With rosters needing to be settled and seedings up for grabs for England 2015, much will be decided over the next weeks in terms of international rugby, explains Geoffrey Riddle.
There is much to be learnt during rugby's autumn internationals
Why are the autumn internationals important?
Of the three autumn international windows during every world cup cycle, these are the most important. Coaches are keen to try out new combinations before settling on a group of players who will take them to England 2015, and the seedings for that tournament are decided on December 3. The seedings will be based on the world rankings, and the draw will be made in London that day. England are currently fourth, behind South Africa, Australia and top dogs New Zealand.
Is this a victory tour for New Zealand?
New Zealand arrive in Europe as the only major team taking part in this year's autumn internationals that can claim to be injury free. The world champions, who are unbeaten in 18 matches, stepped off the plane last week seemingly without a care in the world ahead of their scheduled encounters with Scotland tomorrow, Italy next week, Wales at the end of the month and England in December. Wales last defeated the All Blacks in 1953, and England will suffer their 10th successive defeat to the world's No 1 side if they lose on December 1. The impression is that Steve Hansen's side have come to bolster their Grand Slam tour of two seasons ago in order to send off their captain, Richie McCaw, who is to enjoy a well-earned sabbatical next year.
What does the injury toll mean?
Australia and South Africa limp into the autumn internationals. Robbie Deans, the Wallaby coach, has used 40 players thus far in 2012. Heyneke Meyer, his Springbok counterpart, has used 38. England, Scotland and Ireland have also been ravaged by injury, while Wales struggled to put a front-row together for their match against Argentina today. The elite European teams have a terrible record against the southern hemisphere sides - 123 of those fixtures have been played since the summer of 1995, with the British and Irish record standing at won 26, drawn four, lost 93. Injuries could level the playing field.
Is Stuart Lancaster the man for England?
The England coach was called in to remove the stale odour that was left after the Martin Johnson era collapsed in quarter-final defeat to France at the Rugby World Cup last year. He proved himself by guiding England to second place in the subsequent Six Nations, but clearing the air and creating a new environment could have been achieved by any competent consultant. Matches against Australia, South Africa and New Zealand will be telling.
Can Fiji prove a point?
Fiji play England today in a scheduled tour match for the first time in the professional era. Their presence at Twickenham is an achievement in itself as injury and a lack of will from many of their Europe-based players has resulted in a diluted XV. Inoke Male, the Fiji coach, has already named England and France as "vultures" for stealing his players, and today's clash, along with that against Ireland A, later in the month, will be fiercely contested.
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