – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74114242

Samoa are always physical and they possess their own array of international stars. Samoa will bring power and pace but much like their Pacific neighbours Fiji and Tonga they lack the finesse and poise to challenge the bigger boys of international rugby.

Russia are there for the ride, it’s taken a valiant effort to get there but realistically they aren’t going to trouble the runaway favourite two from this group, Ireland and Scotland.

There is just too much class from Ireland and Scotland for this to be called the Group of Death. Japan and Samoa might provide the odd moment of magic or a scare but unlikely to qualify for the last eight.

Pool B

Pool B has favourites New Zealand, a very strong South Africa, a competitive Italy, Canada who have really struggled recently and African also rans, Namibia.

New Zealand and South Africa are the clear frontrunners. Canada may have been a challenging prospect two years ago but not now and Namibia aren’t going to beat them.

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By PierreSelim – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17171268

Italy have beaten South Africa before but if we are honest even at full strength Sergio Parisse and co. Aren’t likely to have enough to qualify for the quarter-finals.

Pool C

Now here it’s a little more complex, it has the ridiculously inconsistent France, highly competitive Argentina, a rebooted England, sleeping giant USA and Pacific juggernaut Tonga.

USA did have their moment in the sun last summer as they beat Scotland. They are still far more of a force in sevens, their time in the expanded version of the game is yet to come but that result in June certainly suggests they could trouble England and Argentina and with the temperamental France we all know anything can happen.

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By The National Guard – National Guard sponsorship of USA RugbyUploaded by stemoc, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30882152

Tonga, a good team. However Wales’ 74-24 win over them in November proved just how big the gap is between the Pacific island nations and the Six Nations giants. Like USA if they copy their cousins Fiji they could beat France.

France, they are among the three most likely to emerge from the group the question is will they have enough to beat England or Argentina? You never know.

England are favourites for the group and rightly so. They should come out of this relatively unscathed.

Argentina was much better in the Rugby Championship last time out and building into the World Cup they will be confident. They have reached the knockout stages in the last three World Cups, their game against France could decide who qualifies for the last eight with England.

Definitely a competitive pool.

Pool D

Six Nations winners Wales, an Australia in disarray, the Flying Fijians, the rising force in Europe, Georgia are joined by South American minnows Uruguay.

Again this is complex. Fiji are exciting they have some real stars Nemani Nadolo, Viliame Mata, Leone Nakarawa, Semi Radradra and Peceli Yato are household names and tearing it up in Europe. They produce some breathtaking stuff and they knocked out Wales previously way back in 2007.

There is a clamouring for Georgia to join the premier international tier by being inducted into the Six Nations. They are known for their terrifying forwards and their famed scrum has seen having a Georgian prop as almost a requirement to win the Top 14 in France. Wales and Australia who are the two obvious leaders should brace themselves.

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By Paata Vardanashvili – https://www.flickr.com/photos/paata/434764326/ Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4593732

Uruguay like Namibia and Russia have done really well to get to the World Cup and they are much stronger than they once were gone are they days where New Zealand beat Namibia 142-0 or England beat Uruguay 111-13. They deserve to be there.

Will Fiji or Georgia beat Wales or Australia? It’s unlikely but Fiji definitely could beat Australia the mess they’re in and with Wales not the same prospect outside the cauldron of Cardiff could hand Fiji the chance and Georgia’s scrum could cause both problems. It’s unlikely though.

A competitive pool no doubt but unlike Pool C two clear frontrunners.

So there’s our verdict, Pool C as they have three teams that have the know how to reach the latter stages of the competition.

Potential XV for Gatland’s 2021 Tour

The British & Irish Lions will be coached by Warren Gatland for a third successive time when they tour South Africa. The tour is still two years away and there is a lot of rugby to be played between then and now including the Rugby World Cup and two Six Nations championships and both Ireland and Wales will definitely have new head coaches after the World Cup and Eddie Jones’ future following the World Cup is unclear.

We take a very early look at who could start the first test in South Africa two years from now.

  1. Mako Vunipola (England)

Arguably the best loosehead prop in the world and a key part of the extremely successful Saracens side. Works hard in the loose and over the last couple of seasons has greatly improved his set piece. He will be 30 when the tour rolls around.

2. Jamie George (England)

He has taken full advantage of Dylan Hartley’s absence this season and cemented himself as England’s first choice and will probably retain the shirt for the World Cup. Another powerhouse in the loose. He will also be 30 for the next tour.

3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

A very good prop. Excellent in the set piece and useful in the loose. Ireland and Leinster rely so heavily on him and he performed well in New Zealand two years ago. He is the youngest of this front row and will be 28 with his best prop years ahead of him for 2021.

4. Maro Itoje (England)

This man still has the chants of “Oh Maro Itoje” ringing in his ears from that famous night in Wellington. Undoubtedly world class and a potential captain for both his country, England and he is still improving all the time. He will be in his prime at 26 for the next tour.

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USO – Saracens – 20151213 – Maro Itoje

5. James Ryan (Ireland)

He has been the standout performer in the Champions Cup and greatly impressed on the international stage having emerged as a key man for Ireland. His age gives him the edge over the older Alun Wyn Jones. He will be just 24.

6. Peter O’Mahony (Captain, Ireland)

Our pick to captain our potential side. A key cog in Munster’s excellent European campaign as they went all the way to the semi-final before being knocked out by Saracens. Physical and inspirational. He will be the other side of 30, at 31 years of age in two years time.

7. Tom Curry (England)

England’s standout man during the Six Nations and he has continued that form for his club, Sale Sharks. Very good at the breakdown both winning turnovers for his side and slowing the ball down for the opposition. And he certainly has age on his side, the youngest pick so far he will be just 22.

8. Billy Vunipola (England)

A fourth Saracen in Anglo-Irish pack. Vunipola carries very well using his powerful leg drive and big frame. A competent defender and an explosive force from the base of the scrum. He will be two years younger than his brother and 28 for the South Africa tour.

9. Conor Murray (Ireland)

An all court scrum-half, the best box kicking scrum-half in the world and has the height and strength that Gatland values. He has become a leader for Munster and should be a valuable deputy to his fellow Munsterman O’Mahony in South Africa. He will be 32.

10. Owen Farrell (England)

It’s no contest, Farrell has proved over the past few years that he is a class act. A metronome off the tee, a good defensive leader and has the big game experience with both Saracens and England to make him world class. He will still be under 30 at 29 years of age in South Africa.

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By Clément Bucco-Lechat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46847661

11. Liam Williams (Wales)

The first Welshman on the list. Liam Williams has come on leaps and bounds since joining Saracens (are you starting to spot a theme?) unflappable in the air and quick enough to trouble defenders when he counter attacks. He will be 30 when Warren Gatland names his team.

12. Huw Jones (Scotland)

The Scottish centre is more of a natural 13 but could definitely slot in at 12. He’s a powerful runner and has the upper body strength to beat any weak, high tackles. Having that power and explosiveness allow him to open holes in midfield. He will be 27 for the next tournament and therefore gets in ahead of that will be a 31 year old Hadleigh Parkes.

13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)

One of Wales’ best players during their current 14 match unbeaten run, he was also key for the Lions in New Zealand. No doubt one of the British Isles most potent, attacking threats, he has the pace and defends well enough to fill the 13 jersey. He will be 33.

14. Jonny May (England)

Out and out pace. He has matured greatly over the past two to three years and his finishing ability make him a match winner. May has become better in the air and improved his positioning. He would be given plenty of opportunities with the Jones-Davies combination inside him. He will be 31.

15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

Injury robbed the brilliant Scot from playing on the 2017 tour. Still very much one of Scotland’s biggest stars and most exciting players. Pace and a wicked step make him a pushing attacker and he competes out lethal back three. He has been around a while but will be just 28 for the 2021 tour.

There we have it England lead the way with seven players, five of them being Saracens. Ireland have four players and Scotland and Wales have two each.

Who would you have in your team? Let us know in the comments section.

Brothers In Arms XV

There are a lot of family connections in the world of rugby, there are father and son pairings like Owen and Andy Farrell, or cousins like the Vunipolas and Taulupe Faletau but here we focus on exceptional siblings. We put together a team of 15 players, the only criteria must have a rugby playing brother.

1 Ben Franks (New Zealand)

The ex-All Black is an experienced man and has played rugby for some great clubs in both his homeland and more recently England and he will continue his journey in England next season with Northampton Saints. A solid set piece specialist.

2 Tom Youngs (England)

No longer on the England radar but still a very good player. He has been a wonderful servant to his club first as a centre before his transition to the front row. He’s a mobile unit and hasn’t lost his handling skills from his days as a back.

3 Owen Franks (New Zealand)

Arguably the best tighthead prop of all time. He has amassed 106 international caps over the last decade and at 31 as a prop he could have years ahead of him. He will go down as a New Zealand and Crusaders great.

4 Sam Whitelock (Captain, New Zealand)

Your classic enforcer. Sam Whitelock has been front and centre for the All Blacks for a number of years, an All Black team without Whitelock is like a burger without the cheese, it’s just not the same. Strong in the lineout and around the park. His experience and workrate make him our captain.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.08.19.20.22.55-Sam Whitelock, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61951964

5 Scott Barrett (New Zealand)

Scott’s style of play may not be the razzle dazzle of younger brother, Jordie or the fast, skilful show of older brother, Beauden but it is just as effective. Scott is an expert at the lineout and he has made this a considerable strength for his franchise.

6 Luke Whitelock (New Zealand)

The lesser known Whitelock. He may have just eight caps for New Zealand but is a testament to the man that he is such a valued member of the Highlanders. He has also shown how highly regarded he is with four caps for the Barbarians and an appearance for a World XV. A useful lineout option and abrasive in the loose.

7 Steffon Armitage (England)

A traditional openside flanker, starting at London Irish he flourished when he left for France and the eccentric Mourad Boudjellal’s Toulon. Armitage’s work on the floor is exceptional and he can turnover ball at will.

8 Ardie Savea (New Zealand)

Not quite as quick as his formidable brother but fast nonetheless. He makes the breaks of a centre with the power of a ten tonne truck. He has all the attributes of a world class rugby player. Fast becoming a shoo-in for Steve Hansen.

9 Ben Youngs (England)

England’s first choice scrum-half and has been for some time. Youngs is one of the leaders of both his national team and Leicester Tigers. He has an all court game, he kicks very well, passes quickly and he has that sniping ability with his pace.

10 Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)

The oldest of the Barrrett dynasty. The 28 year old has established himself as one of the best fly-halves in the world. Barrett is quick, frighteningly so and he uses this to great effect along with his vision. He’s the only superstar brother we want running our backline.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.08.19.20.17.44-Barrett chased by Rona, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61951911

11 Julian Savea (New Zealand)

Another man that is no longer part of the international picture but he has an astonishing strike rate for New Zealand with 46 tries in 54 appearances. He has extraordinary pace for his formidable size and he also has considerable power.

12 Manu Tuilagi (England)

Another powerhouse for this backline that is shaping up to be almost as big as the pack. Despite having an injury plagued career he is undoubtedly an extremely talented centre. His power and offloading game make him potent in attack.

13 Jordie Barrett (New Zealand)

Not quite as consistent as his older brothers but has all the talent in the world, remarkably skilful, terribly quick and terrifyingly brilliant. If he can match any of the achievements of his fly-half brother he could become a key part of a post-World Cup All Blacks team.

14 Alesana Tuilagi (Samoa)

There was only space for two of rugby’s largest family in both numbers and size. The Samoan winger was known for his powerful hits (ask Nick Abendanon) and barnstorming carries. Tuilagi adds even more terrifying physicality to this powerful backline.

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By Mark Meredith – Flickr: Ready for action, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16889376

15 Delon Armitage (England)

The veteran fullback was luckier than his brother regarding international caps, appearing 26 times for England and scoring eight tries in the process. A strong kicker and good footwork make fullback his best position although he’s also at home in the centre or out on the wing.

There we have it our Brothers XV. It was hard to pick our favourite brothers so instead of just making one team we made three, stay tuned and like the Facebook page to see if your favourite brothers made any of our later teams. Do you think this team could give your favourite team a run for their money? Let us know in the comments.

Opinion: The Six Nations Posed More Questions Than Answers for ‘Invincible’ Wales

Wales are in rude health. They have 14 wins on the spin and this culminated in a Grand Slam as Warren Gatland announced that the World Cup will be his last as Wales head coach.

Wales were simply brilliant against Ireland in their final game and led by Alun Wyn Jones Wales swept aside the pre-tournament favourites. Wales also showed great character against England coming back from 10-3 down to bring England back down to earth following their first two games.

On the road Wales seemed to leave their fire breathing dragon at home. For the first half against France Wales simply didn’t turn up and France ran rings round Wales racking up a 19-0 lead before in the most French way possible capitulating and gift wrapping a brace of tries for the totem pole of a wing George North.

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By Liamwarrender at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24426555

Wales would be hard pressed to find any other tier one international side be quite as forgiving as the unpredictable France.

Italy posed a serious challenge to Wales, Rome was alive as Italy dragged Wales to hell and back for the vast majority of the match before the superhero Scarlets centre Hadleigh Parkes popped up with a match winning try.

These away performances are of a concern as the World Cup is many miles away from the infamous ‘Wall of Noise’ and hymns and arias of the Principality Stadium. There won’t be in excess of 70,000 fans baying for English or Irish blood. Wales’ performances in Cardiff are far better than their away games which is why Wales may struggle in the far east.

Secondly Wales have a frankly awful record against the big three away from home. Under Warren Gatland this Wales side have always been there or thereabouts when it comes to the Six Nations but there is suggestion of mental frailty when it comes to travelling to the traditional ‘Big Three’ of the southern hemisphere.

Wales will face Australia in Japan. Wales are the only home nation not to have beaten Australia on Australia soil since the last World Cup. England won a series 3-0 there in 2016, Ireland won a series 2-1 there in 2017 and Scotland beat Australia 24-19 last time they were in down under last summer.

To find the last time Wales beat Australia outside Cardiff you have to go back to the 1987 World Cup and Rotorua when Wales beat Australia 22-21 to claim third place in the inaugural showpiece event.

This mental frailty could see them finish second in their group and a high pressure quarter-final game against the winner of Pool C which contains the likes of England, France and Argentina, all three experts at World Cup runs with 12 semi-final appearances between them, five finals and one World Cup.

A group runner-up has also never won the World Cup, a position Wales would fill if they fail to find their first win over Australia away from home in 32 years.

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By jeanfrancois beausejour from cannes, france – blacks australia 035CN6P5138 internet, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30851908

The final reason I believe Wales will struggle is the fact they have failed to score tries. Their defence was excellent in the Six Nations as they only conceded seven tries in their five games but they only scored ten the joint lowest scoring the same amount as Italy.

In comparison England scored 24 tries, Ireland were the next best with 14 and Scotland and France both conjured up 12 five-pointers. To beat the best you need to score tries and Wales are simply not scoring enough.

Tries win games. It is a well known fact you have to score five tries on average to beat New Zealand. Does a team that averaged two a game in the Six Nations really have the capacity to score five against the most successful team of the last decade?

These are the reasons despite Wales’ recent success they will not be successful at the World Cup.

State of the Nation: New Zealand (continued)

Part two analysing the All Blacks and picking our squad just six months out from the 2019 World Cup.

You can find part one and our forwards here.

At half back New Zealand are strong and there are two scrum-halves that would make most international teams. Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara both travel. Steve Hansen is likely to take a third scrum-half as part of his initial squad.

There are many options Augustine Pulu, Mitchell Drummond and Brad Weber all capped by New Zealand but Hansen will likely stick with the form scrum-half of last season Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, he adds some excitement to the settled pair of Smith and Perenara.

Scrum-Halves: TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (Highlanders), Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Chiefs)

At fly-half there is no debate Beauden Barrett is first choice and will remain first choice. Behind him again a really easy choice after last season. Richie Mo’unga is a key part of the Crusaders success, he kicks well out of hand and is a good attacking player.

Fly-Halves: Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders)

One are of considerable depth for New Zealand is centre especially with the recent return of World Cup winner Ma’a Nonu.

New Zealand’s Mr Consistent Ryan Crotty is a class act and goes about his job quietly yet efficiently and must be a part of Hansen’s squad. Alongside him his Crusaders partner in crime Jack Goodhue has the makings of a really good player. He’s in great form, he’s fast and got some real power, he offers New Zealand something really quite special in the midfield.

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Credit: David Molloy photography via Flickr

Behind the Crusaders duo there are so many options Matt Proctor is a very good player but will probably miss out, Vince Aso is another player that is on the peripheries of the picture.

One man very much front and centre is Sonny Bill Williams, can be a bit of a marmite player but certainly talented. It is shown by previous winning sides experience is key the proven big game performances and experience of the hulking centre make him an integral part of our squad.

We had trouble picking our fourth and final centre between powerful runner Ngani Laumpae and the skilful ball player Anton Lienert-Brown. The way Laumape has played over the past few seasons and the explosive presence he can offer make him our final pick.

Centres: Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue (both Crusaders), Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes), Sonny Bill Williams (Blues)

These leaves five spaces in the back three to complete our 31-man squad.

Tries are going to be important in Japan especially with bonus points on offer in the group stage the same as in 2015. New Zealand have arguably the best wing in the world in Rieko Ioane, he’s a dangerous finisher with pace to burn.

It’s again a really competitive position, with him there is Ben Smith, a talented fullback and his ability to play wing is an added bonus. Talking of versatility New Zealand are going to need a player that can cover ten should the worst happen and Barrett get injured, after all look at the 2011 World Cup. Damian MacKenzie is that man. Not only can he cover fly-half but he’s also the best counterattacking player around.

To compliment Ioane, there is a wealth of options but very much leading the charge is Waisake Naholo, the winger is another speed merchant but Naholo really excels in his evasion, he has a low centre of gravity and a powerful leg drive.

Jordie Barrett is just outstandingly brilliant, creative, quick, dangerous. We have left him out, we have gone for a relative bolter in the shape of Ben Lam. He may not be as prolific as he was last time out but is still a danger man.

Back Three: Rieko Ioane (Blues), Ben Lam (Hurricanes), Damian MacKenzie (Chiefs), Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith (both Highlanders)

There we have it our 31-man squad for New Zealand, next up Wales check that out later this week. Who would you pick if you were Steve Hansen hit us up in the comments section!