Reading too much into June’s internationals would be foolish to say the least but there were a few standout results.
England were second best against South Africa this summer but Eddie Jones’ men ended a run of five Test defeats in a row to restore some pride with victory in the third and final match of the series.
Meanwhile, Joe Schmidt’s Ireland secured a memorable series victory in Australia – their first since 1979.
The 2018 Six Nations champions showed great resilience to bounce back after falling short in the first Test; winning in Melbourne before edging past the Wallabies in front of a sell-out crowd in Sydney.
But it was Wales who caught my eye the most. Warren Gatland’s men played a free-flowing brand of rugby that New Zealand would be proud of and supporters will be quietly confident ahead of a huge 2019.
The Six Nations Championship gets underway in February but next year’s World Cup in Japan is the ultimate objective – and Wales could be the surprise package…
Gatland’s side have won five Test matches in a row for the first time since 2015 and there is a completely different mood at the Principality Stadium.
With autumn internationals against Scotland, Australia, Tonga and South Africa to come, Wales are building momentum and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Gatland’s men come up trumps in all four encounters.
Incredibly, Wales have never recorded an autumn clean sweep since agreeing to play four international fixtures back in 2002 – the most they have managed is three victories.
The chance to break that record could serve as fuel for Gatland’s side as they look to extend their winning run ahead of the 2019 Six Nations; Wales are currently priced at an appealing 7/1 to secure the title for the first time since 2013.
As devastating as Wales were in attack against Argentina, they deserve plenty of credit for their defensive stability.
To concede just 22 points in 160 minutes of rugby against a Pumas side renowned for attacking brilliance is some effort – and to do that in their own back yard is even better.
Wales’ goal line defence was sensational at times in Argentina and Gatland will be demanding more of the same this autumn.
Now up to third in rugby union’s World Rankings, Wales are well placed to challenge Ireland for Six Nations glory in 2019.
England and Ireland will travel to Cardiff next year and Wales will be quietly confident of emerging victorious in both encounters – that clash with Ireland takes place on the final weekend.
It could be billed as a ‘winner takes all’ battle for the Six Nations title and fans of both teams will already have this one marked on the calendar.
Ireland are currently EVS to retain the Six Nations crown whilst England are available at 2/1 – but Wales are the value bet. It would be foolish to bet on England at this moment in time whilst Ireland may have one eye on a sensational World Cup success story.
For Wales, it is all about confidence and momentum. Those home fixtures against England and Ireland should give Wales the edge and Gatland’s men could be celebrating another major title on March 16th.