Yes Rugby Union peeps and with the pool draw for the Rugby World Cup 2015 due on the 3rd of December, it is pretty clear, in my opinion, that the Home Nations have a lot of work to do. As I write this England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland have mustered just two victories (Ireland’s game against Fiji on the 17th November was not a full international). One being England’s over Fiji at the start of November and Ireland’s victory this weekend just gone against Argentina, something the Irish needed after a bad run of results. France and Italy have recorded victories but as per usual, Southern Hemisphere teams rule in our autumn (as they tend to do in their autumn too) and despite chances to defeat the big three (NZ, SA and Australia) worryingly, some of the Home Nations have also been beaten by the so called lesser nations that play rugby south of the equator, with a concern being they were not flukes!!!!!!!
Ok let’s start with the team closest to my heart and that’s England. A thrashing of Fiji was clearly a smokescreen as defeats to Australia and then South Africa have shown that this England team run by Stuart Lancaster have a long way to go to match the 2003 vintage. Yes they are a young side and the goal is the 2015 World Cup on home soil, but worryingly his record since being appointed permanent full time coach is just one win (Fiji), one draw (South Africa) and 4 defeats (South Africa x 3 and Australia). As mentioned it’s still early especially as the new look England were a whisker away from a Grand Slam in this years Six Nations, but the worrying lack of decision making in the heat of battle, especially against Australia and slightly less so last Saturday against South Africa, as these decisions can be the difference between winning and losing. NZ up next!!!!!!! and another likely defeat – that definitely piles the pressure come the Six Nations in February, where results will be expected – excuses not allowed, actually won’t be allowed – especially as its the visit of the Auld Enemy to Twickenham first up and they’d just love to stick those English faces even further into the proverbial.
Right onto Wales. Now I’m at a loss to work out what is going on. A year ago they were within a whisker of making the World Cup final, which they could easily have won (still not a sending off for me – whatever the so called experts say). They followed up that campaign with a Grand Slam, then went onto Australia and lost all 3 tests but only by a cumulative total of 11 points; with a dramatic last seconds of the game kick depriving them in the second test. So despite these losses things were looking up for the ‘Northern Hemisphere’ Champions and a nice run of games in the autumn internationals, no disrespect but the lesser Southern Hemisphere lights of Argentina and Samoa before tests against NZ and Australia. Three matches in and 3 defeats!!!!!!, NZ expected but both Argentina and Samoa fully deserving of their victories outplaying Wales whose performances were littered with mistakes and poor decision making. Management and supporters were at a loss to describe what is going on maybes the fact Warren Gatland has not been at the helm because of a freak accident has been the reason. He was back for the NZ game, which inevitably ended in defeat (usually does for whoever playing them I might add), but there were signs of improvement especially as the second half finished 10-10. However kickable penalties were spurned in favour of kicks to the corner early in the game “Crazy Tactics” as described by the NZ head coach. Australia next week, they will need to be all guns blazing for this one and mistakes kept to a minimum as apparently if they lose they will fall into the third tier of seeds for the 2015 World Cup and a potential group of death of maybe NZ, SA, or OZ with England or Ireland. That does not fill me with much happiness either because an on song Welsh team is a match for anyone.
Ok onto Scotland, after the wooden spoon at the Six Nations (but decent performances in all the games, bar the Italy match), Scotland just needed to win during their summer tour of Australia. Three wins followed including a first victory over Australia on foreign soil for nigh on 30 years, followed by victories over Fiji and Samoa – things were looking up and all the endeavour and effort garnered (but not getting the rewards) in the Six Nations had come to fruition and with Autumn Internationals against New Zealand, South Africa and Tonga on the horizon a chance to test their new found confidence. Defeats by New Zealand and South Africa followed, not unsurprisingly, but with good performances in both games they headed into the match against Tonga as confident as they could be of a convincing and morale boosting victory in their last match before the Six Nations. However they were humbled in a 15-21 defeat which coach Andy Robinson described as “unacceptable”. A poor, maybe over confident performance by a Scottish team, well and truly out battled and outplayed by the Tongans. Andy Robinson’s full comment was “That was a totally unacceptable performance we’ve witnessed today. I’m very angry – there will be consequences because of this performance. It reflects on me.” Pretty damning I’d say and the consequences were swift. The following day, Andy Robinson quit as Scotland’s coach – leaving a huge gap to fill with only just over two months till a trip to Twickenham for their opening Six Nations fixture. A topsy turvy year for Scottish Rugby but swift decisions are now required (they are already consigned to being a third tier seed in the upcoming – 2015 Rugby World Cup draw) so that 2013 is not a complete write off as improvements, and quickly, are required – with the appointing of a new head coach top of the list.
Onto Ireland now, well they are a team who have had by their standards a poor 2012. Injuries to key players have not helped, as well as a summer tour to NZ never being favourable for any touring side really. After a reasonable performance at the 2011 World Cup, a brilliant victory against Australia propelling them to the top of their pool, but then disappointment against the Welsh in the quarters. They moved onto the Six Nations with confidence, but a narrow home defeat – again to the Welsh, a convincing win against the Italians, a draw with France in Paris, then another home win versus Scotland, they headed to Twickenham, where they had only lost once in their previous 4 visits, but were blitzed 30-9. Three more defeats followed in the aforementioned tour to NZ. So coming into the Autumn Internationals, coach Declan Kidney was under pressure, especially as it was possible for their world ranking to fall, so as they would be in the third tier of seeds for the World Cup draw. An opening narrow defeat to South Africa seems acceptable, it probably was, but the disappointment was there as they led 12-3 at half time, the classic games of two halves, this was followed by an Ireland XV thrashing Fiji 53-0. I reckon that gave the first team a proper kick up the backside as they scored seven tries in putting a decent Argentina side (who had beaten Wales at the Millenium) to the sword by 46-24, and that included two late tries from the South Americans. That guaranteed a second seed spot for the World Cup draw, so a good finish to the Autumn Internationals. Ireland can now look forward to the Six Nations, especially as O’Driscoll, Kearney and O’Connell should all be back fully fit though positive results will be required so that they can build upon an adequate start to the season.
This blog has focused mainly on the home nations, but there are two other top tier nations from the Northern Hemisphere, France and Italy. The French have won all their games, especially impressive in a thrashing of the Aussie’s 33-6 followed up with wins over Argentina and Samoa, which secured a top seed ranking for the World Cup draw and they will as always be a danger come Six Nations time. The Italians beat Tonga in a close match, lost to NZ heavily (like everyone else at the moment) and then only narrowly lost to the Wallabies 19-22. They have always shown signs of improvement but lack of consistency has been their problem from week to week and improvements in this area will be required going into the Six Nations.
So as we stand it is Northern Hemisphere 6 wins Southern Hemisphere 11 wins (Home Nations 2 wins and 9 defeats) – with two more matches to play this weekend – England v NZ and Wales v Australia. So likely more Southern Hemisphere winning then, though I do have a sneaky feeling for Wales, don’t ask me why!!!!!!! Then its full steam ahead to the Six Nations, where anything could happen – Ill leave my prediction for another day.
So what do peeps think, how much work do the Northern Hemisphere teams need to do to match the standards of their Southern counterparts – let me know your thoughts.