For the first time in over two years, full stadiums at international games returned to the Northern Hemisphere this November. The highly anticipated series did not disappoint with several entertaining games, reminding fans of the excitement of watching the best teams in the world clash on the highest stage. Sam Collins tells us more.
Two years out from the next world cup, how did the Home Nations fare? Who were the real winners of this Autumn? And who learned some major lessons about their squad?
England came into the Autumn with a new-look squad, leaving out some previous stalwarts of the team in George Ford and the Vunipola brothers. Fans were excited to see the young talents of the likes of Marcus Smith and Adam Radwan, both in excellent domestic form. There were some issues with injury and COVID-19 ridding them of captain Owen Farrell (after his 100th test match) and many experienced front rows, allowing for 5 new debutants to play over their 3 fixtures.
A comfortable win over Tonga in the first game was followed by a more dogged performance against Australia. A near-flawless performance from full-back Freddie Steward led the way to a victory, England’ 8th successive win over their old rivals.
England will be happy with their last few weeks
The major success of England’ November, however, was their win over South Africa on the final weekend. The first meeting between the two teams since the 2019 world cup final proved to be as nail-biting as many had expected, with Smith’ 79th-minute penalty enough to earn a narrow 1-point win and cap off an unbeaten series.
England will be happy with their last few weeks, good performances with room to improve alongside a returning ability to win the close games, something we haven’t seen over the past 2 years.
Ireland appear to be back to their very best
Ireland had one of the most successful and exciting Autumn series of the year. Head coach Andy Farrell has brought in a more attacking style of play that appears to not only inspire fans but also gets results on the pitch. Wins against Japan and Argentina sandwiched a stellar showing to beat the All Blacks 29-20.
Back-row forward Caelan Doris showed the international stage just how ready he is to take it by storm, meanwhile on the other end of the scale Johnny Sexton rolled back the years and kept calls for his retirement quiet. Ireland appear to be back to their very best and will be hoping to keep this form going into the new year.
a vastly improving team with ever-increasing strength in depth
Stuart Hogg broke the Scottish try-scoring record as he led his nation in an overall positive block of games. Victories against Japan, Tonga and a hard-fought one over Australia showed that they are a vastly improving team with ever-increasing strength in depth.
New caps Kyle Steyn and Ewan Ashman were standouts and proved that Scotland are going to be a serious threat to any team they come up against in the next few years. A loss to world champions South Africa showed that there are still areas to grow if they want to compete for the highest honours, but there is undoubtedly a lot of positives to be taken from the Autumn.
Wayne Pivac’ side relied on moments of magic from x-factor winger Louis Rees-Zammit
A thumping from New Zealand against a half-strength side at the start of the series dampened the feeling for Wales. Despite looking like a team short of confidence and lacking the rhythm that we all know they possess, they managed to win 2 of their remaining fixtures, losing narrowly to South Africa and triumphing over both Fiji and Australia (though they were assisted by a couple of red cards).
Wayne Pivac’ side relied on moments of magic from x-factor winger Louis Rees-Zammit to spark their attack and will be looking to work on creating more opportunities for their world-class back 3, with Josh Adams and Liam Williams, to get into the game with more space.
the most impressive team this Autumn has to go to the Red Roses
A major positive for the Welsh was the emergence of young flanker Taine Basham who played like a man possessed over the 4 games and looked to be a star in the future for this team.
However, the most impressive team this Autumn has to go to the Red Roses. The England Women’s team took on Canada, USA and New Zealand winning all 4 and scoring at just under 60 points per game. A class above their opponents despite missing key players, including former world player of the year Emily Scarratt, has shown the current depth in the Red Roses squad. Taking apart some of the best in the world in the manner they did has cemented the team as favourites to win the world cup in New Zealand next year.
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