The Rugby Review : The November Tests – The Christmas Period (End Of 2016)


The 2016 November Tests have taught us a few lessons a few weeks ago. The four Rounds of the Autumn Tour showed that the trend witnessed during the last World Cup in 2015 has changed very quickly. During the global tournament in 2015, the South was really rocking.

In fact, the semi-finals were all Southern Hemisphere with New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina qualified at that stage. There were no Northern Hemisphere nations in the semi-finals with Wales, England, France and Scotland all failing in Quarter-Finals.

A year after that World Cup, it cannot be said the same as the North has definitely closed the gap with the South. The first signs were brought to the fans during the Summer Tour. Except New Zealand who brillantly did the job, Australia and South Africa badly struggled.

The All Blacks won their three home games against Wales but South Africa lost for the first time a home game against Ireland. The Wallabies went through a crisis as Michael Cheika’s team was unable to win a single game on their turf against the England squad.

Following the June Tests, the Southern Hemisphere nations had all the 2016 Rugby Championship to improve their game. Going into the 2016 November Tests, the Northern Hemisphere nations made a few big statements and are now competing with the South.

New Zealand were beaten by Ireland in Chicago for the first time in their History. England went through the Autumn unbeaten while the Springboks are already in crisis. Australia had convincing wins against Wales and France but they were beaten by Ireland in Dublin.

1. Is the Southern domination threatened ?!

The easy answer is yes and the South should be really worried because the North is coming with a lot of ambitions. The All Blacks are facing a massive challenge with the British & Irish Lions coming in the country for three big Test matches which are just unpredictable.

Also, New Zealand has to retain their best players and the battle is far from won for players like Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Aaron Cruden who are all targeted by the French clubs. Steve Hansen and Ian Foster are doing all what they can to keep them.

The Wallabies are probably the team who improved the most in the Autumn. They played brillantly against Wales but had really close wins against France and Scotland. Australia should have won against Ireland and they were not bad against England. Small margins.

About the Springboks, the situation is very disappointing as the new manager Allister Coetzee did not manage to get the results that he wanted. Giving the priority to the home-based players is right and the quotas are certainly not the reason of Springboks downfall.

Even if the Southern Hemisphere nations seem to be struggling at the moment, thery still have a got a huge advantage : Super Rugby. Often labelled as “The Crazy Competition”, the Super Rugby is the competition where the best rugby of the world is played each weekend.

It is all about adapting to the Northern Hemisphere style which is rather based on strength and physicality than the running of the ball and the skills. The All Blacks certainly learnt that in Chicago and they will probably not make the same mistake twice for the next year.

2. The next Six Nations : England in the History ?!

Obviously, before the British & Irish Lions come in New Zealand, the Six Nations Championship will be an opportunity for the players to make a statement. All the Northern countries will go into this Championship with the same goal : The Grand Slam.

England will have a massive pressure as they are on a 13-game winning strak since the 2015 World Cup Pool game win against Uruguay. If England goes unbeaten, winning the Six Nations, the Triple Crown and the Grand Slam, they will equal the New Zealand record.

Moreover, Ireland will be the other favourite to the Title as they are hosting England in Dublin in the 5th game. However, their schedule will be tougher than last season with an away fixture in Cardiff against Wales and a trip to Edinburgh to face the Scotland team.

The Welsh team has the ability to perform well in 2017 because they enjoyed a pretty good Autumn campaing with Rob Howley, named interim coach. Wales is already targeting their two big home games that they have to win : England and Ireland at Principality Stadium.

Scotland have laid down some markers during the November Tests with a so close loss against Australia and a big win against Argentina in Murrayfield. The players will want to pay Vern Cotter a decent farewell as he will leave the job after the Six Nations campaign.

Finally, France and Italy are going into that campaign in the unknown. Italy had a big win against South Africa but did not back it up against Tonga. France are focused on the forwards battle but are sometimes forgetting to add some magic in their talented backline.

3. The Champions Cup : The end of the French model

The Christmas period is there and there are always four Rounds played in that 2016-2017 campaign. The Champions Cup has been full of surprises and the Rounds which have been played showed that the French clubs are still struggling and their model is unsustainable.

Looking at the 5 Pools across Europe, the English clubs are doing the job. Saracens are topping their Pool and London Wasps have played an attractive rugby. That was more difficult for the Exeter Chiefs and the Leicester Tigers in their two respective Pools so far.

However, even if they had some losses, Exeter Chiefs showed some character when they won away against Bordeaux Bègles after a home loss against this same team. The Leicester Tigers conceded 38 points in Thomond Park against Munster but had a win the next week.

The Pro12 provinces are going pretty well as well with Munster and Glasgow Warriors battling in the same Pool, playing some brillant rugby. Connacht Rugby is in the frame after a strong home record in their first four games with Leinster Rugby, impressing too.

About the French teams, there were some mixed results. Clermont are maintaining their standards with Toulouse and Castres trying to qualify as second best. Montpellier has to be more careful about the discipline while Toulon is almost eliminated after the Scarlets loss.

Racing 92, who were the finalists last season, lost twice to Glasgow Warriors. As it stands, it seems that there will probably be more Pro12 clubs in the Quarter-Finals than English teams. There will probably be a few Top 14 sides as well and it will be exciting to witness.

4. The domestic leagues : Competition all the way !

The domestic leagues are really interesting in that 2016-2017 season as the standings are very close. First of all, the Aviva Premiership shows some changes compared to the last season. Saracens and London Wasps are up but that is the only common point today.

Bath is enjoying a brillant Premiership campaign compared to the last season while Northampton Saints, Leicester Tigers and Exeter Chiefs are not sure to be part of the play-offs. The pressure is on Jim Mallinder, Richard Cockerill and Rob Baxter at some extent.

Talking about the Pro12 league, the start of the season showed very early a clear gap between the Top 6 and the bottom 6. The Irish provinces are doing pretty well with Munster and Leinster at the top but Champions Connacht are in the bottom 6 as it stands.

After the World Cup period in 2015 which was not easy to manage for them, the Ospreys are back in contention for the play-offs battle. The Scarlets and the Cardiff Blues are battling with the Dragons as Glasgow Warriors will be contenders as well for the big Title.

Also, there is the Top 14 league with Clermont leading the race and still building on a fair academy system where many French players are given game time. Stade Toulousain tries to follow the same model but they do not have the consistency to back up their big wins.

Overall, the French league is still far from perfect even if clubs such as La Rochelle and Bordeaux Bègles are coming with huge ambitions. Toulon, Montpellier and Racing 92 are sides built thanks to the money where the gameplan is not really attractive for the fans.

5. The British & Irish Lions : Coaching staff and squad

The Wales coach Warren Gatland was unveiled a few months ago as the British & Irish Lions coach for the New Zealand Tour. Rumours said that he could remain in New Zealand and quit his Wales position even before the 2019 World Cup but it was not accurate news.

Warren Gatland named a strong backroom staff with Rob Howley, Andy Farrell and Steve Borthwick respectively as attacking coach, defence coach and forwards coach. Much criticism came to the Rob Howley annoucement but it seems to be unfair to be honest.

In fact, Rob Howley already coached Wales as interim coach in 2013 and the Welsh team won the Six Nations Championship even if there were no Grand Slam and Triple Crown. Andy Farrell showed that he bounced back from the disappointing England 2015 campaign.

Currently working with Joe Schmidt in the Ireland set-up, Andy Farrell improved the defence and some signs were witnessed during his short time at Munster. Finally, Steve Borthwick enjoyed a great year from Bristol assistant coach to England forwards coach.

About the identity of the squad, the performances of the respective Northern Hemisphere unions involved in the next Six Nations Championship will be defining. England seems to have the edge given that they are currently on a 13-game winning streak at Test level.

Some weeks ago, Warren Gatland named a few players and stated that Dylan Hartley, despite his disciplinary record, was still in the mix for the captaincy. He also wants George North and Jonathan Sexton fit while Danny Cipriani could be a potential bolter in 2017.

6. The Other News : The new rugby structures

Rugby is moving every day as the game is growing and that is why some changes are starting to come to improve that game. First of all, World Rugby is trying to get some informations about a big controversy which happened during an Aviva Premiership game.

Few weeks ago, during a game involving Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints, the Welsh winger George North was knocked out after collapsing Adam Thompstone. He successfully passed an HIA (Head Injury Assessment) and was allowed to come back on.

That decision was not understood by most of the fans given that players’ welfare is paramount. World Rugby is investigating that and on another front, the organisation is trying to expand the Sevens circuit as it is becoming a very popular event over the world.

Super Rugby is going to come back very quickly and there are some questions whether the number of franchises should be increased or not. People are calling for less franchises such as Eddie Jones who thinks that Melbourne Rebels and Western Force should go now.

In France, Bernard Laporte has been elected as the new FFR President (French Federation of Rugby) and wants to give the priority to the French players and the academies. It is really laughable when you think that this guy has been the Toulon coach so many seasons.

To finish with, the referees are currently working on better communication with the TMO’s (Television Match Officials). The TMO’s are not helping the referees enough and the players have to adapt as the new laws are there to make sure that they are protected.


Following the November Tests, that is fair to say that the Northern Hemisphere nations have closed the gap with the Southern Hemisphere. There were no Northern countries in the 2015 World Cup semi-finals but not sure that it will be the same for the 2019 big show.

During the next Six Nations Championship in 2017, England will be chasing the New Zealand record of 18 consecutive wins at Test level. Eddie Jones’ team will have the opportunity to equal that mark if they win their last game of the campaign against Ireland.

In Europe, there is also the Champions Cup which already started and four Rounds after, things are interesting. The English clubs are there with Saracens and London Wasps while the Pro12 provinces are impressive with a few Top 14 clubs such as Clermont for example.

The domestic leagues are very close in the standings with Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers trying to be part of the play-offs with Exeter Chiefs in the Aviva Premiership. Pro12 and Top 14 are showing big gaps between the Top 6 and the bottom 6.

On June 2017, the British & Irish Lions will face New Zealand in New Zealand. Warren Gatland is planning everything for this Tour. He named a strong backroom staff and no doubt that he will not be accused of nepotism this time contrary to the last Tour in 2013.

Finally, Rugby is a game which is moving and World Rugby is working closely on players’ safety. Sevens is developping as well with Super Rugby looking for new expansions. France have elected a new President to run the Federation and new laws are protecting players.

Exciting times coming ! Bring on 2017 !


The British & Irish Lions (2017) : Review – The 2016 November Internationals


The British & Irish Lions Tour in New Zealand in 2017 is expecting to be one of the greatest rugby moments ever and it will probably go down in History. Staged next June, players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, too, will play together against New Zealand.

In the History of Rugby and sport in general, the British & Irish Lions are a special team as there are four different nations which are represented in a single squad of players. It has to be linked with History as the four nations were part of United Kingdom at some point.

A massive challenge is awaiting the legendary British & Irish Lions like every four years. The tradition wants them to face one of the big nation from the Southern Hemisphere. In the last few years, they faced South Africa (2009) and Australia (2013) in great encounters.

Staged two years after the World Cup, the British & Irish Lions Tour is an opportunity for the players to be part of a unique adventure. In fact, some rugby players sometimes consider that being a Lion is a higher honour than winning a Six Nations or a World Cup.

It has been a long way to go since that rugby fans started to talk about this Tour. Choosing a manager to coach these British & Irish Lions was not an easy task. The backroom staff has just been announced a few days ago and now, it is about picking the strongest squad.

Let’s review how the British & Irish Lions coach was chosen and who are the managers included in the coaching staff. Moreover, the competition is starting to become very strong as the coaches stated that they are now considering a 50-player poll to pick from.

1. The British & Irish Lions Head Coach : Warren Gatland

Unveiled a few months ago, the Wales manager Warren Gatland was named the British & Irish Lions coach to lead them in 2017. Warren Gatland is coaching Wales since the 2008 Six Nations Championship and he has enjoyed some success with them in the last years.

Looking at the results, Wales won 2 Grand Slams under his era (2008 and 2012) and that is including the Championship wins and the Triple Crown wins. He also managed to win the Championship in 2013 though Wales did not win the Grand Slam and the Triple Crown.

Besides, Warren Gatland already had an experience from previous British & Irish Lions Tours. He went as an assistant coach in South Africa, in 2009, with Sir Ian McGeechan, the Head Coach. In 2013, the Wales manager was the coaching leader and he won the series.

From the start, there was a condition from the board saying that a coach, contracted with a union and wanting to apply for the job, would have to step down at least a year before the Tour starts. Warren Gatland agreed with the condition and he last coached Wales in 2016.

His last game in charge with Wales before he was unveiled was the Wales’ 3rd game against New Zealand during the June Internationals, in Dunedin. The interim coach for Wales was named and Rob Howley was in charge of the team during the Autumn Tour.

Nevertheless, it was not going to be so easy and the WRU (Wales Rugby Union) had to name a second interim coach for their Summer Tour, staged in 2017 in the same time than the British & Irish Lions Tour. There is an explanation to that unexpected announcement.

2. The Backroom Staff : Scotland not represented

Last week, the British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland unveiled his backroom staff which will work with him on the Tour. That backroom staff is including an attacking coach, a defence coach and a forwards coach to work on lineouts, scrums and set-pieces.

Currently interim coach for Wales, Rob Howley was named attacking coach. He already filled that position back in 2013. That’s why the Welsh board had to find another interim coach to lead the team next Summer who will play two games against Samoa and Tonga.

Robin McBryde, the Wales forwards coach, will manage the squad during that period. About the defence coaching job, Warren Gatland decided to work with Andy Farrell. Former England defence coach was really heavily criticised following that 2015 World Cup.

However, Andy Farrell quickly found a new job and is now working with Joe Schmidt for Ireland. He has improved Irish defence with a better discipline which was key for Ireland who beat in 2016 the Southern Hemisphere trio (South Africa, Australia, New Zealand).

About the forwards coach, that is not a surprise to hear the name of Steve Borthwick. The legendary English and Saracens lock was still playing a few seasons ago. After his retirement, he first worked with the Bristol team who won the Premiership promotion.

Just before the start of the 2016-2017 Aviva Premiership season, Steve Borthwick joined the England coaching set-up and was key to the England’s unbeaten run in 2016. The English team won against South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia during the Autumn.

3. Possible additions : Warren Gatland considering his options

When the British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland announced his backroom staff, he was not ruling out the fact that he could make further additions to his coaching team. There are many world class coaches who could be called by the Wales coach before June.

First of all, the first names who could be involved are Stuart Lancaster and Ben Ryan. Stuart Lancaster was the scapegoat of the media when England failed to reach the 2015 World Cup Quarter-Finals. Nowadays, he has found a new job at Leinster with Leo Cullen.

Ben Ryan is also a decent option as he built his own legend thanks to the Sevens circuit. He coached the Fiji Sevens squad during many seasons and won the Gold Medal during the Rio Olympics in 2016. Ben Ryan is currently working on building a Super Rugby franchise, too.

That Super Rugby franchise would allow the Pacific Nations to retain their best players and perform at Test level. Obviously, there are other names who seem to be obvious such as the current Scotland coach Vern Cotter who had a very good time during November Tests.

Contracted until the end of the 2017 Six Nations Championship, he will become the next Montpellier coach in France. Nevertheless, it could be possible for him to be involved at some stage. The England assistant coach Paul Gustard is also another contender, really.

Paul Gustard became famous in the rugby world during his time at Saracens where he created the “Wolfpack”. That is a defensive set-up where all the players are committed together to defend strongly and making aggressive tackles to get the turnovers back.

4. The British & Irish Lions squad : Balance or not ?!

It is the main debate every four years when the team is unveiled by the backroom staff. The History shows that, usually, a nation is dominating the squad based on their results that they got same year. The Six Nations Championship will be defining for the nations.

There are two different opinions which are facing each other on that debate. Some people think that the coaching staff shoud pick the best of the best and no matter where they come from. Other people think that we should maintain a balance not to lose the spirit.

During the 2016 rugby year, the England coach Eddie Jones often said that there will be “at least” between 10 and 15 players in the British & Irish Lions squad. That is true that England have performed very well and they are just currently on a great winning streak.

However, it is not looking so easy because Ireland and Scotland delivered as well. Ireland beat South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in 2016. Scotland was so close of a win against the Wallabies and Wales were not too bad either during these November Tests.

The Welsh team was hammered for their first game against Australia but this nation is world-class and they bounced back. Wales had defining wins against Argentina and South Africa and the Welsh players will probably give a lot of thoughts to the backroom staff.

With the World Rugby rankings showing close standings, the Six Nations Championship results will have a massive influence on which player will go and which player will not. Some bolters could also be named as Warren Gatland talked about Danny Cipriani recently.

5. My British & Irish Lions Team : Form and Reputation

In 2013, Warren Gatland named a 37-man squad for his Tour against the Wallabies. Considering that this figure will be retained, you always have got more forwards than backs in your squad as some backline players are versatile and can play several positions.

The forwards players are defining in the modern game and that is why the coaches do not want to take risks. Scrums and lineouts are very important and if the forwards do not deliver at the set-piece, the backs will not get the platform to attack and score the tries.

As it stands after the November Internationals, I am picking 21 forwards and 16 backs with the following division : 6 props, 4 hookers, 5 second-rows, 6 back-rowers, 3 scrum-halves, 3 fly-halves, 4 centres, 4 wingers and 2 fullbacks. Let’s pick on form and reputation, too.

Props : Dan Cole (England – Leicester Tigers), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland – Leinster), Gethin Jenkins (Wales – Cardiff Blues), Jack McGrath (Ireland – Leinster), Willem Petrus Nel (Scotland – Edinburgh), Mako Vunipola (England – Saracens).

Hookers : Rory Best (Ireland – Ulster), Jamie George (England – Saracens), Dylan Hartley* (England – Northampton Saints), Ken Owens (Wales – Scarlets).

Second-rows : Jonny Gray (Scotland – Glasgow Warriors), Maro Itoje (England – Saracens), Alun-Wyn Jones (Wales – Ospreys), George Kruis (England – Saracens), Devin Toner (Ireland – Leinster).

Back-rowers : Taulupe Faletau (Wales – Bath), Sean O’Brien (Ireland – Leinster), Chris Robshaw (England – Harlequins), CJ Stander (Ireland – Munster), Billy Vunipola (England – Saracens), Sam Warburton (Wales – Cardiff Blues).

Scrum-halves : Conor Murray (Ireland – Munster), Rhys Webb* (Wales – Ospreys), Ben Youngs (England – Leicester Tigers).

Fly-halves : Dan Biggar (Wales – Ospreys), George Ford (England – Bath), Jonathan Sexton* (Ireland – Leinster).

Centres : Jonathan Davies (Wales – Scarlets), Owen Farrell (England – Saracens), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland – Leinster), Jonathan Joseph (England – Bath).

Wingers : George North* (Wales – Northampton Saints), Tommy Seymour (Scotland – Glasgow Warriors), Anthony Watson* (England – Bath), Simon Zebo (Ireland – Munster).

Fullbacks : Stuart Hogg (Scotland – Glasgow Warriors), Liam Williams (Wales – Scarlets).

Notes :

Dylan Harley* : The England skipper, Dylan Hartley, was sent off during a Champions Cup game for a swinging arm. He will face disciplinary hearing and he could miss many weeks. Dylan Hartley could lose England captaincy and a place on the British & Irish Lions Tour.

Rhys Webb* : The Wales scrum-half has been injured during the November Internationals. He should be back for the Six Nations Championship and a couple of strong performances at Test level should be enough for him to be included in the squad by Warren Gatland.

Jonathan Sexton* : The Ireland playmaker Jonathan Sexton had a bad run with injuries in the last years. He picked up a hamstring injury recently and his comeback is staged for Christmas. However, Warren Gatland warned him that he will have to stay injury free.

George North* : The Wales winger was involved in a controversy in Premiership. He was allowed to come back on the pitch but he had been knocked out before. George North will take advice from a specialist and has to make sure he does not take more bad knocks.

Anthony Watson* : The England winger who can play fullback as well was injured to a hand during a training session held by Eddie Jones before the November Internationals. He will have to deliver with Bath Rugby first before claiming his jersey in the England squad.

Players on the fringe :

There are, obviously, some players on the fringe who are not necessarily considered at that stage of the season. Nevertheless, they have to keep performing and they could well be included. Bolters were called in the British & Irish Lions squads on the previous Tours.

Potential England bolters : Josh Beaumont (Sale Sharks), Danny Cipriani (London Wasps), Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers), Tom Youngs (Leicester), Teimana Harrison (Northampton Saints), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Ben Te’o (Worcester).

Potential Ireland bolters : Sean Cronin (Leinster), Ian Henderson (Ulster), Dave Kearney (Leinster), Ian Madigan (Bordeaux Bègles), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Tommy O’Donnell (Munster Rugby), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Nathan White (Connacht).

Potential Scotland bolters : Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Richie Gray (Stade Toulousain), John Hardie (Edinburgh), Huw Jones (Stormers), Greg Laidlaw (Gloucester), Sean Maitland (Saracens), Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors).

Potential Wales bolters : Hallam Amos (Newport Gwent Dragons), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Rob Evans (Scarlets), Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs), Keelan Giles (Neath Swansea Ospreys), Ross Moriarty (Gloucester Rugby), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Tom James (Cardiff Blues).

That fringe players list is giving a good idea of that talented and big players’ poll which is available to the coaches. Warren Gatland stated that he will have to think twice rather than once before making some selection calls with his backroom staff for that big Tour.


The Wales coach Warren Gatland has been named the British & Irish Lions coach for the Tour in New Zealand on June, 2017. The fixtures list will be very difficult with games staged against the World Champions, the Maoris All Blacks, the Super Rugby franchises.

Moreover, the backroom staff is world-class with Warren Gatland calling Rob Howley, Andy Farrell and Steve Borthwick. They will have to work together to build a good gameplan where the set-piece will be key to get the platform to score many tries, there.

Also, Warren Gatland has confirmed to the media that he could add further coaches to his coaching staff. Obviously, there are other world-class coaches who have not been considered the first time such as Ben Ryan, Stuart Lancaster and Paul Gustard, as well.

The British & Irish Lions squad will include the best players from the four unions : England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. As it stands, the England players seem to have an edge to dominate the squad but the Six Nations Championship will be really defining.

Some players are currently on the fringe but it is not over for them as the British & Irish Lions History shows that bolters can be picked for the Tours. Among the examples in the past, there were Jason Robinson (2001), Alun-Wyn Jones (2005) and Keith Earls (2009).

Before the beginning of the 2016 November Internationals, New Zealand were the high favourites to win series. Following Autumn, performances from the Northern Hemisphere suggest that, despite the home advantage for the All Blacks, it should be a 50-50 call.

Some big games ! May the best team win !


The November Internationals (2016) : Review – North closing the gap with South


The 2016 November Internationals are over following five weeks of competitive rugby. The Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere nations have delivered some huge performances. That is the time to make a first review of the November Tests in 2016.

Before the beginning of that Tour at the end of October, it was unsure whether the Northern Hemisphere nations would be able to compte with the South or not. Five weeks later, the Northern Hemisphere has made a statement and they are closing the gap, now.

In 2014, the last November Tour (there was no Tour in 2015 with the World Cup warm-up games) showed that the Northern Hemisphere was not far behind the South. Ireland had recorded wins against South Africa and Australia while Wales beat the Springboks as well.

However, the overall results were suggesting that the Southern Hemisphere was still in front. New Zealand remained unbeaten in 2014, South Africa won against England at Twickenham and Australia had a decent game against Wales at the Millenium Stadium.

That is a different story in 2016 as the trend witnessed during the June Internationals was confirmed during the Autumn. Back in June, during the Summer Tour, there were some unexpected results with no lack of respect towards the Northern Hemisphere nations.

Australia did not manage to win a single game at home with England winning the Series (0-3) following great displays in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Moreover, Ireland won for the first time ever in South Africa. The same results happened during the Autumn.

1. New Zealand : Chicago Warning

The All Blacks team enjoyed a pretty good November Tour with 3 good wins out of 4 Test matches. However, New Zealand learnt how tough the game is when it comes to playing the Northern Hemisphere nations. It did not start very well for the World Champions.

For the first game, in Chicago, New Zealand did not keep their winning streak of 18 consecutive wins, defeated by Ireland. The manager Steve Hansen probably did not realise the threat of their opponents that day and clearly made some controversial selections.

He made a lot of turnover for this game and decided to play flanker Jerome Kaino in the second-row with Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano unavailable. That was a lesson for the All Blacks who bounced back in style against Italy in Rome, a week later.

Besides, the last two games were probably the most contested. First of all, there was the re-match in Dublin. New Zealand convincingly won thanks to a ruthless defence though South Africa referee Jaco Peyper was criticised by both teams at the end of this game.

Finally, New Zealand delivered the same performance against France. They managed to get points each time that they had an opportunity. Once again, the defence was very good and it was a good experience for the All Blacks before the British & Irish Lions Tour, next June.

2. Australia : Some major improvements

The Wallabies are the rugby nation who improved the most in the last few months. Michael Cheika went through tough times with 3 losses in June and a struggling team during the Rugby Championship though they won 3 games out of the 6 in the tournament.

Coming in Europe for that November Tour, Australia was ready for an ambitious schedule and 5 games against the Six Nations teams : Wales, Scotland, France, Ireland and England. The game against Wales will remain one of the best performances from Australia in 2016.

In fact, the Wallabies enjoy playing an expansive game with unpredictability in attack. Contrary to that first game, it was the defence who earned the Wallabies the win in Murrayfield. Another statement was made a week later after another win against France.

Making some turnover, Michael Cheika managed to win his third game with Western Force players stepping up (Dane Haylett-Petty, Luke Morahan, Kyle Godwin). However, the last two games were more complicated with a first defeat against Ireland in Aviva Stadium.

Some refereeing controversies happened in that game and Michael Cheika was left furious and launched critics of the England team before facing the Rose at Twickenham for the last game. The Wallabies definitely made improvements on that November Tour in 2016.

3. South Africa : Blaming quotas and selection policy is wrong

That is really painful to witness the state of the South Africa national team nowadays. The Springboks had a terrible Rugby Championship with only two wins against Argentina and Australia, both at home. Nevertheless, the Autumn Tour was a nightmare for South Africa.

In fact, there were three games staged against England, Italy and Wales with no wins at the end. There is a common point in these three games : each time, the Springboks started pretty well but each time, they failed to maintain their standards and their consistency.

Head Coach Allister Coetzee is under pressure and could be sacked soon after a heavy defeat against England, a shocking loss against Italy and a dreadful performance against Wales. South Africa is a rugby nation who has got to face many challenges in the future.

There is a selection policy with two key axis : Players remaining in the country are given the priority rather than the overseas players and there is also a selection driven by the quotas. These quotas are necessary to ensure equality between White and Black is there.

Many fans said that the new selection policy was responsible for the new results. Honestly, the New Zealand model shows that having the best players in the country helps and also, all the Black players in the South Africa squad have earned the right to be there.

4. Argentina : Trying to find the World Cup form

The Pumas were one of the big surprises of the last World Cup in 2015 with a semi-final following a stunning win against Ireland. Since their 4th place in the tournament, they have not quite found their form which allowed them to be so successful in the 2015 year.

Daniel Hourcade, the Argentina coach, is picking his squad thanks to the Jaguares franchise which was included in Super Rugby in 2016. That is fair to say that the Pumas are still playing an expansive rugby but they just have to right the few wrongs in these games.

Following a disappointing June Tour, Argentina did pretty well in the Rugby Championship, winning at home against South Africa and pushing New Zealand in Hamilton. The Autumn Tour was a big opportunity for Argentina to climb in the rankings.

Argentina won in style against Japan and fell short against Wales in a very high-intensity game. It is their performance against England which raised some questions. In that game, the Pumas played the first 10 minutes of second-half with 15 players against 13 players.

Nevertheless, Daniel Hourcade was left disappointed with Argentina only able to score a converted try against England. It was the turning point of the game and Argentina should have scored more points. It is all about making the next step and taking the opportunities.

5. England : The second best nation

The England team is fairly considered as the second best team according to the World Rugby rankings. Their November Tour was pretty good and they recorded impressive wins against South Africa and Argentina in particular even if all was not perfect in these games.

Manager Eddie Jones has created a strong gameplan where ball carrying is the key in the set-up. England is not playing so much rugby but they are very good in counter-attack as the competition for places between Marland Yarde and Semesa Rokoduguni just shows it.

Besides, the defence is very good and that was confirmed during the Argentina game. Centre Elliot Daly, playing on the wing, was red-carded after only 5 minutes. England played with 14 players all the game, including playing with 13 players during 10 minutes.

Like all the Northern Hemisphere sides, England are a very physical team. Even if their skills are not that outstanding, all the players on the pitch are putting a strong pressure at the breakdown. They are not missing much and they score points when they are on offer.

There is a very strong competition in this squad and in all the positions. Wings are one of them with the back-row as well. Northampton Saints Tom Wood made a successful comeback with Teimana Harrison winning more caps and Chris Robshaw, still at his best.

6. Ireland : Threatening all the teams

On the November Tour, Ireland became the first team since England in 2003 to win against the three major nations of the Southern Hemisphere : New Zealand and Australia (November Tour in 2016) with South Africa as well (The June internationals – First game).

Ireland made History in the first game of their Autumn Tour with a win in Chicago against New Zealand though they could not back that performance a week later in Dublin. However, there is probably a new and serious rivalry for the All Blacks in the next seasons.

The Ireland team has delivered a good performance against Canada and Australia as well. Some criticism was raised after the Wallabies win as Ireland were only penalised 3 times against 13 penalties for Australia. Conceding 3 penalties at Test level is incredibly low.

Credit has to be given to the academy system in Ireland as having superstars playing in your domestic leagues (like in France) will definitely not help your national team. Connacht showed the way with a Pro12 Title won thanks to their very powerful academy.

In the future, Ireland will have to perform like this consistently if they want to reach one day, the World Cup semi-finals. That is fair to say that their rugby is not the most beautiful to watch but it works and that is very effective when it is just working perfectly.

7. Wales : Rob Howley in the Unknown

The Wales case is definitely intriguing because they enjoyed their best November Tour for a decade but they are in a bit of unknown. Wales recovered from a terrible start against Australia to get wins against Argentina, Japan and South Africa in the very last encounter.

Against Australia, the Welsh team needed just more time to prepare that game and that is a long time now that Wales last beat the Wallabies. Fortunately, there was a big reaction against Argentina. There was some character at scrum time with key players coming back.

However, it seems that Rob Howley nearly made the same mistake that Steve Hansen did against Ireland in Chicago. Probably thinking that the game was won before it was played, the interim coach started a second XV against Japan and it almost turned into a nightmare.

Wales clinched the win thanks to a late drop-goal but having conceded 30 points. Another reaction was needed before hosting the Springboks. Finally, Wales were clinical in that game and got a third win and some relief before start of the Six Nations Championship.

Obviously, Wales is a quality side but the defeat against Australia was worrying and the Japan game raised some questions about the coaching staff. Wales can reach new heights if they have the same approach for all their games, no matter their opponents on the day.

8. Scotland : The re-building is over

The feeling towards the Scotland team has always been the same in the last few seasons based on their Six Nations results : this nation has got quality players, this nation has got talent, this nation can do it but each time, they are just not given the “rub of the green”.

It has changed during the November Tour with Scotland winning two games and losing one. The manager Vern Cotter made a good job in finding his best starting XV and handing debuts to potential future legends : centre Huw Jones and flanker Magnus Bradbury.

Scotland made the job against Argentina in Murrayfield to be more comfortable in the World Rugby rankings before the 2019 World Cup seed, staged in May, 2017. Despite a slow start against Georgia in the third game, they recovered to win convincingly in Kilmarnock.

Back to the first game against Australia, Scotland nearly created his own History once again. They led all the game thanks to two opening tries. They defended pretty well but unfortunately conceded a try from Tevita Kuridrani which was a blow for the home team.

Scotland kept attacking until the end of the game but the Australia team defended well. There were small margins in that game with credit given to both teams and it showed that Scotland is there with the other magnificient rugby nations who can achieve wonders.

9. France & Italy : Issues far from solved

France and Italy had some similar trajectories during this Autumn Tour in 2016 with some improvements made. Nevertheless, a lack of consistency meant that these two rugby nations did not achieve what could have been a wonderful campaign for the teams, really.

First of all, Italy opened their November campaign with a heavy loss against New Zealand. Intent was not there and new coach Conor O’Shea brought some condidence back against South Africa with the Italians matching physically their opponents to hang on for the win.

Unfortunately, the Italy team thought that the most difficult was behind them. Conor O’Shea rested some players against Tonga and the home team probably did not respect the Pacific Islanders. That was a deserved win for Tonga and Italy have to learn from that.

Then, France was in the same situation before the start of their Tour. All the fans were enjoying the big win against Samoa without realising the issues that the Pacific Islanders are facing. There were two losses against Australia and New Zealand but that was close.

Mentality change is the key for France as coach Guy Noves said that they should have won against Australia. French players said that the All Blacks did not show them respect. Challenging the Haka, French players should have a look at themselves before speaking.

10. The Pacific Islanders : The 4th Round in the memories

There are some big issues with the Pacific Islanders (Fiji, Samoa and Tonga) as the boards are not powerful enough to retain the best players. The issue has been highlighted by World Rugby, currently reviewing the 3-year residency rule to surely expand it to 5 years.

Many examples were thrown during the Autumn Tour with the London Wasps number 8 Nathan Hughes choosing England rather than Fiji. That 3-year residency rule is fair because it is the same for all the nations but it is damaging the Pacific Islanders so much.

The four wingers in the game between France and Australia were all from Fiji : Virimi Vakatawa, Noa Nakaitaci, Henry Speight and Sefa Naivalu. There are some solutions to make the Pacific Islanders stronger and Benjamin Ryan is now leading that revolution.

Former Fiji Sevens coach who won the Golden Medal during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games wants to build a Super Rugby franchise for the Pacific Islanders for 2019. If it happens, that will definitely help the Islands to develop their structures, academies and players’ poll.

Definitely, the 4th Round of the 2016 November Internationals was outstanding for the Pacific Islanders with Samoa, Fiji and Tonga all winning. Samoa won a close game against Canada, Fiji shone against Japan and Tonga recorded a mighty win against Italy, as well.


These November Internationals for the year 2016 definitely showed that the Northern Hemisphere has closed the gap with the Southern Hemisphere. There were some outstanding performances from all the nations and that is very good for the rugby to grow.

New Zealand remain the best team in the rugby world with England following closely after a good run of victories. There is a big battle for the 3rd position between Australia and Ireland as there are always some good battles between these two great rugby nations.

Also, Wales and Scotland are not too far either because they played very well on the Tour. Wales have to target the consistency and get the same approach for all their games. Scotland are making huge improvements and credit has to be given to coach Vern Cotter.

Currently, the Springboks are facing some big issues but blaming the quotas and the selection policy will change nothing. Allister Coetzee signed a 4-year contract but he could be sacked by the SARU (South Africa Rugby Union) when they give their final decision.

With France and Italy, these two teams have played well but mentality is not quite there. Italy have to respect all their opponents while the French players should do the same. Argentina have to re-discover their form and the Pacific Islands have to solve their issues.

In 2017, New Zealand will face the British & Irish Lions with a memorable tour to come. Based on the trend given by the last November Internationals, it is very difficult to call a winner for these Series. New Zealand will be at home but Lions will have Warren Gatland.

Great rugby Autumn ! Outstanding games !