I’d like to take a moment to cast my eye beyond the results and performances in Wales’ autumn games, and look at the fortunes of the other home nations. I have to say, it’s been a promising fortnight for the northern hemisphere.
It would be criminal not to begin by mentioning Ireland’s first ever victory over New Zealand.
Let me re-iterate. Their first ever victory.
Ireland have played a total of 29 matches against the All Blacks in their 111 years of existence, and their first victory finally came on Saturday 5th November, in front of a fervent crowd; a game staged at an NFL ground in Chicago. Their 40-29 victory was absolutely stunning. It was a win that was clearly fuelled by the memory of Munster coach Anthony Foley. Ireland’s performance epitomised the ruthlessness and determination required in both attack and defence in order to beat the best team in the world. They scored five wondrous tries in this epic victory, that will deservedly be talked about for generations.
This is a win of such magnitude that the impact could be felt throughout world rugby. Ireland successfully brought to an end a record run of 18 consecutive test victories from this world-beating All Blacks side. The fact that a side from the northern hemisphere ended this run is not to be overlooked – Ireland are likely to contribute a large contingency to next summer’s British and Irish Lions team on the back of this stunning win. This can be seen as a huge warning shot to the southern hemisphere powerhouses, as well as a warning to the All Blacks themselves that the Lions will be arriving with guns blazing next summer.
There is also huge significance to the fact that the game was staged in Chicago. America is, at present, still an emerging rugby nation – one which I feel will become a rugby superpower in the near future. This game was an absolutely brilliant advert for rugby union, and has surely won over a wave of new fans. Any ideas of developing a global professional season that incorporates North America have surely taken a huge stride forward.
Elsewhere in Europe, England were looking to continue a nine match unbeaten run when they faced the Springboks on Saturday, and they raised a few eyebrows in brushing aside the visitors with gusto. Unbeaten in 2016, it’s no exaggeration to say England are playing like world champions. The variety of their play, the skill and physicality, game plan and execution, everything looks sleek. This England side looks hungry. They are playing an astonishing brand of heads-up rugby at present that I really can’t see any Six Nations team living with come February. I must say, it’s promising news for the impending Lions tour, England’s forward pack looking particularly menacing, their backs looking strong, creative and confident. In many ways, I wish their autumn schedule included a game against New Zealand, because I don’t think any other team will come close to beating them in November, and I’d love to see how they square up to the World Cup holders.
Scotland were also in action on Saturday, and came agonisingly close to beating a spirited Australian side at Murrayfield. The Scots got off to such a brilliant start – debutant centre Huw Jones scoring twice – I was convinced a victory was on the cards. A one point defeat broke Scottish hearts, although there is so much to be positive about. With Pro12 high-fliers Glasgow forming the backbone of Vern Cotter’s side, it can only be a matter of time until Scotland find their stride. The wonderful Stuart Hogg is looking back to his best – he’ll surely be on the aeroplane to New Zealand come June.