It has been a big Autumn for the Home Nations. This year’s Autumn Internationals have challenged the established dominance of the Southern Hemisphere sides. In matches between the Home Nations and the Rugby Championship sides the Home Nations have won seven and lost just two. Granted they were at home for all of these but the last few weeks have demonstrated the gap has closed.
Here at Last Word on Rugby we are grading England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales’ Autumn International series. We will look at where they went well, where they can improve and their World Cup chances.
England – Back on Track
This time a month ago some were calling for Eddie Jones’ head and England were at an all time low. Fast forward four matches and it looks a lot more positive. Despite a number of injuries England have won three out of four of their Autumn Internationals. The one loss was also a single point defeat to the All Blacks.
With injuries across the back row both Mark Wilson and Sam Underhill really shone. Underhill in particular looks a shoe in for the no. 7 shirt from now on. In the backs Owen Farrell took on a leadership role and showed what a quality player he really is.
However, it is not all rosy for Eddie Jones’ men. The performance against Japan was hardly inspiring and if the decision at the end of the South Africa game went the other way, we may be looking at the Autumn very differently.
Overall, England are almost back on track. However, wins against depleted Australian and South African sides do not make this side World Cup favourites. The Autumn Internationals were a good step back in the right direction for England. However, they need to make a statement in the Six Nations if they are to be favourites in Japan.
Ireland – Best Side in the World?
It was an Autumn Internationals defined by one game for the Irish. But what a game it was. Ireland were the first Northern Hemisphere side to prevent the All Blacks from scoring a try since 1995. Ireland have shown themselves to be a cut above the chasing pack with their win against New Zealand.
Alongside New Zealand, Ireland must be one of the two favourites going into next years World Cup. Ireland have now also proven that they have depth across their squad that rivals any nations’. Performances against Argentina and Italy have highlighted the talent of the likes of Jordan Lamour and Will Addison. This really bodes well for the next twelve months for Irish Rugby.
There is only one caveat to what has been a phenomenal Autumn for Ireland. The fact that their only genuine challenge came against the All Blacks allowed them to focus solely on that game. This is something that other teams did not have the luxury of. However, this should not detract much from their achievements in this Autumn Internationals and they look genuine favourites for any game going forward.
Scotland – Progression but Disappointment
Any other year this Autumn Internationals series would be seen as a success for Scotland. But the success of all the other Home Nations has made it seem that Scotland have underachieved. However it is a testament to how far Scotland have come that narrow loss to South Africa is a disappointment.
Scotland won two and lost two this Autumn. An excellent win in difficult conditions against Argentina in the final weekend will have put a smile on Gregor Townsend’s face. They also demolished Fiji which was seen as a potential banana skin for this side. They also fronted up excellently against the enormous South African pack. So there is definitely an awful lot of positives to build one from these games.
However, like Ireland their Autumn Internationals were always going to be defined by one game. Unfortunately, they could not get the result that Ireland did. Their defeat to South Africa highlighted their need for improved game management. Hopefully this game will be a great learning experience for this side and will help them grow.
All in all, Scottish fans may not be happy with the Autumn Internationals. However they have not regressed at all, perhaps just not progressing quite as much as the other Home Nations. Or as they would have liked to.
Wales – Dark Horses No More
Nine wins in row and a wins over South Africa and their bogey side Australia. Wales are flying under the radar no more. Warren Gatland has used this Autumn to try new combinations and players. Amazingly, they have almost all worked. Anscombe at fly-half was a bold call by the Cardiff Blue has been excellent this series. Biggar has a lot to do to get his place back.
This Autumn Internationals Wales have proven they are genuine contenders for the World Cup. Not quite favourites yet but they cannot be ignored any more. Gatland has managed to build depth which a Welsh side has not had in recent memory. He has also built a side that can beat almost anyone in the world on their day.
The big question is can they back this month’s performances up? The Six Nations will be a big test but they have shown that they can compete with anyone in the world. The 2019 World Cup could be in for one hell of a shock in twelve months’ time.
Autumn Internationals review: overall Assessment
The Autumn International have had everything. Controversy, upsets and some amazing rugby. However, best of all is the state of Home Nations rugby. At the 2015 World Cup not a single Northern Hemisphere side mad the semi-finals. Now it would be hard not to see two or three of the Home Nations make the final four.
This is not a time to get carried away. Also, remember that the Southern Hemisphere sides are at the end of a long hard season. They are likely to be carrying injuries and these tours are not easy for any side. However, it is hard not to get excited about Home Nations rugby right now.
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