Autumn internationals: Grading each team's series, and why England come out on top

Dan Owen 25/11/2018
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England had a great autumn with three wins

The international rugby sun has set for another year with all eyes now firmly fixed on the World Cup in Japan.

With less than 12 months to the showpiece, the autumn internationals have provided one of the final proving grounds for sides as they finalise their 2019 preparations.

Some have positioned themselves perfectly for an assault on the Webb Ellis Cup, while others have a lot of work to do – in a pretty small amount of time.

Here we take a look at how each team has performed in the last four weeks.


Jacob Stockdale notched the crucial score against New Zealand

Jacob Stockdale notched the crucial score against New Zealand.

Opponents: Italy, Argentina, New Zealand, USA

Record: Four wins from four

Standout performance: The New Zealand win

Grading: 8.5 out of 10

Another unbeaten autumn from Joe Schmidt’s boys in green. The standout here is obviously the 16-9 win over the All Blacks in Dublin. With everyone touting those two as the best sides in the world, it was important for Ireland to get the win and prove they are capable of toppling the giants of world rugby.

Going into the World Cup they know they can beat the best – which they will have to do if they are to get their hands on the trophy. Defensively superb, rock solid up front and incisive in attack – this is a special team.

Little will have been learned in the other fixtures, with the reason they are not marked higher being that level of opposition.

Ireland know to go deep in the World Cup, they will need to beat the best sides one after another, and that’s the only question mark that remains.


England Captain's Run

Opponents: South Africa, New Zealand, Japan, Australia

Record: Three wins, one loss

Standout performance: The final day hosing of Australia

Grading: 9 out of 10

England went into this series something of a mystery. A poor Six Nations was followed up by a series defeat in South Africa and genuine questions were being asked of both Eddie Jones and his side.

While not all of them will have been answered, three wins and a single-point defeat to the All Blacks isn’t a bad retort.

With the injection of some new talent to the side, to complement some of the more established stars, England have put themselves firmly back in the reckoning.

They may have ridden their luck a little at times, but that’s the nature of the beast when a side is rebuilding.

They are by no means the finished article but can head into 2019 with a great deal of satisfaction.


Wales had a 100% record for the first time in an autumn series

Wales had a 100 per cent record for the first time in an autumn series.

Opponents: Scotland, Australia, Tonga, South Africa

Record: Four wins from four

Standout performance: The South Africa win

Grading: 8 out of 10

Autumn is not usually a fun time for Welsh fans, the fact this is the first clean sweep for Wales tells you all you need to know.

Warren Gatland will have been pleased with elements from all four games – good game management against Scotland, a first win in a decade against Australia, ruthlessness in the drubbing of Tonga, and looking adversity in the face and coming through to beat South Africa.

Fresh faces have firmly established themselves in the fold – whether this be Ellis Jenkins or Josh Adams, Adam Beard or even Gareth Anscombe who now appears to hold the No10 jersey. The depth in the Wales squad is now at a level so lacking in the past.

The only thing that detracts for Gatland’s men is that fact they didn’t play arguably the three best sides they could have faced.


Huw Jones has been one of the leading lights for Scotland.

Huw Jones has been one of the leading lights for Scotland.

Opponents: Wales, Fiji, South Africa, Argentina

Record: Two wins, two losses

Standout performance: A win over Argentina

Grading: 6 out of 10

It gets a little cliched saying ‘typical Scotland’ but the autumn really was. Some real high points (stand up Huw Jones), but they constantly get overshadowed by frustrating lows.

An opening defeat in Cardiff didn’t get things off on the best foot, but confidence will have been lifted by the thumping of Fiji.

South Africa should have been beaten, but sloppy game management prevented that.

A turgid win to close things out against Argentina was the very least they needed to get some credibility.


New Zealand have work to do

New Zealand have work to do.

Opponents: Japan, England, Ireland, Italy

Record: Three wins, one loss

Standout performance: England, just about

Grading: 6 out of 10

After some stutters in the Rugby Championship, talk leading into the autumn was of an All Black side that was there to be got at.

If we ignore the Japan and Italy games, with respect to both sides, that chat was absolutely right.

They looked disjointed against England but managed to grind out a win, but came up against a solid green wall in Dublin.

While the scoreboard shows a converted try win for the Irish, that doesn’t tell the full story.

When we see the All Blacks we think of forwards punching holes, outrageous offloads and backs slicing through at will. Not a bit of it here. The Irish defence blunted them completely, which will be the biggest worry for Steve Hansen and his men.

If the World Cup started tomorrow, they would not be favourites – and that’s a huge shift from the start of the year.


South Africa has a mixed bag of results

South Africa had a mixed bag of results.

Opponents: England, France, Scotland, Wales

Record: Two wins, two losses

Standout performance: A gutsy win in France

Grading: 6 out of 10

This is tricky to judge, as it could have quite easily been four wins, or indeed four losses they head back home with.

South African rugby is finding its feet again but it’s a long road.

Controversially denied a last-kick-of-the-game shot to beat England, they were unable to ever truly assert dominance in their fixtures.

They remain a force up front with a generally solid set-piece, and one of the world’s great forwards in Malcolm Marx.

Questions remain in the back line, but under Rassie Erasmus they are heading in the right direction.


The future doesn't look good for Australia

The future doesn’t look good for Australia.

Opponents: Wales, Italy, England

Record: One win, two losses

Standout performance: Is there one?

Grading: 3 out of 10

Things go from bad to worse for Australia.

Rugby union has real issues Down Under and that’s now showing on the pitch.

Lacking quality, depth and any real sense of direction, this once giant of the game is bloodied and on its knees.

There is no shame in away losses to Wales and England, but the results are more endemic of wider issues.

You question coach Michael Cheika, but what he has at his disposal is simply not good enough.

Sad to see when the likes of Michael Hooper, David Pocock and Isreal Folau would grace most sides.



Opponents: South Africa, Argentina, Fiji

Record: One win, two losses

Standout Performance: The win over Argentina

Grading: 5 out of 10

The French enigma continues.

Unlucky to lose to South Africa in their opening fixtures, a great win over Argentina, then capitulation against Fiji.

The drawing board awaits.


Opponents: Ireland, France, Scotland

Record: Three defeats

Standout performance: N/a

Rating: 3 out of 10

A disappointing end to what has been a year that showed some promise for the Pumas.

Desperately craving depth to improve an undeniably talented squad.

A tour too much for them after the Rugby Championship.

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Joe Schmidt says Ireland future decision is coming soon

Nick Purewal 25/11/2018
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The man with the midas touch: Joe Schmidt (l).

Joe Schmidt has thanked his Ireland bosses for their “patience” while he finalises the decision on his long-term future.

The Ireland head coach’s contract expires after next year’s World Cup in Japan, and next week he will announce his decision on his long-term movements.

The 53-year-old is expected to return to his native New Zealand after the 2019 World Cup, and is a firm favourite to step into a future All Blacks coaching set-up.

Ireland thrashed the United States 57-14 in Dublin on Saturday to complete a second-straight autumn series clean sweep, with Schmidt afterwards admitting he is very nearly ready to confirm his long-term future plans.

“I’m just incredibly lucky to have the IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) with the patience they have,” said Ireland boss Schmidt.

“I’ve committed to a certain time-frame with them and I’ve stuck to that.

“I’ve given them an indication and I just need to talk to people tomorrow and that will be made public early next week. It might be frustrating for you guys but it’s really wrecking my head.

“They’ve said, ‘don’t be rash, if you change your mind we’d love to continue that conversation or if you change your mind another way let’s talk about that’.

“They’ve set out about five different scenarios and have been great with me. I’m a small cog in a machine.

“I’m so confident that we have such a great group. The last month has been a huge collective effort, and we’ve worked really hard.”

Andrew Conway’s hat-trick steered Ireland to their eight-try victory over the USA, with the hosts showing 14 changes from the stunning 16-9 win over New Zealand.

Jack Conan, Tadhg Beirne, Stuart McCloskey, Quinn Roux and John Ryan all crossed too, as Schmidt’s men stopped the Eagles from completing an unbeaten calendar year.

Darren Sweetnam suffered an early back injury which forced Ireland into a total backline reshuffle, denying Joey Carbery the chance for an extended run at fly-half.

Schmidt admitted he was happy with the nature of Ireland’s victory, in closing out a November series of four wins on the spin.

“It’s a really pleasing result, because the USA are very physical,” said Schmidt.

“We were really conscious that they would be tough going, you don’t beat Scotland and not have something in the locker.

“Darren Sweetnam’s back tightened. He was struggling to run freely. He tried to play on but he was pretty uncomfortable. Joey Carbery’s versatility is already well-known so we were able to move things around.”

The USA head coach Gary Gold hailed Ireland as one of the clear favourites for next year’s World Cup.

Asked to assess just how good Ireland are, Gold replied: “They are up there with as good as I think I’ve ever seen, no question of a doubt.

“The strength in depth in Irish rugby at the moment is ridiculously healthy.

“It’s a massive credit to not only Joe and his coaching staff but also the health of Irish rugby at the moment.

“I’ve said it for a while now, they are certainly one of the sheer favourites for the World Cup.”

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Clean sweep for Wales, but Warren Gatland worried by Ellis Jenkins injury

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Liam Williams crosses for Wales' second try.

Warren Gatland was left fretting over a serious injury to back rower Ellis Jenkins after Wales completed a first clean sweep of autumn Tests.

Cardiff Blues flanker Jenkins produced a man-of-the-match performance in Wales’ 20-11 victory over South Africa, but he had to receive oxygen after being injured in the last play of the game and carried off on a stretcher at the final whistle.

Jenkins is almost certain to miss the 2019 Six Nations with suspected knee ligament damage and will hope to regain full fitness before the World Cup, which starts in September.

“He’s got scans booked in for Monday – but it looks like an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament),” Wales head coach Gatland said after the Cardiff win.

“It’s not brilliant and he’s obviously very disappointed. I thought his performance was outstanding and he deserved man-of-the-match.

Jesse Kriel dives over for the Springboks' score.

Jesse Kriel dives over for the Springboks’ score.

“You have to really feel for him. Hopefully it’s not too bad, we can rehab him and get him on the field as soon as we possibly can.

“When anyone gets injured it’s the hardest thing to take because it’s a big year for a lot of players.

“He was a co-captain on the summer tour and, when you see a player who has put in a lot of effort to get in the team and be part of the 23 in big matches, you do really feel for them.”

Jenkins’ injury took the gloss off Wales’ autumn clean sweep and a fourth successive victory over South Africa.

First half tries by prop Tomas Francis – his first for Wales – and full-back Liam Williams gave Gatland’s side a healthy 14-3 interval lead.

South Africa fought back to make it 14-11, but the poise of replacement outside-half Dan Biggar secured Wales’ ninth successive win, their best run since 1999.

“We’re in a good place at the moment and we have not lost at home this year, which is a nice thing,” Gatland said.

“We’ve got a good group of players who the Welsh public should be really proud of.

“The way they have prepared in this campaign, the way they have trained, they have been absolutely outstanding.

“But we’re not getting too carried away. There will be the keyboard warriors out there, criticising me, or Rob Howley (attack coach) and Robin McBryde (forwards coach), who take a lot of crap from people, so we’ll just keep our head down and keep working hard.”

On the fourth autumn win, Gatland added: “It was the toughest game we’ve played and we need to be hard on the players to challenge them technically.

“We need to improve on certain things because when you play against the best teams in the world you can be exposed.

“But the good things about these guys is when they get in a bit of a hole they can dig themselves out of it and keep their composure.”

South Africa won two and lost two on their four-game tour of the northern hemisphere, with defeats to England and Wales bookending victories over France and Scotland.

Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus said he had no complaints about losing to Wales, saying: “I think the scoreboard was a reflection of the game.

“Wales are third in the world and they showed why, we can find a few excuses but we would only be bluffing ourselves.

“Wales were totally in sync and aligned with what they want to do tactically and technically.

“We felt we had a glimpse of chances to get back in the game, but on the day they were better.”

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