The home nations have battled the best teams in the world over a month-long campaign. No longer do the Southern Hemisphere teams assert complete dominance over international rugby and with Japan less than a year away, every match is now vital.
We have a look at how each home nation fared in their autumn campaign and whether any of them could unseat the mighty All Blacks from their throne next year.
There will be a sigh of relief from Eddie Jones, and many England fans, following England’s autumn campaign. Having regained some of their composure after a disappointing year, England can now look to next year’s World Cup in Japan with new hope. With victories against South Africa, Japan and Australia, and a close yet controversial loss against New Zealand, Jones’ side have once again asserted themselves as a force to be reckoned with.
More impressive is that they managed to pull off the success with many key players injured. The loss of the Vunipola brothers in particular has been significant, though perhaps less than expected with Ben Moon and Mark Wilson stepping up to the plate. Newcomer Joe Cokanasiga also made his mark this campaign, scoring a debut try against Japan and following up with another against the Wallabies.
England made many strides forward this campaign, but with both Wales and Ireland looking formidable, only time will tell how they will fare in the Six Nations next year. However, with England’s only real competition in the World Cup pools being France and Argentina, they will be looking to drastically improve on their disappointing 2015 World Cup.
Without a doubt the team of the autumn. New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen claimed that Ireland are now the best team on the planet following their historic win against the All Blacks in Dublin. The Six Nations champions came away with four wins from four from their autumn campaign following wins against Italy, Argentina, New Zealand and USA.
The star of Ireland’s campaign was Tadgh Furlong, who is arguably the best tighthead prop in the world right now. His impact on the game and his ability to elevate the strengths of his teammates around him was fundamental to Ireland’s success.
Ireland’s strength in depth is what makes them one of the most dangerous teams in the world right now. Conor Murray and Robbie Henshaw, both key components to Ireland’s team, were absent during the four Tests. However, in their absence, Luke McGrath and Kieran Marmion stepped in at nine, and in midfield Will Addison and Garry Ringrose. Similarly, for Ireland to beat the Kiwis and to do so without either Sean O’Brien or Connor Murray, speaks volumes of how far this team has come.
Warren Gatland has much to be proud of following his team’s autumn campaign. Their first autumn internationals clean sweep and the first time they have beat one of the big southern hemisphere teams four times in a row.
South African coach Rassie Erasmus has named Wales “the silent assassins of world rugby” and this sums up Wales’ autumn performance.
Gatland has put much emphasis at improving the depth of his team, and with the absence of Taulupe Faletau and many other key players throughout the entire campaign, he will be happy at how many young players stepped up to the plate for the series.
With their wins over Scotland, Australia, Tonga and South Africa, Wales will hope to continue this momentum going into the Six Nations next year, where, if they can pull off wins against France, Italy and England, they will exceed the record for the most successive wins in Welsh rugby history.
It’s been quite a year for Scotland. Starting with their victory over Australia late last year in Sydney, and then defeating England at Murrayfield in the Six Nations, there have certainly been some highs. Following them, however, came sobering losses to the USA and Fiji later in the year.
They came out of their autumn campaign with two wins, after beating Fiji and Argentina, but couldn’t overcome either Wales or South Africa. Still, Gregor Townsend remains positive, and believes his side are in a better place going in to next year’s Six Nations, with games against Wales, Ireland and Italy all at Murrayfield.
Scotland’s forwards have seen much improvement, dominating a larger Fijian pack, while also going matching their counterparts in South Africa and Wales. This was seen most in their set-piece play in their game against the Springboks, especially their scrum and line-out maul. Still, for Scotland to pose a real threat their forwards must match the brilliance of their backs.
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