This coming Saturday, the 9th of November, Wales will play the first of their four Autumn internationals. This has become an annual event in the rugby calendar, stretching back to at least 2002 or 2003, if not earlier. This year, Wales have three tough matches, plus hopefully an easier one, but for the first time since these Autumn internationals began we are not playing New Zealand (if I am wrong in saying this is the first time that we don’t play New Zealand then please someone correct me!).
The schedule of games we have are as follows
- Saturday 9th of November – South Africa
- Saturday 16th of November – Argentina
- Friday the 22nd of November – Tonga
- Saturday the 30th of November – Australia
Last year, Wales had a disasterous Autumn campaign, losing all four matches. But, then we went on to win the 6 Nations for the second year in a row, only missing out on a second successive Grand Slam by a poor first half performance against Ireland in our opening 6 Nations match. Since March, Wales formed the bulk of a victorious Lions team on the Lions’ tour of Australia, with ten of the starting fifteen in the third and deciding Test being from Wales. So, the big question is, can Wales build on the successes in 2013 and beat some Southern Hemisphere opposition this month?
It seems that every year, about this time, Welsh rugby fans hope for a good Autumn campaign. And yet, apart from the 2005 one, we are almost always disappointed. In 2005 we came close to beating both South Africa and New Zealand, but every other year we not only fail to beat the Southern Hemisphere’s “big three”, but we nearly always fail by quite a margin. Of course, in the last few years, Argentina have joined the Southern Hemisphere’s “big three” in “The Rugby Championship”, and so have themselves become an increasingly difficult opposition, a team to whom we lost last year.
Some people have been saying in the last few days on radio and TV that Warren Gatland’s focus is the 6 Nations, and then the 2015 World Cup, and that he does not really mind how well or not Wales play in the Autumn Internationals. I doubt this is true, Warren Gatland knows more than anyone that, for Wales to move on from being the best rugby side in Europe for most years of the last ten (3 Grand Slams, in 2005, 2008 and 2012 and one additional 6 Nations title in 2013) to being a side that can realistically challenge for the 2015 World Cup, Wales need to start beating the Southern Hemisphere sides. There is no better time to do that than this coming month. The Welsh boys should be full of confidence, having shown that they can beat Australia in Australia. Wales needs to now move up that one extra level and start beating South Africa, Australia and yes, even New Zealand (whom we haven’t beaten since 1953!), when we have them at home in front of our passionate supporters.