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Takeaways from Round 3 of the Autumn Nations Series

Takeaways from Round 3 of the Autumn Nations Series

Georgia takeaways

Georgia made history, England and New Zealand played out a thrilling draw and France and Ireland kept on rolling in Round 3 of the Autumn Nations Series – here are the takeaways.

The weekend kicked off with a shock in Cardiff as Luka Matkava’s late penalty gave Georgia their greatest-ever win, beating Wales, while South Africa pulled out all the stops as they ran away with it in Italy.

Then Scotland romped past 14-man (and at one point 12-man) Argentina, before England’s stunning comeback earned them an unlikely draw with New Zealand.

Ireland were pushed to the limit by Australia on Saturday night, but Ross Byrne delivered late on, before France made it a perfect 2022 by beating Japan on Sunday.

So what did we learn from another cracking weekend?

Georgia’s dominant scrum sees them make history in Cardiff

Georgia stunned Wales in Cardiff when coming back from 12-3 down at half time to win 13-12, claiming their second victory over a tier one nation this season after defeating Italy earlier in the year.

They have always been known for a strong scrum and powerful front-row forwards, but this was another level from that.

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The Georgian pack were completely dominant in the second half, winning four scrum penalties in the final ten minutes to get into the lead and then hold on for a first-ever victory over Wales.

It was a platform that allowed the backs to thrive, with scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze and full-back Davit Niniashvili in particular causing significant problems for the Welsh defence.

None of that would have been possible without the dominant pack, which allowed Georgia to play at high tempo, with the knowledge that even when Wales were putting the ball into the scrum, the Lelos believed they could win the ball back – which they did at the death to seal the win.

What was most impressive about it was that in the first half, it was Wales who got on top at scrum-time. The introduction of inexperienced duo Nika Abuladze and Alexandre Kuntelia coincided with the Georgian pack seizing control, a turnaround that swung the game.

Kolbe magic killed off Italy challenge

Italy know only too well that fine margins can determine the outcome of Test match rugby.

They edged Australia after Ben Donaldson missed an overtime conversion in Round 2 and it was a remarkable restart that swung their meeting with South Africa definitively in favour of the world champions.

After Tommaso Allan’s penalty brought them to within two points of the Springboks at the start of the second half, they looked on course to take the game right down to the wire once more.

But hopes of another memorable victory were soon extinguished, with South Africa crossing on three occasions in a breath-taking ten-minute spell.

The first was totally avoidable, with a lapse in concentration allowing Cheslin Kolbe to claim Damian Willemse’s restart unopposed and gallop home to put Jacques Nienaber’s side firmly in control – that was the first of seven second-half scores which set South Africa well on their way to what was eventually a convincing victory.

There were some bright spots for Italy, not least the performance of Ange Capuozzo, who continues to deliver on the big occasion and capped another impressive performance with a score before being named World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year on Sunday.

But Italy will ultimately rue the restart that appeared to sap them of belief before the Springboks ran riot in Genoa.

Finn in the form of his life

Finn Russell was omitted from Scotland’s initial squad for the Autumn Natoins Series because of a lack of form for club side Racing 92. He responded with a string of stunning performances in the Top 14, and when Adam Hastings was injured against Fiji, he was recalled by Gregor Townsend.

Since then, Russell has been in sensational form, almost masterminding a first-ever win over the All Blacks. Against Argentina, he was even better, seemingly finding space at will and putting teammates through gaps with all manner of passes, short and long. Their first four tries all came from moments of Russell magic and he made it five with a lovely grubber for Cam Redpath late on.

His task was certainly made easier by the visitors’ lack of discipline. As well as Marcos Kremer’s red card, they also received three more yellows and spent nearly ten minutes with just 12 men.

Townsend and Russell will have been a little frustrated that Scotland could not take greater advantage of the three extra men, but they were able to cut through for most of the game, and that was largely down to Russell.

In an up-and-down year, the last two weeks have been a reminder that Scotland are at their most dangerous when their superstar fly-half is in the No.10 jersey.

New Zealand draw can be England’s springboard

Four years ago, in the immediate aftermath of a home defeat to New Zealand, Eddie Jones was buoyant about England’s 2019 World Cup chances.

The defeat had proven to him that his team were on the right path and, despite the 16-15 loss in a year that also featured five Test defeats in a row, he insisted the tanker had turned.

He was, of course, correct. England reached the final in Japan and pummelled New Zealand into submission in a 19-7 semi-final win that surely remains the highlight of the Australian’s seven-year tenure.

Fast forward to now and the All Blacks once again offered the chance for Jones to run a diagnostic report 12 months out from a World Cup, and he was treated to the most improbable of comebacks in a 25-25 draw.

It was hard to know what to make of it. England were comprehensively outplayed for 70 minutes but showed incredible skill and spirit to come back.

Central to that rescue mission was Marcus Smith and Jones could hardly hide his smile after watching the Harlequin play.
Smith ran the show in the final quarter, putting the team on his back and driving them to a thrilling draw.

Smith’s first 12 months as England’s fly-half have been encouraging but Jones has suggested the Harlequins No.10 has been a little too tentative for his liking at times but that changed on Saturday and the results were clear.

With Owen Farrell nursing an ankle injury and unable to fulfil the role as England’s first receiver, Smith was handed the keys as England chased the game.

He was liberated, sparking the move that led to Will Stuart’s first try – and Beauden Barrett’s yellow card – with a break through the All Blacks defence, before playing a further hand in tries for Freddie Steward and Stuart again.

A year out from a World Cup, has Jones hit on the final puzzle piece once more?

Ireland still not fixed on Sexton back-up plan

When Johnny Sexton pulled out at the last minute with that troublesome calf injury, Ireland’s clash with Australia took on greater importance.

The biggest question mark surrounding the team who have made history this year is how they can cope without their captain and playmaker.

That Joey Carbery was also absent only increased the uncertainty with Jack Crowley, 22 and with minimal senior experience under his belt, parachuted into the starting line-up.

An early penalty settled the nerves and Crowley performed admirably in difficult circumstances, but it was also true that Ireland’s attack looked much less fluent than usual.

Ireland Byrne

Andy Farrell was delighted to come away with a 13-10 victory, and given Australia had a chance to win it at the end, that is not a surprise.

He will have learned a lot about his team in this one. Whether Crowley is a viable alternative to Sexton in the near future might be a question for another day. He was solid, and Ross Byrne reminded everyone that he is an ice-cool goal-kicker who has big game experience, if not necessarily at international level.

Still, this was also a reminder that Ireland are a different team when Sexton is pulling the strings. It should not come as a surprise but against the very best teams in the world, they still rely on him more than any other player.

Jalibert masterclass gives Galthié food for thought

Fabien Galthié is not one for tinkering with his selection and has stuck with Romain Ntamack throughout the Autumn Nations Series, despite the fly’s half lack of game time.

Les Bleus’ first 2022 Autumn Nations Series fixture, against Australia, was Ntamack’s first competitive outing since leaving the field after just 26 minutes of Toulouse’s Top 14 clash with Toulon in September.

Galthié clearly feels that the 23-year-old has credit in the bank from his starring role in the Guinness Six Nations, having opted to start Ntamack ahead of the fully fit Jalibert in all three rounds, despite the latter’s fine start to the domestic season with Bordeaux.

Starting once more, Ntamack looked a little off-colour against Japan in Toulouse, enduring a frustrating ten-minute spell in the first half which saw him squander possession ahead of Japan’s first points, kick the following restart dead and spill a high ball a short while later.

He was replaced by Jalibert on 56 minutes and the 24-year-old’s impact was immediate and emphatic, setting up France’s final two scores which saw Damian Penaud and Anthony Jelonch cross to ensure victory.

Ntamack will inevitably build his fitness as the season progresses but if Jalibert continues to deliver such eye-catching performances, Galthié might have to twist, as the tussle for the French No.10 jersey continues.


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