Ireland a joy, England a bore – Guscott's verdict on the first autumn Tests
The 2017 autumn internationals started with a bang on Saturday.
Former England and Lions centre Jeremy Guscott analyses the action.
Ireland’s warriors are a joy to watch
I like to watch smart rugby and Ireland play exactly that. They produce clever rugby, with accuracy. They are a credit to the game.
Their coach Joe Schmidt is very canny, something we’ve known for a long time. What I’ve liked about Ireland under Schmidt is their intensity, along with their work ethic and graft.
It seems Schmidt has a way he likes things done and if you don’t do that, you’re not going to be around very long. The players have got used to that and now produce what he wants. The intensity with which they hit rucks and mauls, with or without the ball, is ferocious. It’s warrior like, yet is done with control.
Many years ago, the Irish were all about kick and chase. They have moved on so far from that, it’s hard to remember those days. It’s now very precise and calculated and the space they create for their wide players is a joy to watch.
South Africa are not woefully bad and they hung on for 70 minutes before falling apart under the continued intensity from Ireland. The Springboks don’t seem to have moved on much from thinking they are bigger, stronger and faster than everybody and will win games simply as a result of that. I’m sorry, but top-tier internationals are as big, are as strong, and are arguably fitter.
Sorry, but England were a bit embarrassing
Head coach Eddie Jones said it was a “grindathon” against Argentina. I thought it was more like a boreathon in the first half.
For an England side who have aspirations of being the world’s number one side and of winning the World Cup, that’s not how they should be performing now. I do not think it was down to a lack of game time, understanding or practice either. For me, England need to work harder from the beginning. It’s like they’re coasting to get somewhere and think they can just accelerate.
Unfortunately, the heavy-duty, explosive dangerous ball carriers were not evident in that England team. There was no cohesiveness; it was disjointed and it was slightly embarrassing for the number two side in the world. There was no excuse for that performance.
The Argentina of 2013 would have thrashed them. The concern now for Eddie and England is how to improve by 30 or 40% – because the Australia side they face on Saturday is good. They’re absolutely fizzing at the moment. But I think England will raise their game because, like all good sides, they have the ability to do enough.
I’d be tempted to make changes in order to improve the team and crank up the competition. In the back three, for example, a small change could reap rewards. Wingers Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly are exciting players but they need the ball in their hands. Mike Brown has to go through return-to-play protocols after his head injury, and if he’s not fit, it would offer more balance to have someone like Semesa Rokoduguni among the back three. He can be that extra back who can carry effectively, take the ball into traffic and do some of the graft. To have a back three of Watson, Rokoduguni and Daly, would have benefits.
Wales need to stick with Williams
Once upon a time I would have said Wales had a psychological problem against southern hemisphere sides, but I’ve moved on from that. You just have to accept when a team is better than you; Wales would have had to be at their very best to have beaten this Australia side in great form.
Warren Gatland’s side just tried to play too much rugby. Their exits weren’t great and they put themselves under pressure. The heartbreak for me was the Michael Hooper try before half time. There was a skewed kick from Steff Evans, and although Wales won back possession on the counter attack, a loose pass into touch followed. The Wallabies earned a line-out 30 metres from the Wales try line and Hooper goes over. A polished exit strategy would have seen the hosts in at half time 13-17 down rather than 13-22.
I applaud Wales and Gatland for going with Owen Williams and Dan Biggar in midfield and I hope that continues – they shouldn’t just give Williams one run out. He needs a seasoned test because you can always go back to Jamie Roberts or Scott Williams if you need to. This is a look to the future and I think Gatland saw the benefits of having two playmakers on the Lions tour. He’s got them, so why not use them?
|18 Nov||v Australia||v Georgia||v New Zealand||v Fiji|
|25 Nov||v Samoa||v New Zealand||v Australia||v Argentina|
|2 Dec||v South Africa|
Scotland in good hands under Gregor
I’ve seen and heard people moaning that Scotland’s defence is a bit porous. But I think Scotland are in a better place than people might think, because they’re doing what I think is harder in rugby and that is scoring tries.
Did Scotland ever think they were going to lose against Samoa? They may have briefly, but I don’t think Samoa were ever good enough to win that game – there was too much going on behind the scenes for the players to concentrate. In fact, I’m surprised they produced the rugby they did given what’s going on, so they can be very proud of their performance.
I remember Gregor Townsend, the new Scotland coach, as a player. I played with him on the 1997 Lions tour and also against him for our countries and the scoreline very much reflects him as a player. His mentality is ‘if you score four, I’m going to score five’.
They’ve got one of the best coaches in the world, someone who transformed Glasgow into a try-scoring team, and it looks like he’s doing the same now with Scotland.
They’ve got the All Blacks this weekend and he’ll be saying: ‘you’re not expected to beat New Zealand, go out and prove people wrong. Let’s give them the game of their lives and the game they weren’t expecting’.
Guscott’s home nations team of the week
Jeremy Guscott was speaking to BBC Sport’s Caroline Chapman