The leaves may lie thick and still this autumn, but with so much boisterous rugby action in store during the month of November it is hard to pencil this in as the quiet season. It’s that time of year when not only are the heralded Six Nations sides in action, but the might of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa heft on to European shores. And there’s plenty to fear from them.
England start their autumn campaign with a match against the world champion All Blacks. For many it is a World Cup precursor, pitching the 2015’s great pretenders against the planet’s No 1 side. Then England face a Springboks team on November 15, with the South African’s understandably buoyed by their recent win over the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship in October – handing New Zealand their first Test loss in two years of top-level rugby.
Of course facing the top ranked teams in the world is the kind of challenge England need, ten months out from a home World Cup. So even though Samoa and Australia, their other two autumn opponents, are considered lesser than England in terms of strength (something laid out by the current IRB World Rankings) they must still tread carefully in their pursuit of morale-boosting wins. Samoa are capable of rattling the foundations of any Test side with their hard-hitting, athletic rugby and they have a disregard for the traditional first world powers. As for Australia, well, they’ve landed in Europe on the back of losing their head coach Ewen McKenzie after he walked just before they left for the tour – disgruntled with the internal problems gnawing away at his side and dismayed at seeing his name on the front of the Aussie papers for a change. The Wallabies have hastily appointed a new head coach in Michael Cheika and although they have a ludicrously busy schedule after a long season Down Under, they will be furiously hunting for wins of their own. It’s not just the autumn leaves that will get ruffled this month.
Ireland get the Boks before England do, facing the South Africans on November 8. Ireland are a team on the up and constantly improving under head coach Joe Schmidt. Many have tipped the Irish as dark horses for the World Cup, and while South Africa is a stiff first task during this Test window, they have further matches against Georgia and Australia to iron out any issues from their first outing. They have given themselves a real chance to come out of the next month with further credit.
Wales, on the other hand, have inverted Ireland’s plan. They face Australia and Fiji first, then they have New Zealand and South Africa in the second half of November. That is a tough old schedule. The popular wisdom in the Valleys is that head coach Warren Gatland will blood some new caps, try some new things. Results may not be at a premium for the Welsh this autumn, but it is inescapable, just how punishing this schedule is for them.
As for Scotland, well they have Argentina on November 8; a team they defeated in the summer. Then they have the All Blacks, a team they have never defeated. By the time they meet Tonga in a new venue at Kilmarnock FC’s Rugby Ground on November 22, they could be book-ending a brutal New Zealand Test with two more palatable performances. If so, this could be heralded as a productive and even successful international break for the Scots.
With France playing Fiji, Australia and Argentina, and Italy opposing Samoa, Argentina and South Africa too, all of the big hitters from the Six Nations will have their hands full. It should be exhilarating.
Think more thick and fast action, than thick and still leaves this autumn!