10 things we learned...
December 2, 2012
Samoa went on the march this autumn - all over Europe and up the world rankings © Getty Images
As the dust settles on a frantic month of international action packed with thrills, spills and controversy - ESPNscrum offers a guide to what we have learnt.
England have raised the bar for Europe - and themselves
England's stunning victory over New Zealand not only signalled that coach Stuart Lancaster has his young charges on the right track for the 2015 Rugby World Cup but it also offered a glimpse into their more immediate future when pressure to re-produce such excellence will be immense. The most dazzling display from any side this autumn will now be the benchmark for England as they move forward and also any rivals that intend to compete with them. Having hit such heights, they will be expected to sustain those standards starting with next year's Six Nations and anything short of that leaves them open to criticism.
All Blacks are human
New Zealand entered their tour finale against England at Twickenham riding a 20-game unbeaten run that had seen them sweep the best in the world aside. Many expected it to be a case of damage limitation and it was, but not for the hosts, for their all-conquering opponents. A formbook-shredding blend of pressure, power and pace knocked the All Blacks out of their stride and they never really recovered. The usual composure, confidence and clinical edge that has propelled them to great heights this season was nowhere to be seen. The result was a thumping 38-21 victory for England and a humble pie for the All Blacks who have only been beaten by more on one other occasion in 498 Test outings
Scotland are a Tier 2 nation
Scotland have masqueraded as a top international side for some time but their cover was finally blown during a disastrous end of year campaign that cost coach Andy Robinson his job. The Scots' Six Nations record under Robinson was woeful with just two wins from 15 games but the odd victory over a southern hemisphere side offered some breathing room - most recently in the summer when they edged out Australia in terrible conditions in Newcastle. Three tries against the All Blacks in their autumn opener was certainly noteworthy but the trouble is they leaked six themselves. They also found themselves wanting against South Africa but those paled into insignificance as they hit a new low with defeat to Tonga in their final outing. The result was a return to their all-time low ranking of 12th in the world behind fellow 'minnows' Samoa, Italy and Tonga.
Savea scorches a trail to the top
All Blacks winger Julian Savea is a fleet-footed and power-packed points machine. The Kiwi speedster only made his Test bow earlier this year but has ended it as arguably the most dangerous and prolific wingers in the game. He can boast an incredible 12 tries in his nine Test appearances with six of those scintillating scores coming on their end of year tour of Europe. Did we mention he is just 23? Get used to hearing his name as he is destined to become a major star of the game.
IRB must embrace extended TMO powers
New Zealand's victory over Wales was marred by an ugly challenge from All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore on Wales lock Bradley Davies in the opening minutes of the game. A swinging arm from Hore ended Davies' game but it was not spotted by the officials and so he escaped any kind of sanction. He should have at least seen yellow if not red and either way Wales would have been handed a crucial advantage with the game in its embryonic stage. Such skulduggery can be brought to the attention of the referee by the Television Match Official under new laws being trialled on the domestic stage and these must surely be adopted by the Test game to help prevent such crimes going unspotted in the future.
A new world order is on the horizon
The International Rugby Board (IRB) rankings battle has provided a fascinating subplot to the main action on the field with the pecking order pivotal in deciding the pools for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Familiar names currently lead the way in the form of the southern hemisphere giants of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa and the European powerhouses of France and England but we have seen enough to suggest this will not be the case should the IRB persist with this process of seeding in four years' time. Argentina look most likely to shake up the world order with their recent victory over Wales further evidence that the Pumas are on the prowl and they are only going to get stronger having finally been embraced by the Rugby Championship. But don't be too surprised if Samoa also defy the odds and punch above their weight. A stunning victory over Wales helped them become the first Tier 2 nation to move into the top eight of the world rankings - and all without the wealth of resources afforded to their rivals. Imagine what they could do with a little more help?
Six Nations will double as Lions trial
British & Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland drew up a provisional squad for next year's tour to Australia ahead of the end of year internationals in the hope that those players and other contenders would push their claims for an invite Down Under. But instead he finds himself with a selection headache for all the wrong reasons with the Homes Nations largely labouring during the autumn and many of their leading lights failing to fire on all cylinders. The upshot is that next year's Six Nations will not only be an enthralling battle for northern hemisphere supremacy, it will serve as a shoot out for a place on the Lions' tour.
Manu is the man
At the start of the season, Leicester boss Richard Cockerill proclaimed that England and Tigers centre Manu Tuilagi would 'be the best 13 in the world' within a year. Despite Tuilagi's undoubted talents, it was considered a bold claim due to the 21-year-old's unrefined nature but in totally over-shadowing New Zealand's Conrad Smith, widely considered the best No.13 in the world, he appears to have already reached the summit of the international game. His power, pace and deft handling is set to serve England well in the coming months and years.
Disciplinary process still grates
The International Rugby Board's disciplinary procedures returned to the spotlight with sanctions handed down causing consternation. New Zealand flanker Adam Thomson was originally banned for just one week when found guilty of "stamping or trampling" on Scotland's Alasdair Strokosch - a judgement that attracted widespread criticism. The IRB themselves appealed the decision, clearly concerned at the example being set for the game as a whole, and it was subsequently doubled. Equally alarming is the contrast between the eight-week ban handed to Australia's Rob Simmons for his tip-tackle on France's Yannick Nyanga and the lesser punishments handed down for similar offences.
Robshaw is a man of character
England captain Chris Robshaw has had his critics in recent weeks with pundits and team-mates queuing up to question his decision-making after costly gambles against Australia and South Africa failed to pay off. In addition, Lions boss Warren Gatland delivered a body blow by suggesting that the England skipper is playing catch-up when it comes to earning a place on next year's tour of Australia. But Robshaw weathered the flak and silenced his doubters with a commanding display - as a player and a captain - against the All Blacks. Don't be surprised if he continues to defy those who question his credentials and makes Gatland sit up and take notice.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.