International Rugby
10 Things we learned from the opening internationals
Graham Jenkins
November 12, 2012
New Zealand's Dan Carter exploits some space, Scotland v New Zealand, Murrayfield, Edinburgh, Scotland, November 11, 2012
New Zealand's Dan Carter exuded class in his side's romp against Scotland at Murrayfield © Getty Images

The opening autumn internationals delivered a mix of sublime and not-so-stunning rugby, bone-crunching tackles galore, a hint of genius and an unwelcome dose of controversy - but what did we learn?

Short term pain for long term gain

Argentina's debut alongside the southern hemisphere giants of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in this year's Rugby Championship may not have provided a victory - with a draw against the Springboks their best return - but the benefits of a long overdue place in an annual Tier 1 competition extend beyond their results against their talent-heavy rivals. Battle-hardened from tackling the world's best on a regular basis, they have also clearly learnt a lot along the way with Wales the first of what will surely be many more European nations to be put to the sword as the Pumas continue to emerge as a major force on the Test match stage.

Visser on course for Lions

Scotland winger Tim Visser extended his prolific try-scoring record with two tries against the All Blacks at Murrayfield. The Dutch-born speedster now has four tries in three Test appearances since qualifying for the Scots on residency grounds in the summer. He also has nine tries in six PRO12 appearances this season and while he may have not troubled the scoreboard in the Heineken Cup - like his side as a whole - there is little doubt he will have caught the eye of British & Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland who was in Edinburgh to witness his latest try-scoring feats.

DC will spearhead All Blacks' World Cup defence

Dan Carter's talents are a joy to behold and when he does make an error - as he did in gifting Scotland the opening try in their clash at Murrayfield on Sunday - we can sit back and enjoy his efforts to redeem himself. He did just that and some against the Scots with an awe-inspiring playmaking masterclass that reminded us he is still the best in the business and will surely spearhead the All Blacks' defence of the World Cup crown having been cruelly struck down by injury last year.

World Cup draw criteria is flawed

This may not be news to those familiar with the international calendar but the issue has been brought into sharp focus by the final push for an IRB rankings boost and a preferable seeding for next month's pool draw for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. England and Wales, who are both chasing a place in the top four of the IRB rankings and with it a preferable pool draw for the sport's next showpiece event, play the highest-ranked sides more often and therefore have more opportunity to boost the ranking. And in addition to a schedule that rewards them with more clashes against the southern hemisphere giants than their rivals, the financial muscle of the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union allows them to tempt those same sides to play further Tests outside of the international window. They do, of course, still have to win those games if they are to benefit but at least they have the chance to influence their respective futures.

Expectation is high in England - not so much in Wales

The 82,000-capacity Twickenham sold out for a visit of a Tier 2 nation for the first time on Saturday with Fiji getting HQ's turnstiles spinning in an unprecedented manner. In truth, it is perhaps the growing expectancy around England that had fans flocking with no known ticketing promotions used to entice them. In contrast, barely 50,000 fans were present at the 72,500-capacity to see the reigning Six Nations Grand Slam champions lose to Argentina. Perhaps those who didn't show knew something we didn't with the Cardiff rarely rising above dour. With the Pumas seemingly destined to become a major force in the game, hopefully they will prove a bigger draw in the years to come.

Scotland are destined for more World Cup woe

Scotland's oh-so-generous defence put an end to any hope of a first ever victory over the All Blacks on Sunday and dented their chances of a rankings boost ahead of the World Cup draw. They are currently ranked 9th in the world and unless they can stun South Africa this weekend then they must accept a third tier seeding for the pool draw for the 2015 tournament. That means they will face one of the top four in the world - currently New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and France - AND one of those sides ranked 5th-8th - currently England, Wales, Ireland and Argentina - in three years' time. The last time they suffered such a fate was at the 2011 World Cup, again because of their ranking, and they failed to make it out of the pool stages and into the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.

One step forward, two steps back

Fresh, or perhaps not-so-fresh, from halting the All Blacks' winning run with a hard-fought draw in Brisbane last month, Australia slumped to a miserable defeat at the hands of France in Paris. Robbie Deans became the longest-serving Wallabies boss with this game but sadly it only served to underline his status as their most unsuccessful coach with The Australian reporting that his winning percentage has dropped to 57.4%. Injuries have given Deans a little breathing room but with the return of some key names the expectation and pressure will rise. The forthcoming clashes with England, Italy and Wales will surely go some way to deciding whether Deans remains in charge for the visit of the Lions next year.

Woeful Wales a shadow of Slam heroes

Wales may lay claim to be the fittest they have ever been thanks to their latest stint in the cryotherapy chambers in Spala but that is no good if you are not fresh enough to leverage that superior physical conditioning. They were lethargic at best against Argentina and never got out of second gear thanks to the pressure exerted by the Pumas up front and their more effective game plan. Argentina have not exactly had an easy few months themselves with a gruelling Rugby Championship campaign recently done and dusted and their success offers more evidence to suggest that you can train all you like but there is nothing like being match fit.

Thomson's tour is over

We're not quite sure what came over All Blacks flanker Adam Thomson at Murrayfield where he was shown a yellow card for 'misuse of the feet'. That doesn't really do his ugly act justice with the blindside choosing to tread on the head of Scotland flanker Alasdair Strokosch who was pinned at the bottom of a ruck. It was stupid and totally unnecessary with a cheeky punch also thrown in for good measure. It may not rank as one of the worst 'stamps' seen in international rugby but there is no excuse for putting boot to head and if he hasn't already then he needs to pack his bags as a near-certain suspension awaits.

Gatland is set to go even greyer

Lions boss Warren Gatland was in Dublin for Ireland's defeat at the hands of South Africa and in Edinburgh for the All Blacks victory over Scotland and while there were some positives to be gleaned from both games he will not exactly be rubbing his hands in anticipation of he eagerly-awaited series with Australia next summer. England's demolition of Fiji and the Wallabies' own defeat at the hands of France will offer a little more hope but that will be tempered by injuries to the likes of Wales duo Jamie Roberts and Alun Wyn Jones - it is going to be a long season for the Lions boss and don't be surprised if you find his grey hair has turned white come next summer.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.

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