3 Dec 2012

Rugby test matches autumn 2012: full of surprises

The last of the 2012 autumn rugby test matches played in Europe were completed this past weekend and they were often full of interest and we saw some excellent play (at least in those games I managed to see). One should bear in mind that the teams from the southern hemisphere, who have regularly dominated world rugby over recent years, with a couple of exceptions (France and England, episodically) were, for the most part, at the end of a fairly long season and so, arguably, were not at the very top of their physical form. But then I have also heard the opposite argument put forward: namely that they were at their best tactically from having played many more games together as teams than their Eiropean rivals. Two sides of a coin I suppose.

France has finally found itself a fly-half with the return  to grace of Fredéric Michalak, excellent in his team's 3 games

So what does the balance sheet looks like overall for the countries involved?

The cards are not quite stacked equally here as one team (Fidji) played just one game, some teams played two games (Ireland, Tonga, Samoa) many played three (Scotland, France, Italy, Argentina, South Africa) whilst England, Wales and Australia each played four games.

If one is to consider the overall balance in terms of victories for northern and southern hemisphere nations, the victory clearly lies in the south. European teams only won 7 out of a total of 19 games played, with none being drawn.

and so has England, who would do better sticking to the excellent Owen Farrell, both more creative and more solid in defense than Toby Flood

Only 2 countries won all of their games : France and South Africa (3 each)
Australia won 3 and lost 1
The "invincible" New Zealand All Blacks won 2 and lost 1, thus proving that nobody is "invincible".
England won 2 and lost 2 (one of them stupidly and by just 1 point)
Ireland, Samoa and Tonga all won 1 and lost 1
Argentina won 1 and lost 2
Italy won 1 game, against Tonga, and lost the other 2, quite narrowly against Australia, but quite heavily against New Zealand.
Fidji lost their only game
At the bottom of the chart, Wales (4 games) and Scotland (3 games) lost each test match they played. Bit of a headache for coaches and players!

Chris Robshaw, the England captain, who proved his leadership qualities againt New Zealand, but made some rather strange decissions in 2 other games.

The 2 biggest upsets must have been France's crushing 33-6 victory over Australia, and England's equally impressive 38-21 defeat of the world champions, New Zealand.
The counter-performances of Wales have to be added to this list, unhappily for them. And this is all the more surprising as they have been the strongest European team over the past 3 seasons or so.

The two English centre backs played brillantly againt the All Blacks. Here Barritt scores after a glorious effort and pass from Manu Tuilagi (in the background)

France played very impressively in the two games I saw (vs Australia and vs Argentina). They totally dominated each game and played with courage, intelligence and skill. They have justifiably moved up to 4th spot in the world ratings, and are thus the sole European team to be head of series in the draw for the 2015 world cup pools that has just taken place

After their try festival against Fidji, England then missed the boat that could have got them the number 4 slot. They looked a bit too staid in their game against Australia, which they could have won if they had been a little more realistic. And they should have beaten South Africa in a very physical game, had it not been for a very strange decision on the part of their captain, Robshaw, in the last 3 minutes of the game.
But they certainly showed plenty of spirit and initiative in their surprise victory against New Zealand, which was won convincingly and by the biggest margin since a game back in 1926! If they manage play like this each game, they could be redoubtable. And this is also a very young team, with an average age in the early twenties.

They have now drawn Australia and Wales in their pool for the 2015 World Cup, but will be playing at home (so will Wales).

With the apparent demise of Wales, England and France are now clear favourites for the future 6 nations European tournamant that will begin on February 2nd. Ireland remain an always redoubtable outsider. England wil be playing France on February 23rd, on their home patch at Twickenham. Should be fun and will do my best to be there!

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