IF we weren’t already well aware of the power of southern hemisphere rugby, the weekend’s series of autumn international curtain-raisers certainly hammered home the message.
England had the easiest task, of course, and did pretty much all that could have been asked of them in thrashing Fiji 54-12.
Coach Stuart Lancaster will not need telling, however, that the scale of the task gets increasingly demanding from now on, starting tomorrow when the Australians are at Twickenham, followed on successive weekends by South Africa and then New Zealand.
England will need to raise their game by some distance against the world’s elite. Lancaster’s measured, feet-on-the-ground approach continues to win widespread approval and it will be interesting to see how he handles the various selection and tactical issues for tomorrow’s encounter.
Australia arrive with a formidable pedigree and they will have been stung by the 33-6 beating handed to them by a rampant French side in Paris last weekend. The Wallabies are also likely to have some of their injured stars back in action.
For the other home nations, though, the only way is up. Wales, shamefaced and shellshocked after their 26-12 beating at the hands of Argentina, will be desperate to put things right when they face Samoa tonight, especially as the All Blacks are next on the Welsh fixture list.
The world champions sounded a warning to the rest with an awesome display in Sunday’s 51-22 slaughter of a brave but outclassed Scotland at Murrayfield. Scottish morale will need restoring before South Africa come calling tomorrow.
New Zealand will be wiping the floor with Italy tomorrow while Ireland, recovering from a fifth successive Test defeat, 16-12 by the Springboks, will hope to use tomorrow’s fixture against Fiji to rediscover some confidence.
For the Irish, though, the match against Argentina a week later carries far greater significance. If they don’t beat the Pumas, they could find themselves dropping out of the world’s top eight which would make qualification for the 2015 World Cup a real challenge.
There is plenty to anticipate over the next few weeks and France have shown the other European nations the sort of standards they must reach if they hope to trouble the superpowers from the south.