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The Breakdown: A preview to Saturday's rugby internationals

New Zealand and Wales compete for the ball at a lineout

For most, this weekend marks the final round of fixtures in the end-of-year internationals.

Every team aside from Wales and South Africa, who face off a week on Saturday, bring the curtain down on their respective 2017 schedules on Saturday.

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The world champion All Blacks face Wales in Cardiff, Scotland take on Australia while England and Ireland have the markedly less imposing tasks of attempting to defeat Samoa and Argentina respectively.

France will be heavily favoured to end their year with a victory over Japan and here, with the help of Opta data, we take a statistical look at this weekend’s fixtures.

England v Samoa

Off-the-field concerns have dominated Samoa’s build-up to their internationals, with their governing body said to have gone bankrupt, a claim disputed by World Rugby.

And they are unlikely to find much in the way of solace at Twickenham, with England having won all seven of their Test meetings by 13 points or more, and coming off a somewhat flattering 30-6 win over Australia.

Should England prevail, it will be their 200th win at Twickenham, and see them become the first team to win as many games at a single venue. A shock Samoa triumph would be their 100th in Test rugby.

France v Japan

France can put some of the pain of defeats to New Zealand and South Africa behind him against the Brave Blossoms, who they have faced three times previous, winning each by an average margin of 20 points.

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Though they triumphed on French soil against Tonga last time out, Japan have history against them. France have not lost three successive home games since 1999.

Japan are in form on their travels, though, losing just three of their last 13 matches away from home since the beginning of the 2015 World Cup.

Ireland v Argentina

Wing Adam Byrne will win his first cap for Ireland as they look to gain some measure of revenge on Argentina, who beat them in their most recent meeting in the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup.

That loss was Ireland’s first in six games against Argentina, who ended a run of seven consecutive defeats on the road, their joint worst such run in Test history, by beating Italy last week.

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Hooker Rory Best will start in Dublin and is set to surpass John Hayes as Ireland’s second most capped forward behind Paul O’Connell (108 caps). Best will move onto 106 Test appearances.

Scotland v Australia

Games between Scotland and Australia have been typically even affairs in recent years. Each team has won three of the last six meetings, with all of those games being decided by less than a converted try and half of them settled by just one point.

But at Murrayfield Scotland have struggled against the Wallabies. Three of their last four wins over the Wallabies have come in Australia. By contrast, they have lost 10 of their last 11 home games with Australia.

The hosts have scored at least one try in each of their last 13 games, only on three occasions have Scotland embarked on a longer such run.

Wales v New Zealand

The All Blacks will be without skipper Kieran Read because of a back injury, as New Zealand look to extend their winning run against Wales to 30 matches.

New Zealand have triumphed in their last 15 games against Wales in Cardiff, with nine of the last 11 victories in that streak coming by at least 12 points.

Both the British and Irish Lions and Australia have beaten New Zealand in 2017. Should Wales prevail, it will mark the first time since 2009 that they have lost more two games in a calendar year.

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Turlough 3 hours ago
Jean de Villiers' three word response to 'best in the world' debate

This ‘raging’ debate is only happenning in media circles and has never been a topic in Ireland (although SA media are interested). It makes the media companies money I guess. SA are RWC champions and #1 ranked team although Ireland are back within a point there. The facts point to SA. For a lot of 2021 France beat ALL their rivals and Ireland similar in 2022-2023. It is not wrong to say that on such form either can be deemed to be the current best team if they have beaten all their rivals and ranked #1. The ‘have to have won a world cup’ stipulation is nonsense. The world cup draw and scheduling has been tailored to the traditional big teams since the start. The scheduling also which sees the big teams sheltered from playing a hard pool match the week before has also been a constant. It is extraordinary that for example France have made so many finals. Ireland who were realistically only contenders in 2023 were in a Pool with two other top 5 teams and had to play one of them 7 days before a quarter final against France or New Zealand. Always going to be a coin toss. Scotland’s situation was worse. New Zealand had great chances in 1995, 1999, 2007 but they could not win a tight RWC match. The first tight match they ever won was versus France in the 2011 final, literally they lost every other tight match before that. Some of those NZ teams around that era were #1 surely?

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