It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt sits down in the Planet Rugby hot-seat to give you his calls. Brace yourself for November's Tests.
Remember you can contact Russ with all your comments and questions on Twitter - @rpetty80.
Twickenham's £76 million makeover will be on show this weekend, with a new pitch, LED screens and mentions of 'activation' of sponsors. At the other end of the commercial scale are Fiji, who were unable to secure a sponsor for the tour which has meant they "have not been outfitted with complete gear and footwear". Stuart Lancaster may have selection options limited by EPS rules but that pales when compared to allegations of players being paid or forced to stay at their clubs and not represent their country and pressure to pick a number of home-based players. The visitors certainly aren't being given much of a chance by the bookies with a mammoth 40/1 available for them. England have shown plenty of spirit under Stuart Lancaster and there is a clear target of identifying and honing a team for the World Cup. With the foundation of being tough to beat in place, it's about time we saw some creativity and precision in attack. This seems to be the view of the man in charge himself too - "We want to deliver a high-quality attacking performance in its entirety". Fiji are having to acclimatise to cold conditions and looking at their touring squad, 10/17 forwards play for either Nadroga, Suva or Tailevu which means they are going to be at a big disadvantage adapting to the new laws, especially in the scrum. The eventual inclusion of the in-form Akapusi Qera is also perhaps offset by the absence of previous skipper Netani Talei. The last 4 games between the teams have seen England win 28-12, 25-12 in Fiji and 58-23, 45-24 at home. The 32-point handicap looks a little high but given the vast difference in resources and preparations, England should cover it. However, I'm not ready to trust them with that many points yet, if pushed I'd look at England by 21-30 points at 4.33 but prefer to wait for hopefully big try-scorer prices for Qera and Sireli Naqelevuki. I fear the home side may be severely lacking in value but anything over 4.0 for Danny Care needs attention. There have been 3 red cards in the last 4 games between the teams which may explain why a red card is at a shorter price of 15.0 instead of the usual 21.0 at Twickers.
Wales have won once in their last 24 games against the Southern Hemisphere 'Big 3' by an average score of 17-29. That is quite similar to Argentina's record, as they have managed a win and a draw in a comparative number of matches against their Rugby Championship peers, by 16-36. Los Pumas have seen the benefit of 6 matches against those teams recently and will have surely learnt a number of valuable lessons as well as being exposed to a greater level of intensity. The Pumas have lost 7 of their last 8 away games and been defeated in 7/8 trips to Wales by a score of 19-26 so it's understandable that the Welsh are favourites here, but I think the handicap of +11 points needs serious consideration. Juan Imhoff has 10 tries in 11 Tests and looked a greater scoring threat than Horacio Agulla who has scored just once in his last 28 internationals. Nicholas Sánchez looked strong in a recent European game against Gloucester and the shift of Juan Martin Hernandez to full-back should both provide him with more time and space to weave his magic and acts as upgrade for an out-of-sorts Lucas Amorosino. Wales have scored the majority of their points in the 2nd half in 19/20 games and are up against a team that has only scored points in the final 20 minutes in 1/6 games yet conceded 6/16 tries then. With that in mind, Wales -5 on the 2nd half handicap is inviting. I've seen far worse bets than Argentina to win at 5.0, but think Wales will pull away in that last quarter and them to win by 1-10 points at 3.1 may suit their backers. Los Pumas have conceded 10/16 tries against wings but the 2.25 for Alex Cuthbert and 2.5 for George North is too low for me so I will be avoiding a punt on that one.
When Declan Kidney took charge of Ireland, they won 11 of the opening 13 games, picking up a Grand Slam and Churchill Cup win in 2009. After that early success however, it's been 14 wins from 33 games and they go into this match on a run of 4 losses, with the most recent being that 60-0 horror show in Hamilton. What will really hurt the Irish chances is the absence of over 360 caps, the last 2 Lions skippers, and the last two ERC Player of the Year recipients. There was visible improvement in South Africa's performances in the Rugby Championship, and the upturn came when Heyneke Meyer dropped a favoured player in Morne Steyn and reversed his 'no fetcher' policy in the back-row. The fact that they've won 2/8 away games since their last visit to Ireland, and recorded just a 48% goal kicking accuracy in their last 5 games would normally be a green light to oppose a team. However as England learnt, their power game can be totally overwhelming, especially if it is being faced for the first time. The -2 handicap for South Africa looked very generous at the start of the week and it's climbed to -5 now, suggesting it was popular. The winning margin of 13+ at 4.0 may also tempt when you consider what happen in Ireland's last match. Bryan Habana has scored 7 of the Boks last 10 tries and I like the 3.75 price for JP Pietersen to take over those duties - just don't ask him who Andrew Trimble is. Francois Louw at 7.5 is also a decent price to score. I'm very interested in South Africa -2 on the 2nd half handicap. Match referee Wayne Barnes has dished out 11 cards in 5 league games so far this season, so the 1.73 for the Englishman to sin-bin a player on weekend looks too good to pass up.
The Wallabies have been written off on a number of occasions this season and a loss to Scotland, followed by heavier defeats in South Africa and to the All Blacks this season may be enough evidence for some to circle this as a home win for the French. That would do a disservice to the excellent results achieved in the series win over Wales, a gritty win in Argentina, comeback against the Boks and more recently the draw to end their big rivals' winning run. There are a number of new players that have showed they have the requisite character to excel on the Test stage especially given the context of a long injury list and pressure on the head coach. I don't think we will see a repeat of the 6 Australian tries that were scored after the break 2 years ago in Paris, especially as this Wallaby current side have been accumulating more points via the boot. Wesley Fofana has yet again been selected out of position (he's not the only one) and after a master class in the Heineken Cup, I thought Francois Trinh-Duc may get the nod at fly-half. Established leaders in Thierry Dusautoir, Imanol Harinodoquy and Dimitri Yachvili are absent and I'm not so confident that the French should be such big favourites. Australia win by 1-12 points and the +4 handicap tempts and I must admit if you had offered me -4 for France to beat an Australian side at home without Will Genia, Quade Cooper, David Pocock, James Horwill etc and lining up with effectively the 'Tahs pack midway through the Super Rugby season, I'd have snapped it up, but I can't ignore that Aussie resilience and Mike Harris' trusty boot. Australia have outscored France in the 2nd half by 46,9,2,7,17 points in the last 5 meetings and with just 9 days preparation time, France may run out of gas. 2.1 for a drop-goal to land also appeals.
Scotland's wins over Australia, Fiji and Samoa went somewhat under the radar this year, despite the fact that it snapped a 7 game losing run. There have been home wins against Australia and South Africa with Andy Robinson in charge as well as a series victory in Argentina but a poorer return of 4 wins from 20 Six Nations matches. The last time they met New Zealand they lost by 46 points in 2010, with 28 points scored in as many minutes ending any chances of an upset. They have lost 26/28 games against the World Cup holders by an average score of 11-29 and 12/14 games at home by 8-24. The last 5 games have all been at Murrayfield and have seen an average score of 5-37 and just 1 try scored (Simon Webster in 2005) so you can see why the bookies have set a big handicap of 27 points. The visitors have named a new centre partnership and the Piri Weepu / Victor Vito axis get a rare chance to shine. Aaron Smith had scored 3 tries in his last 4 games and Kieran Read looks nailed on to be the next captain - both have played a huge role in the team's recent wins so it's interesting to see how their replacements fare. New Zealand have led at the break in 15/17 games by an average of 12 points and outscored teams in the 2nd half by 13 points. The hosts have been outscored in 12/14 Six Nations games after the break so the 2nd handicap of -13 may suit for visiting fans and is a way of avoiding that 27 point handicap. Dan Carter has 2 tries in 3 games versus Scotland so anytime try for him.