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November Tales – Who Came Out on Top

November Tales – Who Came Out on Top

With the dust settling following a hectic November international series, just who exactly has come out on top and just what will it mean for the RBS Six Nations Championship?

With the dust settling following a hectic November international series, just who exactly has come out on top and just what will it mean for the RBS Six Nations Championship?

From a results point of view, the big winners are New Zealand and of course Ireland. At this point, both sides have three wins from three, with the All Blacks to take on the Barbarians in Twickenham this weekend.

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Ireland’s wins over South Africa, the USA and the last gasp victory over Argentina made it a mirror image of the last Autumn series in 2002, where three wins over Australia, Fiji and Argentina set Eddie O’Sullivan’s team up for an assault on a Grand Slam, which ended in defeat and second place in the RBS Championship behind soon to be crowned World Champions England.

The win over the Springboks was a case of unfinished business from the summer tour, where Ireland were unhappy at their performances in South Africa. Despite some media reports, Ireland won more easily then by just a supposedly controversial try. In reality, Ireland should have scored more against the boks, which left Coach Jake White reversing his sentiments over how many Irish players would make his team.

Eddie O’Sullivan will be hoping to keep the momentum gained from the final win over Argentina going into the RBS Six Nations, where what appears to be a settled team have a chance to build on this success.

Elsewhere, the new look All Blacks destroyed France in nearly every facet of their game in a 6 – 45 win in Paris on Saturday, and accounted for Italy fairly easily in Rome. But it was their game against the vastly improving Wales that really tells the tale for the Championship.

Although their game is not completely fixed, Wales looked impressive and really should have beaten the All Blacks in Cardiff and to a lesser extent, the Springboks, two weeks earlier. The Millennium Stadium clock played a big part in both games, with the Springboks almost suffering defeat due to miscalculating the remaining match time and Wales falling short against New Zealand due to their belief they had more time left. When Ireland visits there next year, you can be sure the Irish management will know exactly what time it is. As Ireland found out in 2003, Wales will be a big test for Ireland.

And what of England? Their easy win over Canada was supplemented by an excellent performance in beating the Springboks with some dazzling rugby. Charlie Hodgson looked to have banished memories of a certain injured Mr. Wikinson, but defeat to the Wallabies on Saturday, where Hodgson and the unfortunate Henry Paul (who was taken off after 24 minutes) had an off day, have put new England Coach Andy Robinson’s plans back a bit. Despite this loss, England still would occupy the favourites spot in many people’s minds and with the depth of talent and the return of Johnny Wilkinson, they have the right to be so.

France seem to have lost their way, with heavy criticism being directed at coach Bernard Laporte due to his decision not to rotate his players during the Autumn games and not to bring in any new blood. There eye catching win over Australia was forgotten after a surprise (to the French) defeat to Argentina. If this could have been termed as a bad day at the office, the big loss to New Zealand was certainly worse. It will be interesting to see what Laportes selection will be for the championship and as history has shown, it is harder to defend a crown then to win it, but write them off at your peril.

Scotland had just one win over Japan to show for their Autumn toils. In the first game against the Wallabies, Scotland were 28 – 0 down and the signs were ominous, but to their credit they came back to win the second half easily and provide signs of improvement. A century on Japan kept the good time feelings going, but a second loss to the Wallabies and a poor performance against South Africa had Matt Williams disappointed at the lack of consistency. Scotland will be most peoples favourites for the wooden spoon, but the underdogs tag can be a big incentive and so expect Scotland to be more competitive then people may think.

Italy were soundly beaten by the All Blacks and were almost surprised by the USA on Saturday, although they did have a more experimental side out. Italy will always provide the physical challenge to any team they play, as even the All Blacks found out, so Ireland will be expecting a tough opener against the Azzuri in Rome in February.

So, in conclusion, it is fair to say that performances in November may occupy the minds of the fans, it does not always convert to success in the Six Nations. With so many teams winning and losing games, it was hard to decipher a clear form team, with Ireland the only European side to come out with a clean sheet.

This aside, England and France remain the teams to beat, but they will certainly be looking over their shoulders at Ireland and possibly Wales, as potential challengers. Scotland and Italy look to be the next tier of teams, but what makes the RBS Six Nations a great competition is its ability to provide the shock result. Eddie O’Sullivan knows that the public expectancy following November will be high, but with tough openers away to Italy and Scotland, as the saying goes, let’s take it one game at a time’.