Week 1 is nearly here. Which are the games to watch? Who is on form? And who is likely to prevail?
THE RUN DOWN
THE ONE TO WATCH
Wales and Australia is our pick for the match of the weekend, with the Welsh looking to end a run of 12 straight defeats to the men in gold, with what would only be their third victory in 27 attempts stretching back to 1991. The gap has been closing in recent years however, and the Welsh will feel confident with the return of their head coach Warren Gatland after his return from the drawn Lions series in New Zealand.
However, Australia will feel confident too, and are currently on a run of 7 matches undefeated (including 2 draws against South Africa) in which they also notched up a rare win over the All Blacks. They will have set their sights firm on extending this undefeated run to the end of the year, starting with continuing their winning ways over the Welsh on Saturday.
Our model has the match finish 25-21 to the Aussies, but it is sure to be an exciting contest either way.
This week our model shows 4 games that have >95% of a victory for one team, those being Georgia, Scotland, England and New Zealand. These games should not be too contentious and are likely to be relatively easy opening fixtures for these teams.
Despite their perennially close games against the Pacific Islanders, Scotland have only lost once to the Samoans, back in 2013. Samoa will be looking to record their first victory for 2017 after defeats by New Zealand, Wales, Tonga and Fiji earlier this year. It is worth mentioning however, that our model consistently overestimates Scotland’s ability against the Samoans, with games in real life often being closer than predicted. For example the most recent match between the two in the last Rugby World Cup was predicted to be a 26-13 victory to the Scots, but in fact it ended up being a rather thrilling, tightly fought contest that ended up 36-33 in Scotland’s favour.
England have enjoyed a rich run of form recently, with the loss to Ireland in the 6 Nations finale this year their only defeat since their miserable World Cup run in 2015. They have beaten Argentina twice already this year on their summer tour and will be confident that the home leg will take their run of victories over the Pumas to 9 in a row – Argentina’s last win over England was in 2009.
New Zealand’s win ratio of only 75% for 2017 will lead many teams to think that perhaps the all dominant world champions are there for the taking. France too, have the most wins of any northern hemisphere team over the All Blacks with 12 in total, but unfortunately for them their last win was back in 2009. New Zealand are currently enjoying a record 10 straight wins over the French and they will no doubt be confident of extending this run.
The other 2 games are predicted to be a little closer, with Ireland the next most likely to close victors over the Springboks with a 76% of victory. Ireland have only lost twice in 2017, to Wales and Scotland and, with 4 wins from their last 6 against South Africa, should run out as victors on Saturday.
Fiji are unpredictable and although our model has them beating Italy by 7, their exciting style of play makes upsets more likely. Indeed, the Fijians have only once won in Italy, back in 1999. Italy will be looking to record their first victory for 2017 after 8 straight defeats, including one to the Fijians in Suva in June.