Sir Ian McGeechan

What home na­tions need to learn from au­tumn in­ter­na­tion­als

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - SIR IAN McGEECHAN

Eng­land Ar­gentina Nov 11, Aus­tralia Nov 18, Samoa Nov 25

Af­ter a pos­i­tive sum­mer tour to Ar­gentina, Ed­die Jones has a much wider base from which to work and it will be the con­tin­ued in­te­gra­tion of those fringe play­ers, the de­vel­op­ment of com­bi­na­tions, and the find­ing out about the third and fourth choices in each po­si­tion, which will be top of his agenda this au­tumn.

I am par­tic­u­larly look­ing for­ward to see­ing how he han­dles the Dy­lan Hart­ley ver­sus Jamie George co­nun­drum. I think Ed­die will (and should) switch be­tween them in terms of starts. Eng­land have a core group of lead­ers now with Owen Far­rell, Maro Itoje, Joe Launch­bury and Chris Rob­shaw, all of whom can skip­per the team if Hart­ley is not on the field, so I don’t think cap­taincy’s an is­sue.

I am also look­ing for­ward to see­ing what Ed­die does in the back three. Denny Solomona has been on fire re­cently. Ditto Jonny May. Semesa Roko­duguni has been one of the best fin­ish­ers in the Pre­mier­ship this year, al­though there are still ques­tions about his de­fence and po­si­tional play against the top teams. I think a top-class out­side-half would tar­get him, but he de­serves an op­por­tu­nity to show whether he has learnt from last year’s ex­pe­ri­ence.

I think af­ter watch­ing what hap­pened on the

Lions tour – when New

Zealand strug­gled to con­tain the Sex­ton-Far­rell-Davies combo – Jones will play Ford at 10 and Far­rell at 12. The ques­tion is, who plays out­side Far­rell? Al­though Eng­land have a num­ber of in­juries, and al­though Aus­tralia beat New Zealand re­cently, such is Eng­land’s strength in depth I think it is fair to say they are favourites to win all three of their games.

Wales Aus­tralia Nov 11, Ge­or­gia Nov 18, New Zealand Nov 25, South Africa Dec 2

Just as I reckon Eng­land will go with Far­rell at 12 – hav­ing seen from the Lions ex­pe­ri­ence what ben­e­fits can be gained by hav­ing a play­maker at in­side cen­tre

– so War­ren Gat­land has sig­nalled his de­ci­sion to change tac­tics by leav­ing out Jamie Roberts. A ti­tan for Wales for so long, the se­lec­tion of Dan Big­gar, Rhys Patchell, Rhys Pri­est­land and Owen Wil­liams is an at­tempt to find a new way to hurt teams in mid­field.

The other big pri­or­ity for Gat­land, I think, is to find long-term cover for Alun Wyn Jones, who will need to be used ju­di­ciously in the build up to the World Cup as he is such an im­por­tant player. Wales have se­ri­ous strength in the back row, a mo­bile front row, a bril­liant scrum-half in Rhys Webb, and pace in the back three where – in a re­ver­sal of re­cent sea­sons – Leigh Half­penny could find him­self play­ing wing and Liam

Wil­liams full back.

The trick will be to keep their first team fit be­cause

Gat­land’s group do not have as much depth as Eng­land or Ire­land. One thing is for sure, with Ge­or­gia and New Zealand both in Wales’s World Cup pool, this is go­ing to be a fas­ci­nat­ing month.

Scot­land Samoa Nov 12, New Zealand Nov 18, Aus­tralia Nov 25

Gre­gor Townsend got off to a bril­liant start with that win in Aus­tralia in the sum­mer. But he now finds his squad rav­aged by in­juries and about to face two of the top four sides in the world this month. Richie Gray, Greig Laid­law, Mark Ben­nett, Duncan Tay­lor, Sean Mait­land – that is some se­ri­ous tal­ent miss­ing.

Gre­gor is a canny coach, though, and one thing he is par­tic­u­larly good at – as he proved at Glas­gow – is get­ting his team to play an ef­fec­tive brand of rugby. I think he will want to go high-tempo. That is when Scot­land play their best and that is how Glas­gow played un­der him. To do that, you need clar­ity, ac­cu­racy, and for play­ers to take re­spon­si­bil­ity.

At the very least, Gre­gor will look to es­tab­lish a base from which to work go­ing for­ward, and to es­tab­lish a few ef­fec­tive com­bi­na­tions. A win against Samoa in the first game is vi­tal to breed con­fi­dence.

Ire­land South Africa Nov 11, Fiji Nov 18, Ar­gentina Nov 25

The rec­om­men­da­tion of South Africa as the host of the 2023 World Cup has cer­tainly given Ire­land’s open­ing game a lit­tle sub-plot. It was a blow for the Ir­ish but it is not over yet. And they can con­tent them­selves with the fact that their rugby is in rude health. In many ways Ire­land are in the best shape of all four na­tions. Joe Sch­midt’s oper­a­tion is so well oiled. The play­ers all know what they are do­ing and they have strength in al­most ev­ery po­si­tion. Sch­midt has only picked four un­capped play­ers in a huge 38-man squad. Ire­land’s set-piece, kick­ing game, break­down work and or­gan­i­sa­tion are all of the high­est or­der. And Sch­midt’s dossier on the op­po­si­tion is bound to be ex­haus­tive. The one area I think he will want his team to re­ally im­prove is their ruth­less­ness in the fi­nal third; they must put teams to the sword when they get in there. With the World Cup now un­der two years away, Sch­midt will also be us­ing these games to es­tab­lish a peck­ing or­der at sec­ond, third and fourth choices in each po­si­tion, giv­ing the stand-ins valu­able game time; Joey Car­bery at 10, Kieran Marmion at nine and so on.

Key play­ers: Eng­land’s Owen Far­rell and Dan Big­gar of Wales are sure to play im­por­tant roles

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