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With 14 countries in action across Friday and Saturday, it's a busy weekend for international rugby. And while Rugby World Cup 2015 may seem a long way off, there's a lot to be learned for those taking part. The games will be valuable opportunities for coaches to blood new players, test different combinations and patterns of play, but also will help, through the IRB World Rankings, to determine the seedings for December's RWC 2015 Pool Allocation Draw. Here's what you can expect from each match when the whistle goes.
CANADA v ITALY
What to expect: Italy coach Jacques Brunel’s quest to find a more balanced style suffered a set-back with a heavy defeat to Argentina last week. It won’t be easy against a Canadian team who are making “strides towards professionalism” according to new captain Aaron Carpenter.
Players to watch: That man Carpenter, and his opposite number at the back of the scrum, Robert Barbieri, who was born in Toronto. No wonder Canada call him the “one who got away”.
What it means for RWC 2015: As an automatic qualifier, Italy are looking to gain as many IRB World Rankings points as they can before December's RWC 2015 Pool Allocation Draw. It will be a long shot for them to get into the top eight teams in the rankings, though. Canada will enter RWC 2015 qualifying in 2013 against USA.
IRB Match Preview: Canada v Italy
FIJI v SCOTLAND
What to expect: After overcoming Australia in a downpour, Scotland will face hotter, drier conditions in Fiji. Expect structure and set-piece domination from the visitors. “If we get into a game of Sevens, Fiji are the best in the world and we will lose,” warned coach Andy Robinson.
Players to watch: Flying Dutch winger Tim Visser will make his Scotland debut after qualifying on residency grounds. His Edinburgh team-mate Netani Talei is Fiji’s back row wrecking ball.
What it means for RWC 2015: Scotland have proved they can compete with the best, but can they find the finishing power and get into the top eight in the IRB World Rankings? Fiji are trying to deepen their talent pool by blooding new players, as shown in their IRB Pacific Nations Cup matches so far this month.
IRB Match Preview: Fiji v Scotland
SOUTH AFRICA v ENGLAND
What to expect: After overpowering England in Durban, expect more of the same from the Springboks in Johannesburg. Can the visitors find a way to outmanoeuvre their bulkier hosts?
Players to watch: Can London Irish flyer Jonathan Joseph solve Stuart Lancaster’s midfield conundrum? And can England stop giant blindside Willem Alberts at the gainline?
What it means for RWC 2015: New coaches Heyneke Meyer and Lancaster both need to develop more rounded attacking games over the next three years. England only have a slender advantage in fourth over Wales, France and Argentina in the IRB World Rankings. A win and that gap opens up. A loss and England slip into the group of teams currently seeded below the top four for the RWC 2015 Pool Allocation Draw.
IRB Match Preview: South Africa v England
ARGENTINA v FRANCE
What to expect: An improving Argentina will fancy their chances against the Rugby World Cup 2011 finalists, who stuttered through the Six Nations under new coach Philippe Saint-Andre and are resting inspirational captain Thierry Dusautoir.
Players to watch: Wing Belisario Agulla looks a star of the future and as he plays in the Top 14 the French will know all about him. In the second row, young Toulouse giant Yoann Maestri should be a match for Argentina’s grisly forwards.
What it means for RWC 2015: Joining what was the Tri Nations this year should help develop the Pumas’ flair and precision. France, meanwhile, are still trying to strike the balance between flamboyance and forward power. Either could spring into the top four of the rankings. But a couple of bad results and they could be tumbling the other way.
IRB Match Preview: Argentina v France
USA v GEORGIA
What to expect: A physical encounter. The USA Eagles will want revenge for the last meeting between the two, when they lost after eight minutes of injury time. Georgia will arrive in confident mood, having just secured their latest European Nations Cup title.
Players to watch: If the hosts can find parity with Georgia’s mostly France-based pack then their wings Chris Wyles and Takudzwa Ngwenya – familiar to fans of Saracens and Biarritz respectively – could be the difference.
What it means for RWC 2015: With a growing number of players at top clubs, both will aim to take a big-name scalp come Rugby World Cup 2015.
NEW ZEALAND v IRELAND
What to expect: With Ireland a little depleted and a new-look New Zealand likely to only get better, it could be a case of damage limitation for the visitors after their 42-10 defeat in Auckland.
Players to watch: The world champions’ newcomers, including second row Brodie Retallick and wing Julian Savea, fresh from his hat-trick in the first game of the three-Test series. Keep an eye out also for Sam Cane, the highly rated Chiefs flanker who was nominated for the IRB Junior Player of the Year award in 2011 and could make his debut off the bench.
What it means for RWC 2015: With the All Black conveyor belt still churning out the talent, the defending champions already look like the team to beat. New Zealand look untroubled at the top of the IRB World Rnkings. Ireland, meanwhile, are clinging on to eighth place. If they end up lower in December, they will be drawn against two sides in the top eight of the rankings in their RWC 2015 pool.
IRB Match Preview: New Zealand v Ireland
AUSTRALIA v WALES
What to expect: The Grand Slam winners’ monstrous backline to power through a depleted-looking Australian three-quarters, as they were supposed to in Brisbane last week.
Players to watch: Wallaby scrum half Will Genia was the difference between the two sides in the first Test. Wales’ back row will need to stifle him, although openside and captain Sam Warburton will have his hands full with his opposite number David Pocock.
What it means for RWC 2015: Australia still need to find a world-class scrum. This youthful Wales back division and back row should hit their peak around the World Cup. Wales could end up in the top four in the rankings with victory, a position they would want to retain at least as long as the RWC 2015 Pool Allocation Draw in December. Australia will be keen to retain second place in the rankings.
SAMOA v JAPAN
What to expect: Samoa have impressed so far in this year's IRB Pacific Nations Cup, while Japan are rebuilding after RWC 2011 under new coach Eddie Jones. Samoa will be favourites, despite vocal support for the home team in Tokyo.
Players to watch: Samoa's Ben Masoe isn't the tallest number 8 at 180cm, but at over 17 stone he combines power and skill amongst the Samoa forwards.
What it means for RWC: Samoa, like Italy, harbour outside hopes of getting into the top eight in the IRB World Rankings ahead of the RWC 2015 Pool Allocation Draw, so winning is even more important.