Oval Talk

Autumn international review

The autumn internationals are the ultimate litmus test for Northern Hemisphere sides wanting to gauge just where they stand in comparison to their counterparts south of the equator.

They provide a launch pad ahead of the Six Nations and an opportunity for the coaches to see who can perform on the international stage against the best in the world. This year's international fixtures also had an added bit of spice due to the 2015 World Cup draw, which takes place on December 3.

This week Oval Talk looks back over the past month of international rugby and assesses the progress of the home nations.

England

IRB world ranking before series: 4th

IRB world ranking after series: 5th

Fixtures: Fiji, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand

Results: Two wins (54-12 against Fiji, 38-21 against New Zealand). Two losses (14-20 against Australia, 15-16 against South Africa)

How did they do?

Having failed to beat the Springboks on the summer tour, head coach Stuart Lancaster was desperate to claim a Southern Hemisphere scalp but there were doubts as to whether he knew his best XV to do so.

A 54-12 thumping of Fiji did not provide anything more than a run-out for a few new names such as Charlie Sharples and Thomas Waldrom, and Australia was always going to be the first challenge Against the Wallabies, with England sporting a less than savoury purple kit, Lancaster's men were found wanting. A lack of clinical finishing and a lack of decision making from captain Chris Robshaw meant underdogs Australia walked away with a win.

Under fire, Robshaw headed into the South Africa game and again was put in a situation no captain wants to be in. 16-12 down, and a penalty with three minutes to play. Kick for the corner against a strong South African lineout, or take the points and hope to reclaim the restart? He chose the latter and the rest we know about. 16-15 the final score.

New Zealand, unbeaten in 20 games and reigning world champions arrived last weekend to finish off what has been a staggering year of rugby for the All Blacks. But England, desperate for a win, were imperious and outplayed them in every area of the game. One of the best performances since 2003, but not enough to put them in the top four of the IRB rankings.

Who to look out for in Six Nations?

Joe Launchbury: At 21-years-old, the England lock has been a revelation. Two years ago he was playing for Worthing and stacking shelves in his spare time. Against the All Blacks he outplayed some of the best forwards in the world. A strong lineout option as well as a carrying forward, he will be one to watch.

Ireland

IRB world ranking before series: 7th

IRB world ranking after series: 6th

Fixtures: South Africa, Fiji, Argentina

Results: Two wins (53-0 against Fiji, 46-24 against Argentina) One loss (12-16 against South Africa)

How did they do?

Injuries were playing on Ireland head coach Declan Kidney's mind heading into the autumn tests with the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Stephen Ferris, Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien all unavailable.

Going into the first match against South Africa physicality was always going to be the battle, with a huge Springbok pack looking to assert their dominance. Ireland however got to 12-3 up thanks to fly half Jonathan Sexton, but failed to capitalise on a South African sin-bin for JP Pietersen. But when Jamie Heaslip was given a yellow card for pulling down a maul the Springboks punished them through Ulster scrum half Ruan Pienaar who dived over to clinch the match 16-12.

A 53-0 demolition of Fiji with an Ireland 'A' team brought some confidence back to the side and when they came up against Argentina Ireland were this time ready to assert their dominance.

The match was crucial to Ireland securing a top eight seed in the 2015 rankings and seven tries in total made sure they did so, ending the match 46-24 up over their Argentinean rivals.

Jonathan Sexton scored two and played a crucial role in the match, making his claim for the Lions number 10 shirt next year, while Craig Gilroy also continued his strong form after Fiji (in which he scored a hat-trick).

Who to look out for in Six Nations?

Craig Gilroy: Tommy Bowe has been and still is a devastating finisher for Ireland but Gilroy looks set to be a potent attacking weapon for the men in green. Three tries against a weak Fijian side showed his pace but it was against Argentina that he made his mark with a brace of scores. Quick feet, straight line speed and a hunger for points make him one to watch in the Six Nations.

Wales

IRB world ranking before series: 6th

IRB world ranking after series: 9th

Fixtures: Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand, Australia

Results: Lost four (12-26 against Argentina, 19-26 against Samoa, 10-33 against New Zealand, 12-14 against Australia)

How did they do?

Memories of a Welsh Grand Slam in the Six Nations this year are now well gone after what has been the worst possible autumn for head coach Warren Gatland. Four games and four losses means that Wales are now in the third tier for seeding ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

Injuries to the likes of Dan Lydiate and Adam Jones meant that the pack was lacking two huge names and against the Pumas it showed. Wales started well and were 9-6 up at the break but Argentina's physicality led to two tries in the second-half which put the game out of reach. Injury to lock Alun-Wyn-Jones hampered their attempts to get back into the match.

Samoa were also too much for Wales with no.8 Taiasina Tuifu'a and scrum half Kahn Fotuali'i leading the Samoan charge. The loss of Richard Hibbard and Dan Biggar weakened a Welsh side that lacked any attacking threat throughout the match and were lucky not to lose by more after Tusi Pisi missed 13 points through kicks.

Warren Gatland returned to replace Rob Howley as head coach for the New Zealand game but it was always going to be tough. The All Blacks' back line was incredible and tore apart Wales with ease. The one highlight of the game was the Welsh 15-man lineout which grabbed them a try but it was otherwise easy pickings for New Zealand.
Australia was a must-win game in order to try and salvage the second tier ranking for the world cup. Halfpenny kicked well and put them 12-9 ahead at 60 minutes. A last minute try from Kurtley Beale put the game out of reach though and Wales now face a tough seeding in 2015.

Who to look out for in Six Nations?

Leigh Halfpenny: Sad to see him taken off on a stretcher at the end of the Australia game as he was definitely man-of-the-match. Throughout the autumn had looked solid at full back and creative going forward so hopefully his neck scan will turn out ok. Will be needed by Wales in the Six Nations.

Scotland

IRB world ranking before series: 9th

IRB world ranking after series: 12th

Fixtures: New Zealand, South Africa, Tonga

Results: Lost three (22-51 against New Zealand, 10-21 against South Africa, lost 15-21 against Tonga)

How did they do?

While Wales struggled this year with four losses their coach Warren Gatland will be at the helm come the Six Nations. For Scotland's Andy Robinson the final loss to Tonga prompted his departure and now the Scots are in the market for a new head coach.

The unbeaten summer tour of Australasia gave Scottish fans some hope going into the three Tests this autumn. New Zealand was always going to be tough and nobody realistically expected Scotland to do much better than they did. 22 points against the All Blacks was nothing to be ashamed of.

South Africa is a fixture that Scottish fans look forward to ever since the famous win of 2010 at Murrayfield. The game this year though was lost in the first-half and a spirited second-half comeback was not enough to prevent the Springboks winning 21-10 in what was a brutally physical game.

Two games against the Southern Hemisphere and two losses. The opposition were both in the top four in the world so Scotland were always going to struggle but Tonga was always going to be a game Robinson's men were expected to win. Away from Murrayfield at Pittrodie Scotland were outplayed and outmuscled by the Tongans, to the dismay of the crowd. It was the final straw for Robinson as Scotland only just avoided having to qualify for 2015. The key now is who will they bring in?

Who to look out for in Six Nations?

Tim Visser: Scored two tries against New Zealand and looked strong throughout the autumn. Was one of the best in the back line and his pace is going to be key in the Six Nations against stronger teams such as England, France and Ireland.