Only 3 months ago it was decided that the Autumn Internationals, in which teams of the Southern Hemisphere face the European teams, was to be replaced by the Autumn Nations Cup. Unable to travel, the Southern giants of rugby were sorely missed. Nevertheless, the Autumn Nations cup provided us with some exciting moments and I’m sure most will agree with me that Johnny May’s second try vs Ireland was the highlight.
The final showcased an ongoing trend of defence-minded play, kicking for territory and avoiding risky offensive play we see in English rugby at the moment. Many of the fans were booing in response to the two sides exchanging kicks. Before the fixture, Eddie Jones admitted that Rugby is a “real game for the purists at the moment”. With less time and space the game is becoming more profitable for teams to play without the ball as seen in the Final on Sunday where England won with only 30% of the possession.
Albeit France turned up with a second-string inexperienced side than their counterparts, missing 25 front-line internationals; total caps of only 68 in comparison to Englands 889 and an average age of 24 compared to England’s 28. Nevertheless, France – who have made good progress since the World Cup – looked a disciplined squadron, Anthony Jelonch with the most tackles (18), Brice Dulin had the most carries (11) and Gabin Villiere with the most turnovers (2).
Many believe this sharp improvement to be down to the coaching of Shaun Edwards, who is known to be an emotive character and meticulous with his defensive tactics.
If we look back to the World Cup quarter-final, Vahaamahina was sent off in the 49th minute for elbowing Aaron Wainwright in the head giving Wales a huge advantage. Or more recently in the Six Nations at Murrayfield where Mohamed Haouas’ red for throwing a punch meant France missed out on the grand slam. Edwards is looking to correct these defensive inconsistencies allowing France to cause teams serious problems as they did England on Sunday.
France were exciting and showed intent right from the start, pushing Anthony Watson into touch from the kick-off. After conceding a penalty converted by Farrell, the 22 year old French 10, Jailbert dummied inside George and Farrell to set up Dulin for his try in the 16th minute. Jailbert or ‘La Jalib’, was confident on the ball and will be one to watch in the future.
England’s attack was vacant, replying with a long kick from Elliot Daly. Jailbert continued to impress with his kicking matching Farrell in open play and converting another penalty to take France 13-6 ahead. Right before half time, the French defence faced 12 phases of play on their try line preventing an England try after a knock-on.
An England penalty and then a turnover from their main man Maro Itoje kept them in the tie, as they tried to tire the France defence without success. Three more penalties put the score at 19-12 for France with 4 minutes of play to go giving France the advantage. Somehow England responded with a try from Cowan-Dickie, spinning out of a maul formed after a line out in the 79th minute taking the match into overtime.
In the end, England were lucky to win the game, Farrell making 4 out of 9 kicks and missing the most tackles (4), didn’t play particularly well. Itoje forced a penalty and at the second attempt in overtime Farrell converted to win England the first Autumn Nations Cup.
See the highlights here: