Summer rugby tour predictions: Bad news for England and Wales but positives for Ireland

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso - North vs south divide, but who will come out on top? Our expert's Test predictions

Perhaps for the last time, with fixture reform due to take hold over the coming years, this summer will be shaped by several two-Test series. Four of them are contests between teams from the Rugby Championships and visitors from the Six Nations; and each of those promises to be action-packed and highly intriguing.

As ever, the northern hemisphere tourists are largely underdogs. Equally, though, they are capable of doling out bloody noses. These games are not the only ones going on. Scotland are on a mission to develop depth in the Americas, taking on Canada, USA, Chile and Uruguay. Italy were overturned by Samoa on Friday morning and Georgia host Fiji later in the day.

But back-to-back encounters always offer something extra. If nothing else, there is scope for additional spite as fiercely motivated players come together for two weekends in succession. Here are our predictions and players to watch for each side.

New Zealand v England

Make no mistake, this is an almighty opportunity for England. With six Tests under their belt this year already, we can expect them to be coherent, well-conditioned and clear about their tactical direction. Relative rookies like Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and Chandler Cunningham-South will introduce themselves to the New Zealand public if they translate recent form.

All that said, beating the All Blacks away from home, for the first time since 2003 and just the third time in history, would be a monumental achievement. Scott Robertson is bound to add some sort of bounce, even if crucial positions – lock, blindside flanker, scrum-half, fly-half – have been revamped.

Players to watch

A chief battleground will be out wide as New Zealand bid to beat England’s blitz defence with kick-passes and crisp passing. As ever, though, the tight exchanges will be fought ferociously. George Martin should be reasonably fresh, having only played 13 games in eight months since the World Cup semi-final, and will be vital if Steve Borthwick’s side are to quell the All Blacks’ power game. Watch out for his carrying contributions as well as his trademark tackling. Robertson has given Samipeni Finau the first run at blindside flanker. A forceful, athletic figure who plays right on the edge of the law, the 25-year-old has big boots to fill because Shannon Frizell was a muscular facilitator for New Zealand.

Prediction: 2-0 New Zealand

Plenty of head-scratching went on here, because there is justifiable optimism around England and them landing a famous victory would not come as a complete shock. Even if they do not, they are on the right track and will target the rematch at Twickenham in November.

Australia v Wales

Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland, two old stagers with immense experience, are staring at tricky briefs to invigorate international outfits that have fallen upon hard times. Following a Six Nations wooden spoon and a loss to the Springboks, Wales are on a run of seven consecutive defeats. Their squad is threadbare in some areas, and the absence of Jac Morgan was a late setback they could have done without. Dewi Lake must lead from the front, as he did against South Africa recently.

Australia are not without their vulnerabilities as Schmidt bids to rebuild the wreckage of a gruesome World Cup campaign under Eddie Jones. Without calling upon players based outside of the country, he has assembled some experienced operators to go with seven debutants in his first Wallabies squad. All things considered, this might be the lowest-quality of the four series; yet should be no less absorbing.

Players to watch

A name on Australia’s team-sheet that will be familiar to supporters of Northampton Saints is Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, who starts the first Test at lock. The other two second rows in the Wallabies 23, Jeremy Williams and Angus Blyth, are uncapped, with Schmidt resisting any urge to field Will Skelton or anyone else based in Europe. For Wales, it is difficult to look beyond another new fly-half in Ben Thomas, who has impressed coaches with his poise and game understanding.

Prediction: 2-0 Australia

Schmidt is taking on a daunting task, yet should have enough to begin his new gig with two victories.

South Africa v Ireland

This summer’s blockbuster is staged in South Africa as the double world champions, seemingly spurred by comments in a television studio seven years ago, take on Ireland. Covid compromised the Springboks at the start of the last World Cup cycle, which makes the year ahead very interesting for them. But the next fortnight is all about the here and now. They have made this grudge personal thanks to a feat of manufactured outrage and matches in Pretoria and Durban should be laced with needle.

Andy Farrell is without Jamison Gibson-Park and Hugo Keenan, two of the most influential individuals in Ireland’s surge up the world rankings between 2020 and 2023. A statement win for the Bulls over Leinster last month in the United Rugby Championship was jarring as well, but Six Nations holders still boast plenty of class.

Players to watch

Picking Jamie Osborne at full-back is a bold call from Farrell that might stir memories of Robbie Henshaw’s ill-fated outing in that position against England five years ago. The 22-year-old will receive an examination from the kicking of Faf de Klerk, Handré Pollard and Willie le Roux but is a fantastic runner. Kwagga Smith was an unsung hero of South Africa’s latest World Cup triumph, tearing off the bench in the final to plunder numerous breakdown turnovers. He starts at the base of the scrum in Pretoria.

Prediction: 1-1

While Ireland might be weary, and have an assignment at altitude, they can rouse themselves for one more titanic display to square this series.

Argentina v France

This trip is reminiscent of 2021, when France travelled to Australia for three matches in the space of 10 days and blooded a host of youngsters against Dave Rennie’s Wallabies. Fabien Galthié’s side meet Uruguay on July 10 in between their two Argentina outings, too, and will feature starlets such as George-Henri Colombe, Posolo Tuilagi and Leo Barré, all of whom earned Test debuts during the Six Nations.

Argentina have rested a group of players based in Europe, including Juan Martín González and Juan Cruz Mallía, and Emiliano Boffelli is injured. Still, Felipe Contepomi has replaced Michael Cheika and has been able to lean on some continuity. Julián Montonya for instance, will captain.

Players to watch

Antoine Frisch, who traded Bristol Bears for Munster two years ago and represented Emerging Ireland on a tour of South Africa, has been whisked into Galthié’s midfield. He is a well-balanced, evasive runner. Joaquín Oviedo of Perpignan, just 22, gets a crack at the base of Argentina’s scrum, where he will be flanked by the dogged duo of Pablo Matera and Marcos Kremer.

Prediction: 2-0 Argentina

Any other result would be mightily frustrating for the Pumas given the inexperience of France. Then again, any other result would mean that some special talents have emerged.