Autumn Internationals 2012: Team of the Autumn

Richie McCaw

1: Yannick Forestier (France)
The Castres prop was handed his France debut this autumn at the ripe old age of 30. He looked like he’d been waiting for it his whole playing career, as he proceeded to tear into an undercooked Australian scrum and cement his position for the following Argentinian game, which they again won comfortably. Prop has never been a position of weakness for France, and they can add Forestier to their list of exemplary performers in this area. Mention goes to Alex Corbisiero who shored up the England scrum for the final two games of their autumn.

2: Adriaan Strauss (South Africa)
The Bismarck Du Plessis-shaped hole in Bokke front row has been filled this Autumn by Strauss, cousin of namesake Richardt who debuted for Ireland – and what a job he has done. The lineout has always been an area of strength for South Africa and he has made sure that trend has continued, with a 100% record from their first two games. He also grabbed a brace against Scotland – no mean feat for a hooker – which included the vision to intercept a long pass and the pace to gallop away under the posts.

3: Dan Cole (England)
Cole’s status as one of the best tight-heads in the world has been confirmed this season as he has grown into a superb all-round player. Not only is he one of the more accomplished scrummagers, but his work at the breakdown surpasses the rest of the world’s front-row forwards by some distance. Add to that his quiet intelligence and work-rate, and there’s little doubt he deserves his spot here. Mention must also go to Nicolas Mas, who spearheads a fearsome French front five.

4: Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)
Etzebeth has undoubtedly been the find of the season. When Bakkies Botha retired South African fans were rightly concerned about the giant-sized hole the most ferocious enforcer in world rugby would leave, but 21 year-old, baby-faced Etzebeth has quickly got up to speed and had a fine autumn tearing into new Northern Hemisphere opposition. Mention must go to Irish pair McCarthy and Ryan, who shone in the dismantling of the Argentinean pack, effectively winning the game in the process.

5: Pascal Papé (France)
French fans would have approached this autumn not really knowing what to expect; a new coach and an inexperienced, new-look lineup left them not necessarily expecting great success. Huge credit must go, therefore, to their talismanic captain Pascal Papé, who brought them together and led them to 3 wins from 3, including the smashing of the Wallabies.

6: Yannick Nyanga (France)
The second Yannick in this team made his return to the international fold after 5 years out in the wilderness, but it was impossible to tell he had been away. The highlight of his autumn came in the form of a try against Argentina that showcased his power, awareness, and acceleration to round the full-back. He is part of a French back-row that is as good as any in the world, even with the mighty Dusautoir to return. Mention goes to Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, who has led Argentina to a ground-breaking year – there is plenty more to come from them.

7: Richie McCaw (New Zealand)
McCaw’s 6-month sabbatical would have been much sweeter for the great man had his team not suffered a record breaking defeat to England in his final game. He should take the time off feeling proud of what he has achieved as the captain of a New Zealand side who had an extraordinarily successful season, but you just know that he is such a perfectionist that that loss will eat away at him. Immovable at the breakdown and with an engine that never packs in, he is one of the finest players ever to have played the game and proved it again this autumn.

8: Kieran Read (New Zealand)
McCaw’s back-row companion has confirmed himself as the world’s number one no.8, holding off a strong challenge from Frenchman Louis Picamoles. Read handles the ball with the same ease as the rest of the New Zealand pack, and he has a handy knack of scoring tries. A more complete no.8 there is not at the moment.

9: Aaron Smith (New Zealand)
Scrum half is currently not an area of great strength worldwide, and Aaron Smith makes the team more for the potential he has shown than a groundbreaking autumn. He seems to be New Zealand’s choice to finally plug the gap left by the great Justin Marshall/Byron Kelleher rivalry, and with pace to burn and a fizzing pass he looks to be a good option. Mention must go to Ruan Pienaar who may not possess the pace of other scrum-halves, but is a supremely canny operator.

10: Dan Carter (New Zealand)
Carter had an off day at Twickenham, but he nevertheless remains head and shoulders above every other fly-half in world rugby as his master class at Edinburgh their opening game of the autumn proves. The amount of time he seems to have with the ball in hand is astonishing, and defences so rarely seem to rattle him (which makes what happened at Twickenham all the more impressive). Mention goes to Freddie Michalak who finally stepped up and showed he had the temperament to run a backline to match his undoubted genius.

11: Julien Savea (New Zealand)
The Wellington winger confirmed himself as the most deadly finisher in world rugby this autumn, with 6 tries in 4 games taking his total to 12 in 9 appearances. Tall, powerful and quick, he has all the attributes a modern winger needs. Obviously, he benefits from having a host of world-class backs inside him feeding him ball, but with such a fine scoring record he must take a lot of the credit.

12: Jean de Villiers (South Africa)
The old warhorse of South African rugby led his team to another successful Northern Hemisphere tour, and in the process round off a mixed season for the Boks. Their style of play is not the easiest on the eye, but in de Villiers they have a man who will always run hard and fast, offering up the occasional offload in the process. Frans Steyn will probably be the long-term successor, but they will miss this man’s leadership in the midfield when he has gone.

13: Conrad Smith (New Zealand)
The man they call “snakehips” is probably one of the most underrated players in the world, and a glaring omission from the IRB Player of the Year shortlist. The centre is as important as the likes of McCaw and Carter, marshalling the midfield in defence (glaring error against England aside) and with an eye for a gap that sees him frequently break the line. His partnership with Nonu is rightly the most feared in world rugby.

14: Nick Cummins (Australia)
The Western Force winger had a storming autumn, scoring in two of Australia’s four tests including a vital try against England at Twickenham. His shaggy hair and bizarre assertion that he models his defensive game on a honey badger make him somewhat of an enigma, but with all their injuries to creative players that is exactly what Australia need right now. With pace and power in equal measures, he would form a formidable partnership with Savea.

15: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
A devastatingly poor autumn series for Wales had one saving grace: the form of Leigh Halfpenny. The Cardiff man has announced himself as a genuinely world-class full-back, and emerged as the early frontrunner for the Lions berth in this position. His goalkicking is monotonously reliable, and under the high ball he has become almost as dependable as his great rival for that Lions spot Rob Kearney. One of the very few men to come out of Wales’ autumn in credit.

By Jamie Hosie

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

44 thoughts on “Autumn Internationals 2012: Team of the Autumn

    1. I hardly think Cole is the “token” player. He fully deserves to be there, no matter what country he plays for.

  1. Not absolutely convinced by Read, Smith and Smith of the AB’s. Part of me wonders whether they have made it on the back of the team they play for or reputation.

    Of the teams that played England (thereby being the games that I studied most), I thought that Vermeulen was the better player. Read was a bit all over the shop. However I do accept that he is a class player and thi may be the most shaky of my objections.

    A Smith – wasn’t convinced although appreciate that there wasn’t much competition, but from what I saw the Samoan SH looked the best on offer.

    Conrad Smith played well but was given a masterclass by Tuilagi, and therefore based on head to head in the AI’s I just don’t think he should be given the vote.

    Other than that am in agreement.

    1. Great shout for Kahn Fotuali’i at 9 his performance vs Wales was one of the best individual performances this autumn.

  2. Surely Manu should be in there. He may have a lot to learn but, just a guess, he must have been one of the top try scorers in the AI’s!

  3. Seems a bit harsh that there is no mention for Cian Healy or the Irish second rows. Mike McCarthy outplayed Etzebeth in the Ireland-SA test.

  4. Think this is a bit NZ centric when they beat Wales and Scotland who were (sadly) absolutely lamentable, then got their arses handed to them by a developing England squad (admittedly after a virus). Put simply: If your forwards are steamrollering the opposition and you play well, but then have an absolute NIGHTMARE against a rampant pack you cannot be termed best scrum half.
    Don’t want to be to down as you have picked a good side on the whole. Just seems a bit ‘cozy’ for me!

    1. Agreed with that.

      Aaron Smith had a bit of a lesson in international rugby vs England. Its easy enough when your forwards are dominating, somewhat less so when they are being DOMINATED(copyright J Haskell)

      Youngs was in his face all game and completely outplayed Smith and Youngs didn’t even play that well

      Would plump for the Samoan scrummie myself – he seems like a brilliant player. Pienaar was pretty awful against England

      COf the otehrs, I disagree with Cummins – good match vs England, less so vs Wales. Would go for Imhoff here, who looks class

  5. Please put the “VIRUS THEORY TO BED. NZ didnt raise the subject and their play when allowed matched their best. England played at long last as they know they can,there was Power,Pace,Precision. No British Isles Team put up a Performance half as good.

    1. Although if you read some of the Kiwi blogs, there are some people who seem to think it was ENTIRELY down to the referee and especially the reffing of the breakdown.

  6. A bit of a strange selection to be honest. Very NZ centered when they hardly had a great Autumn; if you look at this as a team for the whole year, its harder to disagree, but it is not.

    There are a few more England players that should be in this team; Tuilagi, Goode, Launchbury to name a few.

    I certainly would have the Samoan scrum half in there; and I would also go for Michalak at 10.

  7. Fotuali (not spelled correctly, but you know what I mean) should be at 9, other than that I agree with it all.

    On the subject of not enough English players – this is a selection for the whole autumn. The same players who were outstanding against the All Blacks were woeful against SA and Aus, especially Aus. England’s backs were dreadful against Aus so I think the balanced selection here (no Tuilagi, no Goode) is fine as it’s not team of the final weekend, it is team of the entire month.

    Who was the debutant of the month? Wales, through necessity, introduced a few but one of them stood out amongst the poor performance of the team.

    1. Can’t see Goode ahead of Halfpenny, and Launchbury didn’t start all of the games so a bit premature on that front. However Tuilagi did play well in all of the games. Didn’t do everything right, but edged it for selection by demolishing Smith C in the one game that they did play head to head. Up until that point it was snakehips all the way.

      Please don’t tease with your mention of debutant of the month and then not name them. Actually that could be quite a good article for this blog – identify the best debutant from each team over the AI’s and then name the best – I like that idea. For my penny’s worth, and from the limited games that I saw – mainly England and Wales, Launchbury would be up there, as would Gilroy, but not sure who you mean from Wales. Lost track of the front 5 due to so many injuries, but behind that Tipuric got outmuscled at the breakdown, so possibly Williams on the wing who looked pretty good on debut. Unless you mean Howley as coach…….?

      1. I’d probably go for Gilroy. Agree that Liam played well for Wales but as I said, he didn’t shine in a poor team.

        Not sure Tuilagi did nothing wrong – butchered a couple of try scoring chances hence all the call for him to be put on the wing as he couldn’t pass. He massively improved on that for the NZ game, but that 1 game doesn’t negate what he did wrong in the others for me.

        1. Much as I’m a Tuilagi fan I can’t pick him ahead of Smith, but it is close. I think he’s got many more credits than debits over the Autumn, even prior to his monster performance agaisnt the ABs
          – 2 Tries Vs Fiji
          – An offload in a try scoring move against Fiji
          – Try (just!) against Aus that very few people in world rugby could have finished
          – Brilliant intercept and pass to Ashton in filthy conditions against the Boks, let down by Brown’s running line/Ashton’s pass

          Best of the rest in this position.

  8. Debutant of the month would have to be Launchbury, Youngs or Gilroy for me.

    Although I did see precisely none of the French games.

  9. Kahn Fotuali’i already mentioned, a few other Pacific Islanders deserve to be in the mix for honourable mentions as a minimum. The Johnston brothers did more damage to a Welsh scrum that any others in recent memory. I know we only got to see the Tongan’s once but Vainikolo’s try was something special.

  10. Gilroy was good but we’ve only seen him against a knackered Argie team and the Fijians.

    I’d save my debutants for those who played against the top 3.

    Forestiere
    Launchbury
    Youngs
    Liam Williams

    Of those I’d plump for Launchbury who took to international rugby with no fuss

    Brighty – don’t think England were woeful against the Saffers or the Aussies. They were within a score in each game and these are the second and third rated teams in the world. Not so much woeful as a little bit naive, inexperienced and afraid to cut free

    Woeful goes to 2 results over the autumn – Scotland losing to Tonga and Wales to Samoa. Neither team looked interested. To be fair though, the Welsh picked it up against the Aussies but were undone by their inability to close out a game – a recurring problem for them

    1. Pablito, I meant England’s backs – their forwards kept them in those games but their backs didn’t create anything or missed clear chances. That’s why I agree that over the whole AIs no England back deserves a place in a best-of. Last weekend, yes – the whole month, no.

      1. Wales losing to Samoa was “woeful”?

        France 22 – 14 Samoa
        Samoa 16 – 17 Scotland
        Wales 17-10 Samoa
        South Africa 13-5 Samoa

        That’s their last five losses against teams above them. All close games. The win was coming. This autumn was their first time they all got together and trained for 2 weeks in advance. They’re going to be a hard ask for anyone to beat now they’re training like a proper side.

        Don’t get me wrong – losing was bad, we should have been good enough to win. But as a recent blog on this site outlined, those “minnows” are anything but now. So I can’t see it falling into woeful – that was a massively brutal game and we lost it. We were not good enough to win it, but losing to a decent top 8 team isn’t a shocking defeat.

        1. …. you did rate the Welsh effort as a zero. If a zero isn’t woeful then the standards really are slipping :-)

          1. Yeah, I did. I was angry at the time but with hindsight I think the brutal truth is that it wasn’t Wales simply losing, it was also Samoa winning. They’re good enough to win big matches now.

        2. Papering over the cracks Brighty, losing to Samoa was woeful, losing to Argentina was woeful, Wales are woeful

          1. Perhaps you are right Brighty and losing to Samoa is now to be expected for the Welsh.

            Samoa are now 2 places above you in the IRB Rankings and perhaps that is the new way of things.

            England, NZ, SA and France are all yet to lose to Samoa but perhaps not for much longer.

        3. Yeah Pablito, but it’s hard for me to prove it as Samoa probably won’t play another top 8 nation for a year or two. I just think, looking at those results and at how ferocious they were in the game against us, that they’re not going to be a minor speedbump for people anymore. They’re sort of like a new Argentina – a critical mass of players abroad means they now have a fully pro 30 or more players so they are a full pro international squad now.

          1. Samoa have definitely given England a game, the last two times that we’ve played them. Remember them being in front for quite a part of a game for a while.

          2. So long as they can get a properly first choice team out and not be hampered by the clubs as were Fiji, I’d agree with you

            Would be nice to see a S hemisphere championship that could fit in Samoa, Tonga and Fiji as well as Argentina. But distances mean that’s somewhat unlikely to happen.

    2. Agreed England did not have an amazing series but to call it woeful is far too harsh!! A few different decisions could have seen them win all three. Glad they didn’t as that would have been too much too quick and the only way would have been down from there. Also don’t think there is a huge cry for loads of English but there are one or two like Manu who should have been there or there abouts.

      1. I wasn’t calling England woeful, I was saying their backs were in two games. No creativity, butchering changes, etc. Jeez, after the first two games everyone and his mother was criticising the lack of decent England back play – 1 game later and it’s all rosy :-) (Look, deliberate joke there right, no need to respond, I’m not trolling).

        1. “A few different decisions” – blaming the losses the on the ref now or am I misinterpreting you and you mean player decisions?

          I didn’t see that – if you mean Robshaw going for posts against Aus … they were not going to score a try from a rolling maul lineout. They havn’t for years so I’d have been pretty confident they were not going to then.

          Bad refereeing? – Tuilagi’s try was given…

          Small decisions/margins? – Yeah, and Wales could have been sat here with two wins – Against Aus for the tiny margin, against NZ when we played against them with 14 men for nearly 80 mins. But we’re not and we’re being called rubbish. So I don’t think it’s harsh to repeat what was said a lot before the NZ game – England’s backs were a creativity vacuum so don’t deserve a place in a best team of the whole month.

          1. Absolutely not blaming the Ref(s) was poor decisions from the Team and Robshaw in particular.

            Agree that the Eng Backs were not troubling the judges in the creativity stats I was only advocating Manu for inclusion based on the fact that he scored more tries than pretty much anyone else and at the end of the day that’s what matters! More than the whole Welsh team in fact! So your argument of no Eng player deserving a spot based on the team lacking creativity is rather silly as Halfpenny is included despite Wales scoring what 3 tries in 4 games??? That is not a dig at him just your logic, he does deserve to be there as you can judge people individually.

          2. I would say that Halfpenny was the best full back, Manu was not the best centre. Unlike Halfpenny he didn’t stand out for England when their backs were poor, he was part of the problem. Halfpenny always looked a cut above the Welsh backs in the AIs.

            Manu was heavily criticised after those first 3 matches – calls for him to be moved to the wing or even dropped. Then they beat NZ and he played brilliantly, but he wasn’t consistently one of the best centres in the world (as nearly all top teams played) in the whole month.

  11. NH Team of Autumn:

    1 – Y. Forestier
    2 – T. Youngs
    3 – D. Cole
    4 – J. Launchbury
    5 – P. Pape
    6 – T. Wood
    7 – Y. Nyanga
    8 – L. Picamoles
    9 – B. Youngs
    10 – F. Michilak
    11 – C. Gilroy
    12 – W. Fofana
    13 – M. Tuilagi
    14 – V. Clerc
    15 – L. Halfpenny

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