The inaugural Autumn Nations Cup is underway with the first of four rounds unfolding across Europe.
Here the PA news agency examines five things we learned from the series of games.
Better to come…hopefully
Round 1 – ✅
— Autumn Nations Cup 🏉 (@autumnnations) November 15, 2020
Amazon Prime Video executives would be forgiven for asking what they have signed up for. The first round of the Autumn Nations Cup was short on highlights and in a mildly worrying sign for the Lions, the home unions led by crumbling Wales appear to be in the doldrums. Add in the cancellation of Fiji’s eagerly-awaited clash with France after the Islanders produced a number of positive tests for coronavirus and it has been an inauspicious start to the broadcaster’s first move into rugby.
Hurry back fans
More exciting fixtures await and it must be hoped they deliver a few thrills because the absence of the colour and passion brought by fans is highlighting the stodgy play. Twickenham without supporters has a cavernous, eerie feel and it is a problem also shared by even the smaller grounds being used. Six Nations Rugby, the tournament organisers, deserve praise for devising a replacement for the cancelled end-of-year-tours by the southern hemisphere giants but the competition needs to ignite soon.
“Everyone’s got their own opinion” replied Eddie Jones when asked if England kick too much after Georgia were routed 40-0, but it is a recurring criticism and one given renewed vigour by a workmanlike performance of limited ambition, despite the occasion having the feel of a glorified training ground exercise that offered scope to expand horizons. It was job done as they ceaselessly pummelled away up front as half-backs Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell repeatedly put boot to ball, but as with Rome a fortnight earlier it is a conclusive victory that leaves a dissatisfied taste.
George takes centre stage
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) November 14, 2020
The afternoon will never be forgotten by Jamie George, however, after he became the first England hooker to score a hat-trick of tries. Each was the climax to a driving line-out, his team’s most effective weapon, and shone a light on a 30-year-old who has become a key figure for Jones and will surely take the number two jersey for the Lions series against South Africa next year. His climb to the pinnacle has been beset by unique challenges, his path slowed by Jones’ preference for his former captain Dylan Hartley, but this is George’s time.
England’s style might not be to everyone’s liking but what Wayne Pivac would do for their results. A sixth successive defeat – their worst run for eight years – makes grim reading and the Kiwi will be thankful that it is Georgia up next as he seeks to avoid a full-blown crisis. The extent of the decline since Warren Gatland’s departure has been alarming and Pivac has promised more hard work in the hope of halting the slump to end speculation over his future.