5 rugby union sides for 2014
The National staff | December 2, 2013
Saturday's round of matches completed the international rugby union calendar fixtures for 2013.
It was a year for southern superiority, but there's still a full year before the 2015 World Cup for international sides to take their final shape.
Our Graham Caygill takes stock, looking at what five of the world's most prominent sides accomplished this year and how they are shaping up for 2014.
1. New Zealand
Having already had a perfect season in winning the Rugby Championship and their summer matches, the All Blacks had four more wins in November, beating Japan (54-6), France (26-19), England (30-22) and Ireland (24-22, below). They beat the English and Irish despite trailing and proved they carry spirit in equal measure to talent. Definitely the team to beat in 2014.
While it began badly with a 20-13 loss to England, and there were problems with discipline that led to six players being banned for a late-night drinking session, the tour ended up finishing well. Victories over Italy (50-20), Ireland (32-15), Scotland (21-15) and Wales (30-26, above) will give coach Ewen McKenzie a lot of heart.
3. South Africa
A win in France for the first time in 16 years, thanks to JP Pietersenís try, was the highlight of the sideís autumn as they finished with a perfect record. The Springboks were stellar in defence, conceding one try in three games against France, Wales (24-15) and Scotland (28-0, below). The clean sheet against the Scots at Murrayfield was especially impressive.
It was a mixed bag for coach Stuart Lancasterís men. They beat Australia, were inconsistent in defeating Argentina 31-12, and put in a brave effort against New Zealand ó they led the world champions before their opponents stepped it up a gear. There is reason for optimism, but defensive issues need addressing.
The good news for the Six Nations side is that they ended their wait for an autumn win, which stretched back four years, by defeating both Argentina and Tonga. They also lost to South Africa and were unable to build on a 10-point lead in a 30-26 loss, below, in Cardiff to Australia. Warren Gatlandís side are clearly a force but lack the killer instinct against the top sides.
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