Epic morning of rugby.

There’s not just the beginning of the World Cup to watch this weekend. Starting at 8:30 BST, there will be three back to back Test matches between the world’s top sides;

New Zealand v Ireland (8:45)

Israel Dagg makes his debut at full back

A New Zealand side is always strong, regardless of any new caps. Graham Henry gives starts to Israel Dagg, who had an excellent Super 14, at full back and Benson Stanley at 12 following a ton of injuries in that position. But the core is still there, Conrad “Snake” Smith, Dan Carter, McCaw, and Mealamu all world-class, household names, alongside players in good form like Owen Franks, Keiran Reid, and Cory Jane. Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks and maybe if they’d gone down with a full strength side this could have represented their best chance. But losing players like Lions captain Paul O’Connell, and others including Stephen Ferris and Keith Earls, means they are not at their best. The backline still has enough firepower to make New Zealand work, Stanley will be mercilessly targeted by D’Arcy and O’Driscoll (if fit after missing training). In tight games though you tend to predict a home win, and unfortunately for Ireland when the home team is New Zealand, that’s what you get.

Prediction:NZ 26 Ireland 13

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Anthony Boric, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 Neemia Tialata, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Zac Guildford.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O’Driscoll (c), 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Tomas O’Leary, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Mick O’Driscoll, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 John Fogarty, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Dan Tuohy, 19 Shane Jennings, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Jonathan Sexton, 22 Geordan Murphy.

Australia v England (11:00)

Aussie wonderkid James O'Connor

The midweek game between the Australian Barbarians and a scratch England side showed again why James O’Connor is held in such high regard down under (if you didn’t see the game, the highlights are here). His pace and agility are simply frightening, let alone the fact he’s only 20 years of age. Needless to say his hat-trick performance won him a spot in the test side for tomorrow morning ahead of Peter Hynes, and England will have to be sharp to stop him from running loose again. The Wallabies front-row according to the stats is “the most inexperienced in 27 years”. Intriguing, but after excellent Super 14 seasons for the Reds for loosehead Ben Daley and hooker Saia Faingaa, it means nothing. Quade Cooper directing at fly half had a simply blinding season, his playmaking was excellent but he can make a break as well, with a side step that will give you the bends. Expect a big performance from him.

Hape makes a first start at 12

The best thing about Australia right now though is just how much strength in depth they have. Matt Giteau dropped out this morning, so in come Berrick Barnes, and Hynes onto the bench. Even with so many injuries, they can still put out a top test side. As for England, Shontayne Hape gets a first cap at 12, but otherwise the team is very much the same as the side that lost in Paris to France at the end of the Six Nations. On paper it looks a strong side, a tough front-five, especially in the second row (you wouldn’t be surprised if you found Shaw and Palmer working on the door at your favourite nightclub) and the return of Tom Croft at 6 gives the back row some pace. Toby Flood is still ahead of Jonny Wilkinson at 10 and rightly so, but it’s comforting to know that JW is on the bench. In the backs, England have to get over the game line with Hape’s offloading game and Tindall’s bull in a china shop approach, and then get it into the hands of gas men Chris Ashton, Ben Foden and Mark Cueto.

As for a prediction, England have enough to do it, and may just snatch it by scrumming the Aussies out of the game. Australia 14 England 19

Australia: 15 James O’Connor, 14 Digby Ioane, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (c), 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 James Slipper, 18 Mark Chisholm, 19 Matt Hodgson, 20 Will Genia, 21 Peter Hynes, 22 Kurtley Beale.

England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Mark Cueto, 13 Mike Tindall, 12 Shontayne Hape, 11 Chris Ashton, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Lewis Moody (c), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Tim Payne.
Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 David Wilson, 18 Courtney Lawes, 19 James Haskell, 20 Ben Youngs, 21 Jonny Wilkinson, 22 Mathew Tait.

South Africa v France (1:00)

Gio Aplon. Rapid.

In probably the happiest country in the World right now, the World and Tri-Nation Champions South Africa will look to boost the World Cup spirit even more with a win over Grand Slam winners France. Injuries mean the Boks have lost Bakkies Botha and Fourie Du Preez, but much like Australia, out goes one world class player, in comes another. There are plenty of new boys, like the lightening quick Gio Aplon at 14 and Francois Louw at 7, a reflection of the success of the Stormers season, but the core of Morne Steyn, Jaque Fourie, Victor Matfield and Juan Smit will guide SA once more. For France, on a personal level I just do not feel this is their best side. How Marc Llevremont can leave out players like Yannick Jauzion and David Skrela from the starting 15 after Toulouse’s Heineken Cup is bizarre. Francois Trinh-Duc has never struck me as France’s best option at 10, and this match could sound him out. Elsewhere, Wenceslas Lauret’s great season for Biarritz sees him get the 7 shirt in what is a strong pack. The main man though is Morgan Parra, the little general. His goal-kicking will be under pressure, but he rarely misses.

Prediction: SA 28 France 23

South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ricky Januarie , 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield , 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 BJ Botha, 2 John Smit, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp. Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Jean de Villiers.

France: 15 Clement Poitrenaud, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 David Marty, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Aurélien Rougerie, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Julien Bonnaire, 7 Wenceslas Lauret, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Romain Millo- Chluski, 4 Lionel Nallet, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Jean Baptiste Poux, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 Dimitri Yachvili, 21 David Skrela, 22 Marc Andreu.

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