Keeping up with all the sporting drama this weekend was a challenge in itself, let alone trying to dissect all the fallout from the autumn internationals over the weekend.
There’s nothing better than seeing two top teams going hell for leather trying to outdo each other and the 2017 Six Nations is now shaping up to be one of the best yet.
Ireland have undoubtedly been the team of the autumn and deserve all of the plaudits that have come their way as they have been fully earned. They definitely have the war wounds and battered bodies to prove it that’s for sure – just ask Robbie Henshaw.
Late fitness tests and team changes are part and parcel of sport but to have as many disruptions to their squad as they did and still be able to perform to the levels that they managed was nothing short of exceptional. Taking into account the calibre of opposition they had to face on consecutive weekends then you can understand why Rory Best believes the gap between the northern and southern hemispheres has been closed drastically over the last twelve months.
Not only have Ireland now developed a style of play that can take on the world’s best but they have inadvertently grown the depth of their squad and unearthed some gems. Tadhg Furlong and Garry Ringrose to name just two. The first round of the Six Nations can’t come soon enough.
England on the other hand have been a slow building machine this autumn, winning games pragmatically rather than in the rampant fashion they managed to in the summer series against Australia. Circumstances have definitely dictated their stuttering: injuries, weather and red cards have all played a part in curtailing the flow of England’s game.
However, they are still on an impressive winning streak and their final game of the autumn – versus Australia – gives them a golden opportunity to again scale the heights that they achieved in June. Australia need absolutely no motivation for this weekend’s game. Revenge, finishing the year on a high, overcoming the disappointment of missing out on their European grand slam, the verbal war between Eddie Jones and Michael Cheika – the list goes on and it’s only Tuesday.
Both teams have plenty on the line and given the way England’s autumn has gone hopefully they are building towards a crescendo and we’ll finally see the complete performance they have been desperately seeking.
I would love to see Nathan Hughes get the nod to replace Billy Vunipola as well – a huge void to fill but he is more than capable. The 25-year-old is one of the most destructive players in the Aviva Premiership at the moment and if he can find his rhythm early in the game then he could be a huge influence.
If Ireland and England were to play tomorrow the intensity of Ireland’s play would just give them the edge, just! Emulating England’s 2003 feat of beating all the southern hemisphere teams in a calendar year justifies that, but England do have one more game to find their flow.
Three home games at Twickenham in the Six Nations might give them a slight betting edge for the Championship but Ireland will be licking their lips that any potential decider will be in Dublin at the Aviva Stadium.
It’s set up to be a cracking tournament, and we haven’t even mentioned the Lions yet…
Topsy Ojo, Pundit Arena
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