Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Home nations handed stark warning

Latest rugby union news
Latest rugby union news

The sheer brilliance and shuddering intensity of last weekend's Rugby Championship decider between South Africa and New Zealand served as a graphic warning to their rivals two years before World Cup 2015.

It has rightly been acclaimed among the greatest Tests in professional rugby union history, with New Zealand's 38-27 success giving them yet another major title.

And it would have made sobering viewing for three particular members of the crowd at Ellis Park, Johannesburg - England assistant coaches Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree, together with Wales assistant Rob Howley.

The All Blacks and Springboks are both rumbling ominously into view for Europe's finest, with New Zealand tackling France, England and Ireland next month, while South Africa take on Wales, Scotland and France.

The Springboks have reeled off 13 successive victories against Wales, seven of those in Cardiff, which underlines how big a task the reigning RBS 6 Nations champions face on November 9.

"It was a fantastic, epic battle between the top two southern hemisphere sides," Howley said, reflecting on last Saturday's nine-try epic.

"To go over there and have that insight was really important for our preparation as we haven't played them in a couple of years.

"It was a really informative trip, not only watching the game itself but researching potential accommodation and training venues for our tour to South Africa next summer, as well as catching up with the Springboks and All Blacks management teams.

"There is no doubt that South Africa first-up this autumn is going to be a huge physical battle. The intensity of Saturday's game showed that, especially with the amount of time the ball was in play.

"Nine tries were scored, and New Zealand came back really impressively in the second-half. They managed to negate South Africa's driving lineout and that gave them the platform they were looking for.

"It was interesting to see how both sides managed the kicking game and the aerial battle. Being live at the game, it is not all about watching the ball but watching what players are doing off it as well and how they counter-attack, so it was really useful.

"One thing you have to do against South Africa is create opportunities, but then you have to be clinical as well, and that is exactly what the All Blacks did and that is what we will have to do as well.

"We know that we are facing one of the in-form teams in world rugby on November 9."

Wales head coach Warren Gatland is set to announce his autumn Tests squad after the second round of Heineken Cup pool games later this month.

It will be built around those players who served him so well with the British and Irish Lions in Australia this summer - 10 Welshmen started the third Test - and Howley knows there can be a benefit from that successful mission Down Under.

"It's always a challenge for players and coaches coming into international campaigns, making sure players are up to speed with the international game," he added.

"We need to make sure the environment and training sessions are intense and physical so we are ready for the first game.

"It you look at the autumn series over the last three or four years, we haven't won too many matches and that is the next challenge for us.

"Looking back to the summer, the youngsters that went to Japan (with Wales) would have gained invaluable experience, and the hurdle our players took in beating a southern hemisphere side as part of the British and Irish Lions can only give us confidence.

"If you look especially at the third Test in Sydney, our players will really have benefited from that experience and will come into this campaign with a lot of confidence. We will all be ready to put a marker down in that first game against South Africa."

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