2017 in review for (most) top rugby nations

Fionn Roar Guru

By Fionn, Fionn is a Roar Guru


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    We’ve come to the end of another enthralling and surprising rugby year. Here’s my report card for each of the teams.

    1. New Zealand
    The world’s premier rugby nation is still the world’s premier rugby nation. New Zealand won the Rugby Championship with two matches to spare, had a record 57-0 win against South Africa and only lost one match since the Lions series.

    However, the gap appears to be narrowing.

    New Zealand may have been able to find a way to win almost all of the close matches, which is what champion teams do, but they did not look as clinical as they have since 2011.

    The comeback from 17-0 down in Dunedin was very impressive. It showed the confidence, belief and trust that this All Blacks side has in itself.

    That said, one must ask to what extent the comeback was the result of the many fragilities of the Wallabies – in defence, decision making, restarts and set-piece – as well as how the All Blacks allowed themselves to fall 17-0 down?

    It must be strange as a New Zealand fan. The team seems to be building depth, but they do not look as clinical or self-assured as they have done in previous years. The attack often appears stagnant and overly-reliant on individual brilliance from players like Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie and Reiko Ioane as opposed to great tactical coaching.

    The team seems to be doing too much and to score on every opportunity as opposed to having the confidence to play with patience they have exhibited previously.

    Kurtley Beale makes a break

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    2. England
    Eddie Jones’ England suffered some second year blues this year, but overall were very strong.

    Like New Zealand for large parts of 2017 England did not look as clinical as they did in 2016. But just like New Zealand England found a way to win all of their close matches aside from a match against Ireland in Dublin, in which Ireland put in a truly great performance.

    Jones has built some good depth. They have excellent depth in almost every position, as well as what is probably the best locking depth in the world – along with perhaps South Africa – between Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, George Kruis and Joe Launchbury.

    They are well-coached, always playing with purpose and with multiple avenues to attack – both via set piece and forward dominance, and through unstructured attack through their 9-10-12.

    They also have a great defence.

    Overall, I think that English fans should be very happy with how their team went in 2017. Winning the 2018 Six Nations will be very difficult with Ireland and Scotland both playing very well, but England have earned the right to go in as favourites and I suspect may be confident that they can beat New Zealand when New Zealand travels to Twickenham in the 2018 Spring Tour.

    3. Australia
    Another year to forget for Australia. A few great highs but mostly crushing lows.

    The year started (aside from a match against tier two Fiji) with a record loss to Scotland, in Australia, in June in which the Wallabies played embarrassingly poor rugby. The year ended with a much greater record loss to Scotland in Scotland, in which the Wallabies played even more embarrassingly poor rugby.

    They failed to beat an extremely poor Springboks outfit that were embarrassed 57-0 by New Zealand and 38-3 by Ireland.

    They almost lost to lowly Italy.

    They lost to New Zealand after being gifted a 17-0 lead, and again retaking the lead with less than five minutes to play.

    They capitulated and lost by a record margin to England.

    The team built little depth in key positions like hooker and halfback as Michael Cheika insisted on relying on Stephen Moore and Nick Phipps. With Tatafu Polota-Nau going overseas it is conceivable he will retire internationally and Australia will need two new hookers in 2018, both of whom will have had almost no international minutes.

    We still do not know who our first choice locking pair is.

    At the end of the day the only tier one nations Australia defeated were Argentina, Wales and New Zealand (once).

    Questions must also be asked about whether Argentina legitimately counts as a tier one nation with the form they are in (they beat no tier one nations in 2017).

    This leaves a sole victory against a New Zealand side lacking a lot of star players as the only real high of 2017.

    Many of the same problems that were present in the series against England in 2016 – no tactical kicking game, unacceptable goal-kicking in big matches, poor line-out, poor discipline and very poor defence – are still present at the end of 2017.

    Australia is also yet to find an answer to our problems at the breakdown when Pocock is absent.

    It is difficult to see where Australia goes from here.

    Hooper Beale

    (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

    4. Ireland
    Ireland must be very happy with how 2017 ended.

    After a somewhat disappointing start to the year, suffering losses to both Scotland and Wales, Ireland managed to end England’s winning streak, come second in the Six Nations and embarrass South Africa in Dublin.

    Ireland has very good players in almost every position, and players in with a legitimate shot of a world 15 at tighthead prop, blind-side and open-side flanker, halfback, fly-half and outside centre.

    Ireland should justifiably believe they have the ability to win the Six Nations and challenge both England and New Zealand for the top spots on the rankings.

    5. South Africa
    Rather like Australia, a year to forget.

    It is simply sad to see such a great rugby nation in such dire straits.

    The politics in South African rugby are mind-bogglingly complex.

    Even with the politics at work one has to wonder how a team with the incredible players it has, many of whom would be in with a shot of a World XV, can be doing so poorly.

    One has to look at the coaching at this point.

    Given South Africa’s record since the new coaching staff took over in 2016 unless there is a change of coach it is difficult to imagine how the team can possibly improve significantly in the coming year.

    6. Scotland
    What a great year for Scotland. Wins over Wales and Ireland.

    The team is good in defence and incredibly dynamic in attack. Their emphatic win over Australia in Scotland was some of the most dazzling play from a non-All Black side for decades (although, it should be noted that it was against a dire Australian team).

    Like Ireland and England, Scotland must believe they are in with a good shot at winning the Six Nations and continuing their upward trajectory in 2018.

    As a rugby fan it is great to see Scotland doing so well after so many years struggling.

    Scotland have proven it is possible to improve rapidly with limited talent as long as the team has the right ethos, belief in itself and has tactically astute coaches.

    Honourable mention: Argentina (10)
    The logic behind letting Argentina into the Tri-Nations and Super Rugby was to improve rugby in Argentina.

    Australia's Samu Kerevi, left, fends off the tackle of Argentina's Jeronimo De La Fuente

    (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

    Six years into Argentina’s entry into the Rugby Championship and two years into its entry into Super Rugby questions must be asked whether either has been beneficial for Argentina and even whether Argentina still deserves to be considered a tier one team.

    Argentina beat no tier one teams in 2017 and are currently on a 17-match losing streak against tier one teams.

    Would it be better for Argentinean rugby for them to exit the Rugby Championship and/or Super Rugby? Someone more familiar with Argentina rugby might be able to inform the rest of us. However, something has to change as the current system is not working.

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    The Crowd Says (60)

    • November 30th 2017 @ 6:00am
      Jock Cornet said | November 30th 2017 @ 6:00am | ! Report

      Argentina made the semis of Rwcup . Of course being integrated has helped Argentina. Australia will improve dramatically next year as the dead wood will be removed by Cheika. England to challenge the Abs and Ireland to win the 6 nations.

      • November 30th 2017 @ 8:45pm
        Blue said | November 30th 2017 @ 8:45pm | ! Report

        LOL about Australia improving next year, the slide down is only just starting to grow momentum.

        • December 1st 2017 @ 1:54am
          Rebellion said | December 1st 2017 @ 1:54am | ! Report

          Jock may be right Blue

          If Chieka removes the dead wood and replaces it with class players eg Pocock for Hooper, Higginbotham & Dempsey for Hanigan, Powell for Phipps and maybe even another flyhalf for Foley, then there is every chance this stuttering joke of a Wallatah side will improve. If the likes of Naivalu return ‘in form and injury free’ and a player like Hodge can make a real fist of a position like Outside Centre – heaven forbid they could even become a powerhouse (just not as good as the All Blacks). Realistically though, a coaching change would be required to have any hope for that to come to fruition

      • December 1st 2017 @ 7:38am
        nickbrisbane said | December 1st 2017 @ 7:38am | ! Report

        Cheika has a poor record in cleaning out dead wood (Stephen Moore should never have toured) and especially if the wood come from Sydney, so why do you think he will change his tune in 2018

      • Roar Guru

        December 12th 2017 @ 4:45pm
        Timbo (L) said | December 12th 2017 @ 4:45pm | ! Report

        Cheika IS the dead wood.

    • November 30th 2017 @ 6:16am
      Brizvegas said | November 30th 2017 @ 6:16am | ! Report

      Thanks Fionn in terms of teams not being as clinical as perhaps they had once been could it be with the introduction of new players into the team culture and systems a settling in period? I am not sure teams have settled on how they want to play at WC yet and certainly no team wants to show their hands too early

    • November 30th 2017 @ 6:30am
      P2R2 said | November 30th 2017 @ 6:30am | ! Report

      …That said, one must ask to what extent the comeback was the result of the many fragilities of the Wallabies – in defence, decision making, restarts and set-piece – as well as how the All Blacks allowed themselves to fall 17-0 down?

      …that being said, why use it as a justification to say the game is narrowing….the ABs do what they have to or need to do to win….any mistakes by the opposition are problems they have to sort out….

      • Roar Guru

        November 30th 2017 @ 1:22pm
        Fionn said | November 30th 2017 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

        Not sure I understand the point you’re trying to make here, P2R2.

        • November 30th 2017 @ 3:33pm
          cuw said | November 30th 2017 @ 3:33pm | ! Report


          Rank Teams Points
          1 New Zealand 93.99

          2 England 90.87

          3 Ireland 86.39

          4 Australia 85.49

          5 South Africa 84.90

          6 Scotland 84.11

          7 Wales 80.98

          8 Argentina 78.22

          9 France 78.09

          10 Fiji 77.93

          11 Japan 75.66

          12 Georgia 73.46

          13 Tonga 71.87

          14 Italy 71.25

          15 Romania 69.58

          16 Samoa 69.03

          17 USA 66.87

          18 Uruguay 65.63

          19 Russia 64.45

          20 Spain 61.68

          21 Canada 61.13

          22 Hong Kong 59.66

          23 Namibia 58.93

          24 Chile 58.18

          25 Portugal 57.79

          26 Germany 56.53

          27 Netherlands 55.89

          28 Brazil 55.61

          29 Belgium 55.37

          30 Kenya 54.24

          31 Korea 53.34

          32 Switzerland 53.33

          33 Czech Republic 53.28

          34 Poland 52.14

          35 Uganda 50.69

          36 Lithuania 50.68

          37 Ukraine 49.05

          38 Malta 48.89

          39 Paraguay 48.54

          40 Tunisia 48.49

          41 Colombia 48.36

          42 Sri Lanka 48.27

          43 Morocco 48.24

          44 Kazakhstan 48.14

          45 Zimbabwe 47.59

          46 Moldova 47.48

          47 Malaysia 47.31

          48 Madagascar 46.76

          49 Guyana 46.56

          50 Senegal 45.85

    • Roar Pro

      November 30th 2017 @ 6:42am
      The Doc said | November 30th 2017 @ 6:42am | ! Report

      great read Fionn. Balanced as usual. Nz just building depth for RWC atm. Now is the time to get games in (1014 did some great work on this a few weeks ago). Unearthed some gems in Ioane, MacKenzie looks more and more at home at FB. Jordie Barrett gave a glimpse of what he could do in a brilliant debut against the Lions. Won despite missing the first choice front row, retallick, ben smith and messing around at no 6 as well. They have locked in their centre combination too i think with SBW and crotty.
      I think Ireland are a dark horse and had a really good end to the season. They are probably short of a great lock but Joe Schmidt has them playing some great rugby. The backline of Murray/sexton/henshaw/farreell looks strong and carney looks good again too.
      Saw some good signs with Wales last wkend too against NZ – missing Warburton, tipuric on bench, davies, williams and with rhys webb off injured early, I thought they did a great job. Good ball retention, scrum and defence. Forwards showing some good passing skills too with ball in hand (which I think is the big shift in NH rugby)

      • Roar Rookie

        November 30th 2017 @ 1:51pm
        Hoges5 said | November 30th 2017 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

        Great point here about NZ “building games” in the off year between RWC.
        Fionn has done a very even handed job in his review as well.


        Could the same argument be used for Wallabies? I don’t really subscribe to this argument, although I am certain it can be the only rationale that Cheika etc can give. The number of debutants is always brought up in every press release/conference with Hooper/Cheika/ARU mouthpiece.

        Having said all that – truly embarrassing results for Australia this year. No forward thinking or hard calls made with hookers, props (mediocrity lets you trade a skyblue jumper for a gold one), scrumhalf and flyhalf.

    • November 30th 2017 @ 7:33am
      adastra32 said | November 30th 2017 @ 7:33am | ! Report

      That’s a darn good review…well done Fionn.

      • December 1st 2017 @ 7:32pm
        Ex force fan said | December 1st 2017 @ 7:32pm | ! Report

        Fion, I agree – very good review. I also think the gap between the top nations are narrowing, however saw something on facebook to share….apology to the Bok supporters!

        The Springbok team apparently visited an orphanage in Wales today. They article quoted one saying:

        “It’s heartbreaking to see their sad little faces struggling with no hope” – said Gareth aged 5

    • November 30th 2017 @ 7:35am
      Sherry said | November 30th 2017 @ 7:35am | ! Report

      Nice one, Fionn. I asked Nicholas yesterday how many players he’d change if he were in charge of the WBs. He said three forwards but wouldn’t say who. When I assumed he was talking about Sio, a partner for Coleman and Pocock in for Hooper he more than hinted I was wrong. If you agree with the three forward changes, who would they be for you?

      One of the teams that surprised with their ineptitude was France. The Boks beat them four times in row, and then they couldn’t beat Japan. They have a host of fine players but Noves still seems to be in a daze. We need a strong France for the 6N and, of course, for the RWC. If they remain feeble test rugby won’t be the same without them.

      • November 30th 2017 @ 8:00am
        riddler said | November 30th 2017 @ 8:00am | ! Report

        noves was a very good club coach 15 years ago.. he said he would never coach france.. they asked every time there was coach change over the past 20 years..

        for some reason he decided to do the french job now..

      • Roar Guru

        November 30th 2017 @ 9:00am
        Fionn said | November 30th 2017 @ 9:00am | ! Report

        Cheers, Sherry.

        From what Nick has said of the pastI think that he is a fan of the Pooper (or at least he was, and I don’t think Hooper’s form has declined enough for him to think that Hooper should be benched—for what it is worth, while I bow to Nick’s wiser opinion on most things I am still not sure the dual 7s thing is the right away to go, and I think I agree with you that Pocock should be starting and Hooper benched).

        I also know that he rates Sio fairly highly, but then again he also rates Simmons quite highly also.

        So I would say it would be (1) Pocock to come in at 6; (2) Nick is a big fan of Lopeti Timani so I would say it would be Timani at 8 (although I suspect Isi Naisrani will usurp Timani in a big way this year) and (3) Enever to go out, definitely, or even Enever and Simmons to both drop away and for Coleman and Arnold to be the starting locks – Nick rates Arnold too.

        What do you think?

        • December 4th 2017 @ 8:05pm
          MitchO said | December 4th 2017 @ 8:05pm | ! Report

          I reckon the Pooper will be back with Nasarini, Dempsey, McCalman and McMahon and Timani fighting for the remaining spots.

          McCalman is not Toutai Kefu but at least he is up to test match rugby so lets just give him credit for that and hope Nasarini and/or McMahon can push him out.

          So long as we have two jumpers at lock the Pooper is probably the best way forward for Australia given that our second phase still needs alot of help.

          Madness that Stephen Moore was given a testamonial tour. What a waste. Uelese looks okay but of course the more experience he can get the better. I hope TPN can carry on but we need a third hooker because an injury can never be far away. I thought Latu and Ready were the guys putting their hands up.

          The two starting locks should be Coleman and Simmons. The tough guy and the experienced worker. One of the other locks like Arnold or Tui or Rodda may knock Simmons back to the bench. Tui and Rodda are still very young. They will look different after another season or so of super rugby.

          Kepu to start at tighthead but we do have a riddle to solve at loosehead. Both Ainsely and Tupou will be good tightheads come 2019 although I need someone to keep an eye on Tupou’s scrummaging.

          Should we bite the bullet and shift Alan A back to loosehead? That is why I liked the idea of shifting Tupou to loosehead to see how he goes.

          Either way Kepu’s back up needs to be the next best scrummager.

          Tom Robertson, bless him, just can’t scrum well enough and hasn’t shown me enough improvement. I just don’t see him making the leap between now and 2019. 2025 Maybe. The other teams have some decent front rows and our scrum fell apart without Sio and Kepu.

      • November 30th 2017 @ 3:38pm
        cuw said | November 30th 2017 @ 3:38pm | ! Report

        France will not be right till they can come to a deal , that country comes first.

        this time ofcourse, there was lot of injuries that affected selections.

        still, they give more value to top14. like the semi finals are being played while the national team is touring !!!

        that is one reason the england players are opposing to 14 team aviva.

      • November 30th 2017 @ 6:46pm
        FunBus said | November 30th 2017 @ 6:46pm | ! Report

        ‘We need a strong France for the 6N and, of course, for the RWC.’

        Speak for yourself, Sherry. I’d like to see France improving from about 2020 onwards. As a pom that RWC group makes me nervous.