Power Ranking International Teams After First Round of November Internationals
The coming weekend sees the remaining big guns from both hemispheres swing into autumn action across Europe.
With coaches looking to settle on combinations who can remain together in the run-up to the World Cup in 2015, there is a lot at stake for players who need to make their mark and management teams who are looking for the right blend to take them forward.
Let's have a look at how the members of the Six Nations and Rugby Championship are shaping up as the autumn internationals get up and running.
1. New Zealand
New Zealand’s resounding win over Japan might not have touched the heights of their 1995 record-breaking victory, but the All Blacks at least demonstrated their strength in depth.
With an almost entirely second-string starting line-up save for Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, they swatted the Asian powerhouse eight tries to nil.
With an experimental team notching that many scores while restricting their hosts to six points, it was a useful stop en route to Europe to get some miles in the legs of the squad players, while sharpening up the returning McCaw and Carter before they arrive in Paris.
Saturday’s showdown with France should see the return of the heavy artillery as Steve Hansen’s men go in search of a 100 percent record in 2013.
New Zealand's autumn fixtures
Nov 9 France
Nov 16 England
Nov 24 Ireland
2. South Africa
The Springboks are yet to throw an autumnal pass in anger, but they remain the second-best side on the planet after their displays in The Rugby Championship.
They should come under a tough examination at the Millennium Stadium this weekend with Warren Gatland’s Welsh Lions lying in wait.
Some great head-to-heads await us on Saturday: Adam Jones vs. Tendai "The Beast" Mtawarira, Sam Warburton vs. Willem Alberts and Jonathan Davies vs. Jean de Villiers should all prove tasty encounters.
Can Wales put their regional woes to one side and give the Boks a real run for their money?
South Africa's autumn fixtures
Nov 9 Wales
Nov 16 Scotland
Nov 23 France
A dire first half against Australia that was followed by a more clinical second half made it a performance to build on for Stuart Lancaster’s men.
The criticism of the Red Rose's performance has seemed to grow in its sting since Saturday, which will irk management. This time last year they lost to the Wallabies; now they’ve beaten a side that scored 33 points against the All Blacks less than a month ago.
It’s the perfect time to improve the pace and accuracy of their attacking game this weekend with a leg-weary Argentina in town.
The Pumas took their fair share of batterings in The Rugby Championship but they’ll be up for the fight after a 2-0 series loss to a scratch England side in the summer.
England need to show they can do more with ball in hand, and Lancaster has some big calls to make on selection.
England's autumn fixtures
Nov 9 Argentina
Nov 16 New Zealand
Australia travel to Italy in need of a morale boost if their tour, the longest of any of the Southern giants, isn't to turn into a tour of hell.
England didn’t have to play well to beat them on Saturday and left them with a number of problems to solve.
The Italian front row will be licking its lips at the prospect of getting a crack at James Slipper and Ben Alexander, given the pasting they took at the hands of England’s first- and second-choice props at Twickenham.
If they can keep the ball in the open spaces, you’d expect the likes of Tevita Kuridrani and Israel Folau, who both left Twickenham with their reputations enhanced, to do damage to the Azzurri.
Australia's autumn fixtures
Nov 9 Italy
Nov 16 Ireland
Nov 23 Scotland
Nov 30 Wales
Who knows what sort of side France will put out against New Zealand?
They have won once since November last year, that against Scotland. Their clubs have been swapping places in the upper echelons of the Top 14 table more often than a nun says her rosary, which will have done little to clarify Philippe Saint-Andre’s thinking in selection.
If he decides to reward form, we could see introductions for Montpellier No. 9 Jonathan Pelissie and Toulouse’s human battering ram Gillian Galan in the back row.
The French habit of picking players out of position is a puzzling one. We’ve seen Freddie Michalak deployed at No. 10 and No. 9 for club and country so inconsistently, it simply prevents any real attacking patterns from emerging.
The outrageously talented Wesley Fofana has been plonked out on the wing at his club this season as well. Stuart Lancaster would doggy-paddle across the Channel to have a centre as gifted as the Clermont Auvergne man.
The jury, as ever, is out on France for now.
France's autumn internationals
Nov 9 New Zealand
Nov 16 Tonga
Nov 23 South Africa
Will the curse of the post-Lions' lull strike for the Six Nations champions?
The Ospreys and Blues have looked average in Europe, and the way the Ospreys pack was shunted around by Leinster in the Heineken Cup will have been noted by South Africa.
One man in form has been James Hook, but with Rhys Priestland fit again and Leigh Halfpenny well in credit in the No. 15 jersey, it looks like a bit-part role for the Perpignan man is the best he can hope for.
If a full Millennium Stadium can reignite the Lions players who looked like world-beaters in the summer, they could shock the Boks.
It would be quite something if they did. ESPN Scrum.com's piece on their poor history against the Boks is down to a mental block according to Joel Stransky.
Wales' autumn fixtures
Nov 9 South Africa
Nov 16 Argentina
Nov 22 Tonga
Nov 30 Australia
Under new boss Joe Schmidt we can expect to see the Leinster influence grow on the Irish setup. That means a key role for Sean O’Brien, who is arguably the form back-row player on the continent at present.
Schmidt has issues elsewhere though.
Jonny Sexton was recalled by new club Racing Metro to sit on the bench last weekend, and Schmidt has admitted he thinks the player is suffering from the workload of a Lions summer followed by the move to a league where he is not afforded the cotton-wool approach he received at Leinster.
The No. 10 has played two more games this season for Racing than he did all term for Leinster last season.
Ireland's autumn fixtures
Nov 9 Samoa
Nov 16 Australia
Nov 24 New Zealand
Glasgow’s excellent start to the Pro12 and Edinburgh’s fine win over Munster in the Heineken Cup have sewn the seeds of optimism in Scotland.
An opener against Japan will give Scott Johnson's men a good opportunity to establish their patterns before the tougher tests against South Africa and Australia.
Any danger of complacency against the Brave Blossoms should be a slim one given last year's reverse against Tonga.
Scotland's autumn fixtures
Nov 9 Japan
Nov 16 South Africa
Nov 23 Australia
The stats against Australia for Italy are simple and grim: 15 played, 15 lost. They will view this coming weekend in Torino as the best chance they have had in years of beating the Wallabies.
Australia arrive wounded and possibly in something of a decline, while Italy beat France and Ireland in the 2013 Six Nations and came close to adding the scalp of Scotland in a 30-29 home loss in the summer.
If the Azzurri can assert dominance up front, they could claim their biggest victim yet.
Italy's autumn fixtures
Nov 9 Australia
Nov 16 Fiji
Nov 23 Argentina
The Pumas had a miserable Rugby Championship and now head into the autumn missing both Juan Martin Hernandez and skipper Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.
Having seen head coach Santiago Phelan depart after six years at the helm, Argentina, under new man Daniel Hourcade, will need to demonstrate all their resolve and fight to get something from the next three weeks.
Argentina's autumn fixtures
Nov 9 England
Nov 16 Wales
Nov 23 Italy