2010-01-01 by Liam Del Carme
Barbarian’s v Springboks
Don't expect the Springboks to play ball in what is supposed to be a festival atmosphere. Their season has been one of misery and they most certainly would not want to play into the hands of Robbie Deans' ragtag Baabaas. Standin captain Pat Lambie is a pragmatist and he will hope to squeeze the life out of the composite side tactically before the Boks will entertain the idea of dazzling. The Boks can win this one, providing they stick to their unadventurous script.
Wales’s v Australia
The Wallabies have beaten Wales in their last 11 clashes. In fact, they have lost just once in their last 16 clashes against Wales. The Dragons for all their huff and puff are flightless creatures against the southern hemisphere's more traditional teams. They gave a decent account of themselves in their three-Test series against the All Blacks in midyear, certainly better than the Wallabies and the Springboks. They finished runners up to England in this season's Six Nations with three wins from five. The Wallabies will be without Will Genia who failed to get permission from his club for this clash. On the balance of what has transpired this season Wales are favourites but history favours the Wallabies. I'm favouring the latter.
Toulouse v Castres
Toulouse's last four matches have been tight affairs. They lost two, won one and drew the other. Overall they have five wins from nine matches in the Top14 and are placed fifth on the points table. They have one of the better defences in the competition but Castres who are ninth is adept at breaking down defences. This should be another tight affair for Toulouse whose lack of attacking ambition tend to keep opponents within striking distance. They should however hold out.
Racing v Montpellier
Racing, the defending champions have four wins from nine Top 14 games. They have struggled to recapture last season's form but a win could potentially haul them into the top four. It must be of concern to them that although they are placed sixth on the points table that they have a negative point’s difference. Their defence is too leaky, not that Montpellier is much of an attacking threat. Jake White's team, despite winning more than they lose have seen crowds dwindle at their base, which is one of the reasons the coach's contract will not be renewed. Still, they are placed second and they may very well return from Paris with another hard earned win.
Ireland v New Zealand
Ireland have had a mixed season. A draw, two defeats, three wins and two more defeats have made for a chequered report card as they continue to rebuild under Joe Schmidt. They've played 28 Tests against the All Blacks without tasting victory and their task this weekend is more difficult because they aren't actually hosting the tourists. The teams clash in Chicago where the All Blacks have had previous success. The All Blacks however are a little vulnerable in the second row with Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano all unavailable. They will however have Aaron Smith back at scrumhalf and his resolve is likely to be tested by Ireland. The All Blacks should extend their winning record.