French invincibility, first place in the world: the 5 challenges of the autumn tour

Home » French invincibility, first place in the world: the 5 challenges of the autumn tour
French invincibility, first place in the world: the 5 challenges of the autumn tour

The first two meetings of the November test matches, last Saturday, set the tone. At the end of the suspense, the Scots lost (15-16) after their opener Blair Kinghorn failed to take a penalty in his camp, two minutes from the end, giving the game its share of twists and regrets. On their side, the Japanese resisted well against the All Blacks (31-38). A tiny difference of seven points which testifies to the constant progress of the Japanese and the leveling of the international teams.

During the autumn tour which continues over the next four weeks (November 5 to 26), twenty-nine other meetings will take place. Less than a year from the start of the World Cup (September 8-October 28, 2023), they will allow the selections to gauge themselves, the substitutes to find a place and, perhaps, records to fall. Back to the five challenges of this tour.

1. The first place in the world ranking

While the first place in the World Rugby rankings has long been monopolized by New Zealand and South Africa, the throne has been left to newcomers several times in 2022. Ireland, current leaders, and France (2nd) have reached this place this year, for the second time in their history for the Irish, the first for the Blues.

If the ranking remains symbolic, it still indicates a trend and testifies to the good form of the leader. Currently tight, said ranking could evolve in several ways from next week. The throne should probably be played out between Ireland, France and South Africa.

2. Finish the year undefeated for Les Bleus

The XV of France does not want to stop. Riding on a dynamic already boosted in 2020 and 2021, with in particular a full autumn tour (3 wins in 3 matches, including a prestigious one against New Zealand) a year ago, the Blues won their tenth Grand Slam this year. The clear round continued with two successes in as many games this summer in Japan to extend the winning streak to 10 in a row, a record. Fabien Galthié’s men could also achieve something big this fall: finish a calendar year undefeated.

This summer in Japan, the Blues won their series. They remain undefeated this year. (A. Mounic/The Team)

This will require them to win consecutively against Australia (Saturday 5, 9 p.m.), South Africa (Saturday 12, 9 p.m.), the only big team that the Blues have not yet faced and therefore beaten under Galthié and Japan (Sunday 20, 3:15 p.m.).

3. Wales must be reassured

Yet winners of the 2021 Six Nations Tournament fully mastered (only beaten in extremis by France), the Welsh have chained a mediocre autumn tour 2021 (humiliated by the Blacks at home (16-54) then beaten by South Africa South (18-23)), a 2022 Six Nations Tournament to forget (5th, for a single victory and a surprise defeat against Italy in Cardiff) and a lackluster 2022 summer tour (1 victory, 2 defeats against South Africa).

To revive, one year before the World Cup in France, Wayne Pivac’s men will have to put up a good show against New Zealand, which they have not beaten for almost 70 years, Argentina, Georgia and Australia.

Last March, the Welsh were surprised at home by Italy, in the Six Nations Tournament.  (R. Byrne/Sports Press)

Last March, the Welsh were surprised at home by Italy, in the Six Nations Tournament. (R. Byrne/Sports Press)

4. New Zealand on the revival

It’s been a rocky year for the All Blacks so far. Defeated for the first time in their history at home by Ireland (1 win, 2 losses) this summer, they once again lost a few weeks later, against Argentina (18-25). Three defeats in a row at home, a first in their history.

Since then, the men of the country of the long white cloud have more or less put things back in order, winning three times in the Rugby Championship, which they won, and winning in Japan last week, despite a hanging match. Their results in the coming weeks (against Wales, Scotland and England) will serve as a benchmark: are the Blacks good for the recovery? Or are they definitely stuck in the face of more armed European nations than before?

5. Substitutes will have their chance

Many senior players from their selection will be absent from the next meetings. In Scotland, the two major players of the XV of the thistle of the last ten years have seen their influence decrease. Stuart Hogg, the rear with 95 caps, saw his captaincy challenged by Jamie Ritchie. The opener Finn Russell was not even selected by Gregor Townsend. It was Blair Kinghorn, unhappy last week, who was preferred to him.

Stuart Hogg (left) and Finn Russell (right), two Thistle XV executives of recent years, have seen their influence wane in Scotland.  (R. Byrne/Sports Press)

Stuart Hogg (left) and Finn Russell (right), two Thistle XV executives of recent years, have seen their influence wane in Scotland. (R. Byrne/Sports Press)

Elsewhere, absences (over one or more matches) of Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick (New Zealand), Owen Farrell (England), Dan Biggar (Wales), Juan Imhoff (Argentina), James Lowe and Keith Earls (Ireland) will allow new players to perform and shine, one year away from the World Cup.

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