It was a disappointing weekend for Ireland, Scotland and Wales but England and France earned wins in the first round of the autumn international. Here are four things we learned after a weekend of top class rugby.
Wales will struggle to make an impact without Warren Gatland
Despite the aid of a Segway to buzz around the training ground following his foot operation and Rob Howley’s insistence that he was involved in the build up to their clash with Argentina yesterday, even though he was in Dublin, Wales clearly missed the presence of Gatland in their 23-12 loss.
Howley has now won just once in five games since he stepped into the shoes of Gatland who is, except for the Australia and New Zealand games, on sabbatical with the Lions for this season.
The early signs are that without Gatland at the 6 Nations they will struggle as Howley looks too far out of his depth for the Welsh to retain their crown.
As expected from a Welsh side the ball was passed out wide as often as possible, however this was mainly done on the half way line and there was no penetration from the team.
Wales looked lethargic at times and made some basic errors while Argentina constantly gained yards and ball especially in the second half with some clever kicks. Their involvement in the Rugby Championship has pushed them on a level and having added try-scoring to their kicking game they will make life very difficult for Ireland next week.
Heaslip is not ready to lead Ireland
He may have over 50 caps, be one of the world’s best number 8s and at the age of 28 at the peak of his game but against South Africa Jamie Heaslip showed us all that he is not ready to lead 14 other men.
During the first half when tempers were boiling over Heaslip seemed unable to control his teammates and three minutes into the second half he picked up a yellow card that ultimately proved the difference between the sides.
At that stage Ireland were leading the Springboks 12-3 after an intelligent opening 40 minutes but with ten minutes of the Leinster man being sinbinned Ireland were behind.
For the moment, Heaslip needs to be left focus on his own game and become more consistent.
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Mike McCarthy, Richardt Strauss and Michael Bent will improve Ireland
McCarthy was man of the match and put in some big tackles; Strauss made an unsteady start to the game but improved as it wore on, while Bent made an immediate impact winning a penalty in his first scrum after coming on.
The sight of Strauss belting out the national anthem won over those doubting his commitment to the Irish cause but it was the work rate of Connacht man McCarthy in the No. 5 shirt which will have been most pleasing. With Paul O’Connell struggling with injury in recent years it is good to see the 30 year old finally make the step up.
England and France will challenge for 6 Nations crown
France underlined the status as the top dogs of Northern Hemisphere rugby with a comprehensive 33-6 demolition of Australia in Paris. The French were impressive throughout especially in the scrum where they dominated the visitors and outscored the Wallabies three tries to zero to avenge their 59-16 defeat in 2010.
On this showing it will be hard to see any of the home nations challenge the French for the 6 Nations although it could very well be Stuart Lancaster’s England who provide the biggest threat.
The opposition may not have been of the same calibre as South Africa, Argentina or Australia but you can only beat what’s in front of you and with seven tries scored in a 54-12 win, Lancaster will be a happy man today.
England were stronger in all areas of the field and had the game wrapped up by half time when they led 25-0.
The win was a record result against the Islanders and though sterner tests lie ahead in the shape of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, England have good cause for confidence with a young and improving team.
Wales v Samoa
England v Australia
Italy v New Zealand
Ireland A v Fiji
France v Argentina