10 Things we learned from the weekend
November 19, 2012
Austraila coach Robbie Deans probably has the greatest reason to smile following the latest round of international action © PA Photos
The latest international action produced a welcome mix of drama, controversty and upsets - but what did we learn?
Woodward to return to rugby's front line?
It's been a while since Sir Clive Woodward parted ways with the sport but he clearly still has some strong opinions that ensure he remains a key figure in the sport. He was positively beaming in front of the Sky Sports cameras at the weekend as he was introduced to the armchair audience as if relishing the chance to wade in as a rather well-qualified pundit and dominated the headlines post-game with his assessment of England's shortcomings. With his Olympics duties now done and dusted, how long until he returns to his first love?
Freddie has still got game
Frederic Michalak steered France to a priceless 39-22 victory over Argentina in Lille to underline his class. The 30-year-old returned to the international picture earlier this year following a two-year gap and has wasted no time in making himself at home with 58 points in his four Test appearance since then. And he appears to have made the No.10 jersey his despite the fact he plays scrum-half at Toulon where a certain Jonny Wilkinson continues to pull the strings.
Deans will coach Australia against the Lions next year
Australia's 20-14 victory over England at Twickenham will ensure that the Kiwi coach is still at the Wallabies' helm when the British & Irish Lions come to play next year. Deans was under severe pressure going into the game having seen his side battered by France and former Wallabies winger David Campese label the 'worst thing to have ever happened to Australian rugby' but his players dug him out of a hole with a gutsy victory at English rugby's HQ that will provide valuable breathing room. With only clashes against Italy and a wobbly Wales still to come, Deans side may yet kick on and enter 2013 full of confidence.
England must learn to handle the pressure
England's failure to 'Think Clearly Under Pressure' when chasing the game against Australia is a worrying sign that must be addressed. Chances to beat the Wallabies don't come around too often and to squander points as they did in kicking penalties to the corner and by opting for a tap and go proved costly. Hindsight is a great thing but so is foresight. Points must surely be taken when you are not sure when you will return to the 'Red Zone'? Perhaps England will count themselves lucky to have learnt this lesson now given that the pressure is only going to grow as we build towards the 2015 Rugby World Cup at which point it will reach a whole new level.
All Blacks' second string could rule the world
This may not be news to some but it is worth highlighting New Zealand's unrivalled strength in depth. Steve Hansen made 14 changes to the side that crushed Scotland for their latest outing against Italy but you would have hardly noticed as they swept the Azzurri side in a similarly dominant manner. Expect the big guns to return against Wales this weekend and remain for the finale versus England but you sense they could wrap up another unbeaten tour without them.
France are a little worried
France's victories over Australia and Argentina have propelled them into the top four of the IRB rankings and put them on course for a favourable outcome at next month's 2015 Rugby World Cup pool allocation draw. They look set to avoid the southern hemisphere's big three as long as they can overcome the sizeable bump in the road that is Samoa. The Islanders stunned Wales last Friday night and a similar result in Paris would open the door for England to climb above them into the top four and see Samoa move into the top eight. The odds are against such an outcome - but they were also against Samoa in Cardiff and France coach Phillipe Saint-Andre is worried. "I told the guys that now, the toughest was ahead of us against Samoa," he said. "But we have to stay humble because the giantkillers are coming at the Stade de France. Last night, after I watched Wales versus Samoa, I did not sleep very well -- and it was not because of today's game."
Savea on course for greatness
Julian Savea's two tries in New Zealand's 42-10 victory over Italy in Rome took his international tally to 10 in just seven Tests. That pace puts him ahead of All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu who notched seven tries in his first seven games and fellow speedster Sitiveni Sivivatu who had nine tries to his name at the same stage. But he is off the pace of Joe Rokocoko who had 11 at this stage in his career.
Brits is back where he belongs
Schalk Brits made a long-overdue return to the international stage during South Africa's 21-10 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield. It was the hooker's first Test cap since 2008 due to the Springboks' baffling decision to largely ignore his excellent form for Premiership side Saracens. Unfortunately for Brits, his international return was limited to just four minutes due in large part to starting hooker Adriaan Strauss' two-try showing.
A 'gulf' remains between the hemispheres
Australia coach Robbie Deans does not believe there is a gulf in class between the rival hemispheres any more but we don't buy that. Only France have upset the world order with a victory over the Wallabies - which no doubt prompted Deans' claim. The combined efforts of the Home Nations have so far produced a grand total of zero wins against the big three. More worrying for Europe's leading nations is the so-called lesser nations to buck the rankings, form guide and funding models and upset the rankings. Argentina's upset of Wales got the ball rolling but that was dwarfed by Samoa's success in Cardiff. Fiji and Tonga may not be in the same class at the moments but if Samoa beat a path into the world's top eight then expect others to follow.
Wallabies have more class than they are given credit for
Much is often made of Australia's limited talent pool but don't be fooled. They went into their latest tour outing against England without the world-class talents of David Pocock, Will Genia, James O'Connor James Horwill and Quade Cooper but still had too much for a limited England blessed with a much larger selection of players to choose from. But it was definitely a case of quality over quantity with openside Michael Hooper a shining example of what gems they have in reserve.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.