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Power Ranking The Six Nations Sides Based On The November Internationals

Power Ranking The Six Nations Sides Based On The November Internationals
By Gavin Cooney Updated

There is a general level of bliss settling around Irish rugby, what with our new-found habit for slaying the giants of Southern Hemisphere. Ireland's trio of wins over the Rugby Championship sides represent the first time South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia have been beaten by the same team in the same calendar since Clive Woodward's all-conquering English side of 2003 completed the feat.

The November internationals have taught us that this Irish side has an almost unprecedented level of depth, and one of the most disciplined defences in World Rugby. But it has also shown the chasm between hemispheres to be somewhat smaller than it appeared to be during last year's World Cup. This is perhaps offset somewhat by the Rugby Championship sides competing at the end of a long, hard season, but there is no doubt that the Six Nations sides have improved. England continue to look utterly relentless, while France and Scotland have shown some encouraging signs. Wales had their best series of results since 2002, and hell, Italy beat South Africa.

But who looks the best? Let's do some Power Ranking...

 

1) England 

Ok, England aren't fully finished - they have an additional money-spinning tie with the Aussies slated for this weekend - but they have picked up where they left off in March and remain unbeaten under Eddie Jones. Their Autumn tests have not been as stiff as Ireland's, but they continue to rise to every challenge put in front of them.

Facile wins against South Africa and Fiji showed an attack that is becoming ever sharper, but the win against Argentina showed a side with some serious steel beneath the flair. They played for 74 minutes for 14 men - ten of those minutes were shorn of Dan Cole, who went to the bin for scrum infringements - yet conceded just 14 points. Their line speed was hugely impressive, and out-tackled the Pumas 163 to 70.

Their scrum remains a bit faulty, and if Billy Vunipola misses the Six Nations it will be a blow, but their squad depth looks to be as good as Ireland's (and better at out-half) and their superior ability to score tries means they nudge us to top spot. But only just.

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2) Ireland 

What a November series from Ireland. Joe Schmidt's squad made history in Chicago and made progress in all four games. Tadhg Furlong bolted as the Lions' front-runner at tighthead, Garry Ringrose and Joey Carbery stepped up with admirable maturity and our back-row is as strong as anybody's. Oh, and we beat the Aussies with a scrum-half playing on the wing.

 

The discipline of our defence was outstanding: we were the right side of the penalty count in all four games, conceding just four in each of the games against New Zealand and three against the Wallabies.

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There is a nagging feeling, despite putting 40 points on the ABs in Chicago, that our ability to score tries - particularly in Sexton's absence - is behind that of England. While we had legitimate gripes about Jaco Peyper during New Zealand's trip to Dublin, the reality is we failed to score a try in a game in which we spent 20 minutes playing against 14 men.

That notwithstanding, it was a spectacular series for Ireland, and we are probably the third-best side in the world on form right now.

3) Wales

Wales have to do without Warren Gatland owing to his Lions' commitment, so have repeated the trick they played in 2013: Rob Howley took full responsibility for team affairs. In 2012, they lost all of their Autumn tests under Howley only to win the Six Nations Championship. This time around, their Autumn record reads slightly better, but it would be a major surprise if they took another Championship ahead of both Ireland and England.

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This series was an extremely mixed bag: it featured a heavy loss to Australia, a win against Argentina, a poor performance that earned a narrow win against Japan ahead of victory against an admittedly pathetic South African side. Howley is far from a Gatland puppet and is making some changes of his own, with a more expansive style of play likely to be seen in the Six Nations: the dropping of noted battering ram Jamie Roberts being its first indicator. That is a long process for Wales, however, and they are somewhat behind Ireland: Australia were the one quality side that they faced, and were blown away.

4) Scotland 

Scotland have spent much of Vern Cotter's reign flattering to deceive, but this was another encouraging Autumn series. Despite the one-point loss to Australia showcasing their continued ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, they ground out a 19-16 win against the Pumas before shattering Georgia to pieces.

Cotter has acknowledged they must improve at the breakdown, but their attack is ever-improving, and look well-placed to scrap for a third-place finish going into Cotter's third and final Six Nations in charge. Ireland will be favourites in the opening game at Murrayfield, but it is a very tricky-looking task.

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5) France 

If the French want to measure progress through the prism of games with New Zealand, then the last year will offer hope. In 2015, they were humiliated 62-13 at the World Cup. On Saturday, they lost out by a single score, 24-19. The reality is that the latter is a game that they never looked like winning.

Under Guy Noves, they are finally beginning to showing the ambition that Saint-Andre's reign had been bereft of, but are still some way behind the big boys. They missed a last-gasp drop goal of beating Australia, but it was a much weaker Wallabies side than the one which blitzed Wales, and lost narrowly to Scotland and Ireland, and they looked quite blunt against New Zealand: they didn't score a try in the first-half despite having two-thirds of the ball. Progress, but all a bit slow to trouble the top of next year's Championship.

6) Italy 

Ok, they were hammered by the All Blacks, but the 20-18 victory against South Africa - their first victory against the 'Boks, ever - will live long in the memory, and is the first hugely positive sign of Conor O'Shea's reign. And while South Africa are abysmal, Italy have lost to worse teams in the past. O'Shea is building something interesting, and they may have another shock win in them in next year's Championship. Perhaps against the French.

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See Also: What Joe Schmidt Will Have Learned From Historic November Series

See Also: Irish Rugby Depth Chart Heading Into Six Nations

 

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