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Autumn Nations Series: Talking points from final weekend

Autumn Nations Series: Talking points from final weekend

Joe Marler and Maro Itoje

Six enthralling encounters brought the curtain down on the 2021 Autumn Nations Series over the weekend and provided no shortage of talking points.

Scotland overcame Japan and Italy got back to winning ways against Uruguay in the lunchtime kick-offs on Saturday before England toppled world champions South Africa.

Wales also finished their campaign on a high as they edged a thriller against Australia while France defeated New Zealand for the first time since 2009 in the late game.

It was then left to Ireland to bring this year’s international action to a close, with Andy Farrell’s men achieving a record score against Argentina to complete a perfect Autumn.

So what did we learn from the weekend’s games? Here are the key talking points…

Crowley era off the mark at third attempt

Italy’s performance smacked of a side who had failed to win in 16 games as they eventually ground out a 17-10 victory over Uruguay in their Autumn Nations Series finale.

Kieran Crowley’s side were not bereft of opportunities in Parma but failed to convert their pressure into points on numerous occasions – a recurring trait during this campaign.

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The hosts relied on tries from debutants Pierre Bruno and Epalahame Faiva to deliver a first win in two years, but Uruguay were the side whose reputation was enhanced by this display.

Michele Lamaro applauds fans after the game

Los Teros showed plenty of heart throughout the 80 minutes and were the side threatening at the end as they looked for a try to level affairs.

Italy will need to show plenty more in attack if they are to kick on, far too often they spread the ball wide early and refused to punch holes, perhaps struggling with being favourites.

However, Crowley will just be relieved to open his account in charge as he begins to mould the side in his image and overall November has seen signs of progress for the Azzurri.

Hogg etches his name in Scotland folklore

When Ian Smith scored his 24th Scotland try, little did he know that it would take more than 80 years for that record to be broken.

Tony Stanger matched it in 1999 but finally on Saturday, Stuart Hogg crossed for no.25 of his international career in the 29-20 win against Japan.

For Hogg, it was clearly a special moment and he said afterwards that he’s just a boy living a dream. But he’ll know his time as the record-holder is already under threat.

While pace and power are often highlighted as Duhan van der Merwe’s greatest assets, perhaps his most underrated is his nose for the try line.

Hogg breaks Scottish try record in Japan victory

In a little over a year, the winger has scored nine Scotland tries and they’ve come in all shapes and sizes. On Saturday, he was there to burrow over the line following a lineout to set Scotland on the way to victory.

While nothing is guaranteed, especially in an ever-changing landscape like Test rugby, at this rate Van der Merwe will be closing in on Hogg within a couple of years.

England’s next generation shine against Boks

All the talk was about avenging the World Cup final defeat, but this was a very different England side that edged out South Africa at Twickenham in a thriller.

Late penalty sees England down world champions

Only eight players who started in Yokohama were in the run-on team for England here, Manu Tuilagi lasted barely three minutes, although did grab a try in that time.

Instead it was England’s next generation, Bevan Rodd, Marcus Smith, Freddie Steward and Raffi Quirke who all stepped up against the most physical of all challenges.

None of them had even been capped before this summer. There was no doubt they were under pressure in the second half, and could easily have let this slip. But for what is a new-look side, this must have been a dream afternoon for Eddie Jones.

Priestland saves unconvincing Wales in Cardiff

It has been a mixed Autumn Nations Series for Wayne Pivac’s Wales, who lost to New Zealand and the All Blacks before responding with victories over Fiji and Australia.

In fact, Saturday’s triumph over the Wallabies summed up their rollercoaster campaign perfectly as they trailed, took the lead and trailed again before finally getting over the line at the death.

And it was none other than 34-year-old Rhys Priestland who landed the winning points, a fitting – if surprising – hero after being recalled from the international wilderness by Pivac.

Wales celebrate after Rhys Priestland kicks a penalty to win the game

Elsewhere, Wales have managed to blood more up-and-coming stars over the last month as Taine Basham, Christ Tshiunza and Seb Davies have also gained valuable playing time.

But there still appears to be plenty of areas to work on for Pivac as his side have struggled to hit the heights they reached during their 2021 Guinness Six Nations title success.

Statement victory for France in Paris

All the talk ahead of the weekend centred around the mouth-watering battle between France and New Zealand in Saturday’s late game and it certainly lived up to its billing.

Les Bleus showed exactly why so many are tipping them as one of the favourites for the 2023 World Cup, for which they are the hosts, with a sparkling display against the All Blacks.

A first-half brace from Peato Mauvaka and another score from Romain Ntamack stunned the visitors as Fabien Galthie’s side raced into a 24-6 lead at the half-time break.

New Zealand responded after the restart with three tries to pile the pressure on but this France side is growing with every game and saw out the contest to win 40-25 in Paris.

Ntamack’s sensational break from behind France’s own try-line was a particular highlight and led to a penalty that saw Ardie Savea sin-binned – all-but sealing a famous victory.

Ireland continue to thrill against Los Pumas

Fresh from a memorable success of their own against the All Blacks, the pressure was on Ireland to back up that win against Argentina on Sunday – and they managed to do just that with a 53-7 triumph.

While Los Pumas provided some early resistance, it was not long before Andy Farrell’s men got up and running and the speed of their attack soon proved too much for the visitors.

They ran in seven tries in total in the end, with all of them coming from the forwards as Josh van der Flier (2), Andrew Porter, Caelan Doris, Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy and Tadhg Beirne scored.

Their 53-point haul against Argentina took their overall tally to 142 points from three Autumn Nations Series wins, a clean sweep that suggests they have really turned a corner.

Farrell could not have wished for a better return from November and having appeared to also establish a clear style of play, Ireland look set to be a force to be reckoned with.

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