The Autumn Nations Cup continues next weekend with a final round of group games. Here is a look at some of the key talking points from the round of action that just passed, as we saw England, Wales, Italy (Fiji unable to play) and France win their games.
Here are some takeaways from the weekend.
England overwhelming favourites to beat Wales
England, driven by six successive victories and 13 wins from their last 15 Tests, are racing towards an appearance in the first Autumn Nations Cup final.
They look unstoppable at the moment, opening up a five-point lead at the top of Pool A following emphatic victories over Georgia and Ireland. Wales, in contrast, were brushed aside by Ireland before claiming an 18-0 win against Georgia, and they have only defeated England twice in the last eight attempts.
Wales have defied the odds in this fixture many times before, and they will need a Herculean effort to halt the juggernaut next Saturday as England make a first appearance in Llanelli since 1887.
Mayday alert for Wales
England possess threats pretty much everywhere in their team, but arguably none greater than the one posed by wing Jonny May. The 30-year-old Gloucester speedster needs one try to move second on his own behind Rory Underwood as England’s most prolific try-scorer, having amassed 31 touchdowns in 59 Tests.
His double against Ireland on Saturday took him level with 2003 World Cup winners Will Greenwood and Ben Cohen, and the second of those touchdowns – a spectacular solo effort – ranks among the finest tries scored at Twickenham. Wales have been warned.
Tournament needs a game of the highest quality
It is safe to say that the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup has struggled to capture the imagination. Fiji have been unable to play any games so far following a significant Covid-19 outbreak in their squad, while Georgia have not yet scored a point and Wales are struggling for form. England look a class apart, but the tournament’s overall standard has hardly set pulses racing.
It needs something spectacular to give it lift-off, and maybe that will happen at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday when Wales and England go head to head. Wales will be written off, but that might be exactly how they like it.
Plenty for Ireland to work on
Ireland will wind up their Nations Cup pool phase with a home game against Georgia next Sunday, and it should be a comfortable bonus-point victory. But their toughest games of the past month – against France in Paris and England at Twickenham – produced comprehensive defeats.
When the Nations Cup is done and dusted and the 2021 Six Nations build-up begins, they are games that head coach Andy Farrell is certain to take most from when it comes to analysis. Ireland have some exciting newcomers in their ranks like James Lowe and Hugo Keenan, but Farrell’s assessment will focus on a bigger picture as Ireland strive to challenge Six Nations top-dogs England and France.
Nigel Owens set for century landmark
History will be made in Paris on Saturday when Welshman Nigel Owens becomes the first official to referee 100 rugby union Tests.
The 49-year-old reaches the landmark figure when he takes charge of France against Italy. Owens made his Test debut 17 years ago – a low-key encounter between Portugal and Georgia in Lisbon – and he has gone on to officiate in four World Cups, highlighted by him refereeing the 2015 final between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham.
One of the sport’s great characters, Owens also remains at the very top of his game.