Rugby Union

Autumn Internationals review- England stutter whilst Scotland star in the Autumn internationals

As mist descended on south west London on Saturday evening, Eddie Jones and his coaching staff would have sipped their post series beer with a tinge of disappointment. Despite three comfortable victories on the scoreboard, England’s displays at Twickenham this autumn were largely error strewn, having only truly broken off the rust filled shackles in a Danny Care inspired rip-roaring final 10 minutes against Australia.

Whilst analysing England’s performance in the weeks to come, Jones must be mindful of his side’s ability to win ugly and the safeguarding of their triumphant record at England’s HQ. Many flocked to the Capital this November with an unrealistic expectation of England totalling up a score akin to those we will see this winter in Australia. Argentina and Samoa must be commended for their grit. England and their supporters must realise international rugby is the highest
echelon of the game for a reason.

Elliot Daly and the indomitable Courtney Lawes both showed why they featured for the British and Irish Lions last summer, with both surely set to feature heavily for England in the years to come. Eddie Jones’s settled front row of Mako Vunipola, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole were once again solid if unspectacular. England’s real find of the autumn came in the shape of a stocky US-born Sam Underhill, the Bath flanker’s chopping of Argentinians in the first test of the series was relentless, with James Haskell ageing, Underhill looks a good bet to hold down Englands 7 shirt in the years to come.

England’s squad is robust, and whilst Nathan Hughes and Sam Simmonds are both fearsome operators, the ongoing absence of Billy Vunipola continues to prove to be trying for England’s ball carrying. The shining light during this international period undoubtedly came from North of the border, with Gregor Townsend adding a modicum of stardust to Vern Cotter’s already well laid foundations. Stuart Hogg’s performance against New Zealand was scintillating.

Only a superb cover tackle from Beauden Barrett stood between Scotland and levelling the scores with the All Blacks in the final minute after a dazzling waltz down the touchline from Hogg. Make no mistake, Scotland are a proper side. Hogg was not required whilst Scotland piled up eight tries on 14 bewildered Wallabies after pulling up lame in the warm up. Scotland will look to ruffle the feathers of the big boys come the Six Nations in the new year.

With big name absentees such as Gary Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw, Ireland’s autumn was always going to be a fact finding mission about the personnel in the periphery of their squad. The Irish chalked up three solid wins, albeit a tight 23-20 win over Fiji with a very much second string line up. Chris Farrell and Bundee Aki filled the considerable gap left by Ringrose and Henshaw with aplomb. Jacob Stockdale’s brace against the Argentinians gave another glimpse into the propitious future of the Irish back line.

Stockdale’s scything line break and skinning of the Argentinian full back Tuchulet showed finishing ability way surpassing his 21 years. Ireland’s strength in depth is improving – this is an area which has often fallen short when being compared to other nations in the past. No position displays this robustness more than loosehead prop where Ireland possess two genuine world class operators in Cian Healy and Jack McGrath. Healy was at his bulldozing brilliant best this autumn, if this form can be maintained for his province Leinster, he will provide Joe Schmidt with an almighty selection dilemma moving forward.

The autumn internationals provided Wales with a chance to showcase their new brand of running rugby. Warren Gatland elected to start their tests with a distributor at inside-centre in the tenth year of his tenure with Wales. Whilst this new style of play is certainly the way forward, it will undoubtedly take time for the Welsh to adapt, with their results and performances displaying this. Wales’s hoodoo against the Southern Hemisphere must be conquered if they are to be successful in the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Although, without a freak Kurtley Beale try at the Principality Stadium, Wales may have been able to stop the rot of 10 straight loses against the Wallabies. A player of Sam Warburton’s stature would be missed by any side in World Rugby. Warburton was sidelined with a neck injury. Wales will hope that their captain will be fit and ready to be a nuisance at opposition break down come the Six Nations in the spring.

Luca O’Cleirigh

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