The November internationals is a great time for teams to bring their emerging players into the Test match arena, as coaches look to strengthen and bolster squads as well as assess themselves against opposing hemisphere sides.
This year, including the Barbarians, 20 teams have been involved from across the world – but who will have come away with their heads held high or who will have their heads buried in the sand?
This week we’re looking at the winners and losers across November’s international games. Remember to comment and let us know what you think.
Providing England overcome Australia in the final game this weekend, the series would have been a huge success for Eddie Jones and his England side. With a number of injuries hampering preparation, Jones drafted in new players and even altered positions to compensate. If they do beat Australia, England will be the only Tier one nation to go unbeaten in the calendar year and taking Jones’ tally to 14 wins from 14.
Ireland have definitely come out winners from their international series. A phenomenal performance against the All Blacks in Chicago unfortunately couldn’t be backed up two weeks later in Dublin. But last weekend’s narrow win against Australia culminated in Ireland becoming the only nation to beat the southern hemisphere’s “big three” in the calendar year since England back in 2003.
Late dramatic losses to Australia seem to be something of the norm now for Scotland. An exceptional performance against the Wallabies was their only loss of the campaign with wins against Argentina and Georgia. Scotland will take huge confidence from their series and should really be celebrating three wins from three. But it means Scotland will go into the 2017 Six Nations as an underdog, capable of beating any of their opponents.
Despite only winning one of their three games, the way Italy came back from the 68-10 loss to New Zealand by beating South Africa 20-18 was something to marvel at. The first time Italy have ever beaten the Springboks, it was a show of true mental grit to grind out an incredible win. It certainly shows that they are a side still progressing in the right direction – but certain winners here.
Two close wins for Tonga against Italy and the United States will be sure to boost confidence for the Pacific Island nation. Another team that are heading along the right path, two wins from two will be pleasing for head coach Toutai Kefu, particularly after last year’s poor World Cup campaign.
The greatest disappointment in this year’s series unfortunately falls upon South Africa. Despite Alister Coetzee repeatedly saying that his side are going through a rebuilding and development process, the Springboks couldn’t seem to gain any momentum. With a draw first up against the Barbarians and subsequent losses to England, Italy and Wales, it’s difficult to see how Coetzee’s leadership is proving fruitful. With the SARU opening up a comprehensive review and governance overhaul, eight losses in 12 matches shows the radical change since the World Cup semi-final just a year earlier.
You wouldn’t necessarily see New Zealand deemed as losers, but the All Blacks will be disappointed with their tour. The loss to Ireland in Chicago will have had a huge impact on the players – especially after a record run of wins. Despite the winning margin against Italy, both Ireland (in Dublin) and France in Paris gave the All Blacks tough, physical games. The gap between the All Blacks and rest of the field may not be as big as it used to be – plenty of teams they haven’t played will give them a good run for their money.
After a disastrous summer for Wales, the November internationals were seen as a way of redemption for the men in red. However, Australia exploited their vulnerability and both Argentina and Japan were very close to beating them – only four points and three points the difference respectively.
Prior to the November internationals, Michael Cheika and his Australia team targeted nothing less than a grand slam. The defeat to Ireland and the subsequent series will therefore be deemed as a failure. With the way England are playing at the moment, you wouldn’t bet against them beating the Wallabies for the fourth time this year.
Despite a win against Japan in their final game, Fiji suffered two heavy losses to England and the Barbarians at the beginning of the tour. Even with some exceptional talent in the squad, the debate still rumbles on about the Pacific Island players moving overseas and qualifying to play for their adopted nation. With a hugely successful sevens side, more needs to be done to give the 15-a-side game more resources to be better placed to compete.
There’ll be huge disappointment for Guy Noves and his France team. A win against Samoa couldn’t be replicated against Australia and New Zealand. Despite a close game against the All Blacks, the French couldn’t overcome the No.1 team in the world. For France though, they will have to pick themselves up and begin to look ahead to the trip to Twickenham for the opening round of the 2017 Six Nations against England.
The northern hemisphere sides have shown that in this international series, the gap has significantly reduced between the two. But any team looking to be the best in the world has to conjure wins away from home. If the fixtures were reversed and the north was touring the south again, would the score lines be the same? Perhaps not, but with the emergence of both England and Ireland from the north, maybe the curtain is finally falling on their southern counterparts.