So endeth an Autumn Series that confirmed France as World Cup favourites but also suggested the game’s top tier has rarely been more competitive.
Wayne Pivac has attempted to recreate the wide-wide, offloading game which earned Scarlets the Pro12 in 2017 but his players appear to lack conviction in this.
It always felt that the Warren Gatland/Shaun Edwards reign papered over the cracks evident in their regions and player pathway.
Which is not to say they couldn’t start turning things around, beginning with Ireland at home in the opening weekend of the Six Nations, especially if Warren Gatland does return.
But after their deserved win in Twickenham, akin to last year when beaten 53-7 by Ireland, they collapsed in Murrayfield.
More than anything, the autumn confirmed that Gregor Townsend’s initial decision to omit Finn Russell from the squad was plain daft.
So, to sign off after three defeats by a combined total of five points with 26 unanswered points in the last 23 minutes confirms that the players retained, as Nick White said in Dublin, “one hundred per cent” belief in Rennie.
Missing at least 14 players by that stage, they have physicality, strong set pieces and add Will Skelton and a fit Quade Cooper to solve their problem position at outhalf, the two-time World Cup winners could be contenders again come the World Cup.
Jones’ tiresome mantra about judging him at the World Cup may yet come to pass given the apparent lack of appetite for a change 10 months out from the World Cup within the RFU.
Their attacking game, such as it is, was only seen when unshackled in the last 10 minutes against New Zealand.
The world’s most settled side, retaining the vast core of the 2019 World Cup winners, enjoyed a fruitful end-of-year tour; narrow defeats to the world’s top two offset by handsome wins over an Italian side which had beaten Australia a week earlier and, without their European-based players, against England.
Save for their implosion in the last 10 minutes at Twickenham, which was precipitated by the gifted Beauden Barrett finally being yellow carded for flagrant lawbreaking near his own line, it looked like the All Blacks were back with a vengeance.
With no Paul Willemse and a rusty Roman Ntamack struggling, helped by Mathieu Jalibert off the bench, Les Bleus found a way to beat Australia and South Africa, so beating all the other top five sides at the Stade de France in an unbeaten 2022.
Ala Les Bleus, and like all good sides, found a way to win matches without playing at their fluent best, so also giving the lie to the notion they cannot stand up to physically bigger teams
To beat Australia without Johnny Sexton was actually a bonus
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