Autumn Internationals 2016: Skill, Drama, Elation and Devastation

This weekend had it all; exceptional tries, thumping tackles, excellent individual displays, and all the late drama that a rugby fan could ask for. Here’s my rundown of the home nations performances:

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Injury crisis? What injury crisis?
England’s build-up to the autumn internationals may have been horribly disrupted by a busload of casualty’s, but Eddie Jones is forging a squad blessed with depth, quality and a growing self-belief. This England team is now excellent team, plain and simple.

Joe Launchbury, who was the official man of the match, is one of the best of the enormous second-rows that Jones will have available when everyone’s fit. Apart from his specialty at altitude in the lineout, the Wasps captain is relentless around the field; hitting rucks, making tackles and carrying vigorously.

Unquestionably, Launchbury has been given the nod to be one of the on-field leaders during the Autumn and alongside the likes of Chris Robshaw, Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola and skipper Dylan Hartley; England now have leaders all over the pitch in both the forwards and backs.

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Another player who put down a strong marker was Ben Youngs, who is now finally the definitive first choice playmaker ahead of Danny Care. The Leicester scrum-half produced his best performance in an England shirt for more than two years, twice embarrassing Pieter-Steph du Toit to set up tries for George Ford and then Farrell with outrageous dummies.

Billy Vunipola also made his latest compelling case to be named the best No 8 in the world while the returning Jonny May showed he’s still capable of a world class finish as he dotted down the games opening try. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the Elliot Daly experiment at 13, but I did enjoy his monstrous 50-metre penalty.

The performance overall was nowhere near perfect, but still very good and was another history-making victory in what’s been an incredible 2016 thus far. On this evidence, the upward curve of the Jones tenure is continuing.

These are very exciting times for England fans heading into the 2017 Six Nations.


 Agonizing Deja Vu
Glorious defeat or recurring nightmare? Take your pick. Tevita Kuridrani’s late try inflicted another agonising defeat on Scotland as Australia won 23-22 at Murrayfield despite a double from Huw Jones on his first international start.

There was no controversy about the winning score this time, however, as the powerhouse centre burst through in midfield close to Scotland’s line, took the tackle of fullback Stuart Hogg, turned and planted the ball on the line.

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Ultimately, the result was decided by Greig Laidlaw’s third conversion attempt, which struck an upright. Scotland’s captain said: “In the end, it was down to the thickness of paint on the posts. We were so close, and it is massively disappointing.”

Scotland’s transformation into a nation that plays attractive, expansive rugby has been enjoyable to watch and although this defeat will hurt, their ability to go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the world is a clear representation of the upward progress the men in blue are making.

Next week, the Wallabies will head to France before resuming their Grand Slam campaign against Ireland and England. Meanwhile, Scotland will look to bounce back against Argentina at Murrayfield next Saturday.


Pride Restored to the Wales jersey
The words “horrible,” “embarrassing” and “pathetic” were all used by The Sunday Times to describe Wales’ performance against Australia last weekend. Seven days on and the returning Alun Wyn Jones, almost single handily, restored pride to the Wales jersey after he picked up and dragged his teammates to an impressive narrow 24-20 victory against Argentina in Cardiff.

The world-class Ospreys lock was at his imperious best while Leigh Halfpenny and Gareth Davies also put in displays more fitting of the famous red jersey this time out. George North nevertheless was unfortunately rather quiet although he did defend well.

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Their one dimensional, battering ram style of play, ‘Warrenball,’ isn’t suiting some of their more talented players and leaves guys such as North to hunt on scraps. Nevertheless, the quick and elusive Liam Williams was able to add some x-factor to the Wales performance with his try and all around display.

Out of the home nations, Wales unquestionably have the most work to do, but this victory will inject some much-needed confidence into their relatively young and unexperienced squad. Next weekend’s clash with Japan, who impressively beat Georgia yesterday, in Cardiff is a game where they have to throw the ball about a bit more.


 Debut Delight for Irish Youngsters
A second-string Ireland scored eight tries at the Aviva Stadium to beat Canada 52-21, but it wasn’t as easy as the scoreline suggests. The visitors put up a strong fight in the first half and were still within a score until the hour mark before Ireland began to turn the screw in the final quarter.

Tiernan O’Halloran claimed a brace, with Keith Earls, Luke Marshall, Ultan Dillane, Kieran Marmion and James Tracy all crossing, and a penalty try completing a comfortable but sloppy victory.

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After making history in Chicago last weekend with their first victory over New Zealand in 111 years, it is hard to escape the impression that Ireland’s focus is still almost exclusively on next weekend’s mouth-watering rematch with the All Blacks in Dublin.

While a crowd of 50,000 still turned up at the Aviva Stadium to cheer on the ‘B’ team, there was definitely a feeling that this was merely the filling in a far meatier sandwich.

I doubt Joe Schmidt will make many changes to the XV that beat New Zealand but can lightening strike twice? I sure hope so.


Who will win the 2017 Six Nations?

It’s currently a toss up between England and Ireland in my eyes. What do you think?!…

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