Autumn Nations Series and November internationals: Five things we learned
Monday will have allowed millions to draw breath following a stunning few days of test rugby that began on Friday and delivered thrills and spills across the next 48 hours.
South Africa regained their place at the top of the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, while there was a third win in five for Ireland against the All Blacks and Spain kick-started their Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification campaign.
England Women, meanwhile, made it 17 wins in a row to consolidate their place atop the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini and there were wins for Ireland, France, Wales and Scotland.
Here is what we learned from an enthralling weekend…
💭 We're still thinking about Saturday...#TeamOfUs | #IrishRugby pic.twitter.com/ISGc5fC2l8— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) November 15, 2021
Doris first among equals as Ireland beat All Blacks again
One of the most pleasing aspects of Ireland’s 29-20 defeat of New Zealand for Andy Farrell and his coaching staff must surely have been the number of key performers in it who have made their test debut since Rugby World Cup 2019.
Whether it was the tireless Hugo Keenan, the timely interventions of James Lowe or the game management of Jamison Gibson-Park this was a victory that had Farrell’s stamp all over it.
In particular, though, it was a breakout 80 minutes for man of the match, Caelan Doris. The Leinster forward had started in the Ireland back-row during wins against Wales, Scotland and Japan, twice, prior to Saturday but this felt like a coming of age.
Doris was monumental on both sides of the ball, making 84 metres from 12 carries with ball in hand – second only to team-mate Keenan – and running an impressive line to score Ireland’s third try. In defence, meanwhile, he put in 13 tackles and secured a crucial turnover.
Another consequence of Farrell’s selection at the Aviva Stadium was the experience of the players who emerged from the replacements’ bench to see out victory.
It must be a coach’s dream to be able to call on the collective nous of Cian Healy, Conor Murray, Keith Earls, Tadhg Beirne and Peter O’Mahony in the closing stages of a tight test match. Ireland have been here before, of course, but the future looks bright.
Les Bleues underline potential during Black Ferns win
France might not have moved up the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini with a third successive win over New Zealand, but on current form they look to be the team most capable of challenging number one side, England.
Les Bleues’ two previous victories against the Black Ferns had been by three and nine points respectively, but this was much more comfortable.
In front of a partisan home crowd in Pau, France ran in six tries to put the result well beyond doubt before Black Ferns replacement Eloise Blackwell added a late consolation to make the score 38-13.
The pick of those tries was the second the hosts scored. An archetypal example of French flair, a move started by Maëlle Filopon flowed through several pairs of hands before Gabriel Vernier launched an inch-perfect kick-pass that fell into the grasp of Cyrielle Banet to score.
It was a remarkable passage of play that underlined the threat France pose heading into a busy 2022, which begins with the Women’s Six Nations and ends with Rugby World Cup 2021, playing in 2022.
Les Bleues will face England in both tournaments and those matches are sure to be appointment viewing.
Mapimpi is the best finisher in men’s test rugby
Not so much something we learned this weekend, but something that was confirmed by Makazole Mapimpi’s two-try performance against Scotland.
Mapimpi took his test tally to 19 tries in just 24 tests with a brace at Murrayfield that proved crucial to the 30-15 win that took the Springboks back to the top of the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini.
His first score in Edinburgh was all about pace and awareness, as he took a pass from Siya Kolisi and not only made sure to stay in play but left Rufus McLean and Stuart Hogg grasping at nothing but autumn air as they attempted in vain to tackle him.
The second was an easier finish as he kept width on the left wing before receiving Damian de Allende’s brilliant offload on the 22 and cantering over the line to put the Springboks into a lead they never relinquished.
Mapimpi has battled extreme adversity to get where he is today, and there can be few more joyful sights in test rugby than watching the winger cross the whitewash.
Three years ago Red Roses player @BryonyCleall was Sadia Kabeya’s PE teacher and rugby coach at Harris City Academy in Crystal Palace.— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) November 14, 2021
Today she watched Sadia make her England debut 🌹 pic.twitter.com/9MnMoM9XuQ
Red Roses show no sign of wilting
England Women stretched their winning run to an impressive 17 test matches on Sunday, and on the evidence at Twickenham Stoop they will fancy elongating that streak even further.
Simon Middleton, nominated for Coach of the Year at the World Rugby Awards 2021, shuffled his pack for the match against Canada, handing debuts to winger Heather Cowell and flanker Sadia Kabeya.
Cowell, who plays for Harlequins in the English Premier 15s, was a popular scorer on her club’s home ground. She crossed for her first test try within five minutes of kick-off and added a second on the stroke of half-time, with a clinical finish.
Her second, and England’s third, try gave the Red Roses an eight-point cushion at the break, and some breathing space following 40 minutes in which Canada put them under some real pressure at times.
Cowell and Kabeya – whose school PE teacher was England international Bryony Cleall – were both given a rousing ovation as they were substituted in the final quarter. England’s future, as well as its present, seems to be in good hands.
RWC 2023 qualifications heating up in Europe
With one match left to play in the Rugby Europe Championship 2021, the race for a ticket to RWC 2023 has begun to intensify.
Spain kick-started their campaign on Sunday when they ran in seven tries to beat 14-man Russia 49-12 in Madrid.
The visitors were already 7-0 down when prop Valeriy Morozov was shown a red card and found themselves 21-0 adrift by half-time. Victory was Spain’s first of the tournament but leaves them just two points behind fourth-placed Russia.
Should they beat the Netherlands with a bonus point when the teams meet next month then the Spanish would climb above Russia and to within just two points of Romania and Portugal, who are second and third respectively with 14 points apiece.
Romania climbed above Portugal on the strength of the teams’ head-to-head record thanks to a 56-15 defeat of the Dutch in Bucharest on Saturday. The top two teams in the joint Rugby Europe Championship 2021 and 2022 table will qualify directly to RWC 2023 while the third-placed side will play in the Final Qualification Tournament.