What did we learn from the Autumn Internationals?

A fascinating autumn has set the scene for a thrilling 2019 World Cup after the gap between the northern and southern hemispheres was turned on its head. Here, we examine the lessons learned this month.

Ireland - masters of Europe

Ireland's comprehensive 16-9 win over New Zealand capped a second successive autumn clean sweep to confirm Joe Schmidt's men as heavyweights capable of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup. All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen has fired the first shot in the phoney war by installing them as favourites for Japan 2019 and the challenge now facing Schmidt is to contain expectations.

England - back on track

After a disastrous first half of the year in which they collapsed to their worst Six Nations performance since the 1980s and conceded their summer series against the Springboks 2-1, England are building towards the World Cup with renewed purpose. Only a controversial defeat to New Zealand blotted their autumn copybook and the results were delivered despite an extensive injury list including the Vunipola brothers, Chris Robshaw and Anthony Watson.

Wales - full steam ahead

Wales are in prime shape heading into the Six Nations after completing a first four-from-four autumn clean sweep with victories over Scotland, Australia, Tonga and South Africa. Results aside, head coach Warren Gatland also continued to develop impressive squad depth with players like Josh Adams, Tomos Williams, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard and Aaron Wainwright thriving. Ten months out from the World Cup, Gatland could not be happier.

Scotland - work in progress

Gregor Townsend still has work to do to elevate Scotland into genuine Six Nations contenders. Against Wales in Cardiff, defensive mistakes cost them dear while it was the inability to take their chances that proved to be their undoing against South Africa at Murrayfield. An eight-try rout of Fiji and a narrow triumph over Argentina in testing conditions prove, however, that the team have learned how to win in a variety of ways.

Southern hemisphere - in decline

Traditionally, November has been a chastening month for the European nations accustomed to licking their wounds after being battered by the skills, pace and speed of thought of the Rugby Champions giants. The global order has been turned on its head this autumn, however, with Ireland, Wales and England comprising the top four of the world rankings alongside perennial leaders New Zealand. Even the All Blacks have lost their aura of invincibility, South Africa take two steps forwards and one back and Australia are a shambles.

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