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Rugby Union July Internationals — Final Tests: Preview

South Africa v Wales

It all comes down to this. Last weekend saw a tidal wave of Northern Hemisphere momentum as England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales all won to set up Test series deciders against Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa respectively. 

These were far from ordinary performances — in particular Ireland’s victory over the All Blacks, which was a historic first win in New Zealand. Similarly, Wales enjoyed their first away triumph over the Springboks.   

So which way can we expect the pendulum to swing on Saturday? Here’s a look at each of the crunch Rugby Union July Internationals:

Australia v England - Third Test, Sydney

After Australia defied the odds to win 30-28 with 14 men in the first Test, England roared back last weekend winning 25-17 with a performance full of grit and determination. It was a massive victory for Eddie Jones and not just because it got his team back on level terms in the series — it relieved some of the pressure building on the head coach after suffering four Test defeats from six in 2022. 

Billy Vunipola and Owen Farrell were very much stars of the show; Vunipola got England going with an early try from a well-worked line-out routine, while Farrell’s kicking was on point — the former skipper nailed six penalties, four in the first half alone. 

That said, Australia looked dangerous with the ball in hand — their first try, scored by ​​Taniela Tupou at the end of the first half, epitomised the threat their hard running poses. And they grew into the match; after Marcus Smith was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on, England had to dig deep. But in the end, the tourists saw the game out. Cue mind games from Eddie Jones. 

"It's 1-1,” he told Sky Sports. “And the pressure's on the other mob now.”

How well they cope with that pressure remains to be seen.

New Zealand v Ireland - Third Test, Wellington

Before this series, Ireland had never won in New Zealand. And after the All Blacks’ ruthless first Test display in Auckland, that record looked set to continue. Despite the visitors starting the game well (Keith Earls had opened the scoring with a sixth-minute try) the hosts had effectively sewn up the victory before half-time as Jordie Barrett, the lightning-quick Sevu Reece, Quinn Tupaea and Ardie Savea all went over for tries.

It was a different story in Dunedin. The All Blacks were indisciplined; winger Leicester Fainga'anuku and prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi were sin-binned before Ta'avao was red-carded for a head clash with Gerry Ringrose. And all in the first half! But Ireland were courageous; two-try hero Andrew Porter and the influential Johnny Sexton impressed throughout.  

The question is, can Andy Farrell’s team summon the energy for a repeat performance in Wellington? 

Argentina v Scotland - Third Test, Santiago del Estero

Michael Cheika’s reign as Argentina manager got off to the perfect start in the first Test against Scotland as tries from Jeronimo De La Fuente, Santiago Carreras and Gonzalo Bertranou helped his side win 26-18 despite a spirited second-half fightback from the tourists.

Gregor Townsend opted to rest experienced campaigners Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Chris Harris for the summer internationals. And he must have felt vindicated in the second Test as his side blew the Pumas away 29-6 with Hamish Watson, Mark Bennett, Matt Fagerson and Sam Johnson all getting on the scoresheet.

It was the dark blues’ fifth-biggest winning margin away from home and after the game, the Scotland head coach promised more. "We are scratching the surface with that performance,” Townsend said. “We'll be working to bring our best performance next week.” 

If that’s the case, Argentina will need to produce something special. 

South Africa v Wales — Third Test, Cape Town

The first two Tests between these two sides were notable for their late drama.

In the opening Test, South Africa clinched a 32-29 victory with the final kick of the game as Damian Willemse’s penalty denied Wales a draw. The tourists had looked the better side for large parts of the match but fatigue appeared to kick in the final few minutes after Louis Rees-Zammit, Alun Wyn Jones and Rhys Carre were all shown yellow cards.

But Wayne Pivac’s side got their own back in Bloemfontein as Gareth Anscombe's late conversion sealed the second Test 13-12 to send the series to a decider. That was Wales’ first-ever win in South Africa; beating the 2019 World Cup winners twice in a week would be a monumental achievement.