Thursday, 5 November 2009

Week 1 teams and preview

Finally the waiting is over as the 2009 Autumn internationals kick off on Saturday with two intriguing clashes: England host Australia at Twickenham, while Wales host New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium. While the southern hemisphere teams are coming off a disappointing tri nations series, England and Wales haven't played since the end of the Six Nations, so it is hard to guage what their form will be like.

England vs Australia

The big talking point is that Jonny Wilkinson is back from injury and playing for England again - let's hope he can stay injury-free and enjoy an extended run for England, a team which has lacked continuity ever since winning the World Cup back in 2003. There's a lot of talent in the team, but injuries have disrupted preparations and forced Martin Johnson to pick several inexperienced players in the starting lineup.

Australia have also had their fair share of injury problems, particularly in the midfield, but will be desperate to end their season on a high by completing the grand slam. At the moment, their chances of success seem slim, but you write off the Australians at your peril. This week's performance against England will set the tone for the rest of their tour.

15 Ugo Monye
14 Mark Cueto
13 Dan Hipkiss
12 Shane Geraghty
11 Matt Banahan
10 Jonny Wilkinson
9 Danny Care
8 Jordan Crane
7 Lewis Moody
6 Tom Croft
5 Steve Borthwick (captain)
4 Louis Deacon
3 David Wilson
2 Steve Thompson
1 Tim Payne

Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Duncan Bell, 18 Courtney Lawes, 19 James Haskell, 20 Paul Hodgson, 21 Andy Goode, 22 Ayoola Erinle

15 Adam Ashley-Cooper
14 Peter Hynes
13 Digby Ioane
12 Quade Cooper
11 Drew Mitchell
10 Matt Giteau
9 Will Genia
8 Wycliff Palu
7 George Smith
6 Rocky Elsom (captain)
5 Mark Chisholm
4 James Horwill
3 Ben Alexander
2 Stephen Moore
1 Benn Robinson

Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota Nau, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Dean Mumm, 19 David Pocock, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Ryan Cross, 22 James O'Connor.

Kickoff is at 14:30 GMT.

Wales vs New Zealand

Wales will be hoping to regain the form of 2008 that saw them win the Six Nations grand slam - and break their long drought against the All Blacks. They have the team to do it, but do they have the self-belief? New Zealand are not currently the dominant force they have been for so long - but even a "weak" All Black team is good enough to beat most other teams! Graham Henry will be hoping that Dan Carter's calf problem does not prevent him from playing a full part in the series.

15 James Hook
14 Leigh Halfpenny
13 Tom Shanklin
12 Jamie Roberts
11 Shane Williams
10 Stephen Jones
9 Gareth Cooper
8 Ryan Jones (c)
7 Martyn Williams
6 Andy Powell
5 Luke Charteris
4 Alun-Wyn Jones
3 Paul James
2 Matthew Rees
1 Gethin Jenkins

Replacements: 16 Huw Bennett, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Bradley Davies, 19 Dafydd Jones, 20 Martin Roberts, 21 Jonathan Davies, 22 Tom James

New Zealand:
15 Mils Muliaina
14 Cory Jane
13 Conrad Smith
12 Ma'a Nonu
11 Zac Guildford
10 Dan Carter
9 Brendon Leonard
8 Kieran Read
7 Richie McCaw (captain)
6 Jerome Kaino
5 Jason Eaton
4 Brad Thorn
3 Neemia Tialata
2 Andrew Hore
1 Wyatt Crockett

Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Ben Smith.

Kickoff is at 17:30 GMT.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Autumn International Tickets

Got your tickets for England versus Australia yet? Or Wales versus New Zealand? If so, where did you buy them?

Officially one should only buy test rugby international tickets via official distribution channels - which essentially means you should get them direct from the host union. The only problem is that these are not usually offered for general sale - rather they are first offered to debenture holders, then to schools and clubs. So if you don't fall into one of these categories, you're unlikely to get the chance of buying tickets.

Unless of course you get them from that bloke you know down at the pub, or from internet sites like eBay or GetMeIn. There's a lively trade in tickets in this kind of black market environment, and yes there are still tickets available for the Autumn Internationals (I checked). Naturally you need to be prepared to pay at least three to four times face value (and once you've recovered from that shock, seeing the additional booking fees at check-out is enough to start that vein in your forehead throbbing all over again!).

Ticket terms and conditions

If you do decide to hock your grandma and buy from a tout, make sure you do it with your eyes open. Firstly, realise that it's against the tickets' terms and conditions for them to be resold for more than face value, if at all. If the relevant rugby union somehow finds out, they could nullify the tickets and refuse you entry to the ground. In that case your only recourse would be to chase the individual who sold you the tickets in the first place, even if it was via a middle man - all I can say is: good luck with that.

Something else to watch out for is that an unscrupulous seller could sell you a legitimate ticket, then report it as lost or stolen and get a replacement issued. Your ticket will then be cancelled and you'll be left kicking yourself in the parking lot while your seller watches the players kicking each other on the field. Guess who'll be buying the drinks after the match?

Of course, this is a worst-case scenario - I'm sure most such transactions work out just fine. It's just a pity that the current system creates such a fertile breeding ground in which the touts can flourish and prey upon the enthusiasm that genuine supporters have for the game and for following their team.

What can you do?

You could try joining a club that gets an allocation of tickets, although there's no guarantee even then that you'll be able to get your hands on any. Or you could do what I'll be doing and catch all the action (including a close-up view of the action and slow motion replays) on TV:

  • One month Sky Sports subscription: £45

  • Beer and buffalo wings: £20

  • Not freezing your butt off in the wind and rain for 2 hours: Priceless

Monday, 5 October 2009

Autumn International Fixtures 2009

Here are the main 2009 autumn international fixtures. I say "main" because some other sites list matches involving Canada, USA, Japan, and others. But in my mind (rightly or wrongly), an autumn international fixture needs to include at least one team from either the Six Nations or the Tri Nations - so you'll see I've listed matches involving Fiji and Samoa because they do meet this criterion.

This year it's Australia's turn to have a shot at the Grand Slam - which I think is going to be tough given their showing in this year's Tri Nations. But they've got some exciting talent, and a few weeks to turn things around, so let's wait and see.

7 November 2009England vs AustraliaTwickenham, London
7 November 2009Wales vs New ZealandMillennium Stadium, Cardiff
13 November 2009France vs South AfricaStadium Municipal, Toulouse
13 November 2009Wales vs SamoaMillennium Stadium, Cardiff
14 November 2009England vs ArgentinaTwickenham, London
14 November 2009Italy vs New ZealandSan Siro Stadium, Milan
14 November 2009Scotland vs FijiMurrayfield, Edinburgh
15 November 2009Ireland vs AustraliaCroke Park, Dublin
21 November 2009England vs New ZealandTwickenham, London
21 November 2009Scotland vs AustraliaMurrayfield, Edinburgh
21 November 2009Wales vs ArgentinaMillennium Stadium, Cardiff
21 November 2009Italy vs South AfricaStadio Friuli, Udine
21 November 2009Ireland vs FijiRDS Arena, Dublin
21 November 2009France vs SamoaStade de France, Paris
28 November 2009Scotland vs ArgentinaMurrayfield, Edinburgh
28 November 2009France vs New ZealandStade Velodrome, Marseille
28 November 2009Ireland vs South AfricaCroke Park, Dublin
28 November 2009Wales vs AustraliaMillennium Stadium, Cardiff
28 November 2009Italy vs SamoaStadio Del Duca, Ascoli Piceno
28 November 2009England vs FijiTwickenham, London
5 December 2009Barbarians vs New ZealandTwickenham, London

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Autumn International Rugby

The Autumn Internationals are an annual series of rugby union test matches that take place in the northern hemisphere autumn. It is largely a north versus south event, with teams from the Six Nations (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy) taking on those from the Tri Nations (South Africa, New Zealand and Australia), and Argentina. Matches are played in the northern host country.

More recently the series has also included second tier rugby nations like Canada, Romania, Portugal, Uruguay, USA, and the Pacific nations of Samoa and Fiji (playing either as national teams, or more often, as the combined Pacific Islanders team). For these teams, the series is an important source of revenue which enables them to develop the game in their respective countries.

Traditionally, one of the big three Southern Hemisphere teams is given the opportunity of playing a grand slam tour against the four home nations (England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales); needless to say, it is an impressive achievement to win the grand slam, having been achieved only a handful of times in the hundred-odd years of the game's history.

Finally, the Autumn Internationals are usually capped off by a match involving the invitational Barbarians playing against either Australia, South Africa or New Zealand in the Final Challenge - the traditional final match of a tour of Britain and Ireland by one of the Tri Nations heavyweights.

Monday, 21 September 2009

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