The Breakdown | Autumn international awards: Steward stands out as France flourish

Champagne moments from dramatic run of autumn internationals … and the Rassie Erasmus water-carrier award

The 2021 autumn international series has been eventful, with northern hemisphere nations enjoying some striking successes over their increasingly weary southern counterparts. Here is The Breakdown’s definitive end-of-year report …

Best game France’s 40-25 thrashing of New Zealand in Paris offered a tantalising glimpse of what might lie ahead in the 2023 Rugby World Cup. It was the first time the All Blacks have conceded 40 points to anyone since Ireland beat them in Chicago in 2016 and the 24-6 half-time deficit was the widest New Zealand have ever known.

Best men’s player Antoine Dupont (France). An absolute dead cert for the world men’s player of the year award. Les Bleus have a scrum-half with no apparent weaknesses.

Best women’s player Sarah Bern (England). Back from injury and looking as strong, mobile and influential as ever.

Most impressive individual performance Caelan Doris (Ireland v NZ). The Irish back-rower was all over the All Blacks in Dublin, his side’s best performance since the heights of the Joe Schmidt era. What a shame that injury ruled Doris out of contention for the British & Irish Lions tour.

Most dominant team of the month England’s Red Roses. They walloped all comers, including the Black Ferns twice. Will take some beating at next year’s World Cup in New Zealand.

Best try Waisea Nayacalevu (Fiji). The Flying Fijians could not beat Wales with 14 men but they did score the most exhilarating try of the month, a counter-attacking gem following a quick tap in their own 22. The rampaging Nayacalevu’s unstoppable dive probably merited this award on its own.

Sarah Bern’s return from injury has made England’s women’s side even stronger.
Sarah Bern’s return from injury has made England’s women’s side even stronger. Photograph: Bob Bradford - CameraSport/CameraSport/Getty Images

Champagne moment Romain Ntamack turning a tight defensive spot into a glorious attacking opportunity from behind his own line against New Zealand in Paris.

Best male newcomer Marcus Smith is front and centre of the “new” England but the 20-year-old Freddie Steward at full-back barely put a foot wrong.

Best female newcomer Heather Cowell. Two tries and some nifty footwork on her Test debut from the former gymnast now playing on the wing for England.

Biggest letdown Australia without Samu Kerevi, Quade Cooper and Sean McMahon. Their decision to return to their Japanese clubs for pre-season training robbed the Wallabies of any collective momentum.

Head coach of the autumn Andy Farrell (Ireland). His side’s improvement in attitude, sharpness, desire, fitness and intent has been clear for all to see.

Best tackle Courtney Lawes. How he managed to get back and catch Tonga’s flying Telusa Veainu as he surged for the line was a minor miracle.

Best pre-match backdrop A tie between Wales v New Zealand in Cardiff and England v Australia at Twickenham. Dramatic lighting, fireworks, flame throwers … rugby union stages its biggest days increasingly well.

Best referee Wayne Barnes (England). It was a nice touch by the Rugby Football Union this month to present all living English international referees with their own “Test caps”.

Rassie Erasmus water-carrier award Richard Cockerill (England). If anything is finally going to propel World Rugby into banning coaches from running water on to the field it will be the sight of Cockerill on the Twickenham turf as the pressure mounted in the second half of the England v South Africa game. Provocative, moi?

Biggest captaincy work-on Courtney Lawes (England). Did an outstanding – and unbeaten – job as England captain in place of Owen Farrell. That said, running on to the pitch after being substituted and remonstrating with the opposition with the game still ongoing is not a globally recognised diplomatic technique.

Most emotional moment The Wallaby prop Ollie Hoskins, drafted in at late notice from club duty with London Irish following a raft of front-row injuries, shedding tears of pride and joy after learning of his first Test call-up at the age of 28.

Biggest missed team-sheet opportunity What a divine moment it would have been had Wales’s Christ Tshiunza and New Zealand’s Josh Lord faced each other this month. Let’s all pray it happens one day.

France are the northern hemisphere’s front runners as the Six Nations approaches.
France are the northern hemisphere’s front runners as the Six Nations approaches. Photograph: John Spencer/Sipa/Shutterstock

Best quotes

1) “Our forward pack isn’t weak and we’ll show that on Saturday.” Eddie Jones throws down the gauntlet to the world champions South Africa.

2) “Well, we threw the kitchen sink at them first half and its 5-10. We are going to have to throw the garden shed at them second half!” Donncha O’Callaghan commenting on the Ireland v New Zealand game.

3) “I’m not going to lie, that one hurt.” The All Black hooker Dane Coles after his side’s 40-25 loss to France in Paris.

4) “Due to the actions of Mr Erasmus, my family and I have endured a significant amount of distress and we will only have negative memories of the whole experience.” The Australian referee Nic Berry, whose post-Lions tour testimony was belatedly released this month by World Rugby.

5) “I thought some of the decision-making by the officials was horrendous. We’ll end up getting an apology next week but it won’t help the result.” The Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie fumes at the officiating of the Wales v Australia game. He has already forgotten about 4) above.

6) “Sad not to be with the boys. I do however get the feeling the two months will not be so bad as feared.” A tweet from Rassie Erasmus accompanied by a picture of a pint of Guinness.

End of year northern hemisphere pecking order: 1 France, 2 Ireland, 3 England, 4 Scotland, 5 Wales, 6 Georgia.

Autumn series XV F Steward (England), W Jordan (New Zealand), H Slade (England), D De Allende (South Africa), M Mapimpi (South Africa), R Ntamack, (France), A Dupont (France); S Kitshoff (South Africa), P Mauvaka (France), T Furlong (Ireland), E Etzebeth (South Africa), C Woki (France), C Doris (Ireland), T Basham (Wales), A Savea (New Zealand).

• This is an extract from our rugby union email, the Breakdown. To subscribe, just visit this page and follow the instructions.

Contributor

Robert Kitson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Twenty questions for rugby union’s autumn internationals | Robert Kitson
Can Wales beat All Blacks for the first time since 1953, will Eddie Jones continue to work his magic at Twickenham and how heavy will injury toll be for the competing nations?

Robert Kitson

07, Nov, 2017 @5:13 PM

Article image
Rugby union: talking points from the second round of autumn internationals | Paul Rees
England still not the finished article while TMO controversy continues; the gap between New Zealand and rest is closing, and the second tier show improvement

Paul Rees

19, Nov, 2017 @5:16 PM

Article image
Rugby union: talking points from the first round of autumn internationals
Eddie Jones missed his pillar players against Argentina, while Wales got off to a typically slow start and Scotland showed the risks attached to their open rugby

Paul Rees

13, Nov, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
Rugby union: 10 things to look out for in autumn internationals | Gerard Meagher
Courtney Lawes must be at the top of his game for England, Scotland will miss Nel in revenge mission, Italy poised for ‘Black-lash’ and Ireland reap rewards

Gerard Meagher

11, Nov, 2016 @9:59 AM

Article image
New Zealand remain far ahead while England and rest struggle to keep up | Robert Kitson
One year on from the Rugby World Cup, Robert Kitson ranks the top tier sides, with the All Blacks showing no sign of losing their dominance

Robert Kitson

04, Nov, 2016 @11:43 AM

Article image
Autumn internationals: a team-by-team verdict of the tier-one nations | Nick Evans
With one game to go this autumn, New Zealand and Scotland will be delighted while Australia’s tour nosedived and South Africa are in a sorry state

Nick Evans

26, Nov, 2017 @10:14 PM

Article image
Rugby union autumn internationals: talking points from the latest action
England under Eddie Jones are nothing if not purposeful, New Zealand can’t be blamed for their physicality and Scotland could profit from Argentina’s travails

Guardian sport

21, Nov, 2016 @9:47 AM

Article image
Rugby union autumn internationals: talking points from the latest action
Ireland’s latest bruising win shows they are the real deal, England’s set-piece strength will be key against Australia, and New Zealand are human after all

Guardian sport

28, Nov, 2016 @9:32 AM

Article image
How are the contenders shaping up for the 2011 Rugby World Cup? | Shaun Edwards
Shaun Edwards: With less than a year to go until New Zealand 2011, here's my take on the world's 10 best teams

Shaun Edwards

05, Nov, 2010 @12:05 AM

Article image
Runners and riders for the 2011 Rugby Union World Cup | Shaun Edwards
Shaun Edwards: Now is a good time to assess form for the 2011 World Cup

Shaun Edwards

06, Nov, 2009 @12:10 AM