After recent lacklustre performances on the rugby field, fans of the home nations should not expect too much from their teams this weekend, writes Ben Monro-Davies.
It should be mouth watering. In Cardiff the champions of Europe take on the champions of the world, New Zealand. England take on the Springboks.
Ireland face rugby's tiger economy, Argentina, and Scotland the ever feisty Tonga. What a prospect. But fans of all four home nations will approach the clashes with a distinct lack of appetite.
It is hard to remember a more depressing few weeks for British rugby. Grand slam champions Wales have been humiliated at home by Argentina and then Samoa.
England turned up in pink against an injury stricken Australia, and left red faced in defeat. At least Scotland's defeats against the All Blacks and South Africa were no surprise, and Ireland have looked distinctly pedestrian in defeat to the Boks, and victory against Fiji.
What is going wrong? In England's case the malaise appears long term. Since that drop goal in 2003, they have been largely awful. Wales, though, have won three grand slams .... triumphs that are put into perspective by repeated failures against southern hemisphere opposition. Ireland have spluttered, Scotland consistently poor.
It is especially disheartening given the end of season sees the might of these islands join together for a Lions tour. The destination is Australia, a team whose recent form made most suspect an easy win for the tourists.
Victory for the Lions is much needed, given they have been defeated on their last three adventures.
But on the evidence of the autumn internationals, maybe the Lions should consider staying at home. As to matters closer at hand, Wales could not head into the toughest test in rugby in a poorer state.
At least coach Warren Gatland will be back in charge after missing recent matches. And All Black genius Dan Carter is injured .... but remember they won the World Cup without him.
And England look in a right pickle. The performance against Australia was a disaster. Changes have been rung, and they could bounce back against an efficient but not brilliant South Africa.
But few would back them, nor Ireland against an Argentina benefiting now from annual matches against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Scotland remain the best hope, albeit against Tonga. When the Scots are the home nations' best hope, things are in quite a state.
15 June 2012
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