2021 Autumn Nations: England, South Africa Clash, Ireland Riding High
2021 Autumn Nations: England, South Africa Clash, Ireland Riding High
Results from the final weekend of play will signal where teams are as they head into the final year of preparation before the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France
In what’s sure to be many nations’ final tune-ups of the 2021 season before next year’s slate of events, the final weekend of Test matches of this season’s Autumn Nations Series will be contested this weekend with a six-match schedule over two days.
With 12 national teams from all across the globe closing out their seasons with end-of-year internationals on European soil, results from the final weekend of play will signal that there’s either a lot to like headed into the final year of preparation before the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France—or whether there’s a lot to work on.
Check out what to watch for from each participating nation this weekend prior to all matches being streamed live on FloSports. *All dates listed are in Eastern Time and are subject to change.
England Vs. South Africa
When: 10:15 a.m. Nov. 20
Where: Twickenham Stadium in London
England leapfrogged Australia to No. 3 in the world rankings in a 32-15 win over the Wallabies at Twickenham over the weekend, improving coach Eddie Jones’ record as head man against his native country to 8-0. However, England and South Africa’s recent history has been much more contentious and personal, with the two countries meeting for the first time since the Springboks upended England 32-12 in the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final. England captain Owen Farrell scored all of his country’s points in Yokohama two years ago and was responsible for 17 points (five penalties, one conversion) against the Australians as Freddie Steward and Jamie Blamire scored tries. However, Farrell has pulled out of the fixture against South Africa due to injury, leaving Jones to have to appoint a new leader for the match against the defending world champions.
The new world No. 1 thanks to New Zealand’s miscues—more on those down below—the Springboks pay a visit to England for the first time in three years this weekend. The mere mention of the name South African winger Makazole Mapimpi brings back bad memories for English fans as he scored one of the Springboks’ two tries in their World Cup final meeting, and the 31-year-old is still going strong after posting a double of tries in his country’s 30-15 win against Scotland over the weekend. That was a match that South Africa controlled from the outset, shutting down any sniffs of a Scottish shock with three penalties in the final 12 minutes following a Scotland try in the 57th minute. It takes a complete match from elite opposition to beat the Springboks, but some of the English players have known what it’s felt like recently, having won 22-17 over the Springboks as part of the British & Irish Lions in July in Cape Town.
Scotland Vs. Japan
When: 8 a.m. Nov. 20
Where: Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland
Scotland couldn’t make it three wins in three tries in this year’s Autumn Nations Series going up against mighty World No. 1 South Africa this past weekend, losing 30-15 after the Springboks broke away in the second half. But the form from the Scots’ four straight wins entering the defeat is still there as they led at half, and as long as the country is led by captain full-back Stuart Hogg, they’ll be in good shape. Hogg had two tries against South Africa to equal his country’s all-time try scorer mark, though some self-inflicted mistakes from Scotland—like fly-half Finn Russell’s missed penalty and conversion in the match—prevented it from obtaining a famous win over the world champs. Japan, though they are fans of playing spoiler (take one look at its 28-21 win over Scotland in the 2019 World Cup), offers a much simpler Test.
The Brave Blossoms rid themselves of their frustrations from their 60-5 blowout loss to Ireland two weeks ago by beating Portugal this past weekend in its own backyard. Japan now returns to the fold at the Autumn Nations Series with a Test match against one of the most in-form teams across the globe. The world No. 10 had an 18-point day from flyhalf Rikiya Matsuda’s spot kicks as Japan was shaky-yet-clinical in their first-ever meeting against the Portuguese, getting a late try with its opponent in striking distance to shake off a five-Test losing streak. And what was Japan’s last win before Portugal? That would’ve been no other than its famous victory over Scotland on home soil at the last World Cup, a win that qualified it for the nation’s first-ever World Cup quarterfinals. They’ll get the Scots again on British land this time around.
Italy Vs. Uruguay
When: 8 a.m. Nov. 20
Where: Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma, Italy
It’s been a rough go for the Italians in their end-of-year internationals thus far, being humbled by both New Zealand and Argentina in their Autumn Nations Series matchups to this point. Uruguay offers Italy a chance to take on a nation ranked lower than it in the world rankings and an opponent it's never lost to, going 3-0 with a point differential of plus-67 in the matchup’s history. That lopsided precedence is good news for the Italians, who need to find a source of try scoring as they’ve crossed the line just once in the matches against New Zealand and Argentina combined. Scrum-half Stephen Varney and fly-half Paolo Garbisi have been Italy’s main sources of offense this fall, with the former scoring a try against Los Pumas and the latter having knocked in the conversion with it along with six penalties.
It’s been a big year for Los Teros as they qualified for a third consecutive World Cup for the first time in their history last month, beating the United States 50-34 on aggregate in World Cup qualifying to punch their ticket to France in 2023. Uruguay will now attempt to capitalize on that momentum with a trip to Europe to face the Italians, which will be one of its mates in Pool A (along with New Zealand, host France and a to-be-determined African country) in two years at the biggest stage in world rugby. But for now, the visitors will aim to get back at the hosts following a heavily-rotated Uruguay’s defeat to the Italian A (second) team this past weekend as both teams are expected to bring the heavy hitters in a fully-capped international.
Wales Vs. Australia
When: 12:30 p.m. Nov. 20
Where: Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales
Things got hairy in a hurry for Wales in its match against Fiji this past weekend, being in danger of slumping to a defeat at home after being down 23-14 in the second half. But Wales stormed back to score 24 unanswered points in the final 18 minutes to keep that from happening, spurred on originally via hooker Ryan Elias’ second try of the day in the 62nd minute. Now Wales gets a visit from an old foe in Australia, of which Wales hasn’t lost to since 2017 and includes a win in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Five different players scored tries in the win over Fiji including 20-year-old wing Louis Rees-Zammit, who showed off blistering pace on his score in the 73rd minute for his sixth try for his country and further established himself as a dangerous young talent.
The Wallabies are in danger of potentially having their second separate three-match losing streak of 2021. The one earlier in the year came as a trio of defeats to powerful New Zealand, but consecutive losses entering Saturday to England and Scotland mean that Dave Rennie’s side is needing to recapture form after entering the Autumn Nations Series on a five-match winning run. How do the Aussies get back to that? Getting back to putting up consistent attacking numbers is a start. Australia hadn’t scored less than 21 points in any match entering the end-of-year internationals and have now done it in consecutive ones against England and Scotland, with just one try scored between them. With a three-place drop in the world rankings to No. 5 recently, that could be extra motivation to get going.
France Vs. New Zealand
When: 3 p.m. Nov. 20
Where: Stade de France in Saint-Denis, France
After a gritty 29-20 win over Argentina earlier in the month, France cruised to a 26-point win against Georgia over the weekend to go two-for-two this autumn with Damian Penaud and Peato Mauvaka each scoring multiple tries. But the All Blacks are a different beast and are on a 14-match winning run against France dating back to 2009. If Les Bleus want a magical victory reminiscent of their 20-18 upset of New Zealand in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, it needs to ensure its defense holds firm and doesn’t let the All Blacks get going from the opening whistle. New Zealand has crossed the 50-point barrier six times in 2021 (including cracking the century mark twice) making it vital France shutters momentum right away. It can’t have a repeat of their last meeting in 2018, in which the All Blacks rode a second-half onslaught en route to a comfortable 49-14 win.
The All Blacks were the talk of the rugby universe over the weekend. Just not for good reason. A stunning second-half from Ireland led to a thrilling 29-20 victory in Dublin over New Zealand, scoring three tries in a fixture almost three years to the day when the home team picked up their first-ever win in Ireland over the All Blacks. Made even more problematic is that coach Ian Foster will be without midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown and likely without first five-eighth Beauden Barrett due to injuries suffered in the match in Dublin, leaving him to make some critical personnel decisions. New Zealand lost out on its No. 1 world ranking to South Africa, but make no mistake, the All Blacks can turn on the quality like no other once they get going. A cozy victory over the French could easily set the stage for another run of play where New Zealand is buzzsawing through opposition.
Ireland Vs. Argentina
When: 9:15 a.m. Nov. 21
Where: Aviva Stadium in Dublin
Well, well, well, maybe Ireland has finally got New Zealand’s number. From 1905 to 2016, the All Blacks never lost to the Irish as part of a 28-match run of dominance that lasted over a century. Ireland is now 3-2 in its last five meetings with New Zealand, with Saturday’s win coming off the backs of tries from James Lowe, Ronan Kelleher and Caelan Doris to help storm back from a five-point deficit at halftime. The important thing now is to ensure there’s no hangover from the euphoria and it starts with a clash with No. 8 Argentina, which Ireland has beaten in seven of its last eight attempts. A good performance in their final match of the year would set the Irish up well for what they hope is a successful Six Nations campaign in February.
Los Pumas badly needed a pick-me-up following its opening loss in the Autumn Nations Series to France to mark its seventh successive defeat, in danger of creeping up to the brutal 11-loss run it suffered between the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. It received it by capitalizing early and often against Italy. Argentina got out to a 17-0 lead to start the match, while lock Marcos Kremer scored the first of his three tries in the eighth minute for the visitors to snatch a 21-point win at the Stadio Monigo in Treviso. Ireland awaits next and is likely a heavy favorite, but coach Mario Ledesma has experience in ruining Irish hopes before, like when he contributed to Los Pumas’ 30-15 win over Ireland as a player in the 2007 Rugby World Cup—a result which knocked the Irish out of the group stages.
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