Talking points from Round 1 of the Autumn Nations Series

In Round 1 of the Autumn Nations Series Ireland laid down a marker, France broke a record and Italy put on a show in an entertaining weekend.

In Round 1 of the Autumn Nations Series Ireland laid down a marker, France broke a record and Italy put on a show in an entertaining weekend.

For the Guinness Six Nations sides, it was generally a strong couple of days, with four wins from six as Scotland were also victorious.

Meanwhile England and Wales are left with work to do after falling to Argentina and New Zealand respectively.

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The only real question mark around this Ireland team was what they would do against the most physical sides around.

That was how France got the better of them in the spring, and was definitely what South Africa were going to try to do on Saturday.

Andy Farrell’s team more than held their own, both in the scrum and in countering the Springbok driving maul on their way to a 19-16 success.

While the visitors dominated much of the first half, they struggled to convert that into points, with the teams going in 6-6 at the break.

And in the second half, two tries in three minutes swung the game to Ireland for good, despite a late Springbok fightback.

This does not necessarily change how teams will look to attack Ireland, but they showed a level of resilience against a brutal physical onslaught that underlined their status as the world’s number one team.

France remain Ireland’s closest challengers in the world rankings, and have now won 11 successive Test matches, breaking their own previous mark which dated back to the 1930s.

They were made to work very hard for it though, with Australia leading by four points going into the dying stages before Damian Penaud’s masterstroke sealed a 30-29 win.

That makes it 13 Test tries since the start of 2021, plus two more for the Barbarians in the summer, for Penaud, who is among the very best finishers in the game.

He needs one more to reach 20 for his country and move into the all-time top ten list, but few will feel as important as Saturday’s match-winner.

Receiving the ball 30 metres out, Penaud had it all to do, and yet there never seemed any doubt that he would beat Tom Wright and hold off the rest of the Wallaby defence to get over.

Coming into 2022, there was no question that Stephen Varney was the first-choice option for Italy at scrum-half, with a budding partnership developing alongside Paolo Garbisi.

However, a lack of game time seemed to have stalled his progress a little, and after injury cut short his Guinness Six Nations campaign, he was also absent this summer.

A combination of Callum Braley, Alessandro Fusco, Alessandro Garbisi and Manfredi Albanese all got time at scrum-half for the Azzurri, but as Samoa came to town to kick off the Autumn Nations Series, Varney was back in the No.9 jersey.

He clearly had no intention of giving it up again with a brilliant all-round display, combining well with Paolo Garbisi in the 49-17 success.

It is easy to forget that Varney is still only 21, and does not start week in, week out for club side Gloucester.

But at age-group level, he looked like a budding star, and that was apparent in the zip and impetus he gave the Italian attack in Padua.

Scotland were far from fluent in victory over Fiji, battling to a 28-12 success that looked in the balance until Adam Hastings’ try on the stroke of half-time.

At that point, the home side trailed 12-7, and had already been forced to hang on while former skipper Stuart Hogg was in the bin and Fiji hammered away at the line.

Once they did take the lead though, Scotland never looked like relinquishing it, and in Jack Dempsey, they had a class act to bring off the bench.

The Glasgow Warriors No.8 made an immediate impact with a turnover penalty, and his three offloads in half an hour are an indication of the type of game he wants to play.

His copybook was blotted somewhat by a knock-on off the back of a scrum that denied Cameron Redpath a try, but it was a strong showing for the former Australia international.

Next up for the Scots are New Zealand, who will take some beating at BT Murrayfield on Sunday, but whether it is in the starting line-up or off the bench, expect Dempsey to have a say.

Wayne Pivac showed a lot of faith in Rio Dyer in including him from the off against New Zealand on his Test debut and the Dragons winger never backed off.

He was rewarded in the first half with a try on debut, popping up to take Nick Tompkins’ pass and race over from a clever move from first phase.

There were also teething pains, notably when he was beaten in the air by Jordie Barrett for a try shortly afterwards, albeit there is no shame in that considering Barrett’s height advantage and aerial prowess.

Dyer did not get a huge amount of opportunity to show what he can do from an attacking perspective in the heavy defeat, but definitely did not look overawed.

With Argentina next up, the question now is whether he has done enough to keep his spot as Wales look to bounce back.

It has been clear for a while that Eddie Jones’ ideal England midfield consists of Marcus Smith, Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi.

The problem is, injury has limited the opportunity to test it out, with Saturday’s clash with Argentina, the first time the trio have started together in the 10-12-13 jerseys.

The expectations were high but it should perhaps not be a surprise that it did not click immediately, with England looking unsure at times in a 30-29 loss to the Pumas.

Tuilagi had a couple of powerful runs, but was largely well-contained by Argentina, while the Smith-Farrell axis has not yet reached the seemingly telepathic relationship that Farrell had with George Ford, understandably so.

Jones was confident that the loss to Argentina was not a reason to worry unnecessarily, and that would indicate a willingness to stick with the plan he has been waiting to try out for more than a year.

Next up are Japan, the team he coached prior to England, and Jones will be desperate to see that trio click against the Brave Blossoms.