Ireland came away with a historic 2-1 away series victory over the Wallabies, the All Blacks swept France 3-0 and the Springboks came alive to beat England 2-1 under new coach Rassie Erasmus. The rest of the Celtic nations took turns beating on the hapless Argentina and Fiji won the Pacific Nations Cup.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the month of international rugby.
Ireland are the All Blacks’ biggest threat
Ireland fought a close series with Australia that swung on the slimmest of margins. It wasn’t a dominant display of power like the All Blacks’ dismissal of France, but it showed that Ireland is prepared to play smart rugby and grind out wins.
Ireland’s second test blueprint is exactly what they need to bring when they play the All Blacks in Dublin later this year. They starved Australia of possession for near on sixty minutes while accumulating enough points to put the game out of reach.
France looked good when they were able to hold the ball for extended periods against the All Blacks, but their lack of composure and execution meant they couldn’t keep it quite long enough. Ireland, however, are a far better side when it comes to controlling the ball and the clock, with a zero offload policy and clinical recycling.
The best way to stay in the game against the All Blacks is to retain the ball and play ‘keep away’. England’s defensive kicking will play into the hands of the All Blacks, while Ireland’s possession-based game will match up far better.
Referees are making too many headlines
The officiating has grabbed way too many headlines in this international period, taking away the gloss from some of the fascinating contests. From the Grosso tackle, the Fall and Folau cards and a new take on obstruction, the referees have left too many fans scratching their heads.
In the lead up to the under-20 World Championship, RugbyPass highlighted the dangers of aerial contests and the murky rules regarding their policing. That proved to be timely as the June internationals were dogged by controversial calls around the jump ball area on both sides of the ditch.
Then there was the downright bizarre, with McKenzie’s first try in the third test standing after being reviewed by both the referee and the TMO for obstruction. The referee clearly influenced the play by obstructing Baptiste Serin from making a tackle attempt. The worrying outcome here is this try was reviewed and still awarded.
When players lose trust in referees then we have a serious problem and who could blame the French for losing faith in the officials? Unfortunately, the run of bad calls against them takes away from the fact that they were well and truly beaten by the better side.
Springbok resurgence a nice start
Rassie Erasmus has made a statement in his first test series in charge of the Springboks, downing England 2-1 at home. While this is a great start and gives hope to the Springboks for next year, it is too small a sample size to derive any meaning from.
South Africa have always been tough at home, regardless of who is coaching. Under the guidance of Allister Coetzee they lost by a point to the All Blacks in Newlands last year. What matters more is how they follow up in the Rugby Championship, on the road, against New Zealand and Australia.
The return of overseas stars Willie le Roux, Faf De Klerk and Duane Vermeulen certainly made a big difference and if they can grow around this core the Springboks will be a serious World Cup contender.
The Wallabies will be quarter-finalists at the RWC
This is a bold prediction but after another series loss, the Wallabies are no more than pretenders.
Chieka’s win percentage against Tier One nations outside of Italy and Argentina since the last World Cup is now around 35%. They can compete in games and stay close but aren’t smart enough to close them out consistently. This has been proven conclusively over the last three years as his sides have failed time and time again.
Having a passenger as an international 10 just doesn’t work – having Will Genia and Kurtley Beale compensate for Foley is not a proven formula for success. The problem is there is no other option for the Wallabies unless Beale plays flyhalf.
Argentina is heading back to Tier 2 status, fast
The worrying slide of Argentina continued with embarrassing defeats against Wales and Scotland. On the face of it, losing to those two countries is not so bad, only for the fact that Scotland lost to the USA a week ago.
Since the 2015 World Cup, Argentina have been a doormat in the Rugby Championship, winning one game in 2016 and none last year. The vast majority of their side make up the Jaguares Super Rugby team, who conversely are enjoying their most successful season yet.
They are stuck between club success and international failure at the moment and have seemingly been left behind as the game evolves. Their head coach will step down but they have limited time to turn things around before next year’s World Cup.
Now what, Eddie?
Eddie Jones may have saved his job by avoiding a three-nil sweep in South Africa, but now there are glaringly obvious flaws to fix before the end of year All Blacks test. His players will get a summer break and refresh before Premiership rugby restarts, which should help rejuvenate his squad.
He needs to find an attack coach and figure out how to play more than one game plan, as he recently found out that if you don’t adjust it can lead to big problems.
With the All Blacks starting Damian McKenzie for the first time, everything from exit plays to pattern plays were changed to suit his game. When Beauden Barrett is at 10 the All Blacks adjust everything once again to suit.
Having Cipriani in the mix long-term will require suitable changes to enable him to flourish, rather than squashing his strengths by forcing him into Jones’ current game plan. If they can figure that out, England will be a contender next year. If not, history will repeat.
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