>> Gus­cott: Power shift be­tween hemi­spheres

The Rugby Paper - - Front Page - JEREMY GUS­COTT

Every­body was say­ing that, for it to be a suc­cess­ful Au­tumn cam­paign, Eng­land would have to win three out of four. I was of the mind that per­for­mance out­weighed the re­sults be­cause, although we had a feel­ing of what Eng­land were try­ing to do, lack of con­sis­tency made it all a bit cloudy.

That South Africa dis­play was the build­ing block for the im­proved per­for­mance against New Zea­land. In that sec­ond half against the Boks they made so many clean breaks but couldn’t quite fin­ish them off with tries. It was cru­cial they did against New Zea­land, oth­er­wise they would not be in the game.

That ef­fec­tively is what hap­pened. The start of the first half against New Zea­land was a con­tin­u­a­tion of the end of the Spring­bok match which for me was a huge plus. Yes, New Zea­land was a game they should have won and those play­ers in­volved will think of it as a missed op­por­tu­nity to beat the No.1 side in the world.

But I was im­pressed with the strat­egy and ex­e­cu­tion and ev­ery­thing was plus, plus, plus for me, bear­ing in mind you are miss­ing at least four starters in An­thony Wat­son, Manu Tuilagi and the Vu­nipola broth­ers.

And then there were a few changes and it was back to nor­mal Eng­land against Ja­pan. Er­ror af­ter er­ror, op­por­tu­ni­ties butchered and un­forced er­rors that you can­not af­ford at this level if you have any de­signs on win­ning the World Cup. But fair to say it’s bet­ter to get it out the sys­tem so, come the World Cup, it isn’t hap­pen­ing.

They needed a re­ac­tion yes­ter­day and there was no big­ger state­ment than in that first scrum that ab­so­lutely mar­malised Aus­tralia. They tore the Wal­laby pack apart and seemed to take note of what Ed­die Jones had been say­ing in the lead-up that they have to re­ally ter­rorise Aus­tralia and make them know they were in for an in­tense game by mak­ing it in­cred­i­bly phys­i­cal.

That scrum was the big state­ment to kick the game off and there were some won­der­ful tries from El­liot Daly and Joe Cokanasiga. The end re­sult was a good, con­vinc­ing win and sets them up for what is go­ing to be an ex­tremely chal­leng­ing Six Na­tions be­cause of how well the rest of the Home Unions have played, Wales, Scot­land and, par­tic­u­larly, Ire­land.

For me Ire­land have stepped up to the level of in­ten­sity and ex­e­cu­tion that New Zea­land have. They are an in­cred­i­ble force in world rugby and are are now one of the favourites, with New Zea­land, to lift the tro­phy in Ja­pan.

Joe Sch­midt, has moulded a team that plays a low er­ror game that gives very lit­tle mo­men­tum to the op­po­si­tion and one that re­ally plans

their at­tack and how it can break down the op­po­si­tion. That try by Ja­cob Stock­dale summed up the de­tail that Ire­land have put in to the game of rugby.

They are a cere­bral team that also has brawn. The brawn is seen in their fe­ro­cious in­ten­sity – how can the op­po­si­tion pos­si­bly get in the game against such ac­cu­racy and so few er­rors? That Ire­land-All Blacks game epit­o­mises rugby. De­fences were red hot and at times it was glad­i­a­to­rial – for those who don’t know rugby it could pos­si­bly have put you off, it was such a fierce con­test.

While Wales went through the Au­tumn un­beaten, and Scot­land put in some good per­for­mances, I sense they are just a cou­ple of lev­els be­low Ire­land and New Zea­land. But there is a swing in the su­pe­ri­or­ity be­tween hemi­spheres. Yes, New Zea­land are still there but Aus­tralia and South Africa are def­i­nitely be­hind Ire­land, Eng­land and Wales.

It’s a great step in the right di­rec­tion to be con­test­ing for the World Cup. Wales’ Au­tumn was built on de­fence and while they didn’t score a lot of tries, they didn’t have to. Of course, you can still win games if you don’t score more tries, but it does help if you can score some tries and move away from the op­po­si­tion rather than al­low it to stay an armwres­tle edg­ing three or six points ahead through penal­ties which Wales were do­ing. It adds to the ten­sion in the play­ers and also makes the crowd more anx­ious – which plays on the play­ers mind be­cause of the at­mos­phere. But psy­cho­log­i­cally, the big plus is that they man­aged to close the games out whereas in the past they might not have. For Wales to be real con­tenders for the World Cup, they have to beat Eng­land at home in the Six Na­tions and take Ire­land close or win. Scot­land, like Eng­land against New Zea­land, had the op­por­tu­ni­ties to win against South Africa. The Boks are a very phys­i­cal side with a lot of ball car­ri­ers and so would have been a sig­nif­i­cant psy­cho­log­i­cal hur­dle to get over for Scot­land, much like Wales end­ing their hoodoo at home against Aus­tralia. Scot­land are that lit­tle bit be­hind, but on the whole it’s re­fresh­ing to talk about the Home Unions hav­ing a suc­cess­ful Au­tumn when for so many years it has been the South­ern Hemi­sphere who have been dom­i­nant. That has changed, and not just by a lit­tle, but by a lot...

On way back: Manu Tuilagi

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

Mo­men­tum shift: Ja­cob Stock­dale scores against the All Blacks

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