The last full weekend of the 2022 Autumn Nations Series provided yet more shock results, monumental comebacks, and no shortage of talking points, with Georgia upsetting Wales in Cardiff, England snatching a draw from the jaws of defeat against New Zealand and France ensuring they finished 2022 with a 100% record. Let’s look at where the games were won and lost this weekend…
Wales 12-13 Georgia
What a difference a year makes. Before 2022, Georgia had lost each of their 29 previous matches against Tier 1 opposition. In 2022, they’ve won two out of two, thanks to a victory at home against Italy in July before a historic win away to Wales at the weekend.
Their win was fully deserved too, given that they matched or bettered Wales in most facets of the game, particularly with their attacking play. The Lelos made just six carries more than Wales during the game, but gained almost 100 metres more, averaging out to almost one metre more per carry. Those additional metres came because they beat almost twice as many defenders as Wales and made over double the number of line breaks too.
Georgia’s defence was resolute as well and although they weren’t forced to make as many tackles as Wales, they did so with an exceptionally high tackle success rate. In fact, their tackle success rate of 94% was the joint best of any team in a match in the Autumn Nations Series this year, alongside Scotland who completed 94% of their hits against Fiji at the beginning of the month.
The Lelos will also be pleased with their set piece, recording a perfect rate at the lineout (100%, 10/10) and winning nine of their 10 scrums. Even more pleasing for them will be the fact that they won two of Wales’ scrums, with their replacement front row coming on to do some damage and win Georgia important penalties deep in the game – including the penalty for the all-important match-winning kick. Georgia have shown in this year’s Autumn Nations Series that they can mix it with the top nations, not just in terms of their traditionally strong set piece, but in all aspects of the game.
Italy 21-63 South Africa
With Italy coming into this game off the back of a historic win against Australia last week, and South Africa still bruised after a hard-fought loss against France, Azzurri fans could be forgiven for thinking lightning was about to strike twice in succession after World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year Ange Cappuozo burst through the Springboks defence to dot down in the 11th minute.
However, the Springboks eventually hit top gear in the second half, adding a further seven tries to their tally, their most in the last 40 minutes against fellow Tier 1 opposition since also running seven past Argentina in the 2013 Rugby Championship.
South Africa’s tally of 568 metres gained against Italy was also their most against a Tier 1 side since they also made exactly 568 metres against the Italians at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. They were led in this effort by Kurt-Lee Arendse, who made 174 metres by himself, the most of any player in the Autumn Nations Series this weekend, and the most by any Springbok since Francois Hougaard gained 204 metres against Namibia at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Arendse also scored the first brace of his Test career and has now scored a total of six tries in his six Springbok caps, including at least one in each of his last four appearances.
Jacques Nienaber will also be particularly pleased with how well his team kept the ball, registering 58% possession and conceding just nine turnovers throughout the course of the match after conceding 10+ in each of their previous eight Test matches, along with how well they kept their discipline, finishing the match without a single yellow or red card for the first time in the same period.
While Kieran Crowley is unlikely to have been enthused by his side’s defensive efforts, he can at least take heart in the fact that they registered their second-highest points tally against South Africa in the 21st century and also beat 26 Springbok defenders, the third-most of any Test side since the 2019 Rugby World Cup, only behind the British & Irish Lions in 2021 and Ireland a fortnight ago.
Scotland 52-29 Argentina
Scotland and Argentina renewed old rivalries at Murrayfield after the Pumas’ narrow 2-1 Series win against Gregor Townsend’s men in July, and to say that this was an encounter fraught with ill-discipline would be an understatement of epic proportions.
A total of six cards, five yellow and one red, were dished out to the two sides, just the third time that a Test match has seen that many since Opta have recorded this data (2010). Intriguingly, all three of those matches have involved Argentina, including one this year against South Africa (also vs. England in November 2016). The only other Test which has seen 5+ since 2010 was Scotland’s victory against Fiji a fortnight ago.
It was Argentina who received the majority of those cards though (three yellows and one red), finding themselves reduced to just 12 men at one stage. It’s hard enough to defend against a back three of Duhan van der Merwe, Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg at the best of times, but even more so when they have so much free space to attack, and they capitalized on Argentina’s poor discipline to score five tries between them, a total which included Graham’s first ever hat-trick at Test level.
Scotland also gained 701 metres and beat 42 defenders during the match, with both tallies being their highest in any game this year, while their total of 52 points was also their most ever against the Pumas at Test level. So, as much as they were helped by the number of cards dished out, even though they did receive two themselves, they can be quietly happy with the fact that they signed off their year with a flourish.
England 25-25 New Zealand
A week after New Zealand mounted their superb comeback against a resilient Scotland side, they found themselves on the wrong side of an incredible England surge in the last 10 minutes, with Eddie Jones’ side scoring three unanswered tries after the 70th minute to claw their way back from a 19-point deficit to claim a draw.
Beauden Barrett scored a drop goal in the 70th minute which looked to put the game beyond any reasonable doubt, but it was his sin-bin straight after the restart which allowed England a way back into the game, an opportunity which they grasped with everything they had.
England made three line breaks in the last 10 minutes of the match, as many as they made in the first 70 combined, and crucially, they made them count. Whereas they scored an average of just 0.33 points per opposition 22 entry up until that point, they scored a try on all three occasions they entered the All Blacks’ redzone after Barrett’s yellow card. Two of those tries were scored by substitute Will Stuart, who became the first prop to score two tries for England in a Test match since Opta have recorded this data (2010), and just the second substitute to do so in the same period after Jack Nowell and Danny Care both did so in the 2017 Six Nations campaign.
New Zealand, for their part, will be disappointed with how poorly they coped when they went down to 14 men, registering a tackle success rate of just 79% after the 70th minute and allowing England a carry dominance rate of 58%, compared to their 9% in the first 70.
While the All Blacks have now played their final Test match of 2022 and will have to reflect on what was a relatively mixed year by their notoriously lofty standards, England will have one last chance to lay down a marker ahead of next year when they face the Springboks at Twickenham next Saturday in what is sure to be an equally close-fought encounter.
Ireland 13-10 Australia
It’s fair to say that the crowd at the Aviva weren’t exactly treated to a classic on Saturday, with the first half alone yielding just three points in total (Ireland 3-0 Australia). That was the lowest-scoring first half involving two Tier 1 nations since Scotland against England in the 2020 Six Nations (Scotland 0-3 England), which itself was the lowest since 2014, when Australia and France went in scoreless at the break in Melbourne.
But that’s not to say there weren’t moments of brilliance during the game. Australia’s Mark Nawaqanitawase was one of the standout players in the game, particularly in that first half. He was making just his second appearance for the Wallabies but played like a seasoned professional, popping up all over the pitch, frequently coming off his wing to cause havoc in the Irish defence with his 14 carries the joint most of any player in the game, beating four players and making one of the four line breaks that occurred in the entire game. It was apt therefore that he had a hand in Australia’s try which set the match up for a nail-biting finish, assisting Jordan Petaia’s five-pointer.
For the men in green though, there was an unlikely hero – or at least one that seemed unlikely until Johnny Sexton pulled up with an injury during the warm-up. His withdrawal from the team meant that Jack Crowley stepped into the team for a first start, while Ross Byrne filled the spot on the bench. One of Ross Byrne’s biggest strengths is his goal-kicking so in one sense it was no surprise that he went on to knock over the winning kick, but the confidence to step into the team at late notice and have a go at a match-winning penalty from an awkward angle speaks volumes of the mental resilience of the Leinsterman. Taking into account the difficulty of that kick, the average goal kicker would have been expected to slot that just 44% of the time. Byrne had no such issues bisecting the posts, seeing Ireland home to an Autumn Nations Series whitewash – they now haven’t lost at the Aviva Stadium in the month of November since 2016 (vs. New Zealand).
France 35-17 Japan
France finished 2022 with yet another victory, the only Tier 1 nation to go through the year unbeaten. In fact, they’ve now won their last 13 games in a row, the longest ever run for the France men’s team, surpassing their previous best of 10 straight victories which was set back in the 1930s. Since then they’d not managed to hit double figures until the last 12 months. It’s also the first time France have recorded a 100% win rate in a calendar year in which they’ve played more than twice. Their closest attempt came in 1998 when they won their first eight matches of the year, but lost their final game against a Wallabies side who would go on to break French hearts again less than 12 months later in the Rugby World Cup final. However, no one has managed to stop the class of ’22, who will hope that this is not the peak of their journey ahead of a home World Cup next year.
France closed out their year in style, along with their four tries they beat 38 defenders – their second highest tally in a Test match since Opta have recorded this data (since 2010), behind only the 55 defenders they beat against Italy during the 2017 Six Nations. Les Bleus are a difficult team to stop once they get going, can anyone stop them as they march on into 2023?
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