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What we learned from the 2021 Autumn Nations Series

What we learned from the 2021 Autumn Nations Series

Gabin Villiere, Romain Taofifenua, Thibaud Flament and Damian Penaud celebrate after the game

The Autumn Nations Series came to a thrilling conclusion last month, with history made on several occasions and fans welcomed back as Test match rugby showed itself to be the incredible sporting spectacle that it is.

On a bumper final Saturday, we saw France tame the All Blacks, England get revenge against the Springboks and Wales sneak a win against the Wallabies, as the Southern Hemisphere’s big three all lost on the same day for the first time since 2002.

Italy ended their tough run, winning for the first time since the 2019 Rugby World Cup with a 17-10 victory over Uruguay, while Scotland avenged their own World Cup defeat with a 29-20 win over Japan, which saw Stuart Hogg become Scotland’s top try scorer.

Sunday was another historic day altogether when Ireland eased to a 53-7 win over 14-man Argentina, which meant that for the first time in history all six of the Guinness Six Nations sides were victorious in the same weekend.

All of that history was made in one weekend alone, with plenty of other incredible events happening throughout the series, we look at what we have learned from an enthralling Autumn Nations Series.

France are the real deal

France have gained many plaudits since that impressive 24-17 win over World Cup runners-up England kick-started their new era under Fabien Galthié in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.

Since then, famous wins such as the one in Cardiff just a few weeks after defeating England, a second-place finish in the inaugural Autumn Nations Series and a win in Australia showed the progress Les Bleus have made under Galthié and defence coach Shaun Edwards.

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This Autumn though was an even greater challenge, Argentina and Georgia were defeated before the big one against New Zealand.

The incredible 40-25 win over the All Blacks, a first since 2009 and first in Paris since 1973, was the day when France announced to the World that they are indeed the real deal.

In two years time, they host the World Cup, and France being world beaters again is something that rugby fans are grateful for.

Romain Ntamack makes a break from behind his own try line

South Africa can defend their title in France

The Springboks proved during this Autumn that their team is another that is in excellent shape to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for the fourth time in Paris.

Despite the 27-26 defeat to England at Twickenham, the series victory over the British and Irish Lions in the summer and the wins over both Wales and Scotland at the end of a long year show that they are in good stead.

In 2019 they became the first side to win the World Cup having lost a game, which in itself shows their ability to bounce back from defeats.

Bryan Habana’s Team of the Series

With defence at the heart of their game, their style of play en route to victory in Japan ruffled feathers but the manner of the victory over England in the final justified their approach, with their form since the World Cup final showing just how good they are.

But with their forward pack and excellent half-backs, they will be just as hard to beat in October 2023 as they were in November 2019.

Ireland are in a better position now than ever before

Arguably the most impressive team of the Autumn Nations Series was Ireland.

Under Andy Farrell they had struggled for consistency for two years, finishing third in back-to-back Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup.

This Autumn was very much the rebirth of Irish rugby, but this year, unlike previous false dawns, Ireland are in a better position than ever before.

Caelan Doris crowned Player of the Series

That 29-20 win over the All Blacks in Dublin, followed by the thumping win over Argentina showed that Ireland appear to have found themselves and their style.

This time does feel different from 2017, the squad depth is extremely good and with Andy Farrell at the helm, it appears that this Irish side can go further than previous ones – a maiden Rugby World Cup semi-final well within their grasp.

Caelan Doris Player of the Series

The future is bright for England

England had stalled following their rise to World Cup runners-up in 2019, aside from winning the 2020 Guinness Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup.

The fifth-place finish in the 2021 Six Nations was disappointing for Eddie Jones’ men, it echoed the 2018 Guinness Six Nations where England came fifth, losing to all the home nations sides, with a sole victory over France at Twickenham as a positive.

Eddie Jones delighted with ‘new England’ after Autumn Nations Series

The summer saw some new players bled into the set-up, such as Marcus Smith and Freddie Steward and the England re-build was underway.

This Autumn however is when it really got underway, with England hosting Tonga, Australia and South Africa at Twickenham and winning all three matches.

The victory over the Springboks, in particular, was very impressive, and the likes of Smith, Steward and Raffi Quirke showed the world that the future is bright for England.

Marcus Smith

The Guinness Six Nations is going to be epic

Ireland, France and England went unbeaten this Autumn, Wales and Scotland defeated Australia and Italy are progressing under a new coaching team and captain.

Next year’s Guinness Six Nations is set to be an absolute cracker.

Who will win it is anybody’s guess but with Europe’s elite all in good form and vying for the 2022 Guinness Six Nations title it is set to be a nail-biting contest.

Super Saturday for example, sees holders Wales host Italy, Ireland come up against Scotland and France welcome England to the Stade de France.

It is all set up for an amazing tournament and in just 65 days it all kicks off in Dublin when Wales open their title defence against Ireland.

Wales celebrate after Rhys Priestland converts the match winning penalty kick

The gap between the World’s elite is closer than ever before

This Autumn showed that the gap between the top ten sides in Europe is closer than it has ever been before.

Ireland, England and France’s unbeaten Autumns were impressive, but more importantly, highlighted that anybody can beat anybody as the clock ticks towards the World Cup.

The competition is growing as sides improve and as we saw this Autumn, no win is a given and it raises the question now, who on earth is going to lift the trophy on 28 October 2023?

It makes it that much more exciting looking forward, with the Guinness Six Nations and the summer tours to look forward to before we head into the World Cup year.

Rugby is the winner

It was a really tough 18 months as the world grappled with the pandemic and rugby was no different, with no fans in stadiums for over a year.

The welcoming back of the fans to the iconic European stadiums received a lot of attention coming into the Autumn Nations Series but there were concerns over whether rugby could deliver.

In the end, the rugby could not have been better, with gripping entertainment across the continent as the best of the north and south battled it out for the first time since 2018 on European soil.

After such a tough time for everyone, just being back in stadiums would have been enough for many, but the entertainment proved that, at the end of the Autumn Nations Series, the real winner was rugby.

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