It’s time for our wrap of who has their name in lights at the moment… and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
They’re on fire!!
Ireland: Held their nerve despite a number of injuries against Australia to make a little bit of history, as Ireland became the first side since England in 2003 to defeat Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in a calendar year. It looked like the result was slipping away with Australia’s comeback before that Keith Earls try swung the lead and Ireland’s defence held firm.
Pacific Islands: Victories for Fiji, Samoa and Tonga this weekend on the road in Europe, which is hugely impressive. Fiji weren’t thrown off course by Peceli Yato’s red card in Vannes, scoring five tries as Nemani Nadolo finished with 18 points. Samoa came out on top against Canada (more on them later) but the shock of the weekend was caused by Tonga, who capped off a mad November month by upsetting Italy only a week after the Azzurri had defeated South Africa – with Sonatane Takulua stealing the show.
Baptiste Serin’s pass: What an assist from the replacement scrum-half. French flair lives!
How about this for a pass from Baptiste Serin? ????pic.twitter.com/HSDX6DfLOO
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) 27 November 2016
England: Make that 12 wins in a row for England under Eddie Jones – 13 including last year’s Rugby World Cup dead rubber over Uruguay – as they head into this weekend’s clash with the Wallabies on the verge of a perfect year. Eddie Jones will have loved watching his side overcome real adversity following Elliot Daly’s fourth-minute red card (perfectly handled for the record by referee Pascal Gauzère). England stayed calm and won easily in the end.
D’Angelo Leuila: Huge game from the 20-year-old Samoa fly-half against Canada, finishing with 20 points including a couple of nicely taken drop goals too. With Tusi Pisi now 34 it looks as though Samoa have their fly-half for the future.
Wales: Winners over an atrocious South African side and Justin Tipuric’s try was a fine finish, but we’re not convinced. There is a clear gap in performance currently ahead of next year’s Six Nations between Wales and recent champions England and Ireland. This is the first time Wales have won three of their four November matches since 2002, so some credit is due there. Their performances and ability to think on their feet however are something to worry about.
France: No win over the All Blacks but the signs of progress are there at last for France, who have switched up the offloads and running rugby this month under Guy Novès. Losing 19-24 after that humbling in the Rugby World Cup last year makes this seem like a step forward.
Left in the freezer!
Springboks: It’s finally over. 2016 was the first time South Africa lost eight Tests in a calendar year. Allister Coetzee has the lowest winning percentage for a first-year Springbok coach ever at 33 percent. Saturday’s young side felt like a gamble and they were picked off by Wales (who have their own problems). The newly announced “overhaul of SA Rugby administration” and Springbok review process cannot come soon enough.
Enrique Pieretto’s stamp: The Argentina replacement prop will be back home by the time his disciplinary hearing takes place on Wednesday, and after that he can pack for a long holiday. He looks set for a long ban after this stamp.
Italy: We pointed out on Friday that Italy had to back up their win over South Africa with a complete performance over Tonga, and a healthy win, but the loss in Padova was a disaster and felt all too familiar. Even without Sergio Parisse this should have been another step forward. Not to be.
Argentina: England’s one-man deficit felt like the perfect fit for Argentina’s expansive attack, but in the first half that just couldn’t get around the edge of England’s rush defence or kick efficently enough. Santiago Cordero flashed at the start of the second half but penalties killed a tired los Pumas side. 2016 might have included a first ever win over South Africa, but other than that it won’t be fondly remembered. Those players have more than earned a break.
Billy Vunipola’s injury: Tough blow for Saracens and England with arguably the best number eight in the world currently sidelined for three to four months. Vunipola’s improvement under Jones has been drastic and he will be missed against Australia, and it looks like for most of the Six Nations too.