RBS 6 Nations: How do the home nations look after the autumn campaign?

After a busy month of autumn internationals, attention will quickly turn to this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship.

European rugby's blue riband tournament kicks off in just under nine weeks' time, with England defending their title. So how might the four home nations fare based on their autumn performances and results?


England coach Eddie Jones
(David Davies/PA)

Autumn form: beat South Africa 37-21, beat Fiji 58-15, beat Argentina 27-14, beat Australia 37-21.

Points scored: 159

Tries scored: 19

Strength: England's Australian head coach Eddie Jones has masterminded a dream 13 from 13 winning return this year, including a Six Nations Grand Slam, 3-0 Test series whitewash against Australia Down Under and a 100% autumn series record. The vastly experienced Jones has transformed England from their status as World Cup flops under Stuart Lancaster just over a year ago.

Weakness: Very difficult to find one at present, given that England swept all before them in 2016. Even previous issues such as an unsettled midfield in terms of selection, and an occasional absence of strength in depth with regard to some positions, have been wiped out by the mercurial Jones. It is clutching at straws, but in terms of the 2019 World Cup, have they peaked too soon? Time will tell.

England's Billy Vunipola
(Mike Egerton/PA)

Star man: Injury could sideline him from the Six Nations campaign, but number eight Billy Vunipola once again proved his world-class status as a rampaging number eight whose destructive power rumbles through the heart of England's game.

Six Nations prospects: The defending champions will probably start as favourites, and it is difficult to see anyone halting their title march apart from Ireland, with the countries set for a final day showdown in Dublin.


The Welsh Rugby Union team
(Mike Egerton/PA)

Autumn form: lost to Australia 32-8, beat Argentina 24-20, beat Japan 33-30, beat South Africa 27-13.

Points scored: 92

Tries scored: 8

Strength: Undoubtedly the collective experience available to interim head coach Rob Howley. Wales fielded a combined total of more than 800 caps when they took on South Africa in their autumn finale, and there is no doubt that Howley has a considerable collection at his disposal of individuals hugely familiar with the Test rugby environment.

Weakness: Inconsistency. When everything clicks, Wales are capable of mixing it with the very best. But too often in the autumn, they would follow excellence with errors. While three wins out of four were posted - Wales' best set of autumn results since 2002 - that statistic could not disguise frustratingly mixed performances.

Wales' Justin Tipuric dives in to score a try
(Joe Giddens/PA)

Star man: Justin Tipuric. The Ospreys openside flanker has won more than 40 caps but been a regular understudy in the number seven shirt to long-time Wales skipper Sam Warburton. So good was Tipuric in November, though, that few people would suggest he does not deserve to keep his place.

Six Nations prospects: Wales face three away games out of five, starting against Italy. Tournament heavyweights England and Ireland are both on the bill in Cardiff, and Wales have got it all to do in terms of making a mark on this season's tournament.


Scotland's Stuart Hogg and John Barclay celebrate
(Andrew Milligan/PA)

Autumn form: lost to Australia 23-22, beat Argentina 19-16, beat Georgia 43-16.

Points scored: 84

Tries scored: 10

Strength: The squad's strength in depth. Emergence of youngsters such as Zander Fagerson, Allan Dell, Hamish Watson, Magnus Bradbury and Huw Jones means head coach Vern Cotter has more options than at any time during his stint in charge of the Scots, which augurs well going into the 2017 Six Nations campaign.

Weakness: Composure. Not for the first time, the Scots managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when they took on Australia last month. Although they showed better game-management as they claimed a late win against Argentina a week later, questions remain over the Dark Blues' ability to cope with pressure situations against the world's top nations.

Scotland's Stuart Hogg
(Andrew Milligan/PA)

Star man: Stuart Hogg. Has not been quite so prolific of late, but the Glasgow full-back demonstrated his class with a brace of tries in the demolition job on Georgia last time out. Expect a big Six Nations as he targets a British and Irish Lions slot next summer.

Six Nations prospects: Cotter's farewell campaign before the coaching reins are handed to Gregor Townsend could be shaped by Scotland's opening two games - Ireland at home and France in Paris. If they get off to a flying start, then the Scots might feature prominently as tournament dark horses.


Ireland play Australia in an autumn international
(Brian Lawless/PA)

Autumn form: beat New Zealand 40-29, beat Canada 52-21, lost to New Zealand 21-9, beat Australia 27-24.

Points scored: 128

Tries scored: 16

Strength: Joe Schmidt. Ireland's biggest coup in 2016 remains retaining the services of their shrewd head coach. The taskmaster Kiwi very nearly headed home owing to family commitments, but opted instead to commit his future to Ireland until the end of World Cup 2019. The first-ever victory over New Zealand nestles neatly in the history books, but may never have happened without Schmidt's guidance.

Weakness: Back-line balance. Ireland's growing strength in depth is hugely commendable but, admittedly splitting hairs, head coach Schmidt may have some back-line tinkering on his hands sooner rather than later. Rob Kearney somehow summoned a vintage performance as Ireland toppled New Zealand in Chicago, but how would Ireland rejig their back-line in the long term for life after the 30-year-old?

Ireland's Robbie Henshaw against New Zealand
(Kamil Krzaczynski/AP)

Star man: Robbie Henshaw. Cemented forever more in his nation's annals as the man to score the winning try in Ireland's first-ever win over the All Blacks, kicking his career to another level in the 40-29 win over New Zealand in Chicago.

Six Nations prospects: Ireland won successive Six Nations titles under Schmidt in 2014 and 2015, with autumn form suggesting they will be right in the mix once more. England's March 18 visit to Dublin has title decider written all over it.

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