England finally pulled a big win out of the bag in the last of their Autumn Internationals, but there was probably more cons than pros from Stuart Lancaster’s boys during the recent round of Test fixtures.
However, there were a number of distinct heroes and zeroes over the past few weekends:
In recent decades, Ireland haven’t been able to produce nearly enough props; John Hayes played a staggering 105 tests before retiring in 2011, largely because there were no front-rows coming through.
With that in mind, 12-cap Leinster man Jack McGrath’s performances during Joe Schmidt’s side’s wins over South Africa and Australia, in the absence of highly-rated club teammate Cian Healy, will cheer the greens no end ahead of the Six Nations.
Ireland are 15/8 second-favourites for the tournament, behind 13/8 shots England, but with the likes of McGrath and hooker Sean Cronin earning plenty of plaudits in an injury-shorn pack, those prices may have reversed by the time February rolls around.
Wales desperately needed a scalp on home turf, having failed to beat a southern hemisphere side since 2008 going into their final Autumn International against South Africa, so the 12-6 Millennium Stadium win takes some of the pressure off coach Warren Gatland going into the new year.
After switching between Rhys Priestland and Biggar at fly-half in clashes with Australia, Fiji and New Zealand, the Ospreys man looks to have taken a firm hold on the number 10 jersey with an assured display against the Springboks, although you never know with Gatland.
Claiming 11 points in an intriguing 24-16 All-Blacks win over Scotland is not bad going, no matter how many changes Steve Hansen made, as it’s often said that the two best teams in world rugby are New Zealand and New Zealand B.
The Saracens pin-up featured at fly-half in England’s narrow losses to New Zealand and South Africa, before being switched to centre to accommodate George Ford against Samoa, where the Bath man greatly impressed.
Lancaster then took the sensible decision to drop Farrell completely ahead of the much-needed 26-17 win over the Wallabies.
Farrell has no future as an international centre and may start the Six Nations as his country’s second-choice fly-half behind the young playmaker. That’s quite a fall from grace.
Michael Cheika’s squad is packed with fine footballers, so much so that hugely-talented trio Will Genia, Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper are all stuck on the bench, but a narrow win over Wales is a poor return from the Aussies, who have now lost six of their past seven internationals.
The former Heineken Cup-winning coach with Leinster will get it right eventually, but the 9/1 top price with Ladbrokes about Australia winning the next World Cup, which is a point shorter than Ireland, should not be touched.
Jean de Villiers and South Africa
As if being breezed past 29-15 by Schmidt’s men wasn’t bad enough, the two-time world champions had to suffer the ignominy of ending Wales’ six-year record of failure against southern hemisphere sides.
To make matter worse, captain De Villiers is expected to miss at least eight months with a sickening knee injury, so Heyneke Meyers’ outfit also look a bit on the short side at 9/2 for World Cup honours.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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