The North has the upper hand in autumn warm up internationals as rugby’s balance of power shifts
- New Zealand’s pace setting role is being questioned for first time in many years
- Ireland could topple Steve Hansen’s All Blacks as the No 1 team in the world
- The two sides meet in Dublin in stand-out clash among Autumn interntaionals
- England and Wales also stand above South Africa and Australia in current chart
The shift in rugby’s balance of power, from south to north, should accelerate next month. The last November Test programme of its kind is a prime chance for the European nations to enhance their World Cup prospects.
Even New Zealand’s perennial status as the global pace-setters is under threat, for the first time in many years.
Having narrowly avoided back-to-back defeats against South Africa by conjuring a great escape in Pretoria, Steve Hansen’s All Blacks could be toppled from the No 1 ranking by Ireland.
Steve Hansen’s All Blacks could be toppled from the No 1 ranking by Ireland this autumn
The showdown between those teams in Dublin on November 17 represents the pinnacle of this autumn international window.
As ever, the Kiwi kingpins will arrive in these parts with a target on their heads and England will believe they can upset them at Twickenham in 12 days’ time, but the main ambush awaits in the Irish capital.
Given the class of their Leinster core and the way they cleared a psychological barrier by beating New Zealand in Chicago two years ago, Joe Schmidt’s side have every chance of repeating that feat and finishing this year on top of the pile.
First, they are back in the same American city to face Italy — but that fixture and Wales v Scotland are financial exercises, nothing more.
November is meant to be all about north v south – one-off Tests with exotic appeal. For so long, the matches served as a reminder of SANZAR superiority over their Six Nations rivals, but not now.
The Kiwis will arrive with a target on their heads and England will believe they can upset them
If Ireland can overtake the All Blacks in the rankings, it will cap an emphatic transformation, with England and Wales also standing above South Africa and Australia in the current chart.
The Springboks are the first visitors to Twickenham on Saturday and their victory over the world champions in Wellington was a vivid illustration of their revival under Rassie Erasmus, but it remains a work in progress.
Their results have been patchy. Their win in the New Zealand capital was a triumph of spirit and tenacity under pressure, but they were abject during defeats in Argentina and Australia, so their away form has been largely unconvincing.
As for the Wallabies, they are in utter disarray. Beleagured head coach Michael Cheika is facing relentless criticism for presiding over a slump. They are there for the taking.
Wales must beat them this time. Likewise England. Even Italy will fancy their chances against these ‘Wobblies’.
With Argentina’s tentative revival also yet to fully ignite, they are vulnerable too. This November should belong to the north.
South Africa celebrate during their win over New Zealand in Wellington back in September
Christian Wade has finally confirmed that he is seeking a new career in American football. The former Wasps and England wing recognises the magnitude of the task he faces, to earn a shot in the NFL.
‘I know I’ve got a huge mountain to climb,’ he told the BBC. ‘I’ve just got to work my butt off to see if I can get to the level that is required. I’m a fan of the NFL, so I’m not really bothered about what team I play for, if I can get the opportunity.’
Good luck to him.
Christian Wade is looking to start a career in American football after leaving Wasps
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