In Depth

Ireland, England and Wales ready for 2019 Rugby World Cup

After the autumn internationals the northern hemisphere teams are in good shape

The autumn internationals came to close at the weekend, with the home nations teams in good form ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup.

Ireland sweep the board

Ireland’s stellar year came to an end with a 57-14 win over the USA, but there were bigger prizes at the World Rugby Awards on Sunday night. Johnny Sexton was named player of the year, Joe Schmidt won coach of the year and the Six Nations champions were voted team of the year.

Ireland lost only once, in Australia in June, in what the BBC calls the “greatest year in their rugby history”.

“A historic home win over the All Blacks was the highlight of an undefeated autumn international series for Schmidt's side, who have cemented their position as the best team in the northern hemisphere.”

Schmidt to stand down

Ireland’s New Zealand coach will leave his post after the 2019 World Cup, with Andy Farrell taking over.

The appointment will up the rivalry between Ireland and England, captained by Farrell’s son Owen.

“Eddie Jones tried to lure Farrell back as England's defence coach this year but he rejected the chance of a second stint,” reports the Daily Mail. “He was not retained by the RFU after England’s exit at the 2015 World Cup – the national side wiping the slate clean after that embarrassment.

“Now the man who has inspired Irish and British & Irish Lions wins over New Zealand with his miserly defence will take charge of England’s closest rivals in 2020 until the 2023 World Cup.”

England target Ireland

England’s win over Australia was emphatic and leaves them in a good place ahead of 2019.

“They have looked both excellent and sluggish at times but the overall end-of-term report has to be a positive one,” says The Guardian. “If the Vunipolas return fit and firing, Manu Tuilagi and Joe Cokanasiga stay intact and Owen Farrell adjusts his tackle technique, they will be tough, at the very least, to beat in 2019.”

And coach Eddie Jones has already started the mind-games, singling out their Six Nations opener against Ireland. “I’m not worried about winning the Six Nations,” he said. “I’m worried about Ireland. They’re the top team in Europe now. We want to be the top team in Europe. It’s pretty simple.”

Wales are the dark horses

Wales may also lay claim to being top team in Europe, claims Stuart Barnes in The Times. An undefeated autumn ended with victory over South Africa for the Welsh.

“Some of the rugby that they have produced has been far from sumptuous but there’s finally the belief that has been missing. Men such as Alun Wyn Jones and Jonathan Davies do not fear New Zealand. Much as it goes against perceived wisdom (Wales are twice the price of either England or Ireland for Japan), Wales are heading towards next year as a dangerous threat to the rest of the world.”

Don't forget Scotland

Scotland's win over Argentina saw them end with autumn with two wins and two defeats. "Seven wins out of 12 Tests this year marks another positive step for the Gregor Townsend regime," says the Daily Telegraph.

There is plenty of promise agrees Jeremy Guscott of the BBC but they need to push themselves. "They won games they should have won, but did not seize the chance to take the decisive steps forward that victory over Wales or South Africa would have represented."

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