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England excel, France fail in autumn tests – Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
Guy Noves

It’s report time as the autumn internationals draw to a close and, while Scotland’s star is on the rise, England and Ireland remain top of the class with Wales having much work to do and France left with the dunce’s cap on.

The Northern Hemisphere nation that’s had the best autumn is England results-wise but for performances in relation to expectation you have to say that Scotland have impressed everyone.

England would have expected to beat Samoa convincingly, they were fairly comfortable against Argentina as well and they got their biggest ever victory over Australia in the biggest game of the month for them.

However, despite getting a couple of big wins and a scrappy one over the Pumas, the performance levels were nowhere near where the second best team in the world would expect them to be.

Scotland, on the other hand, were poor against Samoa but still won and then put in two really impressive performances against New Zealand and Australia and they’ll be delighted with their autumn, especially given the number of injuries they had.

Australia were ahead when Sekope Kepu was sent off on Saturday and the red card did change the game but I think Scotland would have probably still won and it just made the margin of victory significantly wider.

There is a real buzz around the Scotland camp at the moment and they will be contenders come the Six Nations, along with Ireland and England.

The Calcutta Cup match in Edinburgh at the end of February is going to be huge. The Scots will be talking it up between now and then and will understandably be confident of beating the Auld Enemy for the first time for a decade and only the fourth time since 1991.

Ireland had a decent autumn but their big win was at the start with a record victory over South Africa. They tried some new faces and scraped through against Fiji the next week and then it was a mixed performance against Argentina but they’ve got three wins and will be happy with where they’re at.

Results are always important but seeing how much depth countries have has been fascinating and the emergence of some new stars has been the highlight of the past month.

Sam Simmonds wasn’t anywhere near the England team a few weeks ago and Eddie Jones said he wasn’t big enough to play number eight and now he’s carrying 18 times and making 96 metres in a Test match.

His clubmate Henry Slade has had a couple of good games as well and Alex Lozowski looks like he’s proved that he could be the back up at inside centre if Owen Farrell is injured.

Huw Jones was the standout player for Scotland and gives them a different threat every time he touches the ball and Darryl Marfo is the story of the month without a doubt.

He didn’t have a club after leaving London Welsh last season, went to Edinburgh as fifth choice loosehead behind Michele Rizzo and now he’s starting against the All Blacks and Wallabies and holding his own.

But Jacob Stockdale has to be at the top of that list of emerging stars of the autumn and that’ll be one of the main reasons Joe Schmidt will be looking so cheerful after his November.

It’s been an autumn of transition for everyone, with no side picking their best team in all three games, and there have been a lot of positives but some pretty glaring negatives as well.

The team for me that all the question marks remain over is Wales. I’m just not sure what they’re doing and how they’re going to move forwards. You can see progression in all of the other home nations but not with them.

They did go toe to toe with the All Blacks for just under an hour and there have been some good facets to their game but they haven’t been able to find that extra 15 or 20 per cent to stay in the fight for the full 80 minutes.

I think they made a mistake taking Scott Williams off at the weekend and he wasn’t even in the squad at the start of the month. Owen Williams has made an encouraging start as the second playmaker but they moved him to number 13 on Saturday and he can’t play there.

Wales are changing the way they play and that will take time but it hasn’t been the best few weeks for them so far and they really need to beat South Africa this weekend to put a positive spin on things and start building some momentum heading into the Six Nations.

They’ve got quality players and are an attacking threat but need to work on their style if they’re moving away from ‘Warrenball’ and gain some confidence quickly.

But there’s a chance they could revert to type a bit when the Six Nations comes around because it’s about winning games at the end of the day and they are definitely the home nation with the most question marks hanging over them at the moment.

Their problems pale into insignificance when you compare them with France though. They have to get rid of Guy Noves. He did nothing at Toulouse in his last few years there, it went very stale and he is well past his sell by date.

Some of the individuals in the French squad are top class but I’ve played in France and there is often not a lot of structure to what they do or coaching involved.

There is a ‘jouer, jouer’ attitude and a lot of reliance on individual flair and brilliance. There is more to international rugby than that. Defences are so well-organised nowadays and you have to manipulate them with decoy runs and two or three phase plays.

I know a couple of players in the French team at present and they just don’t have that detail.

They’ve had a dreadful autumn of results, losing to New Zealand twice and South Africa and then drawing with Japan at the weekend.

They should have lost that game as well because Japan missed a relatively simple conversion to win it and it was only a few weeks ago that they were getting absolutely spanked at home by the Aussies, so that puts into perspective where France are.

Club rugby is changing a bit over there because owners are seeing the benefit of having outside influences with the likes of Vern Cotter at Montpellier and others have done well before him but French rugby does remain very blinkered.

I think for them to move forwards they need to not be as narrow-minded in terms of how they think about the game, look further afield and put a foreigner in charge of the national team.

A lot can happen in the next couple of months but on the evidence we’ve seen it looks like England, Ireland and Scotland will be battling it out at the top end of the Six Nations table, with Wales and France scrapping with Italy to avoid the wooden spoon.


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