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Top storylines to watch for in sensational international summer

The international summer get properly underway this weekend, and there are some huge storylines fans should be keeping an eye on. 

The brewing rivalry between Ireland and South Africa should be a box-office test series, Scott Robinson and Joe Schmidt have their first matches in their respective positions, and there’s plenty of talking points from both the Wales and England camps as well.

Here is an in-depth look into some of the key storylines for this international summer.

Top storylines to watch for in blockbuster international summer

South Africa vs Ireland

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It might seem like a cop out to list the entirety of this test series as a storyline, however everything in this series could be a storyline of it’s own. The Springboks seem to be taking it more and more personal as the days go on, and Ireland’s players really aren’t doing a lot to stop it either. Rassie Esrasmus has already begun his social media jabs, and will only become more involved with the traditional media as the series progresses.

On the field, the series will be absolutely box-office too. The Springboks have fielded a really strong squad, blending together the sheer power of their pack with speed in the backline. There are also some welcome return for Lukhanyo Am after injury.

Ireland have met fire with fire though, with the likes of Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki and Jack Crowley leading the way in the backline, but this again is complimented nicely with some power up-front from Josh van der Flier, Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong.

Scott Robertson era begins

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Razor has long been an All Blacks coach in waiting, after his successful stint at the Crusaders, but now he is the man at helm. Under Robertson, the All Blacks will likely play a completely fresh style of rugby, which puts the focus on off-the-cuff attack. His Crusaders team were so potent in attack, with the likes of Will Jordan (who misses out through injury this time) thriving under this attacking philosophy.

If combined with the traditional All Blacks style of quick ball it should work wonders.

He also demands success, and whilst every other All Blacks coach should do this as well, Robinson is a serial winner. Robertson guided the Crusaders to six titles in a row between 2017 and 2023 (four Super Rugby, two Super Rugby Aotearoa). He will demand this level of success from his All Blacks now too, which is a scary thought considering how dominant they have been in the past…

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Joe Schmidt leads the Wallabies

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Another new head coach we should be keeping an eye on is Joe Schmidt, but this is for a different reason all together.

With the ever-growing popularity of the NRL, mixed with the recent struggles of the Wallabies, rugby union in Australia is under threat. Step forward Joe Schmidt.

Former Ireland boss Schmidt knows how to take a struggling team and turn them into champions. When he took the reigns on the Emerald Isle in 2013, Ireland had just come off the back of a fifth-placed finish and were without a title since 2009, but he turned them into champions. Under Schmidt, Ireland went onto win three Six Nations titles in four years, and were top of the world rankings.

His pragmatic, simple game-plan really helped Ireland find their feet again, and he will likely be able to do this with the Wallabies too. He has also selected only Australian-based players, possibly in an attempt to see players like Will Skelton return down under to feature in the national side, but either way his DNA is now evident in the Australia team.

This series against Wales also presents a great opportunity for them to get the country back on board with the Wallabies ahead of the Lions tour in 2025.

Can Wales halt the slump?

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The Welsh national team, and Welsh rugby on the whole, is in a spot of bother right now to say the least. Warren Gatland’s side were awarded the Wooden Spoon in the Six Nations, and were winless after six games. They have also lost their biggest name, Louis Rees-Zammit, to the NFL.

Elsewhere, there is a mass exodus of players from the regions, and even talk of going from four regions down to three; but this series again could change the tune coming out of the Welsh rugby.

We’ve already touched on the issues at the Wallabies, and whilst Joe Schmidt will likely turn their fortunes around at some point, they are still there for the taking right now.

Wales also have the players to do it too. Led by Dewi Lake, Wales showed plenty of improvement against the Springboks at Twickenham. South Africa’s bench ultimately stole the win, but now Wales have a much stronger squad available and can bring on already seasoned internationals.

They now have access to their England-based players, meaning Exeter Chiefs duo Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza, alongside Leicester Tigers man Tommy Reffell, Saracens centre Nick Tompkins, Gloucester back Josh Hathaway and Bath’s former rugby league star Regan Grace are now available for selection for this international series.

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Will England kick on from Japan win?

International rugby is a funny old beast, isn’t it.

At the halfway point of the Six Nations, people were calling for Steve Borthwick’s head. England were deploying a turgid attack, and the new blitz defence wasn’t quite working as well as it could have; but flash forward to now and there is a real sense of hope amongst the English faithful.

The huge 52-17 win over Japan showed just what England can do with an attack-first mentality. Marcus Smith was given the reigns for the first time in his international career, and he took his chance with both hands. England played a more attack-minded gameplan, with the focus put on attacking the spaces rather than faces.

Elsewhere, the likes of Feyi-Waboso, Cunningham-South and Ben Earl also showed England can adopt a nice power game amongst the fast-paced attack.

The challenge now is for them to kick on from this sign. It’s all well and good tearing apart a fresh-faced Japanese team (one player was even making his professional, not just international, debut), but they need to transfer this across to the tests against the All Blacks for it to really become part of England’s plans moving forward.

Scotland need a clean sweep

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Scotland’s summer tour has gone fairly under the radar, but they need a clean sweep if they want it to be useful moving forwards.

Gregor Townsend has opted to bring a changed squad, without the likes of Finn Russell and Cam Redpath, this summer. There are several debutants in the wider 37-man squad, however they will still be leaning on the likes of Huw Jones, Sione Tuipolotu and Duhan van der Merwe.

The Glasgow Warriors URC triumph also epitomised the growth of Scottish rugby, but they haven’t quite delivered on that promise in the international game just yet.

Scotland have long been touted as the team to watch in the Six Nations, but haven’t had the success of an Ireland or France just yet. This summer represents a good chance for them to really prove a point against Canada, the USA, Chile and Uruguay, and they need to return home with a clean sweep, and four big wins, for it to mean anything.

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