The second round of autumn internationals did not disappoint.
Scotland came agonisingly close to a first victory over world champions New Zealand but just fell short, in dramatic style at Murrayfield.
England completed in wet conditions at Twickenham in a game full of controversy and drama.
And having rung the changes, Ireland and Wales struggled against tier-two opposition.
Joe Schmidt’s side in Dublin for their second victory of the winter, while Wales limped over the line
Former England and Lions centre Jeremy Guscott analyses all the action.
Scotland made New Zealand look human
To even be close to New Zealand, you’ve got to be at your very best and on Saturday, Scotland were. They made New Zealand look human on a number of occasions.
But the difference between victory and defeat was that this New Zealand side has so much inner belief. Without any arrogance, they go out expecting to beat anybody and Scotland are rarely in that position. They’re rarely favourites to win a game.
As a player you will believe you have the ability to win, but as a group it’s much harder. Scotland didn’t lose this game because of a lack of effort – if they lacked anything it was level of belief the All Blacks have.
But sometimes you just have to say it wasn’t our day. Against England, Australia will say they didn’t get the rub of the green, but that’s sport. That’s what makes it so exciting.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has shown he has the ability to get the very best out of a side, after guiding Glasgow Warriors to the Pro12 title in 2015. He did that through installing a solid belief in those players. You have to keep believing in your players and if you do, you will start getting results.
The difficulty for Scotland is that we have heard before that they are going in the right direction, only for them not to live up to the expectations. That’s the position Townsend’s side are in now, so what they have to do is go out and beat Australia this weekend.
It’s possible, but the difficult part will be getting back up to the level of intensity they reached against New Zealand.
England played the conditions
England were very worthy of their big victory. Yes, they got the better of the decisions from the match officials, but they played the smarter rugby.
Australia have always liked the ball in hand, but sides have prospered against them by kicking in behind and forcing errors in their own half.
England not only had a good, solid defence on Saturday but they were at home and conditions made the ball slippery. Jones’ side played the conditions well.
George Ford, Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs all kicked well and Danny Care was exceptional when he came on. England simply made the most of the opportunities they had.
There was enough evidence for me to believe the ball did not touch the line for the Elliot Daly try and I did think the Stephen Moore incident was obstruction – Chris Robshaw was clearly infringed and it was correct for it to be deemed blocking.
Joe Launchbury, like he has done for a couple of seasons now, played incredibly well. He’s made it difficult for him to be left out of the side and that’s the sort of performance every England player should be looking to put in every time.
At the beginning of this year England were winning but not playing particularly well. Some might suggest that was the case on Saturday too.
Certainly, they now need to use the next two years before the World Cup to work on a really hot attack. They’ve got the basics, they just need to be more inventive. Do that, and they can match New Zealand.
Wales were mildly shambolic
Oh Wales, here we go again. They were so, so frustrating.
Warren Gatland made 14 changes and his side played so poorly because in the past they’ve been able to play as individuals and get wins on the back of stellar performances from their star players.
Yet it was so promising for 40 minutes; they were on the right path and doing the right things. Rhys Priestland was playing well at 10, Rhys Webb made a sharp early break and their passing was good. Everybody was making a contribution – and then it stalled.
Wales were mildly shambolic in that second half. There is enough talent there to have won that game comfortably and Georgia aren’t the smartest team in the sense they don’t do anything unexpected.
They are big and powerful up front with one or two backs who can do some damage, but there is not a lot of cohesiveness between backs and forwards.
So it wasn’t a difficult challenge for Wales. The challenge was to play as a team and do the basics well, but they couldn’t sustain that for long enough periods. Yes they won, but they were expected to win the game. That is not a positive.
And there were shenanigans at the end. All I could see were two props stripped and ready to come on, and somehow they then became injured. No-one is going to admit they were fit to come on and no-one is going to admit to stretching reality. We have to take their word for it, so that’s where we ought to leave it.
As far as Georgia are concerned, I said they had to stay within seven to 10 points or win the game to make a case for their inclusion in the Six Nations, and they did that. They did nothing to show they were better than Italy, but they did not dissuade me from saying they should be given a go.
If they were in the competition now, they would be losing by the same margins as Italy.
Ireland asking for miracles
Ireland started off like a train in the first half against Fiji but then errors came in unhelpful conditions. You are asking for miracles when you want a team to be cohesive after making so many changes.
Over the years neither Wales nor Ireland have had the strength in depth, but if you look at the players on the field this weekend, the depth is there. Unfortunately these players just don’t get enough run outs, even with eight substitutes.
It wasn’t a mistake to change the side so much, even if one of the best players for Ireland was Jack McGrath, who is a stalwart of the side. A good positive was the way Joey Carbery played – he’s young, exciting, spots a gap and has got the pace to go through it or the skill to put someone else in.
Darren Sweetnam showed good power and decent speed on the right wing and Stuart McCloskey at 12 did his job. It’s just a shame Ireland couldn’t kick on – and it became tight in the second half because of the tries Fiji scored.
Overall I’d say Ireland are in a better position than Wales because of the individual performances on Saturday.
Autumn internationals – remaining fixturesEnglandWalesScotlandIreland25 Novv Samoav New Zealandv Australiav Argentina2 Decv South AfricaGuscott’s team of the week