Five things we learned from the Autumn Nations openers
The final autumn campaign before next year’s World Cup began in earnest as England collapsed to a shock defeat by Argentina, Wales crumbled before New Zealand and Ireland and Scotland produced wins against South Africa and Fiji respectively.
Here, the PA news agency examines five things we learned from the weekend.
Argentina expose repeat failings
An air of weary resignation greeted England’s fifth defeat in nine Tests this year after the Pumas emerged worthy 30-29 winners. The last time Argentina prevailed at Twickenham in 2006 Andy Robinson was sacked as head coach, but there are few scenarios in which Eddie Jones departs before next year’s World Cup due to the unequivocal backing he receives from the Rugby Football Union. This first defeat in the fixture since 2009 having amassed 10 successive wins was dire, however, and exposed failings in discipline, attack and selection – recurring issues of recent times that must be urgently addressed.
JVP’s time to shine
Jack van Poortvliet was on the pitch for only 29 seconds when he made a crucial intervention to halt Argentina’s momentum in the wake of quickfire tries from Emiliano Boffelli and Santiago Carreras. Using his vision and acceleration, he leapt on a defensive lapse to race over for a score that propelled England back into contention. Jones has chopped and changed at scrum-half, both the individuals and the overall strategy for the position, but it is time for the 21-year-old rookie to be made a permanent fixture in the starting jersey as the World Cup looms just 12 Tests away.
Europe leads the way
The year is almost over yet France and Ireland are inseparable when deciding the best performing team of 2022. Andy Farrell’s men toppled world champions South Africa 19-16 to follow up their historic series win in New Zealand in July, preserving their place at the summit of the global rankings. France, meanwhile, are the Grand Slam champions and by edging Australia 30-29 on Saturday amassed an 11th successive win. The Springboks head to Paris and the Wallabies to Dublin in fixtures that could identify who heads into 2023 as the game’s dominant force, although France might justifiably state that their 30-24 victory over Ireland in February settles the debate.
Russell’s Scotland saga continues
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is in a mess of his own making, his decision to omit Finn Russell from his squad for the autumn now looking ill-advised as he has had to perform a U-turn in the wake of the head and knee injuries sustained by Adam Hastings against Fiji. Townsend has endured a patchy relationship with the nation’s most creative player but having justified Russell’s omission on the grounds of “form and consistency”, he has had to eat humble pie and recall the mercurial Racing 92 fly-half. Russell comes with baggage, but he is also too gifted to be left out.
Wales on the slide
The statistics paint a damning picture. Wales fell to their 33rd successive defeat to New Zealand, lost the try count 8-2 and in the process leaked 55 points – the most they have conceded in Cardiff against any side in 138 years. Easier challenges come next in the shape of Argentina, Georgia and Australia but pressure is beginning to mount on Wayne Pivac, who has engineered only two wins in nine outings against Rugby Championship sides. Compounding matters, the All Blacks were efficient and tidy but hardly exceptional.
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