Rugby union: talking points from the first round of autumn internationals

Croak

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Authors: Rio Sports

1) England appear shaky without their foundations

Owen Farrell will return to the England team against Australia on Saturday; the question is where. Eddie Jones played Henry Slade at 12 against Argentina but with a lack of quick ball, the Exeter centre was a marginal figure. The head coach has the option of restoring Farrell to inside-centre and moving Slade to 13, where he has excelled for the Chiefs this season, or putting Farrell at 10 in place of George Ford, who is not at his most effective when weighed down with slow possession. The decision should be made in conjunction with ball-carrying options at forward. Jones has looked for a balance between set-piece proficiency and presence in the loose, but if he puts the lack of dynamism in attack down to something more than rust, Jamie George and Harry Williams come into focus and Maro Itoje’s return would allow Courtney Lawes to move back to the back row. If Jones acts in anger, there will be a shake-up, but he is one who counts to 10 before selecting. What is evident is that when England are without the pillars of Farrell, Itoje and Billy Vunipola, their foundations shake.

Match report: England 21-8 Argentina
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England v Argentina: player ratings

2) Under par South Africa are paying for lack of nous

Ireland’s margin of victory over South Africa may have been embellished by three tries in the final nine minutes, but there was no denying their marked superiority over opponents who were as green as their jerseys. The naivety of the Springboks’ back three was exposed by the kicking of Jonathan Sexton, who was at his most ruthlessly efficient. South Africa, despite having a rule that allows the national head coach to pick expats who have won 30 caps or more, have this year largely stuck with players who play for one of their Super Rugby franchises. This was partly a move to stem the flow to Europe, but in Dublin they played the Bath flanker Francois Louw at No 8 while leaving a specialist in the position, Duane Vermeulen, in France. South Africa have won one away match in 11 since the last World Cup as a team short on experience in a number of positions keeps getting exposed.

Match report: Ireland 38-3 South Africa
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Ireland v South Africa
South Africa’s Siya Kolisi and Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong in action: TV viewers were left confused by the two sides’ similar shirts. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

3) Wales are still much too slow on the uptake

Wales suffered their annual defeat to Australia, and are left to reflect on a familiar tale of missed opportunities despite operating with two playmakers at 10 and 12. Wales have in recent years turned squandering overlaps into an art form, but on 16 minutes they put the ball through hands to give Steff Evans room to score in the left-hand corner, struggling to repeat it even when they had a man advantage. The intent was there, and considering they were well below strength with five of their summer Lions injured, the Wallabies were pushed harder in Cardiff than they were 12 months ago, when they faced a more settled side. In the last nine years Wales have played Australia, South Africa and New Zealand a total of 36 times and won a mere three. A main difference has been creativity, with the three southern hemisphere sides being able to win tight matches by scoring tries in the final quarter. Given their tendency to start a series slowly, it was, though, one of Wales’s better openers.

Match report: Wales 21-29 Australia
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Do not write Australia off, warns Cheika

4) All Blacks are losing their air of invincibility

For the third time this year New Zealand virtually had a match won by half-time and then eased up. They were 40-6 ahead in Sydney at the interval and lost the second-half 28-6 and were 29-3 to the good in Buenos Aires before sharing 14 points with Argentina. They led France 31-5 in Paris on Saturday night, only for Les Bleus to rally when Sonny Bill Williams, whose red card against the Lions for a dangerous tackle turned the second Test in Wellington in July, forgot he was playing union rather than league and slapped a cross-kick over the dead-ball line after 47 minutes to prevent a try being scored. He was sent to the sin-bin and conceded a penalty try as France scored 13 unanswered points to threaten an unlikely comeback. The All Blacks eventually held on, and even added a fifth try in the final minute. But they are no longer armed with the feel of invincibility.

Match report: France 18-38 New Zealand

Sonny Bill Williams
Sonny Bill Williams’s error opened a door for France to attempt a comeback. Photograph: Dave Winter/Icon Sport via Getty Images

5) Scotland’s new gung-ho approach carries risks

Gregor Townsend wants Scotand to become the fastest team in international rugby and they certainly made a rapid start against Samoa, scoring the first of their six tries against Samoa after two minutes through their full-back, Stuart Hogg. But their willingness to run from deep held as much risk as reward. The Pacific islanders – 10-32 down at one stage – rallied well and as a result left the home crowd nervously waiting for the final whistle. It was Townsend’s first home match in charge: his second will be against the masters of turning errors into tries, New Zealand, this weekend. That fixture promises to be another leg of the wacky races, with two teams committed to attack. For their part, Samoa, after two testing years since the 2015 World Cup, achieved a measure of redemption against Scotland on a weekend when the leading side in the south Pacific, Fiji, faltered in Italy. That defeat has to go down as a surprise given that Fiji were playing a team who were five places below them in the world rankings.

Match report: Scotland 44-38 Samoa

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