With round 1 of the 2014 Autumn Internationals series over we take a look at nine of the things we’ve learnt now that the dust has settled;
1.New Zealand Are Still The Best Team In The World
Pretty obvious I know, but it is still worth stating as the All Blacks recovered from a disjointed first half performance to blow England off the pitch in the second 40. The fact England were almost exclusively confined to their own half during the second period, even when the All Blacks went down to 14 men showed the ability of the visitors. In a weekend when South Africa stuttered it will have given confidence to the All Blacks to have beaten next year’s World Cup hosts in their own backyard, even when not at their best.
2.England Aren’t Going To Win The World Cup
At least not like this they won’t. A solid first half performance was completely undone during a poor second 40 as the reigning World Champions well and truly showed them up. Aimless kicking and poor decision making (driving mauls inside their own half?) left Stuart Lancaster’s side well and truly on the back foot. A sublime try from Jonny May and impressive scrum penalty try helped masked some of the failings but the reality is England lacked the quality to hang on against an underperforming All Blacks side.
3.Scotland Are Actually Worth Watching Under Vern Cotter
So Argentina may not be a top three side, but that should not take away from the achievement of Vern Cotter and his Scotland side this weekend. Argentina had always been a bogey team for the hosts, but Scotland well and truly played them off the park this weekend, this despite Cotter having to field a fairly inexperienced side due to injuries. Fly Half Finn Russell looks to be a real star in the making whilst the Gray brothers provided a potent second row combination with the likes of Adam Ashe and Greig Laidlaw also performing well.
4.There’s Still Life in France Yet
Fiji will not provide the sternest of tests for France during this international series, but they are certainly no pushovers. For France to have won so convincingly will come as a real positive for Les Bleus, whilst the performances of a number of debutants will provide the French public with some hope for next year’s World Cup. A hattrick for winger Teddy Thomas and a solid showing at full back for Scott Spedding will provide Saint-Andre with plenty to ponder over this week.
5.Ireland Must Be Considered Genuine Contenders for Next Year’s World Cup
Ok, so it’s maybe a little early to be declaring Ireland as champions elect, however this weekends complete dominance over the Springboks has shown just what this side is capable of. Both sides were missing key players but that should not tarnish what was a truly excellent performance from Joe Schmidt’s men. Ireland were the only Northern Hemisphere side to display an acute tactical kicking game that kept their opponents pinned in their own half, whilst key men provided huge performances. The future bodes well for the men from the Emerald Isle.
6.The Springboks Don’t Need to Panic
South Africa may have suffered something of an upset this weekend, however there is no need for them to panic at this stage. They were well below par, in part down to Ireland’s incredible intensity, but they still displayed enough to suggest they will be a force to be reckoned with over the next 12 months. In the end a number of key players let them down as they were out-thought and out-fought, however as we saw at the end of the Rugby Championship, they are capable of beating the world’s best team.
7.The Wallabies Still Have Work To Do
Victory over Wales will have gone some way to getting the Wallabies back on track, but there is still plenty of work to do for the men in gold. They may be going through something of a transitional phase right now with new coach Michael Cheika, however a near full strength Wallabies side struggled until the last 20 minutes to overcome a Welsh side struggling with injuries. Israel Folau was once again their get-out-of-jail card, but they need to find another game changer and soon.
8.Wales Will Struggle to Make it Into the Knock-Out Rounds of the World Cup
Despite leading until the final 13 minutes of the game, the Welsh were unable to close out another tightly fought contest against Southern Hemisphere opposition. This is now the ninth time Warren Gatland has lost in 10 tests against the Wallabies, and will therefore continue to raise the question as to whether or not his men are capable of taking on the top sides in the world. With England and Australia in their pool during next year’s World Cup, you have to fear for their ability to make it to the knock-out stages this time around.
9.The Gap Between North and South is Closing
There may still be a ways to go but it does appear that the gap between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres is finally beginning to close. Ireland’s victory over the Springboks has to be considered the result of the weekend, whilst Scotland’s result against Argentina isn’t far behind. Elsewhere Italy and France both beat Samoa and Fiji respectively whilst the points difference in the Wales and England games weren’t quite as significant as in previous years.
What do you think we can take away from this weekend’s internationals?