An autumn that beckoned so much hope for the British Isles’ rugby playing nations, one that was meant to dispel the doubters about the gulf in class between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, has instead brought deep concern. With crucial IRB World Ranking points at stake and a Lions tour on the horizon, these rugby Autumn Internationals represented a major chance for the Home Nations to stamp down their mark and prove that they could compete against the Southern Hemisphere, the main players of world rugby.
Collectively, not one of the Home Nations have managed a single victory against any of the top three in the world this autumn which, when coupled with humiliating defeats such as Wales’ loss to Samoa and Scotland’s defeat at the hands of mighty Tonga, makes pretty grim reading for Lions coach Warren Gatland as he contemplates his squad to go down under and defeat Australia in six months’ time.
Worryingly, no home team has really looked like defeating any of the top three in the world. They can perhaps not be blamed for losses against New Zealand as the All Blacks have blown everybody in the world out of the water this year and are more than expected to extend their 20 match unbeaten run at Twickenham this weekend.
However, the consecutive defeats to Australia and South Africa have only underlined the stumbling block the Home Nations seem to have acquired when playing against the Big Three. The results speak for themselves; out of an estimated 16 matches this calendar year, Scotland’s 9-6 victory over Australia in the summer is the sole victorious result. What would be most concerning for Lions coach Gatland, however, is that the widest gulf between the teams seems to be in terms of decision-making and an ability to convert pressure into points.
When victories have been in touching distance, such as England and Ireland’s recent close losses to South Africa, poor decision making or an inability to take points when needed has rendered their efforts useless. Whilst a turn-around in countries such as Wales’ form should hopefully occur sooner rather than later, Gatland will need to ingrain the know-how of key decision making into the games of the British players. If the Lions are to prove victorious, their key players will need to use the brutal lessons in winning they have been taught this autumn to good use next summer.
By: Ben Blosse