The 2017 set of Autumn internationals stand amongst some of the best in recent memory for the home nations, and alongside the 1-1 drawn Lions summer series with New Zealand, the gulf between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere has substantially reduced.
We’re now halfway through the World Cup cycle to Japan and England, Ireland and Scotland look like high-class International sides, with England occupying second in the world rankings and Ireland third at this present moment in time. The one side to not have made significant strides appear to be Wales; they have shown patches of good play, but there has been an element of inconsistency. Their most impressive result was a laboured 13-6 win over Georgia, however, they have a chance to rectify this with their clash against South Africa to look forward to and to try and make it two wins out of four this Autumn series.
“England still have room to improve”
England have won the last two Six Nations tournaments and won 22 out of 23 matches under Eddie Jones, however, it is surprising to see that they still have room to improve with several lucky escapes in this year’s tournament against France and Wales and a substantially below par performance against Ireland. In places, they stuttered against both Argentina and Australia yet still managed to find a way to win, which is the hallmark of a good team – one can’t be too critical of 9 wins from 10 this year. In many instances, games have been taken away from the opposition in the last 20 minutes, especially against Australia with three tries in the last 10 minutes, which speaks volumes for Eddie Jones’ called finishers. The one concern many have expressed would have is that England has only produced a handful of 80-minute performances, and should they pull this off they will become close to an unbeatable side.
Ireland and Scotland’s Autumn’s bode incredibly well for a strong Six Nations; Scotland has backed up their solid 2015 World Cup and recent six nations, where they came 4th in spite of beating Wales and Ireland, cruelly on points difference. Yet arguably they were the 2nd best team in the competition with Ireland’s one outstanding performance coming against England. For the Irish, it was an otherwise lacklustre competition alongside 2016’s and it remains to be seen if Ireland can back up the Autumn imperiousness against the Springboks as they struggled to put away Fiji and Argentina from promising positions. The win against New Zealand in 2016 and South Africa in the Autumn as well as the win against England, show that on their day they can beat anyone. However, they have to travel to Twickenham in the 6 Nations where England haven’t lost under Eddie Jones – more positively, though, they host Scotland and Wales, two of their toughest matches which should both be crackers.
“The scots emerge as dark horses”
No team has ever won 3 successive Six Nations, yet last time this cycle of home and away fixtures were played England won the Grand Slam. Should they win another title, this England team can arguably join the 2003 side in the debate for England’s greatest ever – they would they emerge as real contenders for the 2019 world cup. Watch out for Ireland, Scotland and potentially Wales, whilst France in Paris is also never easy.
Everyone should be watching the progress the Scotish make given their slick and entertaining play during the Autumn series.