Peter Jackson gives his progress report on the best and worst teams, players and moments of the Autumn Internationals.
Best team: Scotland
They gave the All Blacks a serious run for their money and hammered the Wallabies like they have never been hammered before anywhere in Europe. For their next trick, Scotland will settle for nothing less than winning the Six Nations.
The message will ring out this morning to all points south of Hadrian’s Wall and westwards across the Irish Sea. Gregor Townsend’s electrifying effect on a country where the old game had been in danger of dying on its feet cannot be overstated.
Vern Cotter hoisted Scotland’s ambition beyond winning the annual wooden spoon decider against Italy and his successor as head coach has elevated it to a higher trajectory.
Murrayfield can never have rocked as much as it has during the last three Saturdays — two wins, one near-miss and tries at the rate of one every nine minutes or so.
Auld Reekie wouldn’t have witnessed an autumn like it – six home tries out of 11 against Samoa, two out of five against the world’s best followed by eight from 12 against Australia. Nobody will underestimate the ruthless quality of their game, not with all but one of those tries coming after tighthead Sekope Kepu’s red card for turning himself into a human projectile launched head first at Hamish Watson.
At a time when many in Wales blame their recurring failure on the PRO14, Scotland base their success almost entirely on players from the same competition. Having dared to play fast and loose against New Zealand at a pace and precision which almost proved irresistible, they are unquestionably the team to watch.
Joe Schmidt’s rejuvenation of the squad is every bit as significant as the winning return. They will be all the stronger for it come the Six Nations and the potential decider at Twickenham.
Eddie Jones got the hump over criticism of the home bore against Argentina and has been in camel-mode since. Alarmingly for the rest, he is still in the process of arriving at his best 23.
The belated burial of ‘Warrenball’ and reversion to the traditional art of running round opponents instead of over them offers hope and concern in equal measure. It leaves them precious little time to catch up with the rest before the World Cup.
From bad to worse. They may have picked the World Cup out of South African and Irish pockets but they can’t buy a win for love nor money. The All Blacks played what some described as their worst 40 minutes for years in Paris which was still good enough to win by 20.
One try from three matches and a spanking from the Springboks 12 months after beating them points to slow progress under Conor O’Shea.
SIX NATIONS FORM GUIDE
Scotland 8, Ireland 7, England 6, Wales 5, Italy 4, France 3.
1 Beauden Barrett (New Zealand v Scotland)
Jacob Stockdale (Ireland)
Gregor Townsend (Scotland)
Scotland 17, New Zealand 22.
Dead-heat: England 21, Argentina 8, Wales 13, Georgia 6
Ireland 38, South Africa 3, Scotland 53, Australia 24, France 23, Japan 23
Best refereeing performance:
Wayne Barnes (England): Wales-New Zealand.
Most predictable result:
Wales 18, New Zealand 33: The Red Dragons have been running out of puff ever since they last beat the Kiwis in December 1953. Their record since then now reads: Played 30, Lost 30. Tries for: 27. Against: 130.
SIX NATIONS POSERS
Can Eddie Jones go on picking Dylan Hartley ahead of the Lions’ Test hooker Jamie George?
Joe Schmidt on which pair of centres to pick from Robbie Henshaw, Chris Farrell, Stuart McCloskey, Bundee Aki, and Garry Ringrose. What odds Jamie Heaslip making a come-back at 34?
How can Warren Gatland persist in refusing to pick Liam Williams where he picked him for the Lions, at full-back?
With a long casualty list on the mend, where are they going to find room for the likes of WP Nel, Richie Gray, and Josh Strauss?
Went within a failed conversion of losing to Japan which makes you wonder where it will end for Guy Noves. In tears and, at this rate, sooner than later. Sacre bleu.
Can they go on expecting the rest to turn a deaf ear to the growing clamour for Georgia’s promotion?
Italy’s goggled goalkicker is now on course for a Six Nations date in his native Dublin in the New Year. That the IRFU once banned him from playing after losing the sight of his left eye will make the homecoming all the sweeter.
From one of London’s inner-city tower blocks into the Scotland front row despite starting the season as fifth choice at Edinburgh. Has redefined the meaning of meteoric.
GOOD AND BAD
Generous to a fault:
Owen Farrell presenting winner’s medal to a gobsmacked young fan at Twickenham after England’s win over Australia.
England’s players talking about giving 1/22nd of their £22,000 (€24,600) fee to help the bankrupt state of the Samoan game, then deciding to keep the money. The RFU refusing to increase its ‘goodwill’ gift of £75,000 (€83,800) from gate receipts of around £5m (€5.6m).
1. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen on New Zealand’s 64-year, 30-match winning streak over Wales: “History is a bit like a drought. Every day you’re closer to it raining so every year they will be closer to winning a game, I suppose.’’ So much for supposition.
2. Scotland captain John Barclay describing the immediate post-match dressing room scene: “There are guys spread out like debris. The place is scattered with bodies, some lying down, some sitting up.”
3. Ex-Leinster coach Michael Cheika, fluent in Arabic, Italian, and French as well as English, sounding as though he could do worse than join the Trappists: “Yeah, maybe I did swear. It happens sometimes in life…”
Stephen Moore, the Wallaby from Tuam, realising rugby tends not to do happy farewells. After 129 Tests, he walked out of a blizzard of Scottish tries into retirement. Martin Johnson’s last match for Leicester ended in an anti-climactic 2005 English Premiership Grand final loss to Wasps. Paul O’Connell’s last arrived cruelly ahead of schedule, for Ireland during the last World Cup when he damaged a hamstring so badly he never played again. At least Moore got to walk off on his own two legs.
SIX NATIONS TEAM OF THE AUTUMN
15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland) 14 Jonny May (England) 13 Huw Jones (Scotland) 12 Owen Farrell (England) 11 Jacob Stockdale (Ireland) 10 Finn Russell (Scotland) 9 Conor Murray (Ireland) 1 Rob Evans (Wales) 2 Rory Best (Ireland) 3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland) 4 Johnny Gray (Scotland) 5 Iain Henderson (Ireland) 6 John Barclay (Scotland) 7 Chris Robshaw (England) 8 CJ Stander (Ireland)
And the Crocks’ XV (those forced into the pits either before the start or after the opening lap)
Jared Payne (Ireland); Jack Nowell (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Ben Te’o (England), George North (Wales); Gareth Anscombe (Wales), Greig Laidlaw (Scotland); Joe Marler (England), Ross Ford (Scotland), Willem Nel (Scotland); Richie Gray (Scotland), Josh Strauss (Scotland); Ross Moriarty (Wales), Sam Warburton (Wales), Billy Vunipola (England).
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