The big story for each top rugby nation – week 4

7:52 PM GMT

It was a good week for England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and New Zealand, while the Springboks, Italy, France, Australia and Argentina fell to defeat. We take a look at the big question surrounding each of the top teams in international rugby.


Argentina rack up the air miles, but also travel weariness

Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade says his top players will have made close to 50 trips this year and been to 18 different cities as they cope with the rigours of Super Rugby, the Rugby Championship and the end-of-year tours.

This schedule is not sustainable for high performance athletes and they were short of their best when they faced England in a match which brought down the curtain on their 2016. Hourcade said post-match that they were travel weary but did not use that as an excuse for their inability to see off 14-man England.

“In part it is down to the tough season that we have had after many trips and games. For the players it was a new season,” Hourcade said. “On the other hand the team had chances in the last 20 minutes and weren’t able to score, but not because they were tired.” — Tom Hamilton


Indiscipline, execution cost Wallabies dearly

The Wallabies grand slam drought will continue for at least another few years after their three-match winning run came to an end in Dublin. Michael Cheika’s side were forced to defend for much of the first half, a situation that saw them give up a 17-0 lead, but when they did finally secure some possession the improvements in their attack from the last month were there for all to see.

Still, this will certainly feel like a lost opportunity for Australia. While the improved shape of their attack was obvious, the execution of the final touches was not. The Wallabies butchered several excellent attacking opportunities with poor- or pushed final passes while their breakdown work was also, at times, ineffective.

And then there was a 13-3 penalty count they found themselves on the wrong side of. Cheika may have some cause to moan about the referee, but his side were their own worst enemy and they now must regroup ahead of next week’s final clash with England. — Sam Bruce

Week 5 vs. England, Twickenham, Dec. 3, 2:30 p.m. GMT

Paul Cunningham – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images


Rokoduguni and Yarde state their claim in front of Eddie Jones

With Elliot Daly expected to be handed a suspension on Monday following his red card against the Pumas, Jones now has to decide who will start on the wing against Australia on Saturday. It looks to be a straight shootout between Bath’s Semesa Rokoduguni and Harlequins’ Marland Yarde.

As chance had it, they faced each other on Sunday in the Aviva Premiership with Jones watching on from the stand. Both played well with Rokoduguni making one outstanding break while Yarde made more runs with ball in hand than his Bath counterpart.

Jones usually wants one speedster — Jonny May — and one more physical winger, an attribute both Yarde and Rokoduguni possess. It will be fascinating to see whether Jones backs Yarde, a winger he knows well, or gives the more unpredictable Rokoduguni a shot against the Wallabies. — TH

Week 5 vs. Australia, Twickenham, Dec. 3, 2:30 p.m. GMT


Les Bleus on the verge of a return to running rugby glory days?

Guy Noves will have plenty of time to digest France’s narrow defeat to New Zealand as he prepares for the Six Nations. He will most probably do so with a feeling that Les Bleus could and really should have secured their first victory against the All Blacks at the Stade de France.

The amount of try-scoring opportunities that were created by the hosts should be seen in a positive light, but by the same token that the majority were not taken is a concern. Simple errors cost them at crucial times, and with a little more composure in vital areas France would have been celebrating on Sunday morning. It is the job of the head coach to acknowledge such shortcomings and come up with a solution.

Noves has 68 days to do exactly that before France visit England in February. It would have been galling for some French fans to witness exactly how a nation once famed for its flair in attack floundered in Paris. But those supporters who headed towards the Gare du Nord on Saturday night did so in fairly good spirit.

They have plumbed some fairly low depths since New Zealand beat them in the 2011 World Cup final. The performance on the weekend at least hinted at a return to the days of free-flowing rugby. Noves’ side might not have possessed the skillset to get over the line here, but in having a go they gave their fans reason to cheer. Now they must back it up in what promises to be one of the most keenly contested Six Nations of recent memory. — Martyn Thomas

Ireland’s Josh van der Flier tackles Australia’s Kane Douglas.¬†Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images


Ireland choke Wallabies to ice sweet November

It was the catalyst for their famous victory over Australia at 2011 World Cup, and the choke tackle again proved invaluable for Ireland against the Wallabies in Dublin. Joe Schmidt had clearly done his homework, as was the case with the victory over New Zealand in Chicago, with his forward pack able to force a turnover time, and time again by holding the Wallabies up and earning the “maul” call form referee Jerome Garces.

Schmidt will surely be just as pleased with the performance of the youngsters he was forced to throw into the Test cauldron following the injuries to Jonny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and the late withdrawal of Sean O’Brien.

Paddy Jackson has experience at running the side from 10 at the top level, but he still could have been forgiven for a shaky outing given the opposition. He was ably supported by Garry Ringrose and young flanker, and man of the match, Josh van der Flier. The openside was superb stepping in for Sean O’Brien just hours before kick-off. — SB


One huge step forward, two steps back

How big of a presence does Sergio Parisse have? Perhaps the defeat to Tonga showed that an Italy without Parisse, is an Italy in dire need of some leaders on the field. Parisse was the only change from the side that defeated the Springboks a week earlier, and in his absence Italy faltered.

While Carlo Canna, Tommaso Allan and Edoardo Padovani were all on target with kicks at the weekend, they still lack a fly-half to control the game. Italy led 7-0 and should have taken advantage when Valentino Mapapalangi was sin-binned 25 minutes in. But Canna should have controlled the game between their first try 13 minutes in and the second to put them back in front at 14-13 before the hour mark. They lack leaders.

Leaders like Parisse to galvanise the team, leaders at fly-half to control games and leaders around the field to prevent stupid sin-binnings. But this defeat could be better for Conor O’Shea, as he looks to build towards the Six Nations. They won’t go into the competition with the heightened expectations which came after defeating the Spingboks. O’Shea has a lot of work on his hands before February. — Killian O’Connor

Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

New Zealand

All Blacks will learn from November experience

Character has been a watchword for the All Blacks this month, and as they head home to recuperate from a bruising end of year campaign they will do so knowing they produced the goods when they needed to. New Zealand’s last two wins, against Ireland and France, were not necessarily pretty but on both occasions they found a way to win, and when the dust settles that is all that matters.

Steve Hansen will have learned a huge amount about some of the more inexperienced players in what is still a fairly new team. TJ Perenara is someone who has brought into the All Blacks ethos, and the scrum-half could not have chosen a better time to put his hand up with Aaron Smith’s off-field problems creeping onto the pitch.

Other success stories include the centres Malakai Fekitoa and Anton Lienert-Brown, while Scott Barrett’s emergence will please Hansen given his side’s reliance on superstar locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock. Kieran Read’s captaincy will also only benefit from his experience in the Northern Hemisphere this month.

It might not have been the scintillating rugby we have come to expect, but this All Blacks side will only get better as the British and Irish Lions’ visit to New Zealand edges closer. The rest of the world has been warned. — MT


Bright future as Cotter enters last six months

Last year Greig Laidlaw spoke about how Vern Cotter gave the team belief to back up one-off performances and become a more consistent team. The November series was testament to that; that the stuttering pretenders are no more. They showed they can compete with teams at the top of World Rugby.

While they disposed of Georgia, it was the victory over Argentina and heartbreaking defeat to Australia which showed their character and grit. Their back-line excites once more with the addition of Huw Jones, and one wonders how much more progress this team might have made if Scotland had paid Clermont to get the coach the year before he arrived at Murrayfield.

With Cotter’s departure in June, he will be hopeful of a few more big performances come February. Scotland may just have cast their perennial underachievers tag aside under Cotter and will be confident of causing a few problems comes the 6 Nations. — KOC

Stu Forster/Getty Images

South Africa

How to stop the rot

When a Union releases a statement planning a ‘review and governance overhaul’, you know it’s been a pretty poor series from the Boks. It’s now eight defeats in 12 games under Allister Coetzee and the positives get ever more difficult to find. Although he has been plagued by injuries, in short, there aren’t any.

The writing was on the wall for Coetzee’s team in the summer, when Ireland beat them in the first of three Tests, yet somehow manage to leave the series victory behind them. If it was a fresh start they were after, he shouldn’t have waited until defeat to Italy to drop players. He might have been forgiven eight defeats had he gone for inexperience from the outset. He looked to them out of desperation at the weekend and it didn’t pay off.

They will have the likes of Jan Serfontein, Handr√© Pollard, Cobus Reinach and Eben Etzebeth back from injury next year, but they need to give a coach free reign to get the best out of them and some up and coming Boks talent. — KOC


Glimmer of hope at November’s end

For the most part, it wasn’t pretty, but Wales equaled their best autumn series after defeating a below-par Springboks. The mistaken-riddled performances against Argentina and Japan are now a distant memory. Ahead of the Six Nations they needed some optimism and it was supplied, in part, by the man of the match performance by Justin Tipuric.

He was everywhere. Having blocked down a clearance from Elton Jantjies, he provided some superb carries, a steal in the first-half. He rounded off his display with a great try, stepping inside Johan Goosen to score, after bursting onto a Faletau pass.

But their back-line didn’t provide the excitement which we had grown accustomed to from the Wales sides of old. Jonathan Davies, George North, Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams et al showed glimpses, but will need a huge improvement if they stand a chance at wrestling back a Six Nations trophy they last won in 2012 when they claimed a Grand Slam. — KOC

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