Predictions for how Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales will fare on their summer tours
Published 21/03/2016 | 14:19
The home unions will just about draw breath from another punishing RBS 6 Nations then send their top talents globe-trotting on summer tours.
Here, we examine the June prospects of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
IRELAND (in South Africa)
Ireland are chasing history by aiming for a maiden Test victory over the Springboks in South Africa. Joe Schmidt's men take on the Springboks in Cape Town on June 11, Johannesburg on June 18 and finish their tour with a June 25 clash in Port Elizabeth. Ireland have lost all seven Test matches against the Springboks on South African soil to date. But head coach Schmidt and captain Rory Best are confident they can alter that statistic this summer. Ireland's chances hinge on hurrying a host of top stars back from long-term injury. Peter O'Mahony and Iain Henderson especially would beef up the pack for three incredibly bruising encounters. Tighthead prop Marty Moore's possible return to fitness could also prove pivotal.
VERDICT: South Africa to win the series 2-1. The injuries are the great conditional, but if Ireland can travel at something approaching strength they can end that winless run.
ENGLAND (in Australia)
England face Australia in three June Tests, in Brisbane on June 11, Melbourne on June 18 and finally Sydney on June 25. Former Wallabies boss Eddie Jones will undoubtedly relish the chance to ruffle a few feathers in his homeland, especially after England's first Grand Slam triumph since 2003. The last time England claimed the Grand Slam they later saw off Jones' Wallabies in the World Cup final, in Australia. Jones will hope those portents hold positive outcomes for an England side still in development, despite their European clean sweep. Beaten 2015 World Cup finalists Australia are once again a true force under Michael Cheika, another no-nonsense Aussie. The verbal sparring between the two coaches could be a show all of its own, but once the rugby gets into swing England will have to raise their level from the Six Nations. England won their last Test 21-20 in Sydney in June 2010, but both sides are now changed beyond recognition. Cheika's Australia dumped England out of their own World Cup with a 33-13 Pool A victory in October, so Jones' men will be out for revenge, however much they fight to downplay it.
VERDICT: Australia to win the series 2-1. Home advantage should steer the Wallabies through, but expect England's mean streak to push Australia all the way.
WALES (in New Zealand)
Wales face the most difficult summer of all the home nations, taking on the All Blacks in Auckland on June 11, Wellington on June 18 and Dunedin on June 25. The statistics are stacked against Warren Gatland's men too - Wales have faced New Zealand seven times in New Zealand, losing all seven and conceding 284 points. The last time Wales beat New Zealand was in Cardiff in 1953, and they have since suffered 26 successive Test defeats. New Zealand are in transition after claiming consecutive World Cup triumphs, with Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Conrad Smith now retired. But the All Blacks are never really in a state of flux. Take McCaw's replacement Sam Cane - he already has a World Cup winner's medal. Wales were frustrated to finish second in the Six Nations courtesy of defeat to England at Twickenham. But to stand any chance of overturning history, the Welsh must hope for luck on the injury front and then take almost every chance they create.
VERDICT: New Zealand to win 3-0. Much as Wales ought to tour with a potent and robust squad, the All Blacks are not in the business of easing their foot off the gas.
SCOTLAND (in Japan)
Scotland face two Tests in Japan on June 18 and June 25 with the venues still to be confirmed. Before Japan's storming World Cup performance in the autumn, this would have been a walkover. Scotland really should still pull off two victories, but it could be a real battle. Japan's landmark World Cup win over South Africa in the autumn will live long in the memory, and perhaps linger in Scottish minds. Japan must now build to host the World Cup in 2019, and need more challenges like this to close the gap with the globe's top Test outfits. Scotland boss Vern Cotter will demand further improvement after his side finished fourth in the Six Nations. That surely means only two wins will suffice.
VERDICT: Scotland to win the series 2-0. Provided Scotland send a full-strength squad, they should come away with two wins.