What We Learned in the Autumn

1) We shouldn’t really bother playing New Zealand, ever again. What useful purpose does it serve? It does us little good, and it gives them pointlessly easy grand slams. Think of that, we could scupper their grand slam tours without even playing a match.

2) Scotland now have a scrum that shouldn’t get pushed around. If we could get back our lineout dominance of a few years back we might be a serious threat up front. Bring back Scott Murray?

3) Nick De Luca looks like he is over his 6N hiccup and is now forming a dynamic centre partnership with Ben Cairns that augers well for the future. A lot of our players should hit their playing peak in around 3 years. Many of them already have a solid base of caps and are growing in maturity. We may not be able to just unwrap a new test-ready fly half like the All-Blacks seem to do, but I think we are managing the resources we do have well. Gregor Townsend’s mentorship scheme of the young players is a similarly excellent idea.

4) Mike Blair may be the best scrum half in the world at the moment. He outshone the best the southern hemisphere showed him, even leading a losing team. Euan Murray gave a great account of himself too, although it could be argued he didn’t face NZ’s best scrum combination. Both, along with Lee Byrne of Wales, are certain Lions if their form and fitness continue. Blair now pops up in most people’s World/Lions XVs. (Except for Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times, who picked him in his World XV but not his Lions team. Someone should point out to Mr Jones that Mike Phillips and Gavin Henson are short of fitness and form, and too busy duking it out on the streets of Cardiff to merit inclusion at this stage. Stuart Barnes didn’t pick Murray at tighthead but at least explained his reasoning! And he picked Barclay at 7, kudos.)

5) Ryan Jones is far from certain of a Lions test place, due to the barnstorming performances we have seen from Powell in the Welsh No 8 shirt. The Lions captaincy is still wide open.

5) Commentators still love mispronouncing names. Award of the season goes to John Beattie for “Cleanburger” (Adam Kleeberger of Canada). Rokocoko got a bit of a mangling from the BBC boys as well… Jonathan Davies is not alone.

6) England are having a few problems. They are probably where we were a few years ago, bottoming out on the constant wave of world rugby. Their players and management will take a while to bed in – Martin Johnson is a novice coach, remember. Let’s just hope they get it sorted. In 2012.

7) The second tier rugby nations are still getting screwed by the clubs. While the big unions can buy player release, pity poor Canada who have a core base of amateurs and can’t even get Ander Munro on release from Italy. They should shut off all club play on the continent while the Autum Internationals are on (masterplan for restructuring 4-years rugby cycle coming soon). This would undoubtedly help the likes of Italy, Georgia and Romania whose players fill in when the Frenchies are off playing tests. Georgia could quite easily have played a close full test against similarly ranked Canada rather than them getting pasted by our A and full sides respectively. Georgia might have also been beaten by Edinburgh had the floodlights at Meggetland not failed (poor show).

8) Australia will rise, and soon. Their last two games against Wales and the Baa-Baas were great fun, backed by a steely spine of solid – that’s almost not strong enough a term – defence. We could learn a lot from the Robbie Deans “soak it up then counter” school of thought. They will definitely be a force come 2011. Good job we didn’t get them in our group.

9) World XV based mostly on Autumn performances I saw: Byrne (Wal), Muliaina (NZ), De Villiers (SA), Nonu (NZ), Williams (Wal), Carter (NZ), Blair (Sco), Powell (Wal), McCaw (NZ), Burger (SA), Matfield (SA), Botha (SA), Murray (Sco), Ford (Sco), Woodcock (NZ). Honorary mention should go to the Aussies who showed up with a team rather than some individuals, so I’d pick Robbie Deans as the coach.

10) Wales are still 6N favourites. Behind them it’s a toss-up but Scotland have more than a good chance of making the top three. On current form you might hesitate to say that about England or Ireland. France, as always under Lieveremont are a mystery until they take the field. Frank Hadden has us as dark horses, and for once I’m in agreement with Franky baws. The Scots are coming.

Don’t forget there is Heineken Cup rugby on Sky this weekend again, though no Edinburgh vs Wasps on Friday night. Bath vs Glasgow is on on Sunday. Player watch as usual to follow next week. Oh, and you can add number 11) in the comments section below. We don’t bite.

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