Ever so slightly the balance of power shifted between the northern and southern hemispheres during the month of June. With England completing a thoroughly impressive whitewash of the Wallabies over the weekend to go with a win apiece to Ireland and France, there is cause for optimism that a northern superpower might just challenge for the 2019 World Cup.
Australia will come again despite being thumped 3-0 by the old enemy and the All Blacks remain as the undisputed champions of the world. However it can be said that the English in particular have given rugby union a much-needed boost with their brilliant exploits in Australia.
One cannot help but feel that Ireland missed a wonderful opportunity to create history in the Republic having lead in all three games. France of course showed us their inexplicably erratic form with a comprehensive thumping of the Argentinians in Tucuman to round the weekend off, having been thrashed the weekend before.
Despite a humbling and somewhat embarrassing defeat to the hands of the English, it is not all doom and gloom for the Wallabies. They have the nucleus of a good squad going into 2019 but there are continuing concerns with their set-piece and also strength in depth up front.
Contrast this to their reliable supply of talented backs who generally played well in this series. The Aussies will always score tries but they clearly need to add some good old-fashioned starch to their pack.
Michael Cheika also has to make a decision sooner rather than later on whether he should continue inviting the expats over. Would the likes of Giteau, Mitchell, Mowen and Ashley-Cooper have made a significant difference?
I applaud Chieka for allowing players with 50 caps plus to be available for selection but with three years to go until Japan, may be now is the time to make that call. Having Matty Giteau going for another year is good in the short term but not necessarily conducive for Japan. The same can be said for Ashley Cooper and Drew Mitchell.
Cheika may want to consider utilizing the likes of Leroy Houston who was a massive success with Bath in the English Premiership. The Wallabies lacked a bit of firepower in the backrow and with someone like Houston (and I would add James Horwill to the mix here), he has the experience of playing in English conditions. This is not to demean the Top 14 in France, but the English swept across Europe (how wonderfully ironic that is in light of recent political developments) and the Australians are no different to any other team; they have to adapt if they are to topple the All Blacks.
Dean Mumm had a hugely successful stint in the Premiership and has clearly added to the Waratahs and the Wallabies. I think Matt Toomua who performed well last Saturday, will be a valuable addition to the Leicester Tigers and his stint in the UK will add to the Wallabies over the next few seasons – if selected. As will Kurtley Beale, lest we forget.
We would not have been saying this eight months ago but credit to the English rugby system; they recognized some serious faults and have gone a long way to rectifying them.
There is no doubt that the Wallabies need to go away and lick their wounds with the challenge of New Zealand fast approaching. The All Blacks were in terrific health against a decent Welsh team and having lost so much experience with the likes of McCaw, Nonu and Carter moving on, they have a production line of talent coming through. They are an outstanding team and it will take a special performance from Cheika`s men to spring a surprise.
However, a creak of light for Cheika is that the Welsh caused problems with their creativity and scored some cracking tries against a traditionally strong All Black defense. What the Wallabies have to do is to make sure that Folau and Foley have some space to work in, as they are both capable of creating opportunities out of nothing.
The back row battle will once again be worth the admission fee alone as long as they get Pocock back. Sam Kane has filled in seamlessly at openside to combat the seismic retirement of McCaw, add in Kieran Read`s continuing excellence and the Australians will have their hands full.
Pocock and Hooper pick themselves and I think McMahon certainly did enough to challenge Scott Fardy. He is explosive, aggressive and has a great motor on him. These are going to be very necessary qualities to bring to the table if the Wallabies are to stand a chance.
Questions will rightly be asked of Stephen Moore`s captaincy and as a starter in the team. He has much to prove alongside his front row colleagues in the next few weeks leading up to the Bledisloe clashes.
South Africa also has much to work on if they are to maintain a genuine challenge to the All Blacks. A 2-1 series victory over the Irish papered over some worrying deficiencies in their game, especially as they were up against an injury hit Irish squad. There notorious power up front seemed to lack intensity and they offered very little out wide. If they are to challenge the All Blacks and the Wallabies, they have to score tries and at the moment there is little evidence that they can do that.
Much to work on for the Wallabies and the Springboks. And as for the All Blacks, they look as strong as ever.
IMAGE: Billy Vunipola of England holds off Dane Haylett-Petty (L) and Michael Hooper to score their third try during the international rugby Test match between the Australian Wallabies and England at Allianz Stadium on June 25, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)