The AFL International Cup is finally here!
It’s been a long three years since the last International Cup which saw Papua New Guinea and Canada take out the men’s and women’s competitions. This year’s IC will see 8 European team’s take part across 2 men’s and a women’s division. The two-week competition kicks off tomorrow at Royal Park with a huge schedule of matches across three fields.
Round 1 matches will be live streamed by the AFL on their International Cup YouTube channel (http://bit.ly/2wllThW).
Prior to each round we’ll be taking a quick look at our European teams match-ups as well as our umpire’s appointments.
GB Swans vs Pakistan – 8:45am – Royal Park, Ransford Oval
The reigning European Champions will be competing in their first International Cup and they’ll be opening their tournament against fellow newcomers, Pakistan. The Swans will be confident going in after being super competitive in all matches they’ve taken part since they started on the International scene in early 2016.
Head Coach, Garth Nevin, will have his side in supreme condition with plenty of focus on their strength and conditioning program throughout 2017. Key players from their side have completed strong seasons in the AFL London league so match fitness and touch shouldn’t be an issue.
The Swans will need to be ready for an arm-wrestle early but should have the speed and skill to run out this game the better.
South Africa vs GB Bulldogs – 9:30am – Royal Park, McAlister Oval
One of the matches of the round. The Bulldogs open their campaign against IC14 4th place finishers, South Africa, and will thrive at the challenge to knock-off a tournament heavyweight early. Bulldogs coach, Dean Thomas, has been working closely with his side and will believe that they can take the step into the top echelon on IC competitors after sitting mid-pack for a number of years.
Their performance at last year’s European Championships indicts they are due to improve on the world stage after they comprehensively defeated Ireland in the final.
South Africa are the perfect test to start IC17 and the Bulldogs will use their fitness and strength to control the contest. The Bulldogs will have some very handy Australian-based players to add to their squad and their experience will be invaluable.
The well-drilled and structured Bulldogs will be in for a very tough game but it would be no surprise to see them pull away late in the last quarter and claim victory. Accuracy for goal will be key as no doubt there will be a couple of kicks in it.
PNG vs Irish Warriors – 11:15am – Royal Park, McAlister Oval
The IC14 Grand Final replay. What a way to open the 2017 edition of the International Cup with the two powerhouses of the tournament reigniting their rivalry straight up. Both sides will have already spent a week in Australia getting used to the conditions and for the bulk of the Irish squad, getting over the jet-lag.
PNG have had two warm-up games in preparation for this tournament so they’ll be red-hot from the get-go. The Warriors have had a hit-out against the University Blacks at Gosch’s Paddock so they’ll have blown out the cobwebs before this thrilling Round 1 encounter.
How the Irish control the speed and skill of PNG will be key. If they try to play them at their own game they’ll get beaten but the Irish pride themselves on out-thinking teams. The Irish are coming off 2 losses in major tournaments and are hungrier than ever to reclaim their spot as the top International football side.
The Irish know how to win big games and big tournaments. They’ll have a well prepared game plan on how to take down the boys from PNG and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they continued their unbeaten IC first round record.
Pakistan vs German Eagles – 11:15am – Royal Park, Western Oval
The German Eagles kick-off their IC17 tournament against Pakistan who will be playing in their second IC after debuting in 2014. The Eagles will be a very tough opponent in Division 2 after being a competitive outfit at last years European Championships.
The Eagles will be making the IC debut and won’t be taking it lightly with their sights set firmly on going far in the second tier of the men’s competition. Pakistan struggled at the last IC but slipped into the top division after the grading rounds. No doubt they’ve improved over the past three years but the experience Germany gained from the European Championships will hold them in a good position to take it right up to the Pakistani’s.
Germany should have dominant ruckmen and with some very good midfielders at their feet this should prove too much for their round 1 opponents. Look for the Eagles to open their accounts with a ‘W’.
PNG vs European Crusaders – 12:15pm – Royal Park, Ransford Oval
If the PNG women play anything like their men then the Crusaders could be in some trouble. They’ll be making their return to the International stage after debuting in 2011.
The Crusaders are a mixed group of women from across Europe and their biggest battle will be how quickly they gel together as a team.
The bulk of the Crusaders squad comes from France and with some key personnel based in Australia they should be a very competitive team in the women’s division. The Crusaders will go into this one determined to show the competition that they aren’t here to make up the numbers which will spell trouble for the PNG women.
Expect the Crusaders to play quick, direct football that could play into the hands of PNG but they should come out on top in a close, low-scoring encounter.
Croatian Knights vs China – 1:00pm – Royal Park, Western Oval
The mighty Knights debut at the IC against three-time competitors, China. We all know how strong and powerful the Croatians are at the 9-a-side format so this game will be a real test to see how quickly they adapt to the large spaces of Western Oval.
The Chinese will be tough opponent first up especially with the recent focus of Aussie Rules this year with the first-ever AFL match played on their shores. No doubt they take some inspiration from this match and take it right up to the Croatians.
Croatia should out muscle most sides in the competition so they’ll need to play to this strength. If they allow China to play an outside game then they could be in trouble. Stoppage, contested football will be their best-friend over the next two weeks. Expect the Knights to push the ball forward all day and claim a historic first-round victory.
Irish Banshees vs USA – 2:00pm – Royal Park, Ransford Oval
The IC14 women’s runners-up will be back with a vengeance at this year’s tournament. Expect them to come out firing on all cylinders against the USA and they’ll have a point to prove after coming up short at last year’s European Championships as well. They’ll be far better for the experience and with the added strength of their Australian-based players will see them want to flex their muscle on the competition from the beginning.
The Banshees have some very strong inside midfielders and once they get the ball moving forward they’ll be very difficult to stop. The USA could be up against it early as the Irish look to reassert their dominance as an International powerhouse.
Fiji vs French Coqs – 2:45pm – Royal Park, McAlister Oval
It’s a great first match up for the French Coqs. The Coqs will be competing in their third consecutive IC and each tournament they’ve shown improvement. The development of their domestic competition over the past three years should see a vastly improved French outfit come August 6 and they’ll need to be as they enter this year’s tournament in the top division from the get go.
Coach, Andrew Unsworth, will have the boys prepped with a well thought-out game plan that should see them competitive against all sides. The Fijians are tipped to show the most improvement since IC14 but that won’t rattle the Frenchmen.
The French have some very good forwards who will be a real handful for the Fijians. The key will be winning it out of the midfield and providing quick forward 50 entries. Winning in the middle holds the key to the French impacting the game and look out if they do.
Most would pencil Fiji for a first up victory but the French will surprise a few this tournament and it wouldn’t surprise anyone in Europe if they jump the Fijians early and took the ‘W’.
Oscar Ayyadi – PNG vs European Crusaders – 12:15pm – Royal Park, Ransford Oval
Oscar will be the first of the European umpires to take the field in Melbourne when he officiates the PNG vs European Crusaders women’s game. He has been in good form in the AFL London season and finished with a very difficult preliminary final so he’ll be well and truly on the ball come August 6.
Geoff Pascoe – Croatian Knights vs China – 1:00pm – Royal Park, Western Oval
Geoff opens his IC17 campaign in a tough encounter between men’s division 2 contenders Croatia and China. He was awarded the golden whistle at last year’s European Championships and will be looking to continue his strong form at major tournaments with what will be a challenging first game.
Josh Davey – Canada vs USA – 1:00pm – Royal Park, McAlister Oval
Josh has been allocated a real blockbuster for round 1 when the Canadian and USA men lock horns in a brutal first up game. The two sides are both renowned for their physicality and hard-hits. No doubt he’ll be busy as the two evenly matched sides will be looking to assert their dominance early on.
Hayden Charles – South Africa vs GB Bulldogs – 9:30am – Royal Park, McAlister Oval
Haydos has been a late inclusion to the AFL Europe umpiring contingent after recently relocating back to Australia after many years based in London. The 2016 Euro Cup Golden Whistle winner has been appointed a huge match first up with South Africa and GB Bulldogs locking horns early on Sunday morning.