Autumn's chilly blast of reality hits Williams

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Eddie Jones, fresh from illuminating the Sydney Harbour Bridge by putting one over England at Twickenham, was in no mood to consider the merits of the Six Nations' Championship. "I'll be watching cricket," the Australian coach said.

Eddie Jones, fresh from illuminating the Sydney Harbour Bridge by putting one over England at Twickenham, was in no mood to consider the merits of the Six Nations' Championship. "I'll be watching cricket," the Australian coach said.

Spectators in Scotland may prefer curling or walking the highland terrier when France open the European championship against the Scots in Paris on 5 February. It's the Grand Slam champions against last season's whitewashed, although Scotland, despite all appearances to the contrary, may have another chance of redemption.

When the International Rugby Board, the guardians of the world in union, officially recognised that the global game has a small élite and then a large membership in tier two, it did not envisage that Scotland, like their football team, would have sunk lower than the Loch Ness Monster.

They could barely afford two regional teams in Edinburgh and Glasgow and the addition of the Borders is not only threatening to break the bank of Scotland, but the back of the game north of the border. Apart from the odd success, the three Scottish representatives - they all lost their chief executives in October in a cost-cutting move - are anonymous in the Celtic League, which is weakened as a result. They are no more effective in the Heineken Cup and attendances remain poor. Italy are their soul brothers.

Scotland finished the autumn series in disarray, losing 45-10 to South Africa at Murrayfield. In between two defeats to Australia, they put 100 points on Japan but it was the games against the Wallabies that led Matt Williams to pronounce that his adopted team were showing hints of progress. There are signs that the recruitment of the Australian Williams from Leinster is similar to Northampton's ill-fated employment of the South African Alan Solomons from Ulster.

Under Williams, Scotland have won twice - against Japan and Samoa - in 12 matches. Argentina have greater problems than Scotland but they still played like an international team worthy of the name.

Affairs in Scotland have become a real worry but they will not be without hope in France - a drowning man is obliged to clutch at the last straw - because the hosts were not only comfortably beaten by Argentina, but humiliated 45-6 by New Zealand when they failed to score a try and were booed off the pitch.

The scoreline did nothing to diminish the optimism of the Wales coach Mike Ruddock who, a week earlier, had seen his side lose 26-25 to the All Blacks in Cardiff. But for the customary try-scoring contribution of Joe Rokocoko, Wales would probably have registered their first win over New Zealand since 1953.

In a match played at an astonishing pace, the most heartening aspect for Ruddock is that the Welsh forwards competed and their try from a rolling maul spoke volumes about the improvement of the pack and the general fitness of the squad. That had already been illustrated when they staged a grandstand finish before losing to South Africa 38-36. So far Ruddock's approach and selection has been spot on.

For the first time in a long while, Wales should be favourites when England visit the Millenium Stadium in early February. During their defeat to Australia, England suffered more aberrations than Andy Robinson could handle. It was Robinson's biggest test to date and he came up short. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to the experience; interesting to see if Henry Paul gets the opportunity to do so.

The return of Jonny Wilkinson - a further delay was announced last week - cannot come soon enough for Newcastle, England and the Lions, although as it stands Sir Clive Woodward has three contenders at his disposal in Charlie Hodgson and the Celtic No 10s Stephen Jones and Ronan O'Gara.

O'Gara may have picked South Africa's pocket cleaner than the Artful Dodger when he scored one of the most controversial tries in history (the Springboks were listening to instructions from their captain, who was acting under orders from the referee), but he proved himself a big-match winner. He did so again with a 50-yard drop goal in the final minute to deprive Argentina of their first win on Irish soil.

"We have shown that when we get our game right, we can beat anyone in the world," Eddie O'Sullivan, the Ireland coach said. Steady, Eddie. The last thing Ireland want is to be labelled favourites.

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