What We've Learned From The Autumn Nations Cup
By Sunday afternoon, the Autumn Nations Cup will be done; a footnote in the history books, a one-off oddity in a year chockfull of them. But even before the groups are mixed for one final go-round this weekend, many Irish fans will feel they’ve seen enough to know the big takeaways from the competition.
So as we prepare to head the ship towards the Heineken Champions Cup, and later the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, let’s look at the major storylines from the one-time-off tournament that’s given us plenty to think about...
WE ARE WHO THEY SAID WE WERE
Entering the tournament, there seemed to be a pretty broad agreement; while Ireland were a good side, a return to the heights of 2018 was still very much a work in progress. Third place in the Six Nations was, all things considered, an accurate reflection. Well, three weeks later – with a confident victory over Wales, a stuttering win against Georgia, and a convincing defeat at the hands of England, under our belts – and that verdict seems right on the money. It’s only Year One of Andy Farrell’s tenure, but there’s work to be done before Ireland are at the top table once again. And speaking of...
CHANGE TAKES TIME
The clash with Georgia this past weekend was seen by many as the perfect opportunity to blood new talent, with halfbacks Craig Casey and Harry Byrne singled out. Farrell and his coaching staff opined otherwise, sticking with the players previously selected. Some will say it shows a lack of forward-thinking by not letting youth have its day; others that it demonstrates long-term planning, allowing players to develop in their provinces and giving the current guard time to turn things around. EIther way, those hoping for an overnight transformation will have to learn patience. But…
NEW FACES SHOW THE WAY
While there might not have been as many young guns as anticipated, the new names on the teamsheet provided a few bright sparks; James Lowe’s debut against Wales was everything we could have asked for from the New Zealand-born wing, while Hugo Keenan put his hand up as a potential answer to the questions at full-back. It’s not all roses – Rónan Kelleher’s first starts at hooker were mixed – but there’s reason to believe there’s a bit of progress being made. Just don’t expect Conor Murray’s retirement announcement anytime soon!
ENGLAND REMAIN THE TEAM TO BEAT
A World Cup final berth twelve months ago; a Six Nations Championship this season, and possible another piece of silverware come this weekend; by any measure, the Red Rose men are the form European side right now. The effect of Sarries’ ignominious departure from top-flight club action remains to be seen, but you’d be shocked if that alone brought the house of cards tumbling down. As it’s been for much of Eddie Jones’ tenure, his side remains the yardstick for northern hemisphere rugby; their opponents in Saturday’s final, France, are firmly in second spot now, too.
ENJOY WHILE WE CAN
There hadn’t been a ball kicked in anger before the first hammer blow of the tournament arrived; Fiji forced to withdraw after a breakout in camp. Fixture turmoil and all the rest aside, it’s a reminder that these games are happening against a strange backdrop – and the fact that they’re happening at all is cause for some cheer, even if the action hasn’t been all we wanted! By Sunday’s final whistle, there’ll be just days to go until our next feast of rugby as the Heineken Champions Cup kicks off; again, fans all over should breathe a sigh of relief that the game goes on!
The kick-off of the world’s best club competition is almost here; catch Bristol v Clermont Auvergne on Saturday, December 12, live on Virgin Media One, Virgin TV 103! And for your full fix of sporting action, you’ll never miss a kick with Virgin Media Sports...