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Jeremy Guscott column

Jeremy Guscott

Former Bath, England & Lions centre

This week it all kicks off because all the home unions bar Wales, who play minnows Canada, have selected their strongest teams to face the might of the southern hemisphere - it's Full Metal Jacket time.

Scotland Mike Blair pictured during training ahead of the South Africa game
Blair shone last weekend but needs more support from his team-mates

I will be up in Edinburgh covering the Scotland v South Africa game for the BBC and there is no doubt the Scots face an uphill battle against the world champions at Murrayfield.

I admired the Scots' ambition and the way they tried to really take it to New Zealand last weekend, but by the time Anthony Boric scored his try - the All Blacks' fourth - the Scottish players looked dead on their feet.

They had put so much into playing at a high tempo that they were really flagging in the last quarter and had nothing left in the tank.

Against the Springboks they will have to find a way of getting across the line to score some tries, something they have not managed at Murrayfield this year.

The fact that they had chances against the All Blacks says a lot for their ambition, but their execution has been poor and that has to improve.

They must stop panicking under pressure because they're getting in good positions but making schoolboy errors.

There was a period when New Zealand were down to 14 men and Scotland were camped in their 22 but still could not score - it was embarrassing.

Scotland's other big problem will be trying to contain the threat of the Boks' rampaging back row because if you stop them you nullify a lot of what South Africa are about.

It's a massive challenge for Scotland and if they're not up to it they will get hammered.

In the front row Phil Vickery scares the Aussies and his return will bring back dark memories of past batterings

Scotland captain Mike Blair played so well last week and he needs to continue in that vein, but he must be backed up by the rest of his team.

And keep a close eye on versatile South Africa fly-half Ruan Pienaar because he had a great game against Wales and I think there's more to come from him.

Over in Dublin, Ireland really need to step up to the plate and deliver what they are capable of against the All Blacks at Croke Park.

There will be immense pressure on scrum-half Tomas O'Leary but he will be helped by his Munster half-back partner Ronan O'Gara.

O'Leary's job will be made easier if his pack performs so the front row of John Hayes, Rory Best and Marcus Horan and need to deliver.

They need to pile the pressure on New Zealand's not so impressive front row.

For the purist the really fascinating battle will take place at the breakdown between Richie McCaw and David Wallace.

Wallace has had a brilliant season to date and if on top form will really compete with McCaw - if he does Ireland will do well.

Ireland flanker David Wallace on the charge against New Zealand in the summer
Ireland flanker David Wallace needs to get to grips with Richie McCaw

That just leaves Brian O'Driscoll to play the game of his life and really take on Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith in the midfield.

He definitely has the measure of them, he just needs to execute and if he can find the form he produced on the Lions tour in 2001 then be prepared for fireworks.

Star fly-half Dan Carter is back for New Zealand and will be looking to perform to his usual high standards - as always it's up to David Wallace to make sure he doesn't.

England will truly find out on Saturday whether they have what it takes to get back to the top of world rugby - they have a hard job on their hands.

They will have to perform not just up front but also behind the scrum, where they need to release the real talent they have in the back three in Delon Armitage, Ugo Monye and Paul Sackey.

If these players see plenty of ball then everyone watching can look forward to a terrific match.

The changes new boss Martin Johnson has made bring experience and bulk into a team that lacked both elements last week.

In the front row Phil Vickery scares the Aussies and his return will bring back dark memories of past batterings - they will be fearing a repeat.

In the second row Tom Palmer brings the weight and punch that will be needed to get England on the front foot.


Danny Cipriani needs to run the game and show everyone he is a world class player and not just a good club performer.

His half-back partner, Danny Care, needs to do the basics well, get the ball to Cipriani quickly and keep the Aussie back row honest by making the odd break.

I feel the biggest challenge for England will be to contain the Aussie backs.

They are big, smart and quick, so centres Riki Flutey and Jamie Noon will have to tackle well to keep England in this game.

Australia's keystone is their second row Nathan Sharpe. He needs to be challenged in the line-out and smacked backwards in the loose.

Finally we have Wales, who will win against Canada.

However, they need to do it with class and professionalism to restore some much needed confidence that was seriously lacking against the Springboks.

Jerry answers users' questions from the 606 messageboards:

Do you think Shane Geraghty and James Simpson-Daniel will start, when they are fully fit, under Martin Johnson?

James Simpson-Daniel would definitely have started had he not been injured - he was playing so well it was just a case of where you played him.

Shane Geraghty has shown some great touches and will complete for a Test spot but if you measure him against the likes of Australia number 10 Matt Giteau, I would say Giteau is a better player.

If Stirling Mortlock is running at Geraghty I would fear for him; you just think 'that is a bit of a miss-match'.

But the guy is skilful and if he plays well for London Irish he will push Cipriani, but as an inside centre he is not quite there for me.

If Danny Cipriani continues to play as he did on Saturday, how many games should he be given before a replacement is looked at?
iansimcox and others

I said in a previous column that Toby Flood should start for England at fly-half because he is the form 10 in the Premiership.

But I believe Cipriani has the potential to be world class, so I would now persevere with him until I saw a lack of confidence - admittedly not something you are likely to ever see with Cipriani.

He has just too much talent but he is still in the early stages of coming back from a serious injury and if he doesn't get his decision making right against Australia it would suggest he is not ready.

Then I would put Flood, who is on top of his game, in at 10 and bring Cipriani in bit by bit.

Do you feel that Lee Mears is too small for international rugby and that we need to pick a hooker on potential and stick with them?

Mears deserves his place over Dylan Hartley but you have to give the latter 20 minutes each time to blood him.

If we had another Steve Thompson that would be great, but we don't.

Brian Moore was never the biggest but he was a tough competitor and I believe Mears is too.

I know I said I thought Hartley was a shoo-in at the start of the season but having looked at him again he looks for the easy, flashy work and he is a bit lazy.

Mears sometimes goes into contact on his own, but he looks to link and offload and hopefully he can do more of that with England.

In a recent Cape Times article Percy Montgomery says he did not think much of you after you refused to swap shirts with him on the 1997 Lions tour and he still does not know why. To me, a Lions victory in South Africa would be a high spot in my career and I probably wouldn't even give it to my mum! Anyway, was this the reason or do you have some axe to grind with Percy?

I've certainly got no axe to grind with Percy Montgomery.

I don't think I've ever swapped a Lions Test jersey because they mean too much to me.

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see also
Jeremy Guscott column
09 Nov 08 |  English
Johnson passes first test
08 Nov 08 |  English
England 39-13 Pacific Islanders
08 Nov 08 |  English
Wales 15-20 South Africa
08 Nov 08 |  Welsh
Jeremy Guscott column
06 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union

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