Round 3 was highlighted most by the efforts of the Georgians, who pushed Ireland for 80 minutes in Dublin.
Also, England handled business against Wales, France’s second unit tore apart the Italians, and the Scottish had the week off. The matchups for next week’s final round of games have been set.
England will play France for the title, Ireland will take on Scotland for third place, and Wales will look to salvage what it can from a torrid 2020 against Italy in the fifth-place match. As of now, Georgia will not be able to round out 2020 with a win unless Fiji is somehow admitted back into the tournament after the coronavirus outbreak that has decimated the team.
Looking back on Round 3, we review the results, the top performers, the key storylines, and the pertinent questions moving forward:
Wales 13-24 England – The scoreline would suggest this was a close(ish) contest, but in all reality England controlled the match in its entirety. Wales nabbed an early try against the run of play through Johnny Williams, but aside from that it was a game dominated by the class and physicality of the white shirts.
France 36-5 Italy – In case anyone needed reminding, France showed us all once again they’re a much different team under Fabien Galthie. Employing what was largely a reserve squad, the French still bamboozled the Italians with pace, flair, and energy.
Ireland 23-10 Georgia – Perhaps the most impressive performance on the weekend came from a losing side. Although the Georgians fell by two scores to the Irish, they have plenty of reason to hold their heads high after hanging tough with one of the world’s best teams for the full 80 min. Ireland looked good, and could have put more points on the board, but time and time again the resolute Georgian defense held firm under immense pressure.
Scotland 28-0 Fiji – Once again, the Fijians were forced to forfeit due to covid-19 complications.
Brice Dulin | France – Handling duties from the fullback position for France, Dulin was comfortable under the high ball, smart with his kicking, and dangerous with ball in hand. The highlight of the match was his carving run through the Italian kick chase to free Teddy Thomas down the right flank for the back-breaking try of the evening.
Mako Vunipola | England – England dominated Wales at the set piece all day, and at the heart of that was Vunipola. Mako won a pair of penalties at scrum-time, lifted well in his team’s disruptive lineout, and performed his typically strong running, tackling, and rucking across the park.
Giorgi Kvesealadze | Georgia – If only for his miraculous try in the first half which left Irish defenders spinning in circles, the Georgian center would’ve been a standout. But Kvesealadze did more than just that, making strong tackles in the midfield and limiting a strong Irish backline in defense.
England vs France “B” – In a bit of shocking news that came out this week, France will not be able to play the majority of its key players this weekend in the Autumn Nations Cup final against England. An agreement between the French Rugby Federation and the Top 14 clubs states that players are only allowed three international matches during the Autumn and the Federation faces legal threats should it break those rules. As it stands, France will head into the ANC final with just two players owning more than 10 caps to their name.
Lions No. 8 battle – With the British & Irish Lions tour scheduled for next summer, conversations are soon to be heating up over places in the team. Coach Warren Gatland will have plenty of selection headaches to work out between now and then, and perhaps none more so than at No. 8. Taulupe Faletau has been immense, albeit in a lousy Wales side, while options like Billy Vunipola (England) and CJ Stander (Ireland) are also on the table. To make things tougher, players like Tom Curry (England) and young Irishman Caelan Doris also could put their hand up to man the back of the scrum.
Tons of kicking – Fans and players alike across the world have lamented the amount of kicking during this autumn’s international rugby cycle. Even in the Southern Hemisphere, we’re seeing the All Blacks kicking the ball away at a higher rate than they have in recent years. Perhaps the heavily-reliant kicking game will fizzle out some as players get more accustomed to playing together in this next World Cup cycle, but for now fans are just hoping to see more running rugby.
Should England still beware of France? – The answer is a simple “yes”. Despite losing the majority of its team to internal rules set in place, France is still a very dangerous team. The role of defensive coach Shaun Edwards can never be overlooked, nor can the depth of the current French team. Having won each of the last two World U-20 championships, it’s no secret that France has a wealth of talent coming up through the ranks, and we could see much of that talent on display this weekend against England.
Has Georgia done enough this autumn? – Game by game, the Georgians have grown into the competition at the Autumn Nations Cup, and Sunday’s gutsy performance against Ireland proved that Georgia is no longer a cakewalk. Following a tough 40-0 loss to England in Round 1, the Georgians held their own against Wales and pushed Ireland till the end. The question now is: have they done enough to warrant a look by the Six Nations? This was always going to be top-of-mind for Georgia, and it’s a bummer they won’t get to play the Italians to settle who ought to be the sixth team in the Six Nations.
Can Fiji get just one game? – With 29 players contracting the coronavirus in just a short couple of weeks, Fiji was defeated before they could even begin the Autumn Nations Cup. Three weeks into the competition now, Fijian players like hooker Sam Matavesi are getting eager and want just one opportunity to play some rugby. Have they done their part in quarantining long enough to be allowed to play? They certainly hope so – as do we all.