Rugby fans were expecting great things from the Autumn Internationals 2016 and were not left disappointed. The annual pre-Christmas fixtures delivered excitement, intrigue and high-drama in equal measure, as the Northern Hemisphere sides turned the tables on their Southern rivals.
Painful memories of last year's World Cup were banished as several Six Nations outfits laid down a marker for 2019.
The biggest winners were....
England and Ireland. The improvement in both sides over the last 12 months has been very impressive - they have developed into two formidable teams. Eddie Jones' England claimed four wins from four - including a great comeback victory over Australia and a triumph against Argentina with only 14-men - to complete a remarkable unbeaten year. The last time this feat was achieved, in 2003, England had the Webb Ellis Cup to show for their efforts.
The current side looks strong all over the field, with the likes of Ben Youngs and Billy Vunipola forces to be reckoned with. Crucially, this crop of players can win in different ways, as demonstrated by the superb defensive performance against Australia. England can clearly hurt teams with the ball in hand, but they are resilient enough to withstand intense pressure too.
Ireland also enjoyed their autumn - their famous win over New Zealand in Chicago will live long in the memory. Joe Schmidt's side produced an incredible display against the All Blacks, delivering 80 minutes of high-intensity play to gun down the world champions. With talents such as Conor Murray, Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong at their disposal, the Irish can look forward to the Six Nations and beyond with great confidence.
What about Scotland and Wales?
Scotland showed plenty of capability in their recent outings, most notably in their victory over Argentina and in the narrow defeat to Australia. But all too often the Scots impress in the Autumn Internationals only to look woefully off the pace when the big games arrive in the spring. The willingness of the current team to get on the front foot and play attacking rugby is a big positive, but is this what we will see at the Six Nations? Do they have the strength in depth to cover for a missing Jonny Gray or Greig Laidlaw, for instance?
Wales managed wins against Argentina, Japan and South Africa, but how much we can read into that is difficult to tell. Japan are improving but remain a second-tier outfit, and the other two victories came against badly misfiring opposition. In their only game against a genuinely strong XV - Australia - the Welsh were soundly thrashed. England and Ireland may dish out heavy beatings in the Six Nations unless Wales can find greater consistency and imagination.
The biggest losers were...
It wasn't a particularly great autumn for any of the Southern Hemisphere sides, but South Africa were particularly woeful this time around. The results don't lie - rarely has there been a weaker Springboks side on the international stage.
Argentina too were disappointing, suffering defeats against Wales, Scotland and England to continue a poor run of form since the World Cup. Both South Africa and Argentina made the semi-finals in 2015, but need to rediscover their verve in the face of a renewed challenge from north of the equator. Slowly, it seems, the tables are turning.
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