This week's biggest matches to watch on Rugby Pass
Tonga vs Wales (Friday, June 16, 1:30pm HKT)
New Zealand – and Auckland’s Eden Park in particular – is just brimming with international rugby teams this week. This isn’t just an undercard filler for the All Blacks game that follows. An experimental Wales, shorn of star players and key coaches are blooding three uncapped players in the starting line-up in Steff Evans, Seb Davies and Thomas Young, while another six could make their debuts off the bench. Tonga’s Sea Eagles will bring their unique brand of physical, brilliant rugby, and offer the sternest of tests.
New Zealand vs Samoa (Friday, June 16, 3pm HKT)
We’ve seen the Super Rugby sides in action already – but there has been one team – alright, two teams – missing from the Lions’ tour of New Zealand so far. We have to wait until Saturday to meet the Maori, when they play the Lions in Rotorua, but the other team get their first run-out of 2017 at Eden Park against the bruising Samoans. We already know, pretty much, what to expect from Steve Hansen’s All Blacks – so it’s time to get comfy in your favourite chair with the beverage of your choice and enjoy.
Australia vs Scotland (Saturday, June 17, 1pm HKT)
Scotland’s Gregor Townsend era kicked off in Singapore with a decent enough victory over Italy. But, for all that Michael Cheika’s Australia are a shadow of the side that made its way to the World Cup final 18 months ago, this is a serious step up in standard. The Wallabies carved up Fiji last weekend, despite missing 25 tackles, being turned over 20 times, and having only 43% possession and 37% territory. Townsend will have watched and rewatched that match in search of weaknesses to exploit. And his confident side will go all out to exploit them. Truth be told, this could be the match of the weekend.
NZ Maori vs Lions (Saturday, June 17, 3:35pm HKT)
All that has past is prologue. The unofficial fourth Test is the point at which the British and Irish Lions’ tour of New Zealand gets real. As in really real. The fact that the tourists edged a team of part-timers, then lost to the worst of New Zealand’s Super Rugby franchises, then edged the best of them, before giving up a nine-point lead in a flurry of late penalties against the Highlanders on Tuesday counts for nothing from now. The Lions who take the field to face the Maori at Rotorua will, in all likelihood, be the ones who will face the full-fat, double-caffeinated All Blacks next weekend. And what happens here will be a barometer for the three-Test series to come.
South Africa vs France (Saturday, June 17, 10pm HKT)
Twenty minutes. That’s how long it took South Africa to melt French resistance at Loftus Versfeld last weekend. From the 59th minute, when the tourists’ Brice Dulin was sin-binned, the match was one-way traffic. But this weekend’s encounter in Durban is set to be a tougher challenge for the Springboks, with a number of French players who were rested in Pretoria set to return – including abrasive skipper Guilhem Guirado.
Argentina vs England (Sunday, June 18, 3:15am HKT)
Can we have two matches of the weekend? After the thoroughly entertaining thrill-fest in San Juan last weekend, Argentina and England meet again – this time in Santa Fe. The message from Eddie Jones has been simple: anyone who plays well in South America will force their way into his thinking for the next phase of his World Cup plans. It’s too early to be talking about who could be on the plane to Japan, but this tour could be the start of that journey for a number of England hopefuls.
Chiefs vs Lions (Tuesday, June 20, 3:35pm HKT)
The tourists are one from three against the Super Rugby franchises in New Zealand, and, this, their penultimate non-Test of the tour will be the hardest of them for the players out on the pitch at Waikato. It means they are set to miss out on the opening Test against the All Blacks. How they react to that bad news will have a major impact on whether they will feature in the three-match series that everyone’s travelled all that distance to be part of at all.
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