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Comment: Autumn internationals: five talking points after England’s win over Argentina

The Guardian The Guardian 27/11/2016 Paul Rees

All Blacks star Beauden Barrett on the run against France. © Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images All Blacks star Beauden Barrett on the run against France. Sitting on defence

The growth in England’s attacking game was the feature of the victories over South Africa and Fiji but after Elliot Daly’s dismissal inside the opening five minutes against Argentina they were under siege for long periods, restricted to sniper fire. The two tries they conceded came either side of the interval when they were down to 13 men, with Dan Cole in the sin-bin, but it was defence that earned them a notable 27-14 victory, given the numerical advantage the Pumas had for virtually an hour. They attempted 163 tackles to Argentina’s 70, Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes to the fore with 17 each, and if they were helped by the reluctance of their opponents to play for position, preferring to run from deep, England’s line speed forced the Pumas to often play behind the gain line. While Eddie Jones said before the game it would be his side’s biggest test of the autumn, Australia will be more astute and tactical. Almost certainly without Billy Vunipola, it will be another case for the defence.

In the red

Daly picked a bad time to take out an opponent in the air and watching him hit the ground head first. His action came days after World Rugby announced a crackdown on challenges, in defence and attack, that had the potential to cause head injuries. Until then, referees had been content, apart from the most clearcut cases, to flourish yellow rather than red cards and leave it to citing officers and disciplinary panels to take further action. The belief now is that it was not enough of a deterrent and more teams are likely to find themselves a player short in the coming weeks. A numerical disadvantage has tended to be more telling in rugby than football but the increased openness of the game has mitigated that, as Ireland showed in South Africa in June and Munster did against Glasgow last month when both had players sent off in the opening half but went on to win. England responded quickly to Daly’s dismissal, regrouping and recalibrating without having to wait for half-time instruction, further evidence of their growth in the last year. Leadership on the field is now a strength.

Australia’s coach, Michael Cheika, before the Test against Ireland: Michael Cheika’s Australia take on England on Saturday. © AFP/Getty Images Michael Cheika’s Australia take on England on Saturday. Cheika mate

The players were still on the pitch when Jones launched the first of what will be several broadsides against Australia and his old pal and opposite number Michael Cheika before Saturday. He accused the Wallabies of scrummaging illegally, pointing to four successive scrum penalties awarded against them in Paris and saying he wanted a meeting with the match referee, Jaco Peyper, to discuss the issue, cheekily inviting Cheika to attend. Never mind that scrums have reduced in importance over the years and Australia fielded a reserve front row in Paris, Jones is using the media to discomfort opponents who can point to the scrum penalties conceded by England at the end of the first half against Argentina that resulted in Dan Cole visiting the sin-bin. Cheika said after his side’s loss to Ireland on Saturday that he had complaints about the referee, Jérôme Garcès, but was not allowed by World Rugby to express them in public. He who pays the Peyper a visit may call the tune this weekend.

Northern lights

With one match in the autumn series to go, the Six Nations are guaranteed a rare victory over the Rugby Championship. They lead 8-6 and, when the summer tours are taken into account, 13-12 this year. All the Six Nations sides have won at least once this year and only France failed to do so this month, running New Zealand close on Saturday night. South Africa and Argentina return home having been whitewashed and all four have lost at least once, with New Zealand losing to Ireland in Chicago and Australia having their grand slam quest derailed in Dublin. England and Ireland, who became the first of the home unions to beat South Africa, New Zealand and Australia in a calendar year, look closer to New Zealand than the All Blacks’ three Rugby Championship rivals. The gap is between the World Cup holders and the rest rather than between the hemispheres but with the season in the south almost as long as that in Europe, with the added demand of significant long-distance travelling, the value of end of season tours now appears purely financial. Take away the two encounters between Ireland and the All Blacks and this month has served up little of note.

France Rugby - France v New Zealand All Blacks - Stade de France, Saint-Denis near Paris, France, 26/11/2016. New Zealand players including Julian Savea (R) celebrate. REUTERS/Gonzalo In action: All Blacks v France, Nov 27, 2016

Ten out of 10

Jones may have been dismissive of him but the New Zealand outside-half Beauden Barrett has been voted World Rugby’s player of the year for very good reasons. He scored his ninth try of the year in Saturday night’s victory over France, a remarkable figure for an outside-half, and his running game marks him out from his rivals. Dan Carter stood slightly deeper at the end of his international career but Barrett attacks the line and maximises his options, able to exploit space himself and create it for those around him. His is a fitting award because it recognises the shift in the game away from defence and the renewed value of a scheming outside-half; tries are the currency now. George Ford is getting there, more of a passer than a runner but blessed with a sublime touch. Will the Lions take note?

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