England's James Haskell (R) and David Paice celebrate their
victory against New Zealand in their test at Twickenham in
London. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
A stunning victory by England over world champions New
Zealand and seven tries from Ireland against Argentina were two
rare high points for the home nations in the November
internationals against the visitors from the south.
Scotland and Wales, in particular, have plenty to ponder over
the winter months after both were dumped into the third tier
of teams for Monday's 2015 World Cup pool draw, meaning they
will have to play two of the big guns at the next tournament
hosted by England.
The Scots' struggles, which led to coach Andy Robinson's
resignation, were not entirely unexpected, but grand slam
champions Wales fell away badly, making last year's fourth
place finish at the World Cup seem a distant memory.
They lost all four November tour matches to Argentina, Samoa,
New Zealand and Australia, and have now dropped seven tests
in a row.
Six Nations teams have been defeated in 40 of 49 home matches
against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in Europe
since the 2007 World Cup, an appalling return given that the
visitors travel north at the end of a season that began in
late February for those playing Super Rugby.
That trio, along with France, secured the top four world
ranking spots before the end of the international fixtures,
leaving the home nations to fight for a spot in the next
England, fifth in the rankings despite their 38-21 over the
All Blacks, will long celebrate their first victory over New
Zealand since winning in Wellington in 2003, the year of
their World Cup triumph.
There was little to indicate they were capable of such a
performance after a scratchy win over a poor Fiji and close
defeats to the Wallabies and Springboks which placed the
spotlight on inexperienced captain Chris Robshaw after his
decisions in both defeats arguably cost them the matches.
Perhaps stung by the criticism, Robshaw found another gear
against New Zealand, a performance that may have also truly
signaled the arrival of Manu Tuilagi and Owen Farrell on the
England kept the All Blacks scoreless in the first half, the
first time that had happened since 1998, and then withstood a
brief comeback to leave the 80,000 fans at Twickenham in
raptures with three tries in eight minutes.
"People had written us off," Robshaw said. "That fuelled the
fire. Everyone ran out there and believed we could do it."
England fans have been patient with coach Stuart Lancaster,
knowing it would take time to recover from last year's World
Cup debacle, but the famous victory will help them believe
they have a team capable of footing it with the best.
After enjoying a summer in the south in which they beat
Samoa, Fiji and Australia, Scotland fell away badly, a run
that culminated in the 21-15 defeat to Tonga and Robinson
falling on his sword after 3-1/2 years in charge.
He leaves a team in crisis, having suffered a Six Nations
whitewash and firmly rooted among the third tier of World Cup
rankings, having also lost to New Zealand and South Africa in
Ireland looked to have saved the job of their coach Declan
Kidney with a sparkling display against a tired-looking
Argentina, their 46-24 rout in Dublin ending a run of five
After pushing South Africa close, they ran in seven tries in
a performance which featured a stunning debut by 21-year-old
wing Craig Gilroy and raised hopes that there is life after
Brian O'Driscoll finally hangs up his boots.
The biggest disappointments were Wales, semi-finalists at
last year's World Cup.
After three narrow defeats to Australia, they hoped they
would get the results their efforts deserved at their
Millennium Stadium base.
That proved too optimistic, with shock defeats to Argentina
and Samoa coming before the more expected reverses to the
world champion All Blacks and the Wallabies.
On Saturday they were leading with a minute remaining when
Australian flyhalf Kurtley Beale scored the only try of the
match. The defeat relegated them to ninth in the world
rankings, below Argentina and Samoa.
There was more to smile about on the other side of the
channel, where after beating Tonga, Italy were valiant in
defeat to both New Zealand and Australia, mounting a
second-half comeback to give the Wallabies a huge fright in
France, runners-up at last year's World Cup, handed Australia
a lesson before cruising past Argentina and Samoa.
New Zealand's spot as the world's best looked like it would
go unchallenged, with the men in black recording untroubled
wins wins over Scotland, Italy and Wales.
However the loss to England ended a 20-match unbeaten streak
dating back to August last year.
As well as the bitter taste of defeat, they travel back home
with fewer admirers. Flanker Adam Thomson earned a two-week
ban for stamping on the head of Scotland's Alasdair Strokosch
and hooker Andrew Hore was banned for five weeks for a stiff
arm blow which resulted in Welsh lock Bradley Davies going to
While not hitting any great heights, Australia and South
Africa largely did what they had too, apart from the
Wallabies' poor display in Paris.
Samoa deservedly moved into the top eight thanks to a fine
performance against Wales, while Tonga proved their win over
France in last year's World Cup pool stages was no fluke with
their victory in Aberdeen.