Rugby: Autumn Nations Cup Rd 3 – top two book Final places

With the group stages finished and the table standings secured, Matthew Childs summarises the enthralling matches of the weekend.

Here are the fixtures for the finals fixtures of the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup

Game 1 – Llanelli – Wales vs England

Score: 13 – 24

England travelled to Wales to face a weak, unstructured, squad in the hopes of confirming their place in the first Autumn Nations Cup final. Wales versus England has always been a rivalry that both teams desperately want to win. Regardless of their current form, Wales knew how important this match was and how much passion they needed to bring to give England a challenge.

Wales may not have won, but the match did show improvements from the Welsh squad, but also areas to focus development on. They attacked the English defence with strong carries, notably those from Johnny Williams, who scored the only Welsh try of the match.

Discipline errors were still prevalent for Wales, especially in the second half, which often lost them valuable territory. Part of the reason for this was due to a continuation of a strong defence from England, which meant that Wales struggled to convert possession into points. Wales also showed a very strong physical defence providing some huge dominant tackles against England and disrupted them from having complete control over the match, in the way we have seen from them in the tournament so far.

England’s physicality, discipline and team structure were a lot better than Wales’ which ultimately won them the match. The English squad has a very strong chemistry and they all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Eddie Jones made a good call in the squad selection to have two impressive creators in the middle of the pitch. Fly-half George Ford and captain and inside centre Owen Farrell allowed for a more attacking line up to create chances to break through the strong red line and gain territory.

Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola and Tom Curry put huge performances in to ensure that England made it into the final this weekend. Underhill played with determination and dominance to halt Welsh attacks and create turnovers for England, which won him Man of the Match. Billy Vunipola was also exceptional in not only defence, but attacking as well. With 17 carries (the highest in the match) making 83 metres (also the highest in the match) he earned the most territory for England and was equally worthy of Man of the Match.

England have now safely secured their strong lead at the top of group A, moving them to the final next weekend. Wales on the other hand, finished the group stages in third place. Next, they face Italy to play for 5th place in the tournament.

Game 2 – Paris – France vs Italy

Score: 36 – 5

An enthralling first half saw the beginning of a close match between Italy and France. This all changed in the second half when Italy lost their defensive structure to hold back a blistering attack from the French team. France came away from the match with a bonus point victory to see them into the final this weekend against England.

France fielded an inexperienced squad consisting of 11 uncapped players. It may have taken them the first half to settle into the game, resulting in Italy being able to score their first and only try of the match. Once France eventually did settle into the game there was no stopping them. The doubts about them being an inexperienced squad were soon lost when they were able to score three tries in eight minutes and glide past Italy with ease while on their way to the final this weekend.

With French rugby icon Christophe Dominici passing away last week at the age of 48, French passion was running high. The new generation of French players made light work of the Italian squad. Sharp passing, accurate kicks and set piece domination enabled France to capitalise on a poor Italian squad.

Italy did show some talent in their only try scored by Carlo Canna which put them in the lead for a small portion of the first half. After this point the team seemed to lose its structure and creativity. Handling errors and a lack of discipline resulted in valuable territory and points being conceded. Discipline errors eventually led to Italian winger Jacopo Trolla getting a yellow card on his debut. This allowed debutante Gabin Villiere to scythe his way through the Italian on the wing to get an impressive solo try.

This match also marked a historical landmark. Nigel Owens refereed his 100th test match, making him the first ever referee to achieve this. Owens is drawing to the end of his career so let’s hope we can see some more referees make such a positive impact on the game like we have seen from him for so many years.

Game 3 – Dublin – Ireland vs Georgia

Score: 23 -10

In a surprisingly close match in Dublin, Georgia showed that they do have the ability against a tier one nation. An unthreatening Irish squad struggled to get a victory over Georgia. Ireland looked more and more disjointed as the match went on. A promising first half saw Ireland with a 17 point lead at the break, but a phenomenal solo try from Georgia’s Giorgi Kveseladze was a reward for the visitors’ hard work and determination to not give up.

Failing to score in a match before this one, Georgia certainly made up for it against Ireland. Ireland’s fly-half Billy Burns, who unfortunately got injured in the second half, was by far the best player for Ireland until his departure. Scoring 15 points in the first half he was determined to ensure that they made their way into the third place playoff.

Iain Henderson was rewarded man of the match for Ireland due to his defensive efforts, however, Georgia’s Kveseladze was equally deserving of the award for not only his try of the tournament so far, but also an excellent defensive tackle on Irish brute CJ Stander to prevent him from scoring a try after the clock had turned red.

Ireland had very few positives, apart from the win, to take into this weekend’s third place playoff against Scotland. They conceded far too many penalties and had very little control over the match. With Burns adding to the list of injured fly-halves, it adds worry about who will play fly-half this weekend. With no Sexton or Burns, the Irish attack may lack the creativity it needs to beat Scotland.

Georgia did not only show talent in attacking runs, but defensively as well. They successfully disrupted the Irish set piece by putting a lot of pressure on Ireland in the scums especially and in the process they won a few penalties with only one being converted by Abzhandadze.

Unlike Ireland, Georgia have a lot of positives to take away from this remarkable performance in the hope of playing Fiji this week (providing that Fiji have no coronavirus cases).

Game 4 – Edingburgh – Scotland vs Fiji

Score: 28 – 0

Just like all the other matches, Fiji is still facing punishment for allowing Coronavirus into the camp, which forced the cancellation of this game. It’s a shame that we have been unable to see them play, but hopefully they will be able to play this week in the last place playoff against Georgia.

Scotland face a fragile and unconfident Irish squad in the hope of claiming third place in the tournament.

Final Round fixtures:

1st place final: London – England vs France

3rd place final: Dublin – Ireland vs Scotland

5th place final: Llanelli – Wales vs Itlay

7th place final: Edingburgh – Georgia vs Fiji

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