After a thoroughly exciting month of rugby, the (insert sponsor’s name here) Internationals are now officially over, and it’s time to look back at the action and hand out the rugby equivalent of the Oscars, The Rugby Blog’s Autumn International Awards.
Try of the Autumn: Julian Savea, vs England
A number of nominees for this award, but it comes down to two standout efforts in my mind; Julian Savea’s first try against England, and Christian Lealiifano’s score against Wales. Savea’s try was a result of individual brilliance from Kieran Read, whilst Lealiifano’s was the product of fantastic teamwork from Quade Cooper and Joe Tomane in the build-up to Lealiifano finally crossing the line. As a former forward, I’ve opted for Savea’s score, as the awareness, ball skills, and composure from Read to offload the ball as he was being bundled into touch were truly inspiring.
Performance of the Autumn: New Zealand, vs Ireland
Ireland’s sensational first 20 minutes against New Zealand was almost good enough to win this award on its own, but unfortunately their inability to defend their 19-point lead nullifies it to some extent. Similarly, as dominant as England were in their second half against Australia, a clumsy first half tainted the performance. Australia’s virtuoso performance against Wales came very close to taking the accolade, but the self-belief and efficiency that the All Blacks showed to overcome a heavy Irish lead was remarkable, and truly shows why they are the number one team in the world.
Player of the Autumn: Kieran Read
The sweep of the awards by New Zealand continues, as Read was head and shoulders above all his contemporaries this autumn, and yet was arguably not even as impressive as he was in the recent Rugby Championship. Quade Cooper, Toby Faletau, and Mike Brown all had good autumns and deserve recognition, but didn’t quite show the consistency and quality that Read did.
Best Test Match: Wales vs Australia
The game between Ireland and New Zealand at the Aviva would be many people’s choice, but that game was very much a case of Ireland initially dominating, and subsequently trying to contain the All Blacks, whilst Wales vs Australia was competitive throughout, with momentum continually swinging between the two sides. Twickenham and the Stade de France both played host to compelling matches when New Zealand came to town, but neither rivalled the drama of Australia’s visit to the Millennium Stadium.
Young Player of the Autumn: Joe Launchbury, England
Although already well established in England’s engine room, Launchbury is still just 22 years of age, and qualifies on age, rather than as an emerging player. There were a number of candidates who also put in good performances, but none that played with the consistent quality that Launchbury showed. Eben Etzebeth (tour ended early with injury), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Rhodri Williams, Gael Fickou (all featured from the bench), Brodie Retallick, and Jonny Gray deserve honourable mentions.
Biggest Disappointment: Wales
Wales were excellent against Argentina, and formidable against Australia, but losses to both South Africa and the Wallabies continue to plague the Welsh, who had perhaps their best opportunity to end their dismal run against the ‘Big Three’ in quite some time. Injuries to Adam Jones, Jamie Roberts, and Jonathan Davies obviously provide mitigating circumstances, but victory was within their grasp against Australia, and they were once again unable to seize it. Argentina’s lacklustre autumn was also in contention, but given their struggles during The Rugby Championship, their form over the last month was fairly expected.
Most Entertaining Side: Fiji
The Fijians put on a real show at Twickenham against the Barbarians, and although they lost the game heavily, they played with their traditional enthusiasm, despite having lost many of their stars back to their clubs. Their overhead offloading was reminiscent of some of basketball’s finest, and had fans on the edge of their seats throughout. A staggering four yellow cards against Italy (which saw Fiji playing with just 11 men at one point) also added a certain ‘entertainment value’ to that match, and it’s fair to say that spectators who have been to see Fiji this autumn have certainly got their money’s worth.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Andrew Hore
Hore has never been far from controversy, whether it be for his cheap shot on Bradley Davies, or shooting protected fur seals in New Zealand, but the hooker played his last game for the All Blacks this autumn, and deserves recognition for a celebrated career. Hore has collected 83 test caps – no mean feat considering he has spent much of his career jostling with Keven Mealamu for playing time – and was a member of the World Cup-winning squad in 2011. He capped his international career off with a perfect season for the All Blacks. Love him or hate him, Hore was a formidable opponent throughout his career.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images