David Flatman: Southerners aren't all soft, only Aussies

From the Front Row: Autumn Tests were the best since the last World Cup but All-Blacks remain the true test of quality

Southerners are supposed to be soft, right? Well, could somebody please contact the All Blacks and Springboks and request they relearn their roles? You see I'd hoped these men would step off the plane at Heathrow, be hit by a chilly southwesterly and immediately begin pining for home. Sadly, my hopes were not realised.

This series of autumn internationals were, to me, more interesting than any other Test matches we have seen since the last World Cup. The All Blacks arrived with their famous aura badly dented after a loss to Australia and the Boks only brought half a team. The Aussies, on the other hand, were still stinging from their defeat to England in Sydney last June. So for once, no team seemed unbeatable.

Predictably, though, the Kiwis rode roughshod over everyone. This isn't to say they crushed all before them – in England's case, far from it – but the ease with which they seemed able to knock it up a gear or two to get the job done was quite frightening.

I sat in a corporate box at Twickenham with the injured Riki Flutey and watched his reaction as Sonny Bill Williams, on debut, cut our defence in half before offering up a scoring pass in the first 20 minutes. What left Riki's mouth gaping wasn't the line or even the pass; it was how simple Williams had made it look. At most he was running at 80 per cent and the offload, well, he might as well have been throwing his dog a bone. "This is Test rugby, bro," said Flutey, "and the guy's not even sweating."

We were all thinking the same thing at this point: England could well get a hammering here. But whatever Martin Johnson and his coaching team said at half-time worked and the All Blacks came back out to face a different team. One or two defensive wrinkles – easily visible from the sideline – were ironed out at the interval and the holes disappeared. And England bashed them. It wasn't enough to win, but it was enough to send away the faithful with hope in their hearts.

A week later and that hope turned into elation. The Wallabies were, in every facet of the game, butchered at Twickenham. The big collision at scrum time never materialised but England didn't let this distract them from tearing their opponents to pieces. It looked almost as though nobody had told the visitors that this match was actually full contact; they seemed to be playing touch for the most part.

With Ben Youngs and Chris Ashton operating on a different level and Nick Easter beating two or three tackles per carry, England brushed past one of the best sides in the world without looking back. The Aussies looked desolate, the English looked electrified.

But nobody in Camp England had lost sight of what was coming; they knew the Samoa match was going to be a rough day at the office and they were right. I watched the match with Olly Barkley and after half an hour we both looked at each other and the exact same words came out of our mouths in chorus: "Seilala Mapusua is unbelievable."

The London Irish centre and Samoan folk hero was defending on a level I'm not sure I've ever seen before. At one point the Samoans defended for eight straight phases without conceding more than a metre and Mapusua made five of those eight tackles. This work ethic did not fade and by the end he looked like he had been trampled by a bull. But he still smiled and tackled. Given their lack of possession Samoa were never likely to record a famous victory, and England showed fantastic composure and heart to beat them.

Then came what was, for me, the most captivating match of the autumn. The Springboks arrived in London like a wounded animal. The wound was inflicted by Scotland and it was deep. But the wounds healed and the South Africans arrived in full battle mode.

Some of the sheer physical force on show was magnificent and it acted as stark reminder as to why these chaps have "world champions" printed on their team stationery. Their loss at Murrayfield was humiliating and served to put them under a monumental amount of pressure at home.

How did they react under such duress? By producing one of the great displays of simple, confrontational rugby we have seen in a decade. Juan Smith and Pierre Spies roamed around the Twickenham pitch like mythical beasts, created with the sole purpose of physical domination in mind.

To see Spies pick up the ball at the base of a ruck and run into three players and barely slow down was intimidating, but to see him do it five more times was breathtaking. Physically, they are leading the world again.

So the All Blacks quietly boarded the plane home having won all four from four. We may have beaten the team that beat the All Blacks but, as yet, we haven't quite managed to beat them ourselves for a good while. This will need to change if our fortunes are to improve. The Boks tend to beat them with grunt, the Aussies with fleet of foot. I think I saw the makings of England's winning formula in the second half at Twickers: a good bit of northern grit should do the trick.

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all