European trip a massive wake-up call for Southern Hemisphere sides
They travelled over as the best-ranked three nations in world rugby but Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are returning from their European tours with their tails between their legs.
The narrow defeat was a creditable one after Dave Rennie’s team had to play short-handed for 66 minutes after Rob Valetini was sent off.
Nonetheless, the string of defeats is a reality check for Australia having jetted to Europe on the back of a five-game winning run and ranked third in the world.
The 40-25 defeat to Les Bleus in Paris is particularly worrying given New Zealand will start their 2023 World Cup pool stage against the French at the same venue.
World champions South Africa also ended their tour on a low note, toppled by Eddie Jones’ England in a one-point defeat at Twickenham.
The Southern Hemisphere trio’s weekend wipeout brought predictable scorn from the United Kingdom with Sunday Times journalist Stephen Jones tweeting it was “hard to see the relevance” of the annual late-year clashes anymore.
Jones’s comments may have been tongue-in-cheek but the struggles suggest a real battle to keep the Webb Ellis Cup out of northern hands in 2023.
A northern hemisphere team hasn’t won the World Cup since Jonny Wilkinson’s drop-goal success for England in Sydney in 2003 but with England, Wales, France and Ireland all showing their level that 20-year drought could be about to end.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 20, 2021
England coach Jones, however, was playing down the long-term significance of the results after his team secured a win over the Springboks in the first meeting between the nations since the 2019 World Cup final.
“It’s a one-off game between first and third in the world, that’s where we stand at the moment and we’re happy to knock off the top team,” the Australian said.
“We have four campaigns left before the World Cup. Next is the Six Nations and we want to be better.”
All Blacks coach Ian Foster sought to put a positive spin on his team’s losing fortnight.
“We’ve played more tests than we’ve ever played, and we’ve won 12 out of 15 (in 2021),” said Foster. “I know we get judged harshly, but we’re making progress.
“If you look at the balance of it, look at South Africa and Australia and us, we’ve probably all run out of juice a little bit near the end.
“But, gee, the top six or seven teams in world rugby right now are strong.”
– Ed Jackson
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