The dust has established on the November internationals and the time for reflection from coaches has initiated 10 months out from next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan. Followers of rugby can book Rugby World Cup Final Tickets online.
New Zealand’s 10-try demolition of Italy in the final game of their end-of-season tour will have done nothing to ease concerns about the two previous matches, where they squeaked past England and lost to Ireland.
All Blacks endure the standard in test rugby and, despite losses to South Africa and Ireland this year, the odds on them winning a third straight RWC are unlikely to stray much above the 2-1 mark over.
Six Nations Grand Slam, first test series conquest in Australia for almost 40 years and November’s fully merited falling of the All Blacks made 2018 the year Ireland became frank RWC contenders.
They may have needed world player of the year Johnny Sexton’s stoppage-time drop goal in Paris to kick start a run of 11 wins in 12, but what followed included commanding victories in London, Melbourne, and Sydney.
Eddie Jones declined to get carried away when England was racking up 24 wins from his first 25 games in care and did not dread when they lost five in a row this year.
Through France and Argentina struggling for form, England’s pool is starting to look a bit less stimulating and, on the back of six successive wins over Australia, two against South Africa and a TMO-inspired loss New Zealand that could so easily have been a victory, they should travel to Japan fearing nobody.
Wales completed a clean sweep of their November tests for the first time and end the year with nine test wins in a row and Coach Warren Gatland’s World Cup plans firmly on track.
The first win in 14 efforts over ailing Australia was the acme but Wales will also be pleased with the way they managed the home wins over Scotland and South Africa.
Their only sufferers in 2018 came away to Ireland and England, who they are due to see after the 2019 Six Nations in the build-up to the RWC for what will be huge tests of their willingness for Japan.
The Springboks may have finished 2018 with a 50 percent win ratio but there is considerably more optimism around the team than a year ago and the real belief they can be World Cup contenders.
The team has repaid to traditional Bok rugby, powerful forwards who convey the ball with ferocity and a strong set-piece stand from which to unleash their backs.
The poorest test season in 60 years has capped a depressing spell for Australian rugby on and off the pitch since the Wallabies lost to New Zealand in the last World Cup final.
In November, the first defeat in 14 tests against Wales, a three-try win over a limited Italy side and a sixth successive loss to England have left the twice world champs sixth in the rankings, a place which if anything flatters them.
The Australians have enough quality through the likes of Israel Folau, David Pocock and Will Genia to always pose a threat, but a consistent 80-minute performance against quality opposition has looked increasingly beyond them.
Scotland has proved to be a match for anybody at Murrayfield but a worrying inability to win consistently away from home will be giving coach Gregor Townsend sleepless nights ahead of the World Cup.
Home victories over England, France, and Argentina showed their best qualities, but heavy defeats in Wales (twice) and Ireland exposed how much work there still is to do.
The coach trusts he has a team to compete with anybody in the Six Nations, and therefore the RWC too, but results don’t fully reproduce that yet as Scotland still lack consistency.
France will be happy to see the back of 2018 in which they won three of their 11 tests and suffered a first-ever loss to Fiji, a home defeat described as “shameful” by center Mathieu Bastareaud.
The side must rebuild confidence ahead of the World Cup, though there are other obvious areas of concern.
The French conceded an average of 26 points per game this year, though three tests were away at world champions New Zealand.
Argentina healthier from a poor start to the year to best their best Rugby Championship recital before losing three matches in a row against European opposition.
The big query for Coach Mario Ledesma and the Argentina Rugby Union is whether to persevere with the rule of choosing mostly home-based players for the international side.
Japan has sustained to develop a free-spirited style under coach Jamie Joseph which means they should at least entertain home provision next year. Joseph has constantly stressed the need to iron out the inconsistencies that have plagued Japan in recent internationals.
However, the Brave Blossoms’ attacking system, combined with basic tackling errors, leaves them vulnerable in defense and this will be the focus for Joseph as Japan look to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.
Italy bore another hot year which highlighted their diminishing status in RWC and revives questions about whether they add value to the Six Nations.
That points to a limited attack and porous defense, with little time to fix things before the World Cup.
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