Autumn Nations Series: Best team, player, newbie and Spirit of Rugby feature in our awards list

Adam Kyriacou
Planet Rugby Autumn Nations Series awards

Now that the dust has settled on an absorbing Autumn Nations Series, Planet Rugby thought it was time to dish out our serious and not so serious awards.

We’ve attempted to cover a wide spectrum of talking points from the November action but if there’s anything we’ve missed, be sure to let us know below.

Best team – South Africa

We begin with an incredibly tough call as Ireland, New Zealand, France and South Africa all spring to mind as having positive Autumn Nations Series campaigns, but we look a little deeper than results alone.

The Irish, despite going unbeaten in their three games, failed to set the world alight while France were similar in that they were solid but not spectacular in their wins. New Zealand meanwhile played some scintillating rugby that saw them score 111 points over their three games as the pressure well and truly lifted on head coach Ian Foster.

However, South Africa’s improvements as the tour went on could not be ignored as they looked back to their best against Italy and then England over the latest weekend. They were unlucky to go down to Ireland and France in the early rounds but what we’ve seen over this month is that the Springboks are serious contenders to retain their Rugby World Cup crown next year.

Worst team – Wales

No prizes for guessing this one. Wales are reeling after a hugely disappointing autumn campaign that saw them win just once – against Argentina – amid defeats to New Zealand, Georgia and Australia.

The Georgia negative in particular is the most damaging and it piled the pressure on the recent Wallabies fixture, which was going well before the Welsh fell apart late in the game, eventually succumbing to a 39-34 loss which was their third of the autumn.

The pressure is subsequently weighing heavily on head coach Wayne Pivac after November with reported talk of replacements being lined up by the Welsh Rugby Union.

Best player: Ardie Savea

We’re still at a loss as to how he missed the World Rugby Player of the Year shortlist as Savea has been outstanding all year for the All Blacks and unsurprisingly was a standout this autumn.

His physicality, power and leadership were on show in droves throughout the Autumn Nations Series as he emptied the tank in every fixture, with Dalton Papali’i offering a helping hand in an impressive back-row double act.

As well as picking up our best player award for November, we’ll also throw in best dummy for that outrageous effort against Wales.

Best newbie: Mark Nawaqanitawase

The Wallabies star well and truly burst onto the Test scene, making three appearances and racking up 259 metres. The Waratah’s quality first shone through in his second outing against Ireland, where he performed well in the air and was a threat with ball in hand, adding a try assist to his name against the world’s best.

However, it was the Test against Wales where the young wing truly shone, scoring two tries, breaking eight tackles and running over 100 metres in a sublime performance. With the Wallabies team chopping and changing every week due to injuries and testing new combinations, coach Dave Rennie has stumbled across a diamond. The speedster will be a key star for Australia going into a World Cup year.

Best try: Kalaveti Ravouvou (Ireland v Fiji)

A close run thing with Italy wing Pierre Bruno’s clinical finish to a wonderful team score against Samoa not far behind here.

Instead, we instead opt for this beautifully crafted try from Fiji against Ireland as the islanders silenced the Aviva Stadium early on.

With just over three minutes on the clock, Fiji showed they had come to play with this difficult crossing for Ravouvou made to look frighteningly simple.

Best comeback: England against New Zealand

25-6 down on 71 minutes, England somehow managed to come away from Twickenham with a 25-25 draw in their Round Three fixture, thanks to three late scores.

First it was replacement prop Will Stuart who barged his way over from close range before full-back Freddie Steward crossed for a beauty and then Stuart had the final say on 79 minutes.

The big question on everyone’s lips at full-time though was should England have gone for the win instead of settling for the draw?

Best game/atmosphere: France v South Africa in Marseille

The clash in Marseille was easily the best atmosphere as fans flooded into Stade Velodrome, filling just about every seat in the house. There was a real sense of anticipation in the build-up to the Test as France supporters knew the Springboks would be a different kind of challenge to what they had faced all year.

The game matched the atmosphere and quickly turned into a chaotic spectacle with two red cards and one yellow in a match that ended 30-26 but could have easily gone the other way.

The fans were exceptional, with the stadium absolutely rocking, beginning with the lights show beforehand before the fireworks on the field. Les Bleus v Springboks in Marseille 2022 was a classic Test of epic proportions.

Fireman Sam award: Finn Russell

After missing Scotland’s first two fixtures, Russell’s return to the international fold gave the side a major shot in the arm in terms of performances and later results.

The baffling decision to leave Russell out of their training squad ahead of the autumn was soon forgotten when his return to start at 10 against New Zealand and Argentina gave the Scotland attack a new lease of life.

Alongside the likes of Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg, Russell was on top of his game as he once again showed what a quality operator he is and how much Scotland need him if they are going to be a major player next year.

Best offload: David Ribbans – England v New Zealand

Ribbans went all Sonny Bill Williams with a screamer of an offload against New Zealand. It was a lovely touch from the big second-row in a crucial moment of the game where England were launching their comeback against the All Blacks.

The second-row took the ball to the line, got his hands through the tackle, and as he fell, threw a chicken wing out the side door to catalyse the attack. Simply sensational. A deft touch from a giant.

What is even more mind-blowing is that Ribbans showed throughout the series that his offloading game is brilliant with other less flashy but equally effective efforts. The newly-capped Englishman was a solid find for head coach Eddie Jones in the autumn.

The statement award: Georgia

The Lelos conquered Cardiff in the statement win of all statement wins on November 19, with Wales brought back down to earth with a bump after beating Argentina the previous weekend.

Victory for Georgia provided them with another loud knock on the Six Nations door as their fight to be allowed at Europe’s top table continues.

Surely this win, led by a head coach who was fighting for his life due to Covid-19 not so long ago, has finally sealed the deal and it’s only now a matter of time before they enter the fray?

Still got it award: Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)

The veteran of all veterans sent out a reminder that he is not finished at the highest level after his performance against Australia.

Jones may as well donned the 10 shirt for part of the final round clash as he was playmaking within the forwards while also having the nous and experience to know when to throw it out the back for the speedsters.

The second-row even managed to bag a try assist for his troubles and showed he can still add value in a Wales shirt with the World Cup looming large.


What were you thinking: Marcos Kremer – Scotland v Argentina

The more one looks at the incident, the worse it becomes, which is hard to imagine. It is a shocker from Kremer, who is looking to clear out the ruck quickly to maintain quick ball but gets it completely wrong.

The clean-out turns into a swinging arm straight to the head of Scotland skipper Jamie Ritchie. There is absolutely no mitigation. This is a terrible incident and is red every day of the week and twice on Saturday.

The red proved costly for Los Pumas, and Kremer only has himself to blame for a poor, reckless effort that saw no effort at all to maintain player safety.

Spirit of rugby award: Emotional Doddie Weir moment

Before the Scotland v New Zealand game there was a poignant moment when the great Weir, flanked by his loving family, came on to the pitch to the warmest of applause from both sets of players and the supporters in the ground.

Both Scotland captain Ritchie and All Blacks skipper Sam Whitelock approached the former Lion and offered a few words in his ear before the game kicked off.

With the incredibly sad news that Weir has now passed away, one small comfort for rugby fans is that this moment at Murrayfield took place and the great man could enjoy the atmosphere one last time. Rest in peace, Doddie.

READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series Team of the Week: Super Springboks dominate