Lovers of international rugby enjoyed a thrilling weekend of action with matches of interest taking place across the globe. This year’s Rugby World Cup is the focus of attention for most coaches and players as teams look to put the finishing touches to their preparation.

Often, we’ll see many test matches taking place during autumn, but the World Cup has brought those forward and we now have a summer series. Many of the top-ranking sides will play four times and although these are billed as a chance to sharpen tools, improve on fitness and try out formations/line-ups, the games are by no means friendlies.

Players are determined to put on a show and force their way into contention for a place in the squad that will fly out to Japan in just a few weeks. Play well during the summer series and they will bag a seat on the plane, fail to catch the eye and it’ll be an autumn spend watching the greatest show in rugby on television. That will never do.

Tense Time for the Coaching Staff

It’s a tense time for coaches and players as the work done now will be all-important to results later this year but it makes great viewing for armchair fans and sports bettors. Not only are we treated to some fantastically competitive matches, but the summer series also gives us an insight into how teams are shaping up ahead of the World Cup and that will be invaluable when it comes to picking your outright winners in the betting.

On Saturday we were treated to three rugby international matches, one from the summer series and two from The Rugby Championship. Ireland and Italy faced off in the fixture of interest in the northern hemisphere. There was also Australia v New Zealand and Argentina v South Africa, both matches providing valuable clues on what we can expect in Japan when things get interesting.

Australia and New Zealand was always going to be a cracker and the match more than lived up to the hype with plenty of points scored during an enthralling 80 minutes. The Aussies hammered The All Blacks with the final score reading 47 – 26. Many had Australia picked to triumph in that match but very few expected such a convincing margin of victory over one of the best teams in the world. What we saw that day tells us Oz will take some beating in Japan, while New Zealand has plenty to work on ahead of their campaign.

Sticking with The Rugby Championship and South Africa hammered Argentina, as they were expected to, racking up a scoreline of 46 – 13. The outcome of that one was never in doubt, but it would’ve done wonders for team morale while proving the size of the task ahead for Argentina. Was it a case of South Africa firing on all cylinders or did they simply go through the motions and get the result against a weaker team? It’ll be interesting to learn the answer to that one, but we’ll find out in plenty of time before Japan when the level of opposition improves.

Ireland Shine on Game of the Day

Game of the day on Saturday took place at the Aviva Stadium where Ireland got their preparations moving with a home match against fellow Six Nations side Italy. The play took place live on terrestrial TV, which was great news for armchair fans, and those who tuned in enjoyed a great match that showed us exactly where Ireland are at in their build-up. It was an experimental side sent out by the locals, fringe players given the chance to catch the eye of their coaches and book a slot in Japan. The Irish World Cup team hadn’t been decided going into that fixture, so the game doubled as a real chance to win and for certain squad members to throw their hat into the ring for selection.

The scoreboard in Dublin at the conclusion of play read Ireland 29 – 10 Italy, the victors getting the desired result thanks to five tries. They were scored by Carbery, Kearney, Conway, Murphy and Marmion, conversions scored by Carbery, although he nailed only two of his opportunities and that’s something the player and backroom staff will be eager to improve upon in training this week. Italy’s 10 points came from two tries, Mbanda and Canna responsible for those, but neither was converted as they missed out on the chance to narrow the gap between the teams a little. Italy is a side used to losing in Ireland, but the game did give them a couple of positives to take away. Not many sides break a resilient Irish defence and score a couple of tries in Dublin, so those on the losing side of the result can take heart from that. The Italians won a few new friends on the back of a decent performance against all the odds.

What the final score doesn’t tell us is that Italy twice took the lead and threatened to shock the home support. Maxime Mbanda registered the first try and that was cancelled out by Joey Carbery before Carlo Canna put the visitors back in control. That seemed to spark the home team to life and Dave Kearney started the fightback, before Andrew Conway turned the screw, Jordi Murphy and Kieran Marmion putting the game to bed in the second half, stamping out any hopes of a late fightback from their plucky visitors.

Fans Learn A Lot About the Squad

Fans would’ve been happy with the win, but they also learned a lot about certain players in the squad who battled back, showing their fighting spirit. The only slight downside to the match was an injury picked up by fly-half Carbery who picked up an ankle knock during play. He was forced off as a precaution and it’s hoped the damage won’t keep him out of the World Cup. Coach Joe Schmidt, when speaking to the press at full-time, told fans the early signs were promising, and the injury is unlikely to stop Carbery travelling to Japan. They do, of course, have the players in reserve to help deal with the worst-case scenario but there’s no doubt Ireland would be a weaker side if he didn’t make the line-up to face Scotland on Sunday 22 September in Japan.

Ireland’s current pool stands at 43 players but that must be cut to 31 before Japan and that means Schmidt has a real job on his hands. Some difficult decisions will have to be made over the course of the next few weeks with some players making the grade and some missing out on selection. It’s tough but what coach Schmidt has done is give each of those in the running a fair crack at the whip and that means those who aren’t on the plane to Japan will have to take full responsibility.

Schmidt told members of the sporting press the 31-player squad number for the World Cup was too tight, in his opinion, and it had an impact on player welfare during a hectic schedule in difficult conditions. Keeping players fit and injury-free will be key to success in Japan and that comes with rotating the squad and using the right players at the right times.

Rugby World Cup Betting – Get on Sooner Rather than Later

The current Rugby World Cup 2019 outright betting market is headed by New Zealand who has been scratched up as 11/8 favourites with bet365. We then have England in second place at 5/1 – top price at Ladbrokes – South Africa’s 7/1 completing the top three in the betting. We go to 8/1 with Betfair to find Ireland and that price will shorten if they give a good account of themselves during the summer series. There’s plenty of value in that price but if you fancy getting your cash down, we suggest acting sooner rather than later.

Ireland gets started against Scotland on Sunday 22 September with an 8.45am GMT advertised start time. The early betting for that match has Ireland as odds-on favourites for the win with bet365 dealing out 1/4. That seems to be the general idea in the betting ring at the time of writing. Scotland is 3/1 with bet365 and you’ll find the draw marked up at as big as 33/1 in places.

There are many specials markets available to those looking to avoid the unpredictability of the match betting market. The handicap betting has Ireland -10 points at 10/11 against Scotland with a 10-point start at the same price. The handicap draw is 20/1 and that may just tempt a few value hunters into an interest for small stakes. Those confident Ireland will get off to a winning start can have their say on the winning margin betting. Betfair offer 5/4 – market best price – on 13 or more points and that’s favourite. If they are to achieve that they must drastically improve on the performance we saw against Italy, but the feeling is the best is yet to come from Ireland.