England’s opposition in the Autumn Internationals


With the annual Autumn Internationals just around the corner, eyes are slowly turning from the drama of the Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup, to the excitement and anxiety of international rugby. Understandably the headlines are stolen by news of injuries to England stalwarts Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes, as well as a possible suspension for Chris Ashton who will be required to attend a disciplinary hearing after picking up three yellow cards so far this season.

Considering that England will face all three of the Southern Hemisphere powerhouses – Australia, South Africa and New Zealand – as well as a challenging visit from the enigmatic Fijians, it is perhaps time some light was shone on the form and fitness of their upcoming opposition.


Given that momentum is such an important factor in modern international rugby, England have been somewhat blessed by the fact they start off their series of games with their easiest opponent, Fiji. Whilst respect must be given to a side that have a history of upsetting the odds and playing physical, fast-paced rugby, they are a side which England should be able to comfortably beat at Twickenham.

The Fijians have thrown England a curveball with the inclusion 16 uncapped players in their squad, but the dangers that the likes of Vereniki Goneva (Leicester Tigers), Josh Matavesi and Ravai Fatiaki (both Worcester Warriors) pose will be well known to the England squad.


Next up for England is a more familiar foe in the form of Australia. The home side have had some recent success against the Wallabies and will be looking for their third straight victory over them when they meet on the 17th November. Stuart Lancaster will be targeting at least one, if not two victories over the ‘Big Three’ from the Southern Hemisphere, and Australia are the most likely candidates.

In stark contrast to the Fiji squad, Australia have named just one uncapped player, prop Paddy Ryan, but injuries to Will Genia and Quade Cooper have severely damaged Australian hopes of a successful tour. The Wallabies rarely look like world beaters when they are bereft of this pair, and Genia’s absence will be particularly disruptive. It’s not all bad news for Australia however, as captain David Pocock returns from injury. Much of the criticism of their poor Rugby Championship campaign centred around their inability to compete at the breakdown, but the return of Pocock will certainly give the likes of Chris Robshaw something to think about.

South Africa

Injuries have also taken their toll on England’s third opponents of the series, South Africa. Prolific try scorer Bryan Habana will miss the tour with a knee injury, young fly-half Johan Goosen is also out, whilst experienced Springboks Bismarck du Plessis, Pierre Spies, Frans Steyn and Andries Bekker will all miss the tour because of injury. This has resulted in a relatively youthful and inexperienced South African squad being selected, and gifts England an unparalleled opportunity to go one better than their last match against the Springboks, a 14-14 draw back in June.

The Boks’ squad is still packed with quality though, not least in the back row. Francois Louw has proven himself to be one of the premiere flankers in world rugby, whilst Willem Alberts showed his prowess as a ball carrier earlier this summer against England, breaking tackle after tackle. Second row Eben Etzebeth has also had a breakout year, with the biggest compliment you can pay him being that the transition from Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield to the next generation has been as seamless as possible. England would also be wise to not sleep on the Habana-less backs division who can score from anywhere on the pitch, especially JP Pietersen, who has a habit of scoring tries against England.

New Zealand

The series culminates in a blockbuster encounter with New Zealand on the 2nd December. Unsurprisingly, the All Blacks will most likely offer the biggest challenge to Lancaster and his team this autumn. They have relatively few injury problems and head into their tour on the back of winning the inaugural Rugby Championship.

England will be well aware of the enviable skill sets of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, but it will be just as important to keep the free scoring talents of Israel Dagg and Cory Jane under wraps if they are to upset the odds and beat the All Blacks.

Another player to watch out for is Julian Savea. The 22 year-old winger has scored six tries in his five international appearances and looks set to become the next All Black back to take the world by storm.

Chances are that New Zealand will be heading into the game with England looking to complete an undefeated tour of Europe, and as such will field their strongest possible team.

Although England may have their own injury problems to contend with, and are still growing as a side under the relatively new tutelage of Lancaster, this series offers a very real chances of success. Given the injuries suffered by both Australia and South Africa, England could very well head into their final match with New Zealand having won all three of their matches. Whether that comes to pass or not is yet to be seen, but it certainly offers the potential of an epic showdown with the All Blacks on December the 2nd.

What do you think marks success for England this Autumn? Is winning 2 out of 4 good enough? Is maintaining a place in the top 4 in the IRB rankings ahead of the RWC pool draw all that matters?

By Alex Shaw

15 thoughts on “England’s opposition in the Autumn Internationals

  1. Tend to agree with Brian Moore on this one. It’s not how many wins we get, it’s how we play that is important, as well as bringing on the talent we have and identifying one or two new players who are going to be able to compete at international level.

    My fear with this team selection, is that the latter aim will not happen.

  2. Difficult one. We have to go in with belief that we can/ will win. After the summer I wil be gutted if we cant get one over South Africa. Yes I agree that the performance is important – quite frankly I couldn’t give a monkeys about the World cup seeding as even if we retain fourth, we could still get Wales, France or Ireland in our group – but we really need to start getting some regular results against the Southern hemisphere and stop the rut of defeats. I think a win agianst NZ is possible – they’ll be knackered (hopefully) and maybe just a tad bit complacent. From a purely selfish perspective – PLEASE no surprise upsets prior to the big 3 playing England – I really don’t want a fired up SA like last time!!
    Final point, and this is a gripe – anyone else a bit tired of playing the big 3 every year? Couldn’t they alternate so we could at least have one 2 match series like we used to. The big turning point for SCW was when we drew with NZ back in 2000 (I think) – but that followed a real thumping the week before – had we had the current schedule that important result may never have happened. I really think having one off matches puts all the 6N teams at a disatvantage when taking on the big 3 at home.

    1. “PLEASE no surprise upsets prior to the big 3 playing England – I really don’t want a fired up SA like last time!!”

      Sounds like more English delusion. Ireland have a better record against SA than England do in recent years. We will be hoping to take’em at the Aviva. It would only be an upset when viewed through rose-tinted lenses, and as I say, you’re deluded..

      1. You’re right I’m deluded. I mean its not as if we drew with them away in our last encounter. Believing we can back that up with a home win is completely delusional.

        Btw can Ireland win matches when BOD isn’t playing?

  3. An optomistic 3 out of a possible 4 victories. Would have felt more comfortable with the likes of Lawes, Hartley, Burns, S Amitage, Croft and Foden in the squad or fit and able.

  4. In terms of performance things I’m hoping to see (in addition to what we have seen thus far this year) are:
    – The return of some first phase strike moves, the best teams score a decent percentage of tries this way, I can’t recall the last time I saw England even execute one effectively.
    – Some organisation in the back play, on the South Africa tour we seemed to have random distributions of forwards and backs either side of the ruck and no pattern to the attacks.
    – Hold onto the ball! Play with fast pace, get some good continuity and good support play for the offloads and pop passes. I don’t think we’ve got the personnel to cut defenses through fizzing passes but I think we can play fast and accurate.

    I don’t think we will get a win against SA or NZ without a good performance. SA may have some injury issues, they got a lot better towards the back end of the Rugby Championship, particularly when Morne was changed, so I don’t see them being vulnerable. A win against Aus will always be a good result, but we’ve shown it is possible to do this through a pummeling upfront alone. Doing so again would be great to watch but can’t be hailed as progress. So a win against SA or NZ and I think it’s a success, not getting a win against either of those two doesn’t necessarily mean a failure, depends on the nature of the defeat!

  5. Sorry fellas, i’m England through and through but there’s no chance of us beating NZ. Hate to be a pessimist, but they’re just TOO good at the moment. No weakness anywhere in the team.

    I hope/believe we can get 2 victories over Fiji/Aus, a narrow loss to SA and a medium size loss to NZ.

    1. Actually I’m predicting England to beat Aus and run both SA and NZ close but not win. I predict Ireland will neat SA.

  6. Are NZ missing McCaw for this tour? Be interested to see who takes his place. Sam Cane?

    The drawn game with Aus and the game against Ireland back in the summer show that the Kiwis can be rattled – but only if they have an off day and are never allowed to settle into any kind of rhythm! Fingers crossed they decide to have a complete ‘mare at Twickers

    BTW is anyone as irritated as me that a number of these Autumn internationals are scheduled for kick-off at the same time? Eg, Eng v Fiji is the same time as Wales v Arg and Eng v NZ is the same time as Wales v Aus

    Surely it would be simple to avoid this and ensure higher viewing figures for both matches??

    1. yes it is seriously annoying as against any southern hemisphere team I am a northern hemisphere fan so really want to watch wales and england play.

  7. NZ arent even that invincible. Slow them down at the breakdown and pressure carter and theyre just as beatable as everyone else. The Pumas gave the all blacks a hard time when they came out guns all blazing in their first test…

    1. Agree. NZ have such an advantage becuase everyone puts them on a pedastal. It’s notable that the most successful side against them is Australia who just dont accpet the myth and aura they have cultivated. I don’t expect us to win, but I think we have a chance.

      Three years ago we played them with an injury ravaged team, down to our fourth choice prop and Erinle in the centres, and losing the tackle machine that is Worsley after 5 mintues. It was a fairly close match if I recall, certainly not a thumping.

      Two years ago we gave them a 14 point head start and came mightly close to snatching a result. Despite the loss of Hartley (the only meanigful injury as the rest we have decent cover for) I think the core and ethos of this team is far improved from these previous teams.

  8. Yes – but NZ are a much better side than they were 2 years ago. They were immense then. They’re untouchable now. In my opinion. You can’t rattle Carter – he just picks himself back up and gets on with being absolute class. He’s not like Quade Cooper who self destructs.

    Just my thoughts anyway. I don’t think we’ll get a hiding. But i think there will be 15 odd points in it. Something like 28 -12

  9. i pick the all blacks to face a stiff and high scoring challenge from wales much like their clash in the 2003 rwc,which i personally think was one of the best rwc matches ever.However i think the next time NZ will genuinely face losing a match will be the french tour out to NZ next year. I think England will beat Australia and may beat south Africa in the battle of the penalty kicks if Farrell can hold his own against the south African kickers. However i think that when England play NZ they’ll both have been unbeaten thus far and new zealand will score 3 tries to 1 and come away with a 30-14 victory or similar.

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