Eddie’s got too much talent to choose from
Now that the Autumn internationals are behind us, whose stock rose, and whose fell?
Eddie Jones’ problem remains that he has almost too much talent to choose from, so he gave some newish faces a run-out, and England got their three wins without doing any more than was expected. It earned the RFU a few bob, which has to be good for the game, did the corporate hospitality business a big favour, and allowed the Hingerland fans three nice days out at Twickahs.
The Irish have been on an upward curve of late, and that broadly continued. They mullered South Africa, struggled against Fiji with a weakened side, and beat Argentina rather less convincingly than England did. It’s hard to say their star rose, but neither did they go backwards.
Then we come to the Scots who could and perhaps should have beaten the All Blacks, but then went on to humiliate the Wallabies. If you ever wanted evidence of how flawed the Lions’ selection policy was, then this is it. If you look at all of those Welshmen who toured New Zealand, can you hondown estly say there were only two Scots worthy of their places in the original squad?
It’s worth remembering that, bar a crass bit of refereeing, the Scots would have been the only Northern Hemisphere side to make the 2015 RWC semifinals – on their day they are a force to be reckoned with, and they have come out of the autumn in pretty good shape. As a Scot I’ve been here before, and while my heart remains optimistic going into the Six Nations, my head says they’ll probably find a way to mess things up!
The Welsh had a moderate autumn, with defeats against Australia and New Zealand and singularly unimpressive wins against Georgia and South Africa. Their coaches talk a good game, but the reality is that they’ve fallen some way behind the best.
There’s time for them to re-establish themselves before 2019, but I can’t help feeling that their coaching set-up, and style of play, is lagging behind the other Home nations. Back in 2015 it was the SANZAAR nations that dominated the RWC semi-finals, but I reckon things will be different in Japan. Argentina don’t seem to have progressed and it’s hard to see how they’ll make the necessary steps in time to be a major force. South Africa should be serious contenders but they continue to offer the starkest possible demonstration that sport and politics are uncomfortable bedfellows.
When the Lions toured New Zealand I felt that, good though the All Blacks were, they were not the force of old, and the Autumn internationals seemed to prove that. Their production line could still come good, but I’m no longer convinced they are the best team in the world.
One aspect I found peculiar was the whingeing from the Southern Hemisphere sides about being tired because the matches came at the end of a long season. Look, they’re played in the northern autumn, so that’s always been the case, and when the home nations tour south in our summer, it’s at the end of our equally tough season. No point in complaining – either get on with it or drop the fixtures, but please don’t trot it out as an excuse.
The shambles of Ross Moriarty’s departure from Gloucester was an unseemly one. He has effectively been forced to head back to Wales, to play in a lesser competition, because of the WRU’s latest iteration of rugby madness. He’s signed for the Dragons, who generally play their home games in front of fewer than 6,000 supporters, and are owned by the WRU. However, he’s not going to be on a WRU central contract, and his salary will be entirely funded by his new region. It’s all a bit bizarre.
Moriarty took to Twitter – when will they ever learn? – and managed to hack off his current employers, Gloucester, to such an extent that they announced his departure with the tersest of statements. How sad that it came to such an end, but the blame lies fairly and squarely with the player and the WRU. Good players improve to become great players when they regularly play at the highest level, not by being compelled to settle for second best – when will the WRU get that?
England debutant: Sam Simmonds has come into the back row mix