A thrilling Autumn for innumerable reasons. What's stands out is that the normal gap between the southern and northern hemisphere is now more like a hairline fracture than a crevasse. NZ still look masterful but vulnerable, Australia and Argentina look wayward and South Africa are resurgent but lacking conviction. This leaves the door ajar for the northern hemisphere to accelerate into 2019 with their tails up. Here is the breakdown of the home nations and what we've learned.
Operation stabilise was a success. Don’t forget, they were one marginal call from a perfect Autumn and a venerable NZ scalp. However, much is left to do in next 10 months. England's midfield is still a crossword of possibilities. It will be a small miracle if Jones is bestowed with the gifts of both Tuilagi and Te’o for the 6 Nations.
Concerning is the fact that England have not put in an 80-minute performance. In every game since last years 6 Nations, England have gone to sleep for a portion of it. This will worry Jones who is pedantic about intensity and focus. Secondly, their penalty count has been problematic and they don't look like fixing it. In the good news department, Sinckler, and Moon have put their hands up. The conspicuous frames of Billy, Mako and Hughes are all to return. For the first time since 2003, the backrow looks rosey. Other teams may yet be looking for a temple.
Star man: Owen Farrell
A record-breaking autumn. Their below-the-radar status is deceiving and Gatland will be happy. Wales have a seeming abundance of talent in the back row and aspiring leaders in Ken Owens, Corey Hill and Ellis Jenkins. Winning teams need multiple leaders. Be sure, everyone will want to avoid Wales come the World Cup. The pressure they built on South Africa for the Liam Williams try was Irish in its organisation, brutality and execution.
Nagging doubts remain in two key positions: 10 and 15. Wales don’t know who their best 10 is and what type of game they will play as a result. Anscombe, Biggar and Patchell all offer something different. Furthermore, they have a selection decision at full-back (where Anscombe could also play). Conservative types will want Halfpenny for his fastidious goal kicking and high-ball command. The attack-minded will prefer Liam Williams for his lust for counter-attack. Understated and single-minded, the odds on Wales shorten by the day.
Star man: Ellis Jenkins
Be scared. This team has everything to make history next year. Their strength in depth is envious. In virtually every position they have two household names - Henshaw for Bundee Aki: Levy for O'Brien: Ryan for Henderson: Best for Cronin. Aside from this, we’ve learned that Ireland are steely and exacting. They don’t flap, they know they can win and they all stick meticulously to the system.
What impressed me most about Ireland is their penalty count. They utterly dominate the gainline and win turnovers; without conceding penalties. If there is one hope for other teams it is that Sexton is a key man risk. He is the only player who isn’t replaceable. Then again, I would have said that about Conor Murray 5 weeks ago and Ireland did what Ireland do; step up.
Star man: Peter O'Mahony
If an in-the-mood Scotland turn up to knock on your door, look out. Improvements started by Cotter have been continued by Townsend and his mercurial style. However, defeats to Wales and South Africa indicate that much is left to do. The Hastings/Russell tag team is not something that defences will want to face-off against come 6 Nations time.
Scotland are yet to locate their clinical edge, however. Their attacking verve and Hogg’s incision in the wide channels will count for nothing if they are as clumsy as the Argentina game. The Scottish forwards are no soft touch (as England discovered in the 6N) but they still don’t have the strength-in-depth up front to sustain a gruelling World Cup campaign. Indeed, critics also question the lack of a Plan B if things aren't going well. Can they tuck it up their jumper and plan percentages? Townsend will be conscious of these things. That said, Laidlaw's stock continues to rise as he marshalls his troops in Napoleonic fashion. Scotland have the athleticism to eviscerate teams if they click. Watch this Scottish space.
Star man: Huw Jones