Argentina – Grade: F
A quite dreadful Autumn for Los Pumas as they lost three from three in Europe. The men from South America showed the odd flash of what they are capable of against Ireland in their first match but after that they sometimes looked fatigued and lacking the spark that they showed in parts of the Rugby Championship.
Defeats to France and Scotland followed the Ireland match as they only managed to cross the try line twice in their three outings.
A November to forget and back to the drawing board for next season.
Australia – Grade: E
How Michael Cheika is still in a job as I write this is beyond me.
There are clearly fractions in the camp and their inability to gain consistency and rhythm in their play has become a bit of an epidemic for the Wallabies.
Against Wales they struggled to get into double figures for the number of phases they attacked with and never looked like worrying the try line at any point.
In Italy they were lucky to still be in the game at half time and had an incorrectly disallowed try for the Italians been given then their waltz to victory in the second half may not have occurred.
Spirit was shown at Twickenham but the Wallabies second half capitulation tells you everything you need to know about the spirit in the squad.
England – Grade: B-
We had a bit of everything from England this Autumn but there seems to have been a shift back to them regaining some identity in the way they play heading into next year’s World Cup.
It started poorly against the Springboks and the Red Roses probably should have lost that match by half time but as they grew into the game and the broken field started to open up, they somehow salvaged a victory against all adversity. A last-minute decision went their way with regards to the now infamous Owen Farrell tackle but sometimes lady luck doth smile down upon you.
It was the polar opposite against the All Blacks as they came out firing on all cylinders to open a 15-point lead only to be reeled back in and lose a game they should have won. The rub of the green wasn’t in their favour late on this time though as a 50/50 call at the breakdown cancelled out a potentially match winning try.
Back to being shocking against Japan the next week saw them behind at half-time. For some unknown reason they decided not to play with their usual, physical game and got caught napping.
When they reverted to type, they dominated and saw the game out with a win and a score line that flattered them at the final whistle.
The performance against Australia was quite fractious in parts but when their rhythm and power game came to the fore in the second half the Wallabies were pulled apart and England ran riot.
The perfect way to end a campaign that started so badly.
France – Grade: D-
Had they not scraped a victory against Argentina it would be Les Bleus failing this term and having to re-take the year.
It was a spirited showing against the Springboks but their game management in the final ten minutes let them down badly. They should have seen the game out as they were camped on the South African line but somehow, just minutes later, Bongi Mbonambi was diving over their try line to steal a victory.
A decent showing against Argentina followed without really hitting top gear. They must take some kudos for the way they eased away from their visitors in the second half to win and there were many positives to be taken out of the performance.
Roll on one week and they will probably have wanted the half empty Stade de France’s pitch to open up and swallow them whole.
There were no wholesale changes to the team that took to the field against Fiji and it is safe to say that the players selected were indeed their first choice.
Fiji did not let them play with any cohesion and showed more heart and determination than their hosts to pull off the shock result of the Autumn.
As good as Fiji were this was an unacceptable result for the French public and leading into a World Cup year, this result may linger well into the Six Nations.
Ireland – Grade: A+
What other grade can you give them?
The only way you could mark them down would be because of the difficulty of opponent either side of playing New Zealand but that is neither the players nor coaches fault. You can only play what is put in front of you.
A demolition of Italy in Chicago was merely an hors d’oeuvre for what was to come and the challenges that lay ahead.
There was a slight stutter against Argentina but Los Pumas are Ireland’s bogey team and for a first hit out for November at home it blew away the cobwebs and turned out to be the perfect warm up for the next weekend’s main event.
Finally, they have the monkey off their back of having never beaten New Zealand on home soil. Not only did they achieve that but they did it in style.
It was one of the great test matches of modern times and one flash of genius from Jacob Stockdale was the difference on the scoreboard. The same scoreboard didn’t paint the truest picture of what actually happened on the field though.
Ireland were aggressive from the off and stopped their opponents scoring a try which in itself is a sizeable achievement but there is more to it than that.
They suffocated their opponents, out muscled them and outclassed them.
Peter O’Mahoney was a man possessed and Johnny Sexton taught Beauden Barrett a lesson in how to control a game and manage your team’s movements around a rugby pitch.
It was a sublime showing and one that will not be forgotten in Dublin for many years to come.
A routine win against the USA followed and we can argue that opposition like that doesn’t test the squad but yet again Ireland have their player welfare absolutely spot on.
Italy – Grade: E-
The Azzuri were another team that just capitulated and will want to curl up in the foetal position wishing December was here already.
They managed just two tries in their three matches against tier one nations.
The men in blue can count themselves unfortunate following the Australia match due to some poor refereeing decisions in the first half but other than that they took two hammerings off Ireland and New Zealand.
There is one positive though and that is the expected victory over Georgia. Publicly, have been a lot of calls for Georgia to replace Italy in the Six Nations or at least allow a promotion/relegation battle for them but Italy may have silenced a few of their calls with a solid victory over their rivals.
As usual though, the absence of Sergio Parisse was immeasurable and it is time for Conor O’Shea to find a new leader as waiting for his talisman to be fit again is resulting in a lack of leadership on the field.
New Zealand – Grade: B
This certainly wasn’t a vintage tour for New Zealand in any way at all but it may well have been the kick in the rear that they needed before the defence of their World Cup.
You do have to take into consideration that most teams played only three matches in November and some four whereas the All Blacks played 5 weeks in a row which included a Bledisloe Cup match in Yokohama and a test in Tokyo against Japan.
They looked travel weary as well at times. Unusually slow starts crept into their game but shear grit and a will to win dragged them through against England at Twickenham.
Unfortunately for them they met Ireland at the peak of their powers and were found wanting when the pressure was put on them.
They will now have to change their style of play a little bit here and there as elements of their game have been worked out by the opposition but that is not a negative when entering a World Cup Year. If anything, it will refresh the men in black and they will only come back stronger and scarier.
Scotland – Grade: C+
A very indifferent November for Scotland ended with two wins and two losses which give you the perfect gauge of where they are right now.
They have an ability to cut teams open as we witnessed time and time again against Fiji and then against South Africa but they are susceptible when defending fast ball which was their eventual undoing against the Springboks.
If they can plug those leaks around the fringes then they will give anyone a scare next year as their attack is frightening and innovative in equal measure.
Finn Russell is one glitch that also needs sorting. One minute he is putting people through gaps or throwing long passes over the top cutting out three defenders but two minutes later he is trying to do the same again. Sometimes you may want to see him kick territory or go through the phases rather than try and extend his highlight reel by a few more minutes.
A little bit more nous and clever game management could make Scotland dark horses next year.
South Africa – Grade: C+
The Springboks must be the most confusing team in World Rugby at this moment in time. Their aura is returning under Rassie Erasmus but when you look at their results it’s difficult to see why.
They only have a 50%-win record under their new coach and at times their defence resembles the way Moses walked through the Red Sea. Erasmus and his team have a plethora of selection headaches due to a portion of his team plying their domestic trade all over the globe and they have had more than their fair share of injuries to key players like Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager to contend with as well.
For all these issues there is still a renewed hope in South Africa that this team are making strides towards the finished article.
They beat the All Blacks away and should have had home but here in lies the common denominator with everything that they do: ‘should have’.
They should have beaten England at Twickenham but didn’t yet they should have lost to France but didn’t. They are so Jekyll and Hyde at times. World beaters one match and distinctly average the next as we saw in Cardiff against Wales.
Development phases are now over and judging by this November they are not ready to challenge for the World Cup next year yet should they beat New Zealand in their opening game of the World Cup then no one would be surprised.
They only have four tests before that match so expect to hear a lot of ‘should have, would have, could have’ before then.
Wales – Grade: A+
Four from four and nine in a row for the men in red has renewed the national confidence in their beloved rugby team yet again.
A first win in 14 against the Wallabies is an itch that has long needed scratching and they now seem to have a psychological edge over the Springboks after winning the last four against them as well.
Shaun Edwards has taken some flack over the past few seasons in that he was not moving with the times in regard to his defensive strategy but it all came together this November beautifully. They only conceded five tries in four matches with three of them coming in a game that they scored 76 points themselves, which demonstrates the open nature of the match.
The back line is big, powerful and quick on the counter attack but the back row is where they have found a perfect balance. Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate and Ross Moriarty compliment each other perfectly with a mixture of guile and tenacity at the breakdown.
The strength in depth is also as strong as it has been for many a year. Taulupe Faletau is still to come back into the reckoning whilst players like Dan Biggar, a certain pick last year, is now fighting with two other players to even get a place on the bench.
Should the squad remain relatively injury free during the Six Nations they may just be Ireland’s main challengers to the crown.
Photo Credit: William Murphy via freeforcommercialuse.org