There were wins for England, Ireland and Scotland but a defeat for Wales – we look at the big talking points from the first week of autumn Internationals
The first Saturday of autumn Internationals provided some hugely entertaining rugby, and some not so. We reflect on the games at Twickenham, Aviva Stadium, Murrayfield and Principality Stadium – and look at the key things learnt about the form of the home nations…
England 21-8 Argentina
- Eddie Jones described this as a “grindathon” and it was certainly a very underwhelming performance from the second best side in the world. England scored two tries – through Nathan Hughes and Semesa Rokoduguni – but much of their play lacked fluency and fluidity.
- The fact Jones, usually so controlled and assured when watching, was shown on camera slamming his notepad on the desk in front of him and swearing demonstrates how disappointing a performance this was from his side. He spoke of the fact that this group hadn’t played together since March, but he still would have expected a more accomplished display.
- The midfield trio of George Ford, Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph didn’t gel because no one took the ball hard to the line. There’s no point having great distributors if no one is taking the ball forward. This improved when Alex Lozowski came on and immediately attacked the line to set up the try for Rokoduguni. Okay, they are still developing an understanding of playing alongside each other but teams need to go forward as well as wide to win games.
- Nathan Hughes carried well, albeit too often directly into contact rather than using a little footwork to find space, but England lacked other players to get them over the gain-line and that affected their ability to generate momentum when they had possession. Hence the stop-start nature of this game.
- Argentina’s free-running game was much discussed in the build-up but here they took a more direct approach. They kicked more than they did in the Rugby Championship and used a lot of ball-carriers close to the breakdown, where England didn’t commit numbers. For Nicolas Sanchez’s late try they went through 30 phases, most of them within five metres of England’s line, and their patience was rewarded.
- Coach’s verdict: “Every time we created something a pass would go astray or something. That understanding at 10-12-13 wasn’t really there. Attack-wise we need to finish opportunities and we gave away some silly penalties.” Eddie Jones
Ireland 38-3 South Africa
- Joe Schmidt’s side scored three tries in the last ten minutes, through Rhys Ruddock, Rob Herring and Jacob Stockdale, to secure their biggest-ever win over South Africa.
- Ireland not only matched South Africa’s physicality but bettered it. It’s rare to see a Springbok side outmuscled but they were dominated at the set-piece, the maul and the breakdown. All big boons for Ireland.
- The game management of Ireland’s half-backs – Man of the Match Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray – was superb. The high balls that the pair rained down on the South African back three put those players under pressure and Ireland reaped the rewards. Their control and composure was in stark contrast to the Boks and highlighted South Africa’s underlying issues. The visitors looked bereft of ideas in attack and were caught out in defence.
- Iain Henderson carried his Lions form into this first autumn Test for Ireland, showing great athleticism with ball in hand and, more often than not, getting across the gain-line.
- The interesting thing going into the Tests against Fiji and Argentina will be whether Joe Schmidt varies his selection. Will he give Kieran Marmion or Luke McGrath a start at scrum-half? Will Joey Carbery get a chance in the No 10 shirt? There’s no doubt Sexton and Murray are world class but come Japan 2019 they need other players in those positions who have experience so they can step in should their be injuries.
- Coach’s verdict: “It is incredibly satisfying to go out, watch the players bring the energy and accuracy, most of the time, that they did.” Joe Schmidt
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Scotland 44-38 Samoa
- The sellout crowd at Murrayfield got their money’s worth with 11 tries scored. Scotland were leading 32-10 in the 47th minute but Samoa hit back in what was a hugely entertaining last half-hour and the hosts will have been relieved to hold on for the win – Gregor Townsend’s first on home soil as national coach.
- Defence will be a huge work-on for Scotland this week ahead of the visit of New Zealand, particularly around the breakdown where Samoa were able to find holes. There were also too many errors around the restart, with two of Samoa’s second-half tries resulting from Scotland’s failure to secure possession from the islanders’ kicks.
- Scotland had several front-rowers ruled out for this game – and lost WP Nel to a suspected broken arm after half an hour – but Stuart McInally stood out at hooker, not only for his two tries but his work around the field and at the set-piece. Still, the All Blacks will pose a sterner test at scrum time than Samoa and it will interesting to see how these relatively inexperienced front-rowers perform.
- The maul again proved an effective weapon for the Scots, as it did during their June Tests, and they will no doubt be looking to employ it against New Zealand.
- The Samoa Rugby Union may have announced they are bankrupt recently but the side showed they can bank on their pride, power and creativity. They will not make things easy for England in a couple of weeks.
- Coach’s verdict: “We have got to make sure we don’t give up possession in our half as cheaply and defend much better.” Gregor Townsend
Wales 21-29 Australia
- This was a hugely entertaining Test match with both sides mixing things up with ball in hand and their kicking games. Australia outscored Wales three tries to one in the first half and Kurtley Beale sealed the win in the 63rd minute with a superb strip off Steff Evans and sprint downfield to touch down under the posts – although there were suggestions of a knock-on by Beale in a replay the TMO did not have the benefit of viewing. Still, the record books will show a 13th straight win for Australia over Wales.
- The new ambition to Wales’ game plan was evident as they played at pace and moved the ball wide. And it wasn’t just the backs showing good handling skills – the likes of Rob Evans, Aaron Shingler and Alun Wyn Jones were all involved too.
- The key difference when compared with Australia was execution. Wales made 16 handling errors to the Wallabies’ four and several of them came at crucial times; they created the space out wide but those opportunities then disappeared with mistakes – a rare knock-on by Taulupe Faletau or the flick pass into touch from Josh Navidi for example. A little more composure in those situations and they should convert opportunities into points.
- One of Wales’ concerns before kick-off was how Owen Williams would cope with the huge Wallaby centres Tevita Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi. Well, the Gloucester man handled them well, making his tackles as well as fulfilling that second playmaker role with his distribution. Their big concern now is the ankle injury in-form centre Jonathan Davies suffered in the final minute.
- The variety Australia showed, particularly with their kicking, will test England much more than anything Argentina produced at Twickenham. In Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale, they have two footballers capable of picking the right option to put defences on the back foot. But the Wallabies will be disappointed by their high penalty count.
- Coach’s verdict: “Against a side of that quality, you have just got to be a bit more clinical. We probably tried to force a few too many passes and offloads.” Warren Gatland