Single-point losses across November Internationals show close contest

November Internationals had some great matches including France winning by a single point

Several of the November Internationals played over this weekend were won by just a single-point margin. Wins by France in the dying minutes showed that close contests might be the trend this Autumn – unless you are in New Zealand.

The All Blacks [as per usual] flagged the normal standards of offence, putting 55 points past Wales in one of only two games with scores over 35 points. The other was to Italy, who provided a solid win over Samoa in Rome.

As well, Scotland was able to return to winning ways over Fiji, yet Ireland continued the closely fought November Internationals trend, as they snuck past a lacklustre South Africa.

Meanwhile down in New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup, the pressure of semi-finals rugby saw both the England v Canada and New Zealand v France games be fought out to low-scoring margins, proceeding the three closely matched men’s results in the Northern Hemisphere.

While the scoreline is never of primary concern for observers, supporters can be pleased with the close margins. Often; as described by losing head coach Eddie Jones, a closely fought defeat to Los Pumas was “good for his team’s development”. Better to lose by a narrow margin, than be overwhelmed by superior opposition.

In defeat, some pride may still be taken by one, two, or three-point margins [in one way or another].

Here is a brief breakdown of the November Internationals results, with match ratings and a look toward next weekend’s fixtures, including the highly anticipated 2021 Rugby World Cup final to be played in Auckland.

Single-point losses across November Internationals show a close contest

The three clashes applicable to small, single-point scorelines were as intriguing as the ones with higher winning margins. Ireland hosted the current world champions, while over the channel France sat in wait for Australia to present their challenge. And a day later, England would meet Argentina at the famed Twickenham Stadium.

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England 29 Argentina 30 – rating 8/10

With the popular Emiliano Boffelli presiding over Argentina’s progress with his deft kicking boot (just as he did against New Zealand in August) he drove his side’s accumulation of points. They are now more confident in being in control of their own destiny, with England not helping itself with some rudderless and sloppy play. The hosts had poor combinations, errors were made at key moments and it played into the hands of Los Pumas.

By this evidence, when Los Pumas play with the heads over their hearts, they can beat anybody – victories over South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia are now complimented with an England scalp.

Next weekend they meet Wales and will have high expectations to secure another Tier One nation victory. England on the other hand should be glad they meet Japan next, and not the All Blacks [that is in two weeks’ time!]

France 30 Australia 29 – rating 7/10

From the outset, both sides were looking for the space they thought was available deep in the other’s half. Spiralling long kicks pushed the forwards end-to-end, and Australia may have believed they had the upper hand. A sensational try showing touches of brilliance. That was until a flood of points near halftime brought the hosts back into the contest.

It made for an enthralling second half, with scores being shared, and the visitors getting ahead before France returned the favour. So a frenetic final 20 minutes had fans breathless. Down by a small margin, it seemed to be Dave Rennie’s day – that was until the magic occurred down the right-hand touch. Damian Penaud received a glorious wide pass, and with minutes to spare, Les Bleues showed how dangerous they can be – even if they seem to wait ‘far too long’ for most of the supporters’ liking.

France goes on to face the Springboks at Stade Vélodrome, Marseille. Some will expect an instant response from the World Champions, and if France does not impose itself, any benefits from beating the Wallabies will be lost. For Australia, a match against Italy could – like England – be heaven-sent. A respite, before Ireland a week later.

Ireland 19 South Africa 16 – rating 7/10

Managing Editor Ryan Jordan gave a scathing review of the Springboks’ effort. If not only their kicking game but tactically the world champions were timid, to say the least. And Irish fans had higher hopes, so they too can be underwhelmed. Yet the heart was still on show. They do not play on automatic, and many of the forwards were again the best on the park.

A low rating is for the poor conversion rate for each side. At this level, any opportunity has to be taken – just ask New Zealand. The men in black have found their ‘desire to score’ again. The Springboks especially need more than just a maul to get themselves into the red zone.

Next week, the tourists are in France, and need a better approach to kicking than to ‘pass the responsibilities’. Meanwhile, Ireland meets Fiji for an early Saturday afternoon game. If they can pile on a large score, confidence will be brimming when they host Australia the next weekend.

Wales 23 New Zealand 55 – rating 8/10  (Ardie Savea 9/10)

The player in the November International fixtures was Ardie Savea. Highly praised across the game, no other individual has the power to cross the gainline. Adding the offload contributed to the scoreline, and he crossed for his own meat pie. Where others simply ‘take the tackle’ Savea uses all his energy to get ‘through the tackle’. A great example for young players to emulate.

Not to forget Wales, who were buoyed by fans who defined the All Blacks as wounded. A poor analogy, as the three-time World Champions absorbed the combined efforts of the Welsh side, looked for an opening around the ruck, and lead at every stage. Aaron Smith ran for one of his more impressive tries, and Jordie Barrett was across the park, relishing the freedom of the number 12 jersey.

Wales go from fire to cauldron, hosting Argentina. Wayne Pivac is under intense heat, so another loss might see the sword shifted toward his neckline. While New Zealand travels north to face Scotland. Expect a high rotation of players, as England is the focus and Scotland could hold the All Blacks close – if they show some spark in attack.

Scotland 28 Fiji 12 – rating 7/10

The Scottish players needed some confidence, although if they do not drive harder around the paddock, the next opposition could push them around more easily than the big South Seas Islanders might have. And Fiji themselves must look at their strategy, as running into defence will only gain bruises, not meters.

Italy 49 Samoa 17 – rating 8/10

Italian supporters needed a good start, as their visitors’ list is tough to follow. Samoa haven’t the organized line to see their natural talent do more with what possession they had. So each side was doing its best – nothing spectacular.

For Italy, after a good win over Wales this year, they’ll need all the confidence they can muster against Australia, and then South Africa.

Lastly, Georgia also has a series of matches for the November International window. Defeating Uruguay 34-18 was a good start; but not convincing, though the Lelos need the competition to maintain their audible challenge for a place in any [probable] Six Nations expansion. They next play Samoa, before the key game versus Wales on November 19.

World Cup semi-finals heap pressure on each competitor

Adding to the close nature of the results, was the hard-fought semi-finals at the 2021 Rugby World Cup. Far removed from earlier pool match results, now the four team’s realized that while running the ball is entertaining, it could lead to more mistakes. And in knockout rugby tournaments, you must take what points are on offer.

Wayne Smith would probably breathe the biggest sigh of relief. Both in terms of how the opposition missed a crucial final penalty kick that would have shattered his Black Ferns player’s hearts. Yet it was their inability to make key changes in the game plan, which he almost admitted taking the blame for. A lack of territorial kicking might have given France opportunities to stay in the match – a style France should have been more comfortable with, to be honest.

New Zealand 25 France 24 – rating: 8/10

In a way, the lower rating is because both sides did little to complete their chances. New Zealand seemed to be short on options, with tactical changes not so obvious, and the tight defence from France was mostly successful in stopping the Black Ferns from holding a points lead. It might have gotten the better of other teams, but clever heads prevailed. Ruby Tui with a touch so fortunate, more examination of her ‘push off the ball’ could have changed the game’s fortunes.

Yet fortune favours the brave. And if New Zealand can play so well in a pattern foreign to their natural instincts, then England will need to do much better themselves in the Cup final.

France must feel they needed to play more rugby leading up to this stage. They never got out of fourth gear, so if a lesson is taken, it is to ‘play their own style’. A formulated approach is simply not the French way.

England 26 Canada 19 – rating 9/10

Not easy. Not boring at all. This was everything you wanted in a knockout game.

Big tackles, some that would have men’s players wincing at. And England was the more powerful (which is a scary thought for New Zealand). Sarah Hunter again was the director, barracking her girls to “get up” and congratulating them each for their efforts. A player of the tournament, unless Portia Woodman can score a brace in the final.

Canada should be extremely happy. Few thought that any side would hold England down – especially on a dry surface. A week earlier, England ran out 40+ points in dreadful conditions; not to ignore the beautiful 100m effort completed by Abby Dow. So to be held to such a close scoreline is a tribute to the pressure a semi-final brings. And both sides respected the occasion, trying hard to score, yet trying as much to maintain close contact with the opposition primarily. That approach probably limited Canada’s impact, yet take nothing away from the disciplined Canadian women. Heads up girls.

Next Set of November Internationals Games

So two teams will settle for a bronze medal playoff. A bitter reward, yet they are still in the top echelon of women’s rugby. Then we have England aiming for a new high. Can they be stopped? Of course, no team can continually win yet it appears on paper, as a game for the top seeds to lose.

So across both hemispheres next weekend, the action does not stop.

 

“Main photo credit courtesy of France Twitter Account