Autumn Test Series: Takeaways from this weekend’s action (12th & 13th November)

Iain Morrison gives his take on a weekend which saw Italy claim Australia's scalp, France and South Africa tear it up, and another Scottish hard luck story

New Zealand's Beauden Barrett is closed down by Scotland pair Matt Fagerson and Sione Tuipulotu. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
New Zealand's Beauden Barrett is closed down by Scotland pair Matt Fagerson and Sione Tuipulotu. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

1. Historic inaugural Test win for plucky European nation over Southern Hemisphere giants….just not the one we wanted.

Congratulations must go to Italy and their Kiwi coach Kieran Crowley who manufactured a well deserved win over the Wallabies and never mind that the visitors had changed 11 of the starting 15 who ran France so close the previous weekend. Dave Rennie gambled. Dave Rennie lost.

It was a first ever victory for Italy who have been playing Tests against the Wallabies since 1983 without anything to show for it. The star of the show, Ange Capuozzo, just as he was in Cardiff back in March, only this time the elfin like full-back scored two good tries rather than create one.

Aussie debutant Ben Donaldson had a chance to snatch a win with a conversion which proved to be the last kick of the match but, Kinghorn style, couldn’t quite manage it. He had been on the field for just four minutes! Let’s hope Donaldson gets a chance to be remembered for something other than a missed kick.

Italy jumped to 11th in the World Rugby rankings, still three places below Australia who are somehow ranked eighth despite winning just four out of 12 Tests this year!


Scotland v Argentina: Hamish Watson and Rory Sutherland ruled out

Chris Harris on shortlist for World Rugby try of the year award

Schools to play National Cup, Shield, Plate and Bowl quarter-finals this week


2. Eddie Jones’ team score seven tries to thump Japan and it’s still a horrible weekend for English rugby

The men’s team hit their straps against tricky opposition but England’s women’s team lost a World Cup final which never makes for a happy camp. A first half red card to winger Lydia Thompson is partly to blame but so too is the determination of the Kiwi women and the attitude of the English players who had talked a little too much before the game about revenge.

The BBC ran a story with one English player insisting that the final was not just about winning but also about a chance to leave a legacy for future generations. No. Not true. A World Cup final is about nothing other than winning because the legacy only comes if you win. Another loss, this was England’s fifth defeat to New Zealand in a World Cup final, just leaves a legacy of failure.

Throw in England’s bizarre defeat by Samoa in the rugby league World Cup semi-final, a team they beat 60-6 on in the pool stages, the greatest sporting turnaround I can think of, and it proved a forgettable weekend for English rugby. Thank goodness for their T20 cricket team.

 

3.  Scotland the Brave

It was a much improved performance from Scotland who pushed New Zealand hard although I am less inclined than some to blame Jack Dempsey’s yellow card for the eventual loss. The tide had already turned and the All Blacks bench added energy and dynamism to what had been a sluggish New Zealand performance.

My beef with Scotland is that had the team performed with Sunday’s level of skill, intensity and intelligence on the opening weekend of the Autumn series they would have beaten the Wallabies by two or three scores. And if they repeat Sunday’s performance next weekend they will do something similar against the Pumas. But when did Scotland last backup one good showing with another?

The performance of good teams is determined by themselves rather than by the opposition. Every side in world rugby can, and will, up the ante when the All Blacks are in town. Far too often of late Scotland have played well below par and we need to ask ourselves why?

It would be easy to lay all the blame on the shoulders of coach Gregor Townsend who obviously bears some of the responsibility but it is surely down to culture as much as coaching.

Ireland became good only after years of excellence from the provinces, led by Munster and Ulster before Leinster set the gold standard in Europe. Provincial excellence informed the national squad in Ireland but the opposite was true in Wales where the regions have struggled while the national team excelled.

I still believe that excellence at pro-team level is a prerequisite for sustained national success in Scotland but you may think differently?

 

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4. Red spells danger

Did you catch the France versus South Africa game on Saturday evening because it was a full-blooded, hammer and tongs, humdinger of a Test? The World Champions have now lost two in a row, in Dublin and Paris, and will likely vent their anger against Italy and then England in their final two matches of this Autumn Test Series.

The game was hugely influenced by not one but two red cards. The first went to Pieter-Steph du Toit who caught Jonathan Danty in the head with his shoulder and looked close to tears as he sat on the bench. The second went to everyone’s favourite scrum-half Antoine Dupont who took out everyone’s favourite winger Cheslin Kolbe whilst he was airborne.

As far as anyone can tell neither man intended to cause any harm but that is irrelevant. Referee Wayne Barnes issued summary justice, taking no more time than was strictly necessary to send both men from the field.

World Rugby has a group litigation, brought by former players, hanging over them and the games’ governing body must be acutely aware that the NFL has already authorised payments of US$ 1 billion to former American footballers suffering from the effects of repeated head trauma.

Expect a lot more red cards before and during next year’s World Cup as World Rugby proves to all interested parties that it is taking the problem seriously.

 

5. La France marche bien

Fabien Galthie’s side recorded their 12th win on the bounce, a new record for a team who have, or had, inconsistency wired into their DNA.

The game on Saturday night did not go all their way as the momentum swung with France to begin with, then against them when Dupont was sent off, but they somehow managed to wrestle the initiative back again, helped by a yellow card for replacement Deon Fourie, to see the game out.

France, they don’t need reminding, are the only one of the big five rugby nations never to have won the World Cup, although they have lost three finals and almost certainly should have won the last of them, in 2011, in New Zealand.

A new winner for next year’s World Cup would be good for world rugby which has far too few contenders. France will be there or thereabouts on home soil but they might be a little concerned that a couple of their top ranked players went AWOL with the mercury rising in Marseille including No 8 Gregory Aldritt and their star quarterback Romain Ntamack.

 

6. England takeaways … not  too many

Yes, England played well, displaying the sort of continuity and execution that has been almost entirely absent from recent performances. But how much of this was down to the quality of the opposition is difficult to say as Japan were nowhere near their dogged best.

Marcus Smith looks like the real thing but we have all suspected as much for a while now. I am less convinced by some others but at least the English pack were back to something like their bully-boy best. Let’s see how they go against the Bokke in two weeks time? That will be the real test of Jones’ squad.

 

7. Fiji…the next big thing

Forget about the USA Eagles who have been the coming thing for longer than Godot. Fiji are the obvious side that could, with a little help, emerge as the next team able to compete with the giants of world rugby … especially if they get to field their own players.

What damage a Fijian midfield duo of Virimi Vakatwa (France) and Tevita Kuridrani (Australia) could do in tandem!

With almost no preparation, Fiji did respectably well against Scotland and Ireland. Imagine what this squad might achieve at RWC’23 after a month or so with ‘Stern Vern’ Cotter whipping them into shape.


Scotland v Argentina: Hamish Watson and Rory Sutherland ruled out

 

About Iain Morrison 151 Articles
Iain was capped 15 times for Scotland at openside flanker between his debut against Ireland during the 1993 Six Nations and his final match against New Zealand at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. He was twice a Cambridge ‘Blue’ and played his entire club career with London Scottish (being inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2016). Iain is a lifelong member of Linlithgow Rugby Club. After hanging up his boots, he became rugby correspondent for The Sunday Herald, before moving to The Scotland on Sunday for 16 years, and he has also guest written for various other publications.

23 Comments

  1. Apologies was meaning you don’t have 4 in a row with week gap but you have the 2 week gap in-between the tournament.

  2. No Irish pundit player or fan would look at two defeats and a wholly unconvincing win over a dire Fiji side in three games as a success. The difference in mindset right there between us and a nation that regularly wins slams at women men’s n age grades, pro12/14 n European cups. They don’t accept mediocrity or devalue homegrown players in place if SH journeymen. I know which approach I would prefer.

    • Dogma, completely agree with your sentiments and have expressed my disbelief at how low the bar seems to be as a measure of success for many on this forum on a number of occasions. Of course the retort is we have to be realistic where we sit in the hierarchy of world rugby. However my view is if you continue to accept mediocrity then that is what you will be satisfied with. 4 wins in 11 certainly falls into that category but it’s all ok we were competitive against a New Zealand B team.

  3. Chasing a 14 point deficit after 7 minutes we seemed stunned,bullied for the first one,at sea for the second.

    Took us a wee while to fan a foothold, played well enough for 60 minutes, the difference I felt was the bench ABs seem to be strengthened whilst we seemed to weaken?

    There 80 mins in a game, there was no panic from New Zealand they went about their phases and used every minute of the game to ensure a victory.

    Again as stated elsewhere we need consistency, too many false dawns time and again, nice to watch in phases, but we need to close out and manages games to our benefit

  4. I see that GT is saying that the players should use the AB defeat to motivate them for the next game. This is a novel approach by the coach but maybe explains his amassing past defeats for motivational purposes. Given the number of defeats, Scotland should be world beaters ! I also think that players who think they are Captain Fantastic; don’t need to tackle or pass the ball; wear coloured boots to draw attention to themselves; have hair implants and then grow the result so as to require a man bun, are past their sell by date and should make way for younger players with equally good if not better skills.

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    • I think that’s a bit cynical.
      They are top class players, presumably they want to win and will want to show what they can do after a ‘so close yet so far’.
      I don’t care about hairstyles either, as long as it’s not a massive fringe that flops over their eyes impeding their view of play at crucial moments.

  5. Russell first name on teamsheet is the biggest takeaway .
    Townsend has to come clean and admit he f**ked it up .

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  6. I thought NZ won because their ball carrying power and breakdown accuracy is just a bit better than ours.

    They scored or created scores from their pick n drives, we missed ours.

    We have a mobile pack and when our backs ran at the kiwis they often were left clutching at air (especially when Graham and VdM got the ball).

    That’s our game – quick ball, good retention, loads of movement, an inventive fly half and dangerous outside backs, not powering through 3 tackles from 2 yards out. We don’t have the forwards for that.

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  7. Firstly I believe Scotland had their strongest team out for a while. While people will focus on Finn the 2 key additions were Fraser Brown and Ritchie Gray. Fraser brought real physicality to the front row while Ritchie gave us a genuine middle of the line out jumper who caused the AB’s problem. As I said earlier it was the best line out display I’ve seen from a Scotland team in a long time.
    The Autumn series throws up several issues when you’re one of the smaller Nations. It is very difficult for the coach to put out his strongest team four games in a row and a lot of thought has to be put into selection for each game and that’s before injuries complicate things.
    Saturday will be very difficult, a 6 day turn around, injuries and coming off the back of a performance against the AB’s will make it extremely difficult if not impossible to produce the same level of intensity. I would take a scruffy win against Argentina now but would not be surprised if we lost. If we did it’s not the end of the world or is it typical Scotland. For me the Autumn series has already been a success, our best performance for several years against the AB’s which we can build on for the 6 Nations. As I said I don’t think this Saturday is key for Scotland, it’s our first game in the 6 Nations that will tell if we’re moving in the right direction.

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    • Iain for Scotland to do well in the 6N they would have to produce consistent performances against teams rated better than them and sometimes on a 6 day turnaround.

      We should beat Argentina. They’re a peer nation at a similar level to us but with a strong team and home advantage we should be able to do it.

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      • I agree but in a one off game o believe we would beat Argentina most times but people underestimate the physical and physiological demands coming off the back of a game against the AB’s especially with a 6 day turn around. The 6 Nations you have a minimum of 2 weeks between each game.

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      • Iain – “a minimum of 2 weeks” between 6N fixtures you say….?

        We all know your passion and respect your deep thinking about the Game in Scotland, so many thanks for this fascinating revelation.

        Please remind us – to which 6N are you referring?

    • Ian, I beg to differ slightly. I think 3 key additions of Gray, Brown and Russell. No doubt the forwards gave us front foot ball but Russell really got the ABs defensive line guessing and brought his backs into play with speed and precision. Also for me Brown was tiring and should have been replaced earlier

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      • I’m not disagreeing, Harris had a big part in it as well. But Russell for all his magic could not produce it without what was our best forward performance in a while. Winning the ball is one thing but the control and speed we won it suddenly gave our backs room to move.

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    • You know more about these demands than I do Iain having played at that level.

      But in the 6 Nations there is just 1 week between games at the beginning and end.

      There is a 2 week break between middle fixtures.

      Unless they have changed the format and I just haven’t caught up?

    • I simply fail to understand what you mean by ‘it’s the first game in the 6N before we know if Scotland are heading in the right direction. How many resets does Townsend get before people like you accept the guy is simply not fit for purpose.We have been heading in one direction , admittedly with some occasional positive outlier results since the last World Cup debacle which has become even more evident over the last year. And it’s not just the results it’s piss poor performances, baffling selections and all the extraneous side shows that have followed this group that no other tier one nation would accept without taking action (England aside)

  8. I’m Scottish, so no love for England men’s rugby,but really dislike the comments here on the Red Roses. Unnecessarily snide anyway, but also completely doesn’t understand what women’s rugby is about or what the Red Roses and other women’s teams value. If you actually follow women’s rugby and had seen the inspiration and joy that both teams and the wider tournament have given to so many girls and young women all around the world, you wouldn’t even think what you wrote, let alone think it was worth putting out in the world. It’s really disappointing to see.

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    • Totally agree, was involved in an event at Heriot’s RC on Saturday discussing the issues women face in what was a male only sport and trying to understand their needs. It was great being part of it, woman’s rugby is great for our clubs and for our sport in general.

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      • Really need to win on Saturday or the AI will have to deemed a failure. 3 defeats out of 4 (when 3 if the games are/were winnable).
        Poor selection(s) / no kicker in 1st game, no Russell in 2nd game resulted in scruffy win v Fiji, good (losing) performance in 3rd game.
        If anyone sees 3 losses out of 4 as a success is wrong.
        The squad we have will allow 4 fresh players to start – Redpath, Bennett, White, Crosbie, furthermore Dempsey, Ashman will be good to go too….

  9. Scotland have never in recent memory backed up a great performance with another. They are not alone on that as I thought Argentina would have beaten Wales easily. Taking those two results together doesn’t bode well for a Scotland win on Saturday

    • Scotland did not have a ‘great’ performance though, it was an improved performance for 50 minutes but we also had 30 minutes of garbage from the team, including getting cut open for 14 points far too easily at the start.

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      • Realistic comment regarding first 6 minutes, difference was where we have in the past folded, we did, albeit not for long enough, put in a great effort, but you are correct first six minutes were not unfamiliar territory looking back over the years.

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