The World Cup: the most eagerly anticipated event in the rugby union calendar takes place this summer in New Zealand and it seems that the hosts will, once again, be the favourites. But what are the prospects for our own Home Nations following the Autumn Internationals?
It was a disappointing tournament overall, with New Zealand proving that they are a class above the rest, emerging as the only team to win all of their matches. They also showed that they possess one of the greatest players in the history of the game with Dan Carter becoming the leading points scorer in Test history with a phenomenal 1,188 points in 79 matches.
However, there were a few good performances showing some glimmer of hope for each of the home teams.
Scotland pulled out the most impressive win of the tournament, beating the reigning World Champions South Africa 21-17. Despite this, they struggled to a disappointing victory against a physical Samoan side and were brushed aside by New Zealand 49-3. Despite improvement, the story seems to be one of inconsistency for Scotland and they will hope to demonstrate that they can produce regular good performances during the Six Nations next month – in which they could be a surprise package. In particular, they will want to improve on their lack of tries which has proved their great weakness. They will want to challenge England this year and prove that they are a force to be reckoned with, ahead of facing them in the group stages of the World Cup.
England’s story seems to be similar to that of the Scots. Despite impressing against Australia, thrashing them 35-18 with a thoroughly impressive display by their backs, and struggling to victory against Samoa, they also failed to show consistency losing the other half of their matches to South Africa and New Zealand. Although they proved more of a challenge for their Southern Hemisphere rivals than the Scots, if they want to be in with a chance of regaining their 2003 title, they are going to show greater consistency across the board, particularly from their backline. In possessing a powerful scrum and more creativity from their half-backs, there is certainly potential for England. Luckily, they have one of the more straightforward routes to the next round in the World Cup, with their biggest threats being Argentina and Scotland.
Ireland too won half of their four matches. But again, they showed that they aren’t quite at the standard of the Southern Hemisphere failing to capitalise on their chances against South Africa losing 23-21, and also losing to the All Blacks. They will seek to reproduce their form of two years ago, where they claimed the Six Nations trophy in Grand Slam style. With the exception of the Wallabies, they also have a relatively straightforward route to the next round of the World Cup facing the likes of Russia and USA in the group stages.
Wales were the most disappointing team in the Autumn Internationals coming out as the only team not to win any of their matches. They came close to beating South Africa, but failed to take their opportunities in the final 10 minutes losing 29-25. Their most shocking display came against Fiji, against whom a comfortable victory was assumed, but which ended in a thoroughly disappointing draw. There were some rays of hope in their final match of the tournament against New Zealand where they narrowly lost after a flood of tries from the All Blacks in the final few minutes of the game. Having one of the best scrums in the World will be of great benefit to them in the summer against the likes of South Africa, Fiji and Samoa, all of whom they face in the group stages and all of whom are incredibly physical sides.
The story therefore seems to be one of promise, but with definite room for improvement. If the Home Nations want to be in with any chance of challenging the Southern Hemisphere teams in the summer, namely New Zealand, then they are going to have to use next month’s Six Nations to iron out any faults in their game.
Lowri Wyn Morgan