England v Tonga
Autumn gives us many things, Halloween, Bonfire night, dark evenings and most importantly lots of International Rugby. England’s Autumn International campaign got off to a start with a game against Tonga. This was the fourth time the pair have met in competitive games, England were expected to maintain their 100% winning record against them. This was to be the first time in a very long time that we were going to see a sold-out Twickenham. One man that was not however in attendance was Owen Farrell, The England Fly Half missed out due to a positive COVID test.
The last time the doors were open at Twickenham was March 2020, England powered to a slim victory against Wales beating them 33-30. Before the game with Tonga many Rugby fans described the feeling of having fans back at Twickenham as ‘surreal’.
The roar at Twickenham was ferocious when the players made their way onto the pitch. England knew they needed a blend of experience and professionalism along with young and upcoming talent to get the result they wanted in front of 82,000 at the home of Rugby. The National anthem bellowed around Twickenham before England’s first test this Autumn got underway.
Courtney Lawes captained the side in Farrell’s absence, giving the England side a last blast of encouragement before Tonga got proceedings underway on a brisk November afternoon. It took England only 3 minutes to get over the try line. After a quick move from England, Adam Radwan bundled his way to the corner making it 5-0. England put more points on the board after building the momentum from halfway, allowing Jamie George to spin off the back and force his way over the line. Another try scored, both being right in the corner. Henry Slade attempted another tricky conversion but failed to go between the posts. The score remained 10-0.
Tonga’s first points arrived after 20 minutes, Sonatane Takulua precisely struck a penalty which floated over the posts, Tonga were up and running. The question was how far could they run? The converted penalty provided Tonga with momentum and a slight belief. This momentum was short lived when Manu Tuilagi brushed off defenders with ease before spinning it into the path of Jonny May. May wriggled past the challenges of the Tonga defenders and managed to get the ball down in the corner. Slade added the extras with a pinpoint conversion, England 17 Tonga 3. To add salt to their wounds, Solomone Kata was sin binned shortly after for his dangerous challenge on Jonny May.
One of England’s stand out players over the last few years has been Maro Itoje, he has cemented his spot as an England regular of late. He was in support of Lawes who popped it to him after breaking the Tonga line. Itoje had the pace and power to touch the ball down and increased England’s lead by 24-3. As half time quickly approached, England found time to squeeze another try in. This time Ben Youngs was the man who slid over the line for England’s 5th try of the game. The score line was 29-3 in England’s favour going into the break, much to Eddie Jones’ satisfaction.
England went into the second half making just the one substitution. Sam Underhill departed to make way for the Harlequins youngster Alex Dombrandt. Dombrandt has been instrumental for Quins putting in some heroic performances and playing a big role in their title winning season in the Premiership.
Swing Low echoed round an excitable Twickenham as the second half got underway. As Tonga welcomed back Kata to the field after his stint in the sin bin, another was on their way there as the referee deemed Walter Fifita’s knock on to be deliberate. This seemed harsh but England did not care in the slightest.
Tonga’s afternoon went from bad to worse. Ben Youngs was in again, scoring his second try of the game and what a try it was! Youngs snatched the ball after a Tonga scrum, from there it was a clear charge which saw him over the chalk. This was becoming a rout as this put England 34-3 up. Another Quins rising talent entered the fray in Marcus Smith, he got a great reception from the Twickenham faithful. Jonny May added another to his name stretching desperately and scoring. Smith notched up the score with a successful conversion making it 41-3.
England went into the last 10 minutes in bullish form scoring three tries, all with perfect accuracy from the conversions. England had mauled Tonga in the first game of their 2021 Autumn Internationals campaign, beating them 69-3. After the match a pleased Eddie Jones expressed his delight and said that he wants his England side to be the best in the world.
England v Australia
England returned to Twickenham with a spring in their step after the thrashing of Tonga. They knew that this would be a much more challenging hurdle to overcome. COVID had struck the England side once again infecting Ellis Genge, the latest victim to be ruled out by it. Eddie Jones has a seven-match winning streak against the Wallabies dating back from 2016 to 2019. Australian coach Dave Rennie was asked about this recent record. Rennie’s response was clear and concise saying ‘History counts for nothing tonight. We’ve prepared really well and we’re going to rip into it.’
Talking done, it was time for these two Rugby heavyweights to go head-to-head. Once again, the atmosphere around Twickenham was electric. Fireworks shot up from the roof, fire balls roared into the air and Seven Nation army blared, the stage was set. Smith got the game underway, booting the ball into the dark sky.
England conceded an early penalty which somewhat dented the atmosphere. Australia’s James O’Connor squeezed his kick between the posts to earn the Wallabies an early lead. 4 minutes later the Atmosphere was back at full capacity as Freddie Steward found a gap and drove into it to find the try line. Captain Owen Farrell added the conversion, England were off the mark.
After a string of penalty conversions for both sides, it became apparent that the kickers for both teams needed to be sharp all evening. England went into half time with a slender lead over Australia, edging it 16-12. England had 65% of possession in the first half compared to Australia’s 35%.
Australia mounted the pressure on England early in the second half with a converted penalty. Only one point separated the two, nerves were high. Twickenham leaped into outrange when veteran Courtney Lawes was tip tackled by Angus Bell. The outcome of the TMO was a yellow card for a dangerous tackle, could England take advantage of the extra man?
After further penalties scored for both sides, the game was poised at 22-15 to England with 15 minutes to play. The boot of Marcus Smith had been sublime since Farrell went off injured. He had a chance to leverage England to a 10-point lead, he did so with a very competent kick. As the game was nearing a close there was to be one last piece of action. Sam Simmonds grabbed onto a loose ball and charged down the wing, he found hooker Jamie Blamire who has now scored four tests tries in a row. The referee blew his whistle on the game shortly after, England had made it 2 from 2. Eddie Jones’ side are in formidable form of late. The next game comes against South Africa, this fixture is a replay of the 2019 World Cup final. England will be seeking revenge in what will be a physically and mentally demanding fixture at Twickenham.
England v South Africa
The last time that these two sides met was in the World Cup Final in 2019, England were brushed aside by a dominant South Africa that day. This Autumn International fixture was a chance for England to show how far they have come since then. Both teams knew the challenge in front of them would be an arduous one. The national anthems got underway, England’s followed South Africa’s. The noise circulating Twickenham was deafening.
South Africa’s Handre Pollard got proceedings underway. England needed to be sharp from the off, and sharp they proved to be. It took England seven minutes to get off the mark. Marcus Smith’s excellent vision found Henry Slade on the left, Slade’s long pass ended up in the arms of Tuilagi who powered to score the first try of the game. This was huge for England and sent the fans into pandemonium. It was a tricky conversion for Smith to land as it was situated by the left touch line, he didn’t let the pressure get to him and calmly converted. It is always a danger scoring as early as that as it leaves you vulnerable for a long period of time, England knew they needed to keep the pressure on and keep chipping away at the scoreboard.
England’s try scorer Tuilagi went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. He had injured himself in the process of scoring England’s first try. Max Malins replaced Tualagi who looked absolutely devastated being forced of through injury. Shortly after the replacement, England were caught off guard by a bouncing ball which forced a knock on. South Africa had a chance to capitalize on this England error, they chose to kick at goal. Handre Pollard made no mistake with an easy kick which reduced England’s lead to four points.
England’s scrummaging was nothing short of excellent. They managed to quickly recycle the ball promptly from the scrum with Ben Youngs spinning it to Freddie Steward who couldn’t be brought down, despite the efforts from four South African’s. England had scored their second try of the game. Once again, Marcus Smith was flawless with the conversion making it 14-3 to England.
Every England player looked determined to protect this lead and did not look phased by the challenge from the world champions. You could tell that the World Cup defeat hurt this bunch of players, and this was their chance to ease some of that pain. South Africa’s scrum proved to be just as powerful as England’s, their scrum earned them a penalty advantage which gave them the opportunity at another three points. Pollard added to his tally and made the score 14-6. England got their own chance shortly after to score a penalty. Sharp shooting Smith keeps his 100% kicking record intact.
After a string of penalties for South Africa the half ended with England on top leading 17-12 and what a half it was. England played the first half without fear and showed real promise. However, the Springboks have won their last three games despite trailing at half time. The second half promised drama.
England were let off the hook early in the second half with Pollard misjudging a penalty kick. A sense of de ja vu kicked in for South Africa as they missed another penalty not long after, would this come back to haunt them? South Africa seemed to step it up a gear throughout the second half, and looked to mount some dangerous attacks. Pollard looked to have his shooting boots on this time as he floated a penalty over the posts, leaving South Africa just two points behind a nervous looking England.
The South Africa pressure proved to intense for England and after winning a penalty, South Africa were leading the game. The score was 17-18 in the Springboks favour with 15 minutes left to play.
Not many 20-year old’s can say they have scored a try against South Africa at Twickenaham. Well, one man who now can is Sale Sharks youngster Raffi Quirke. England were on the ball with a quick line out, shifted effectively to Quirke who gleefully who dived over the try line. This put England back in control, giving them a 24-18 lead. England’s defensive discipline did not last long at all as they gave Makazole Mapimpi too much space on the left flank to place the ball over the line. England were back in a frantic state, they were one point up with ten minutes to go. The lead was then stolen from England as they gave away a cheap knock on and to their disappointment South Africa scored it.
With four minutes to play the game was poised at 14 players each side, Siya Kolisi was sin binned as referee Andrew Brace deemed his attempt to go for the ball as not genuine. England needed a moment of magic to win this game. This magic came in the form of Marcus Smith. England had won a penalty with less than a minute to go, fans cheered before the kick was even taken. Smith stepped up and dispatched the penalty sending a wave of celebration around Twickenham. England had avenged their loss of the final in Yokohama and against all odds beaten South Africa in the dying stages. A heroic performance by all.
Round up from the other Nations
Wales kicked of their Autumn Campaign with a tough test against the Springboks. The World Champions looked to get their Autumn’s off to a flyer against a Wales side with multiple new additions. It was a tame match with the only try of the game coming in the 74th minute. The two teams Fly Half’s were on terrific form with Dan Biggar kicking 6 from 6 penalties and Handre Pollard with 4 from 4. It had been eight years since South Africa had beaten Wales at the Principality Stadium.
The next opponent for Wales came in the form of Fiji. Wales knew it would be a physically demanding match. The game ended 38-23 with an unconvincing performance from Wales. Fiji were down to 14 men for the majority of the game as Sau received a red card in the 25th minute. Wales made the game very hard for themselves, Fiji played with pride, and it showed as they had nothing to lose.
The last Test Match at the Principality Stadium for Wales was against Australia. A highly intense match saw Wales edge the win 29-28. It was the 10th test win for Wales under Wayne Pivac and a good way to close their Autumn International series.
Scotland got their Autumn matches underway at Murrayfield. The visitors were Australia. After a low scoring first half, not much changed in the second. The game ended 15-13, with the hosts coming out on top. This was Scotland’s third win in a row over Australia.
Scotland were back at Murrayfield, this time hoping to overcome South Africa. Murrayfield was packed to the rafters and a huge roar echoed around it. Scotland led 10-8 at half time but the Springboks were just too strong for Scotland in the second half, beating them 30-15.
Scotland completed their Autumn Internationals with a match up against Japan. Scotland’s scrums and mauls were dominant all afternoon. This helped them to a victory, beating the Japanese 29-20. A successful campaign through Scottish eyes.
Ireland stunned a well drilled New Zealand side who were the next side to visit the Aviva Stadium. The match ended 29-20 to Ireland. This was only Ireland’s third win in 33 matches against the All Blacks.
The last game at the Aviva Stadium saw Ireland host a technical Argentina side. Going into the game Ireland knew this wouldn’t be a walk in the park, however that’s what it turned out to be. Ireland scored seven tries to overwhelm Argentina and win the match 53-7. An unbeaten campaign for the Irish, putting them in good stead for the upcoming Six Nations.
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