Five things we learned from the last round of Fall Nations

England and Wales collapsed to South Africa and Australia in a punishing afternoon for the European heavyweights.

Here, the PA news agency examines five things learned from the final games of the Fall Nations Series.

On the slide
With the World Cup fast approaching, Eddie Jones has presided over England’s worst calendar year since 2008. Six defeats, one draw and five wins is an unacceptable return from 12 starts and as 2022 draws to a close, the team is in a deeper malaise than at any point in the Jones era. Attacking, defending, discipline, set pieces, kicking identity, selection, leadership – trouble lurks at every turn with this autumn’s decline sure to cause alarm at the Rugby Football Union, who will have noticed the boos that rang out at Twickenham.

Webb Ellis Cup a distant dream
Backed by the full support of RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney, Jones is destined to remain in command until the end of the World Cup, whatever happens in the Six Nations. Nine Tests is all that remains before England and the opening group game against Argentina, and Jones is pinning all his hopes on building cohesion during the pre-tournament camp that gives him the most time with his players. But it’s clear that at this stage they are on the periphery of title contention, even allowing their gracious path to the semifinals.

The boks bare their teeth
As England reels, South Africa look well-positioned to defend their world crown as they stormed into Twickenham for the first time since 2014. Even without their European stars, they intimidated the hosts with their typically hard-hitting package and midfielder Faf de Klerk and Damian Willemse directing a clear strategy. Narrow defeats in Ireland and France point to a mixed autumn, but they went toe-to-toe with the two best teams in the sport before demolishing England to signal they will be a force. Add in New Zealand, which has shown signs of a renaissance, and the World Cup has never been so wide open.

Australia’s defeat sums up Pivac’s reign
How Wales was able to squander a 21-point lead with 22 minutes remaining in an engrossing encounter at Principality Stadium is a mystery to the modern age and their spectacular implosion meant they finished the year with just three wins from 12 starts. Under Wayne Pivac, they claimed the 2021 Six Nations and came within seconds of achieving a Grand Slam, while also beating the Springboks in South Africa this summer. But those highs were accompanied by crushing lows, notably home losses against Italy and Georgia, to underscore that this was a case of feast or famine.

Wales could turn to Warren Gatland
When Wales picked up their maiden win over the Springboks in South Africa just four months ago, any chance of Warren Gatland coaching them in next year’s World Cup would have been dismissed as fanciful in the extreme. However, such a scenario now seems a distinct possibility as Pivac desperately clings to his job. If the Welsh Rugby Union bosses decide that Pivac’s time is up after suffering 20 defeats in his 34 Tests in charge, then Gatland is firmly in the frame to take over on a 12-month interim basis.

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