Autumn Internationals: High point of the season must not be marred by self-deceit

England and Wales should each win three times in great series if they stay grounded

June is always the cruellest month for the major European rugby-playing nations, whose great summer triumphs south of the Equator come round as frequently as Halley’s Comet. November is a different matter, but not as different as the home countries would like. Too often, they are thrashed by the All Blacks and the Springboks at both ends of the season. Too often, they flatter to deceive – at best.

There can be no flattering this time, let alone any deception. If England fail to win three of their four Tests in the autumn series, which begins at Twickenham this afternoon with a South Seas smash-fest against Fiji that should speed them on their merry way towards a more significant date with Australia next weekend, they will feel they have under-performed. Stuart Lancaster, the head coach, might not admit as much in public, but that will be the truth of it.

Wales, the reigning Six Nations Grand Slammers, will also expect to win three from four, despite losing key forwards to injury – the prop Adam Jones, the flanker Dan Lydiate – and fretting over the future of their regional sides, all of whom are sailing full steam ahead into a financial maelstrom. Neither country anticipates victory over New Zealand, of course, but that goes with the territory.

Expectations elsewhere are lower. Scotland, ridiculed in the land of the All Blacks for their antediluvian approach to the union game, have first tilt at Richie McCaw and company at Murrayfield tomorrow. Guess what? They’re not banking on a scoreboard surprise, any more than England or Wales. Ireland? They might have been favourites to beat the Springboks in Dublin this afternoon had they not been riddled with injury. As things stand, any kind of win over Heyneke Meyer’s tourists would be something special.

It is to London and Cardiff that rugby folk in these islands must look for succour. Assuming England do a proper job on an unfamiliar, understrength Fijian outfit – as they surely will, despite the fact that the islanders drew with Wales at the Millennium Stadium as recently as recently as two years ago – they will seriously fancy their chances of prevailing over the Wallabies for the fourth time in seven attempts stretching back to the knock-out stage of the 2007 World Cup. Australia are travelling even lighter than Fiji, albeit for reasons of injury rather than contractual jiggery-pokery involving some of Europe’s major professional club teams.

South Africa, who reach Twickenham a fortnight today, should be a more challenging proposition than the Wallabies, and New Zealand, who pitch up seven days later, will be tougher again. Yet it is not beyond the realms of possibility that England will be chasing an autumnal Grand Slam of their own when McCaw, Daniel Carter, Conrad Smith and the rest of the silver-ferned glitterati come prowling through the Lion Gate. And if this turns out to be the case, it should be some ride for the capacity crowd: the roughest, hardest, most gripping England-New Zealand contest since 2005, when the great Tana Umaga saved the tourists’ collective skin with a phenomenal captain’s performance in adversity.

Andy Farrell, back in the red-rose coaching set-up after his funny five minutes of indecision last spring, left no one in any doubt as to his minimum requirements during his eve-of-match address yesterday. “The passion, the intensity and the fighting spirit we showed in the Six Nations, and again during the summer series in South Africa, are givens as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “What we’re looking for is the extra 15 or 20 per cent on top. We need to kick on to the next level now and a big part of that will be about game management, which is something we’ve spent a lot of time talking through in the 12 days we’ve been together.”

Farrell also had a clear idea of why the SANZAR sides take rather more from their annual trips north than the European teams take from their ventures south. “Australia, South Africa, New Zealand…their players go up against each other all the time, both internationally and in the Super 15,” he commented. “When they come up here, it’s different for them – almost a new lease of life. The change of culture excites them enough to make them want to tour at the end of a long season. They come here knowing that the last matches of the campaign are just ahead of them and think: ‘Right, let’s make the most of it.’”

If Farrell, Lancaster and company already know a good deal about the likes of Toby Flood and Danny Care, the half-backs charged with controlling events against the Fijians, they are in blank-sheet territory elsewhere. Will Alex Goode bring a full measure of footballing know-how to the full-back role? Can Charlie Sharples mount a meaningful challenge to the suspended Chris Ashton as England’s first-choice right wing? Will the new hooker Tom Youngs succumb to the yips at line-out time? Are the debutants on the bench, Mako Vunipola and Joe Launchbury, really as good as the coaches think?

On the face of it, all these players should provide acceptable answers over the course of this afternoon’s proceedings. Had the Fijians armed themselves with back-line talents as brilliant as Isa Nacewa and Napolioni Nalaga, and travelled with force-of-nature forwards as dangerous as Jone Qovu and Netani Talei, they would have posed a threat worthy of the name. But many of these tourists are still playing club rugby in the Pacific and barely know what it is to travel more than a few hundred miles. Should Inoke Male, their coach, succeed in bringing together so inexperienced a squad in the scandalously short time available to him, it will be a minor miracle.

This game is England’s for the taking. If for some strange reason they should mess it up, they could still hit their three-victory target. It will just be a little more difficult, that’s all.

Guide to awesome Autumn: Key players to watch


Alex Goode

Not the quickest, but the full-back's speed of thought is priceless. England look more creative with the Saracen on board.


Donnacha Ryan

The lock pairing of Donncha O'Callaghan and Paul O'Connell is on its last legs, so the Irish need a new authority figure. Step forward Ryan.


Greig Laidlaw

One-dimensional Scottish rugby is the butt of many a joke, but the outside-half has the ability to ram a few words down Antipodean throats.


Leigh Halfpenny

Long-range marksmanship aside, the full-back has developed a knack of influencing big games. A strong series will make a Lion of him.


Frédéric Michalak

Fast-tracked into the side at outside-half. Among the most gifted players of the pro era, he is purest box office.


Edoardo Gori

Scrum-half rated the best of this Azzurri generation. Has been the next big thing for a while. It is time to drop the "next".


Kurtley Beale

Filling the gap left by Quade Cooper, the full-back's stint at No 10 should be compelling.

New Zealand

Richie McCaw

The world's best player needs a rest and could have taken one now. His delayed sabbatical is a source of worry to the whole of European rugby.

South Africa

Francois Louw

Bang in form, the Bath flanker has played his way back into the international reckoning.


Julio Farias Cabello

How strong is this man? Don't ask. Picked by the Pumas straight out of the Argentine rugby badlands. Formidable.


Akapusi Qera

The Gloucester back-rower's brilliant performance against Leicester guaranteed a late approach from the selectors. Brilliant on his day.


Setaimata Sa

A rugby league refugee whose reputation as a big-hit tackler is well established.


Halani Aulika

An eye-catching performer since joining London Irish in the summer.

Test card: Fixtures and TV


Italy v Tonga (2pm, ESPN)

England v Fiji (2.30pm, Sky Sports 1)

Wales v Argentina (2.30pm, BBC 1)

Ireland v South Africa (5.30pm, BBC 2)

France v Australia (8pm, ESPN)


Scotland v New Zealand (2.30pm, BBC 1)

16 November

Wales v Samoa (7.30pm)

17 November

Italy v New Zealand (2pm, ESPN)

England v Australia (2.30pm, Sky Sports 1)

Scotland v South Africa (2.30pm, BBC 1)

France v Argentina (8pm, ESPN)

24 November

Ireland v Argentina (2pm, BBC 2)

Italy v Australia (2pm, ESPN)

England v South Africa (2.30pm, Sky Sports 1)

Scotland v Tonga (3pm, BBC 2)

France v Samoa (5pm, ESPN)

Wales v New Zealand (5.15pm, BBC 2)

1 December

England v New Zealand (2.30pm, Sky Sports 1), Wales v Australia (2.30pm, BBC 2)

Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
Jose Mourinho, Chelsea players celebrate Demba Ba's goal and Gus Poyet
sportLive coverage of today's final game between Chelsea and Sunderland
Brand said he
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
The North Korean TV advert for Taedonggang beer, that became a YouTube hit
food + drinkAnd what did it take to set up a taste test back in Wiltshire?
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget rest of the year
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit