Autumn Nations Series: Quality Still There For England
Autumn Nations Series: Quality Still There For England
England rugby has a proud history and a loyal fanbase. The quality of play still is there, and the team has the potential to be successful once again.
Think of England rugby as a little bit like the international rugby world's Dallas Cowboys.
Featuring a proud history and a loyal fanbase, past successes have given way to a bit of a topsy-turvy recent state of affairs.
The quality is still there, however, and when the English turn on the jets and play to their potential, few nations in the world have an answer for them.
For now, England appears to be pointing in the right direction, following a good summer and a Rugby World Cup schedule for next year's tournament in France that is looking very favorable to take it back to the knockout rounds.
But before the 2019 World Cup runner-up, can prove that it belongs with the elites of the game once again, it must first prepare.
With less than 12 months before the World Cup kicks off, that preparation begins now.
Here's a look at what to expect from England, as FloRugby previews the teams in this year's Autumn Nations Series. All of the matches will be streamed live on FloRugby.
A Mixed Bag
England had an encouraging end to the 2021 campaign, going on a five-match unbeaten run to close the year in a stretch that included strong victories over Australia and South Africa.
What immediately followed once the new year began was a bit of disappointment in the Six Nations for coach Eddie Jones' men.
Performances weren't as disastrous as the 2021 competition, where England finished a dreadful fifth, but third place and far behind the likes of winner France and runner-up Ireland likely was not the performance the English were hoping for to kick off their 2022 season.
Still, winning a road test series against a Tier 1 nation almost always is an encouraging sign, and when England did just that against Australia in the summer - even after losing the initial match of the tour in Perth - it solidified itself as a rugby nation that appears largely better than the lower-ranked Tier 1 nations (such as Wales and Australia) but just outside the upper echelon of the top teams in the world like France, Ireland and South Africa.
November should be a telling month for England, as it'll play four matches at home across four straight weekends of seemingly increasing difficulty against Argentina and Japan, followed by New Zealand and the Springboks to close out the show. Get through mostly unscathed for the approaching Six Nations, and England might be in business to start of 2023.
Two Future Centurions?
The Autumn Nations Series could be a celebratory occasion for two English rugby stars in particular. Fly-half Owen Farrell (97 caps) and back row Courtney Lawes (96) each could celebrate their separate 100th appearances in an England kit during the end-of-year tests.
It would make them just the third and fourth players in their country's history to reach the century mark, joining all-time caps leader and fellow selection Ben Youngs (117) and World Cup-winning prop Jason Leonard (114).
However, here's the bad news for Jones and the rest of England: Lawes and Farrell both are in doubt to suit up for the opening test of the Autumn Nations Series against Argentina, due to each suffering concussions on club duty. That leaves England's captaincy in the air. They have combined to wear the armband on most occasions since 2018.
Prop Ellis Genge, who had a strong series in Australia as a barreling force up front at nearly 270 pounds, could be in line to be captain of his country for the first time if either, or both, of the aforementioned duo can't go against Los Pumas.
Flanker Tom Curry, who captained in two Six Nations games this year, also is an option.
As for the long-term veteran of the squad in Youngs, he returns for selection after missing the Australia tour to fight for his place in the XV at scrum-half, the position in which he started for his country in the 2019 World Cup final loss to South Africa.
A Pool D Preview
England likely got the most favorable pool draw of any of the four former world champions for the upcoming World Cup, picked to play in Pool D, where Argentina, Japan, Samoa and debutant Chile await. Play begins next September in France.
It marks the first time England has been drawn into a World Cup pool without either a fellow Six Nations participant and/or any of the three other world champions (New Zealand, South Africa and Australia) present, which should give Jones' side the green light to advance as the top team out of the pool - and likely set up a winnable quarterfinal against Wales or Australia out of Pool C - as its heavy favorites.
Even more so, the end-of-year tests (all being played at its national stadium, Twickenham) against Argentina and Japan next month, will give England an early look at the teams it knows it'll face in the pool stage, while the latter two tests of its Autumn Nations Series against the All Blacks and the Springboks may be previews of a possible semifinal-or-later clash.
If things go well over the course of the next several weeks, it may pin England as a serious contender for its first World Cup title since 2003.
If things go poorly, however, there may be some cause for alarm and a possible indication that perhaps England's spot in the knockouts isn't so certain after all.
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