What next for England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland after autumn internationals

Can a home nations win the World Cup for just the second time?
Can a home nations win the World Cup for just the second time?

It will go down as one of the most enduring, epic, thrilling and potentially era-defining Autumn International series ever.

The gap has clearly closed between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere nations and it feels we are into the first period in the professional rugby era where the home nations can and will consistently compete with and beat their Southern rivals.

But what does it all mean as we move into 2019 - a year that brings another Six Nations and the first ever World Cup in Japan?


World Cup Winners best odds - Home Nations

Ireland: 4/1

England: 7/1

Wales: 16/1

Scotland: 33/1


England

England will feel back on track after three wins from four in November
England will feel back on track after three wins from four in November

November has without doubt saved England's 2018, relieved pressure on boss Eddie Jones and increased belief that the Red Rose could lift the William Webb Ellis Trophy for a second time next year.

After a collapse in the Six Nations and a disappointing series defeat in South Africa, three wins from four have pointed England back in the right direction.

However, they are still not where they need to be and certainly not as far advanced in their World Cup preparations as they expected to be at this point.

2019's Biggest Challenge

Working out their best team and their most effective combinations.

England should only be tinkering with their side at this stage in their World Cup build-up and keeping their best XV ticking over. However due to an abundance of injuries and losses of form, there are still too many questions and uncertainties over selection.

November seems to have helped decide that Owen Farrell is now the first choice fly-half, but who is best outside him in the centre positions? Is it Ben Te'o and Henry Slade? Will Manu Tuilagi stay fit and in form to force his way in? Will George Ford rediscover his best form to regain the 10 shirt?

And don't event get us started on what makes the best back row partnership!

The good news is that the front row problems look a thing of the past with Kyle Sinckler, Ben Moon and Alec Hepburn all outstanding this autumn.


England 2019 odds

Six Nations winners: 10/3

Grand Slam: 9/1

World Cup Winners: 7/1

Reach the World Cup Final: 11/4


Six Nations

Six Nations England are 100/30 to win the Six Nations and that looks a great price as they will be better than in the 2018 competition. However, they have to play in both Ireland and Wales; although playing Ireland first might represent good timing.

Ireland's stars will be rested in the build-up to the tournament and as they showed against Argentina earlier this month, it means they could be rusty in game one. If England win at the Aviva then only Wales away should be troublesome.

World Cup

England will always be a force at the World Cup, but they are not where they expected to be at this stage of their preparations - despite a promising autumn.

Like in 2015, they are again in the "Pool of Death", as they are lined up with France, Argentina, Tonga and a vastly improving USA.

Unlike 2015, they should qualify from the group. If they do so as runners-up then it should be Wales in the quarters - a nation England will always be confident of beating, but equally aware they can be beaten by them too.

It is vital, then, that they win Pool C to face a struggling Australia. Like at Twickenham on Saturday, it should be straightforward once the fight goes out of the Wallabies. Then comes the small matter of a semi-final against New Zealand - gulp!

Ireland

Ireland will look to emulate England with a Six Nations and World Cup double in 2019
Ireland will look to emulate England with a Six Nations and World Cup double in 2019

Just one defeat in 2018, their first ever series win in Australia, a Six Nations Grand Slam, and their first ever win over the All Blacks on Irish soil - just their second ever against the World Champions.

This is the defining year for Joe Schmidt's side and should be the springboard for World Cup success. But the question will be can they continue to build on this incredible 2018 and find an even higher standard of performance, or have they peaked a year too soon?

2019's Biggest Challenge

Understanding the job is not done - that winning a World Cup is the ultimate goal.

This year has been fantastic but to become true legends and complete the journey it is all about glory in Japan.

When Ireland beat New Zealand one of the key things I was interested in was how they celebrated. Would they behave like this was the pinnacle or would they get back in the changing rooms like it was just business as usual?

When England won in New Zealand ahead of the World Cup in 2003 there were smiles after a fine achievement, but then it was back into the changing rooms - the job was not done. I wondered if Ireland have the same mentality. Did they see that win at the Aviva Stadium as their defining moment, or just another rung in the ladder of World Cup success?

Yes there was a lap of honour, but it was muted and I think they have that professional steel in them, especially with the likes of Andy Farrell in the coaching setup, to realise they're not there yet.


Ireland 2019 odds

Six Nations winners: 11/13

Grand Slam: 5/2

World Cup Winners: 4/1

Reach the World Cup Final: 15/8


Six Nations

Favourites, rightly so, at a shade of odds-on. England at home first and Wales away on the final day are the defining games of a championship they will be expected to win.

All eyes and all the pressure will be on Ireland, with a magnifying glass looking for any cracks. In 2003 England dealt with that pressure and finally recorded a Six Nations Grand Slam, which set them up for World Cup glory. Ireland need to do the same.

The biggest test will be starting quickly in game one against the English and not being rusty if, as expected, their star men don't play as many domestic games in the build-up to the competition as their English counterparts.

World Cup

Despite their successful 2018 Ireland are still 4/1 to win the World Cup. That is certainly worth an antepost interest, as if they win the Six Nations they will be shorter still.

Ireland have an unfortunate history of peaking between World Cups, rather than at them: they were 2009 Six Nations winners but then defeated in the 2011 World Cup quarter-finals; they were. 2014 and 2015 Six Nations Champions, but beaten again in the quarters of the 2015 World Cup, this time to Argentina.

This time feels different. Ireland have more competition for places than ever before, which should drive quality up, while Joe Schmidt's confirmation of his exit after the World Cup should spark an extra emotional incentive to succeed in Japan.

Pool A sees them with Scotland and hosts Japan, two tough games, but Ireland are head and shoulders above both at this stage. Winning Pool A means a quarter-final with the runners-up in Pool B, which will be New Zealand or South Africa.

It should be the Springboks. If Ireland finally get past the quarter-finals, then the reward is a semi against Wales, France or Argentina - all winnable. They're worth backing now at 15/8 to reach the final.


World Cup Winners odd - Other Nations

New Zealand 11/10

South Africa 8/1

Australia 12/1

France 25/1

Argentina 40/1


Wales

Wales are current on their best ever winning run after a clean sweep in November
Wales are current on their best ever winning run after a clean sweep in November

Wales recorded their first ever autumn series clean sweep with wins over Scotland, Australia, Tonga and, most impressively of all, South Africa.

November also provided Warren Gatland's side with their first win in 14 over the Wallabies and their longest winning run of nine games.

They also jumped their last mental hurdles: beating Southern Hemisphere nations consistently and having the mental strength and game plan to work out how to win and see out these big, close games - at home at least.

2019's Biggest Challenge

Turning their quality into wins on the biggest stage of them all.

Wales have the talent, strength in depth and now experience to make them a World Cup force. But can they do it in the cauldron of World Cup knockout games? In 2011, even after Sam Warburton's harsh red card, they should have beaten France, but lost 9-8. In 2015, after beating England in the Pool, they lost to South Africa by four points in the quarter-finals.

Can they finally find the composure and game management to remove the bridesmaid tag?


Wales 2019 Odds

Six Nations Winners: 6/1

Grand Slam: 14/1

World Cup Winners 16/1

Reach the World Cup Final: 5/1


Six Nations

In the Six Nations they host England and Ireland - the latter being the final game and one that could be a Grand Slam decider. Scotland and France away make it a tough campaign for Wales, but if they are serious of winning major trophies then these sides have to be dispatched. They look a generous price at 6/1 all things considered.

World Cup

Like Ireland, Wales boast great strength in depth now. Again like Ireland, they have the extra motivation of their father-figure coach Warren Gatland leaving after World Cup duties.

Only Australia will present a problem for Wales in Pool D, but the Wallabies look set to fall further behind the elite over the next 10 months, so Wales should top the Pool.

That will bring a quarter-final against the runners-up of Pool C - England, France or Argentina. All are quality sides, but in reality only England should represent a true threat to Wales and they should win their Pool and thus be avoided.

So that should then set up a semi-final with Ireland or South Africa and on neutral territory these are 50-50 encounters.

Scotland

Scotland's impressive home form has inspired an excellent 2018
Scotland's impressive home form has inspired an excellent 2018

An excellent series for Gregor Townsend's troops, concluding with a win over a dogged Argentina side.

They also know they had a great chance to beat South Africa. It highlighted why they are still short of some of their home nations rivals, with development in game management and composure to be done.

But overall November confirmed an excellent 2018 and further progression for the Scots, meaning they will be confident going into 2019.

2019's Biggest Challenge

Improving away form. While close to becoming unbeatable at home, away Townsend's side are inconsistent at best. Yes, wins over Argentina and Canada in the summer represent progress. But they lost to the USA and were lucky to beat Italy in Rome at the start of the year, while losing their other two away Six Nations games.

With England and France away in the Six Nations and a World Cup in Japan, they need to cure their travel sickness ASAP.


Scotland 2019 odds

Six Nations Winners: 18/1

Grand Slam: 33/1

World Cup Winners 33/1

Reach the World Cup Final: 12/1


Six Nations

Scotland are so tough to beat at home and in 2019 they have three matches at Murrayfield - Italy, Ireland and Wales. They will fancy causing an upset in one of those, but in truth will only be expected to beat Italy. Away days to France and England mean Scotland's end results might not reflect their actual performances and finishing fourth could represent a solid achievement.

World Cup

Scotland are in Pool A with Ireland, hosts Japan, Russia and Samoa. The Brave Blossoms on home soil will be Scotland's biggest threat to qualifying as runners-up, but if they achieve that then that means a quarter-final against defending champions New Zealand and the end of Scotland's campaign.

Ultimately, 2019 might not bring the results Scotland fans would want, but I'd expect it still to be a year of progress and improvement with strong performances throughout.


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