The essential guide to this summer’s rugby tours

Breakthrough players

It’s a big series for whoever gets the nod at No 8, with Duane Vermeulen currently recovering from knee surgery. Jasper Wiese of Leicester would appear to be the frontrunner, after being named player of the match in the Premiership final, but Evan Roos of the Stormers and Elrigh Louw of the Bulls have both had cracking seasons.

Prediction: 3-0

No history is being made here, sadly. Once South Africa settle back into a groove – and don’t forget Faf de Klerk is now back after missing the autumn – this feels like one-way traffic unless Wales have been quietly working on a revolution.

Ben Coles

Japan v France

July 2, Toyota

July 9, Tokyo

The hipster’s choice? Maybe, but France have rested their biggest guns and Jamie Joseph admitted that the pandemic had left Japan “clearly behind” rivals in their preparation for next year’s World Cup. After reaching the quarter-finals at their home tournament in 2019, the Brave Blossoms did not have a single fixture in 2020 and lost five out of six in 2021. A single win came against Portugal.

They began this year by beating Uruguay twice, picking squads that combined older heads with new faces. Yu Tamura and Timothy Lafaele resumed their midfield partnership in the first game, for instance. Neither were in the 23 for the second encounter. Joseph is eager to build depth, but will surely assemble something close to a front-line selection to take the Grand Slam champions.

Fabien GalthiĆ© is in a comfy place. It was essentially his third team, plus a few ringers such as back-heeling George Kruis, that demolished England for the Barbarians last Sunday. For this tour, he has opted against bringing Top 14 finalists and those with miles on the clock. Expect the same tactical template, comprising patient kicking, fierce defense and flowing counter-attack. If Japan’s intricate phase-play clicks, we could have a classic clash of styles.

Pivotal players

As ever, 33-year-old Michael Leitch is an influential figure for Japan and the absence of Kazuki Himeno, his fellow back-rower, only amplifies that. Combative hooker Atsushi Sakate will share game-time with Shota Horie.

Matthieu Jalibert is likely to be opposite him. Having missed the Six Nations due to injury, the talented playmaker, still only 23, will be motivated to lead convincing performances. Success breeds success, you see.

Breakthrough players

Gerhard Van der Heever, a strapping and well-travelled South African wing, was handed a Japan debut in the second match against Uruguay. The 33-year-old marked it with a try after his selection of raised eyebrows. Dylan Riley and Yusuke Kazimura could shake up the midfield. Takuya Yamasawawho guided Saitama Wild Knights to the domestic title with Rikiya Matsuda injured, will provide Yu Tamura with competition at fly-half.

There are a few potential World Cup bolters in the 42-man group that GalthiĆ© has put together. Nolann Le Garrecjust 20, is yet another prodigious scrum-half and may well jump the queue to become Antoine Dupont’s deputy.

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