French rugby fans enjoyed a stunning Saturday as the country’s men’s and women’s teams completed a rare double over New Zealand.
Les Bleues’ defeat of the Black Ferns was their fourth in a row and moved them up to third in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini.
Their male counterparts were equally as impressive against the All Blacks in Paris, while there were also Autumn Nations Series victories for England, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.
Having digested all of that, and more, here are five things we learned…
France and Ntamack’s bravery rewarded against All Blacks
It is a moment that has been replayed over and over in the days since France beat the All Blacks, a signifier of the incredible potential contained within the current Les Bleus squad.
New Zealand had chipped into their hosts’ lead in the opening quarter of the second half at Stade de France, narrowing a 24-6 deficit to 27-25, when Jordie Barrett kicked long towards the French line.
The momentum was with the All Blacks as Romaine Ntamack tracked the ball, but that would change almost in an instant.
Despite finding himself in his own in-goal, the fly-half brushed off one tackle and then outpaced Barrett to set in motion a counter-attack that took the hosts to the opposite end of the pitch, where they won a penalty.
That it didn’t end in a try made it no less significant, or breath-taking, Ntamack’s intervention swinging the pendulum decisively back in France’s favour.
France would add 13 unanswered points in the last quarter to make sure of victory, but this was the crowning moment of a stunning performance from Ntamack. It started with a stunning break, included a fine try, but it will be his courageous counter that will be remembered for years to come.
Resilient Canada building nicely for RWC 2021
Canada slipped to fourth in the Women’s Rankings on Monday but there is little more they could have done to maintain their place in the top three.
Against a rejuvenated Wales at Cardiff Arms Park on Sunday, Canada found themselves on the wrong side of a 7-0 half-time scoreline and down to 14 players.
But the visitors displayed a huge amount of resolve to score four second-half tries to round off their November campaign with a third victory in four matches.
With less than a year to go until Rugby World Cup 2021, playing in 2022, the end-of-year test window offered competing nations an opportunity to build cohesion and give players valuable exposure amid the ongoing pandemic.
Canada have taken that chance with both hands, winning the inaugural World Rugby Pacific Four Series against the USA in Glendale, and then putting in two good performances against England and Wales. Winger Sabrina Poulin has been prolific in the UK, scoring tries in London and Cardiff.
Steward a keeper for England at full-back
Last week, former England full-back Mike Brown compared the man currently wearing the white number 15 jersey, Freddie Steward, to legendary football goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel.
Brown’s point was that having a full-back who is solid under the high ball is “like having a top goalkeeper in football”. “Any balls that go over the defence’s head, in behind you,” Brown continued, “are swept up which makes the job for the boys in front so much easier.”
Against South Africa on Saturday, Steward was again solid defensively but also contributed to England’s attack, providing a strong carry from close to the line to score his side’s second try – his second in as many tests.
England coach Eddie Jones has described the Leicester Tigers youngster as the country’s best full-back since Brown was ushered out of international rugby three years ago and few would argue that the 20-year-old could have a long test career.
Since then, Elliot Daly has been Jones’ preferred option at full-back, but it looks as though the British and Irish Lion will have a job on his hands to force his way back into the team when he returns from injury.
Les Bleues respond to England in Castres
After watching her side secure a second victory against the Black Ferns in as many weeks, France coach Annick Hayraud admitted that ‘Le Crunch’ bragging rights had been on her players’ minds as they prepared for the match in Castres.
Les Bleues opened the scoring in only the fourth minute at Stade Pierre Antoine and added two more tries before half-time, the third – a penalty try – coming minutes after Kennedy Simon thought she had got New Zealand back into the contest.
A fourth successive defeat of the Black Ferns was confirmed after the break, when Marie-Aurélie Castel scored her second try of the match. Hayraud and several of her players, including captain Gaëlle Hermet, later said it was important for the squad to prove that their win in Pau the previous weekend had not been an anomaly.
For the coach, meanwhile, there was a need to match what England had done in Exeter and Northampton, and secure back-to-back wins against New Zealand. “We wanted to mark our territory and respond to the English,” she said.
England and France will meet at least twice next year, during the Women’s Six Nations and Pool C of RWC 2021. Anticipation for those matches could not be higher following what has happened over the past four weeks.
Stage set for ultra-competitive Six Nations 2022
Of the four matches between Six Nations and Rugby Championship sides last weekend, all were won by the northern hemisphere team.
Those results meant that the final tally from the 13 such match-ups across the Autumn Nations Series was 8-5 to the sides from the Six Nations.
With two years still to go until Rugby World Cup 2023, it is too early to talk about a shift in power to the north but one thing that cannot be argued is that this season’s Six Nations Championship is going to be one no rugby fan will want to miss.
England, France and Ireland all completed a clean sweep of Autumn Nations Series victories, the latter two both dominating the All Blacks while the former found a way to beat the world champions despite being put under pressure at Twickenham.
Wales struggled at times against both Fiji and Australia but won each match and ran the world champion Springboks close in Cardiff. Scotland, meanwhile, won three from four and will start next year’s Championship full of confidence.