What we learned from an inaugural Autumn Nations Cup that failed to inspire the rugby world

Pic by Richard Early

by Dylan James

THE inaugural Autumn Nations Cup came to its climax on Sunday, as England beat France 22-19 in a compelling contest at Twickenham. 

Owen Farrell kicked the all important penalty to secure a sudden-death victory for England, in a game that was dominated by kicking, physicality and dogged defensive work.

So, how did the home nations fair in the tournament? What does this mean going into a 2021 Lions year? Well, you’ve come to the right place…

Wayne walking a tightrope

When Warren Gatland left his role as Wales boss after the 2019 World Cup, hopes were high for new coach Wayne Pivac.

Fans were hopeful that Pivac’s success with the Scarlets would be emulated with Wales, who had just won a Six Nations Grand Slam title. It hasn’t worked out like that up to now.

Wales were nowhere near their best throughout the Autumn Nations Cup, most notably being put to the sword by Ireland in Dublin.

Worse than the results, Wales have seemed miles off the pace. A flurry of youngsters like James Botham and Callum Sheedy were introduced during the tournament, which has to be viewed as a positive moving forward.

The pressing problem though is that of the senior players failing to step up. They simply haven’t. Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau have produced some fine stuff, but they have been the exception in a squad that appears to be showing its age.

The Six Nations is just around the corner, and Lions selection is on the horizon. After some quite dismal displays by established stars in recent weeks, expect some big-name Welsh casualties when Gatland names his touring party for South Africa in the spring.

England looking stronger than ever

With Johnny May’s electrifying performances over this Autumn campaign, England are looking ever more likely to retain the Six Nations crown in 2021.

May scored twice against Ireland, with his second being arguably the try of the tournament, a magnificent solo effort.

In the final, England showed that winning ugly is still a speciality of theirs.

There were 2,000 fans in the stadium for the final, and it’s fair to say not all welcomed the home side’s reliance on kicking – much to the annoyance of coach Eddie Jones.

Ultimately England needed sudden-death points to get the better of a weakened France outfit and drew criticism because of it. Yet pragmatist Jones won’t care.

It’s fair to say there are a multitude of players in the England squad who already have their plane tickets to South Africa for Lions business, including hat-trick hero Jamie George, May and Elliot Daly to name but a few.

Ireland and Scotland must find consistency

Despite blowing Wales out of the water in Dublin, Ireland were lacklustre when they came up against 12th-seed Georgia, with a winning margin of just 13 points.

However, Andy Farrell’s men showed their quality in beating Scotland, a victory which made it 20 wins in the last 25 meetings against the Scots.

Scotland started the autumn brightly with their first win in Wales in the Six Nations since 2002, however they fell to defeats against France and Ireland, so will be looking to rebuild their form going into the Six Nations next year.

If either side harbours  any hope of challenging England in February, stability will be vital.