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The big story for each top rugby nation – week 2

Mon, Nov 14, 2016, Posted by   print

2007 World Cup

11:32 PM GMT

England roll on unbeaten, Scotland were undone by Australia late on again and Wales finally won. ESPN reporters have their say on the biggest storylines for each team coming out of the second week of the autumn internationals…

Argentina

Pumas need to pounce from get go

After they put 54 points on Japan a week ago the Pumas were purring heading into Cardiff, but they struggled to find that same mojo against an improved Wales.

Just a penalty to show in the first half highlighted a lack of penetration in attack, while their much vaunted set-piece wasn’t getting the go forward against a solid Welsh pack. It wasn’t until Wales scored in the second half that Argentina upped the ante, both of their tries came just minutes after the home side crossed.

In Martin Landajo, Nicolas Sanchez and Juan Martin Hernandez they have some lively playmakers, it’s just a matter of them delivering their high tempo style for the full 80 minutes against northern hemisphere sides more comfortable playing at a slower pace. This weekend’s Test against Scotland should be a cracker. — Nick Bewley

Week 3 vs. Scotland, Murrayfield, Nov. 19, 5:00 p.m. GMT

Australia

Wallabies have plenty to ponder as they plot France’s downfall

Michael Cheika will want to concentrate on the positives this week, after his side emerged with a dramatic victory over Scotland at Murrayfield. The Wallabies were disjointed for 40 minutes in Edinburgh, leading one player to urge his side to “put some spring in it” three-quarters of the way through the opening 40 minutes.

Australia continue to look dangerous with ball in hand, and Bernard Foley was again instrumental in the two tries that were scored. However, there would have been plenty to concern Cheika when the men in gold were not in possession. Tackles were missed, turnovers conceded and, perhaps most worryingly of all, Stephen Moore’s lineout throwing unravelled when put under pressure.

Moore commended Scotland’s play at the breakdown in the aftermath, and they were indeed impressive over the ball. But it should not go unnoticed that it was not Vern Cotter’s first-choice back-row. Australia’s Grand Slam push is alive, but there is plenty to work on before Paris. — Martyn Thomas

Week 3 vs. France, Stade de France, Nov. 19, 8:00 p.m. GMT

Alun Wyn Jones Simon King – CameraSport via Getty Images

England

Wood looks at home as he plugs back row hole

Worryingly for Fiji, Argentina and Australia, England are playing with a confidence not seen since the Sir Clive Woodward era. Against South Africa they weren’t at their best but still managed to record a comfortable win and all this without Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson and James Haskell.

One of the major plusses to come out of the win was the performance of Tom Wood at openside. Last week we posed whether England will ever find an answer to their openside conundrum but Wood filled the void left by the injured Haskell and looked right at home in the Jones setup. The performance of Nathan Hughes off the bench offered another option in the back-row but for now, England are looking on course to end the year unbeaten. — Tom Hamilton

Week 3 vs. Fiji, Twickenham, Nov. 19, 2:30 p.m. GMT

Tom Wood David Rogers – RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

Ireland

Ireland preparing for a Dublin double?

Wallabies great David Campese tweeted that Ireland’s match against Canada shouldn’t be called a Test after Joe Schmidt changed the entire XV that started in the historic triumph over the All Blacks a week earlier. And there wasn’t a huge amount to take from Ireland’s 52-21 win.

Sean O’Brien made his international return after he missed out on selection for the Chicago Test. The openside flanker put in a solid shift, and could keep his place in the seven jersey for the New Zealand re-match in Dublin especially with Jordi Murphy sidelined for the coming months. That would set up quite a clash at the breakdown with All Blacks ball-pilferer Sam Cane.

The key for Schmidt and co. this week will be their game plan. It was a tactical masterstroke in Chicago that stunned New Zealand, but now the element of surprise is gone. Whatever they do Ireland must take the game to the All Blacks, as any side that has sat back against Steve Hansen’s men this year has been severely punished. — NB

Week 3 vs. New Zealand, Aviva Stadium, Nov. 19, 5:30 p.m. GMT

Italy

Azzurri must put boot into Boks

The Test against New Zealand was only ever going to have one winner but the Azzurri did themselves no favours in the nature of the defeat.

A week earlier Ireland revealed a blueprint of how to defeat the All Blacks through ambitious attacking play, giving New Zealand’s back three zero chance to counter while disrupting their under-strength forward pack at the set-piece. Italy did none of these things. When they had the ball they kicked aimlessly and hoped New Zealand, the two-time defending world champions, wouldn’t return with any interest. Bad move.

Given Italy’s coach Conor O’Shea is Irish, their tactics were even more baffling. Hopefully we will see more flair and passion in their performance this weekend against a South African side who are struggling for confidence. — NB

Week 3 vs. South Africa, Stadio Artemio Franchi, Nov. 19, 2:00 p.m. GMT

New Zealand

Questions remain after Italian job

It was expected that the All Blacks would thump a hapless Italy side, but you still have to do it.

The All Blacks trotted out a B side at Stadio Olimpico and still managed to run in 10 tries such is their depth. Inside centre Anton Lienert-Brown was a stand-out with two world-class touches that led to tries and must start in the re-match against Ireland after he missed the stunning defeat in Chicago.

Another encouraging sign for coach Steve Hansen was that second-row Brodie Retallick got valuable minutes off the bench in his return from concussion. The towering lock should return to the starting fold this week in Dublin, while fellow incumbent Sam Whitelock isn’t far off overcoming an ankle injury.

The All Blacks’ selectors have two selection conundrums to deal with this week in the backline. TJ Perenara appears to have the edge over Aaron Smith for the starting scrum-half role, while Israel Dagg’s all-round game could see him return on the right wing in the space of Waisake Naholo. — NB

Week 3 vs. Ireland, Aviva Stadium, Nov. 19, 5:30 p.m. GMT

Tevita Kuridrani ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images

Scotland

Scotland must give their wandering centre a home

When Huw Jones stepped off the Millfield production line in 2012 his hopes of playing international rugby looked bleak. The Somerset school has a tradition of developing Test-level players — dating back to the days of Sir Gareth Edwards — but while the likes of Mako Vunipola and Jonathan Joseph had been fast-tracked into age-grade sides, England considered Jones too small. Instead, the Edinburgh-born back embarked on a gap year in South Africa that quite literally changed his life.

And on his first Murrayfield start for Scotland on Saturday, the Stormers centre proved that he belongs in the Test arena with a barnstorming performance that produced two tries and as many timely interceptions. His desire to play for the country of his birth — even if his English is now accented with a Cape Town lilt — is obvious. The Scottish Rugby Union must do everything they can to maximise his talent and bring him back from South Africa.

Jones has one more year to run on his deal with the Stormers but after that appears open to a new adventure. Scotland fans will hope their wandering centre finally comes home. — MT

Week 3 vs. Argentina, Murrayfield, Nov. 19 5:00 p.m. GMT

South Africa

South Africa fans have cause for real concern

Understandably, the South African social media cognoscenti were furious with the Springboks’ performance at Twickenham. The team looked confused, off the pace and generally poor.

They were not the South Africa the rugby world has come to admire and fear. Allister Coetzee dismissed any notion post-match that they have lost their aura, or fear-factor but will Italy really be worried about facing this outfit next weekend? It’s unlikely.

It’s a frustrating experience watching them. They have the talent — there is no doubt over that — but it’s just a case of getting a game plan to suit the players. And for that, it’s the coaches who have to bring this team out of their slump. — TH

Week 3 vs. Italy, Stadio Artemio Franchi, Nov. 19 2:00 p.m. GMT

Israel Dagg Andrea Franceschini/Corbis News via Getty Images

Wales

Alun Wyn Jones shows courage to help give Wales some cheer

This was a huge result for Wales which should restore some confidence in their playing group, interim coach Rob Howley and their enduring fans who hadn’t seen their side win a Test match in their last five attempts.

The influence of experienced second-row Alun Wyn Jones can’t be understated. A week on from the death of his father, the Ospreys veteran led from the front and put his body on the line, and thoroughly deserved his man of the match award.

Jones was one of four players who missed the 32-8 loss to the Wallabies who made a profound impact in the Pumas win. Sam Warburton and Jonathan Davies showed just how valuable they are to this Welsh side in their returns from injury, while Liam Williams provided just the spark in the backline that Wales were lacking.

Where Jamie Roberts fits in from here will be a talking point this week, with a date with Japan looming. — NB

Weeks 3 vs. Japan, Principality Stadium, Nov. 19, 2:30 p.m. GMT

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The big story for each top rugby nation – week 2
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