Thursday, December 6, 2018

November Tests... who's number 1?


Examination Indicators – Autumn Tests

What was learned from the latest Test Competitions during the annual November season of international competitions? New Zealand All Blacks, though arguably the XV everyman and his best 14 dogs will yet take heed of in the coming ten-months leading to 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, may not be the best side on the planet. Just ask a Celt, or better yet a subsect of that tribe, an Irisher or even a Welshie. For Ireland have beaten the Kiwis two times running now, and though Wales did not get opportunity to test them what hail from the Land of the Long White Cloud, Wayne Gatland’s boys showed tough in their four autumn victories over the remaining Quad Nations plus Scotland and may not have reached the top of their expressive arc quite yet; they’ll be staging for Six Nations, and the June Test Series with a mind towards a significant demonstration of our game come RWC MMXIX.

Springboks were pipped by England in their opening November encounter at Twickers, then rolled out two close wins over Scotland and France, before being well-beaten by Wales to close their November account as their hosts made better work of opportunities at Millennium. South Africa are the only other nation to have beaten the All Blacks in the last wee bit of forever.

Australia went 1-and-2, beating Italy handily, but that victory was bracketed by a drubbing from England and a lackluster performance against Wales. Wallabies gotta figure out their standoff issue among others.

Argentina were defeated thrice by: Ireland, Scotland and France in November before topping Barbarians in a thrilling and highly entertaining match on December 1.

England, you have to love England... oh wait a minute, no you don’t. End of the day, the Home of Rugby pipped South Africa to open their Autumn account, then were pipped by New Zealand before winning out well against Japan and Australia; The Oz fixture albeit without one of the best, if not the best three-quarters in the world, and yes, Chris Ashton gets that nod.

Ireland will have to beat New Zealand on the road, evidently, before World Rugby gives them their well-deserved due and pops them into the topspot on the third planet from the sun. With John Sexton come fully into his own and probably the best flyhalf on the paddock these days, a midfield packed with vitality and volatility, and the finest pair of three-quarters around in cagey veteran Keith Earls and young “Stockie Jockie,” Jacob Stockdale, who could come to the attention of the game warden as he displays an uncanny ability to put himself in spaces to disrupt opponent’s forward flow and make payment cruelly harsh with a poach then. Any event, Ireland hammered USA and Italy, and beat the best and also Argentina for straight “A+s” this examination time. Ireland have not lost a rugby match since a desultory 2017 SixNats campaign.

Scotland were within a converted try of Springboks, yet at Murrayfield, and lost to Wales on the trot in their initial November Test; and the Scots beat Fiji and Argentina for a l-w-l-w exam record. Good news is Scotland have a fine crop of blooded youngsters in their camp now with legacy Adam Hastings – there are those around who took the pitch with his father, Gavin, and uncle, Scott, the summer they played at Vail RFC– and Blair Kinghorn earning caps, Kinghorn in the famous defeat of England at Murrayfield last spring and Hastings v Canada during the June Test window. 

France have not had a good 2018. They beat Argentina and lost an eminently observable test to Fiji at the close of the window, but were beaten thrice in New Zealand in June and their SixNats performance was ordinary, though they did take down England. And 2017 could be kindly phrased a disaster with only one drawn game against Japan. Les Blues head coach Jacques Brunel favored Baptiste Serin and Camille Lopez at 9 and 10 respectively this fall over the summer’s Morgan Parra-Adrienne Belleau halves, but their pack, which in the past has been fearsome, has maybe displayed some fear and will be expected to intensifier ou commencer  regards individual expression come SixNats in the spring. France will be the dark runner come MMXIX Rugby World Cup.

Fiji had a successful northern hemisphere campaign this year, defeating France famously at and hammering of Uruguay where a brace had hattricks: Peceli Yato, 8man in the style of Edinburgh’s Vil Mata who’s at T14 frontrunner Clermont just now, and Eroni “The Sledgehammer” Sau, a flyer who plies his trade at Perpignan currently.

At 12, USA Eagles have achieved their highest IRB Ranking to date after joy in Bucharest and a nail-biter in Spain v Samoa bracketed by losses to New Zealand Maori in Chicago and a wake-up call against a weakened-but-not-weak Irish XV. Still, whether your flavor be Apostles or donuts, 12 is a good number. Now it is incumbent upon the Eagles to repeat as ARC champions next spring and have clever and decisive results during 2019 June Tests, and USA will be in good condition heading in the 2019 RWC.


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