Five things we learned as England draw with All Blacks and Wales humbled by Georgia

England and New Zealand fought out a remarkable draw (Ben Whitley/PA) (PA Wire)
England and New Zealand fought out a remarkable draw (Ben Whitley/PA) (PA Wire)

England’s dramatic comeback to secure a 25-25 draw with New Zealand took centre stage on an action-packed Saturday in the Autumn Nations Series.

Here are five things we learned from the games.

Take the shackles off

At 25-6 down, England had no right to snatch the most incredible of draws, yet they should surely have rolled the dice a final time.

Marcus Smith drew boos when he kicked the ball dead in overtime, denying his team the chance to stage one last assault.

Eddie Jones backed the decision to settle for a stalemate, but had Smith been in a Harlequins jersey he would unquestionably have fired another shot in what is a frustrating reflection of England’s conservatism.

The young fly-half directed a dynamic comeback with style and skill, in the process showing why Jones continues to pick him instead of Owen Farrell as chief conductor, but the shackles must be taken off if he is to really thrive.

Identity crisis

What is England’s identity? Three matches into the autumn and with Jones’ reign now totalling seven years, there is still no satisfying answer for the current era.

Beyond the resolve that enabled a lost cause to be resurrected against New Zealand and Australia to be toppled 2-1 in July despite losing the first Test, it is hard to see what the hallmarks of the team are.

A Jekyll and Hyde performance against the All Blacks was England at their most unpredictable and while it made for gripping viewing, there are only 10 Tests left between now and the World Cup to establish a blueprint.

Fading aura

New Zealand had never previously surrendered a 14-point interval lead, but these are not the All Blacks of old.

Their collapse in the final 10 minutes, accelerated by Beauden Barrett’s yellow card, was striking in its speed but England had mined away at the foundations for the previous half hour.

New Zealand looked unstoppable as they stormed 17-3 ahead by the interval, but vulnerabilities were exposed when they faced sustained pressure and after a middling year by their own standards, they will not be sending their customary ripples of panic through their rivals at the 2023 World Cup.

Pivac on the brink?

Wayne Pivac’s Wales coaching reign is under an intense microscope following the acute embarrassment of a home defeat by Georgia.

The 13-12 humbling came just eight months after Italy triumphed at the Principality Stadium, with Pivac’s record showing just 13 wins from 33 starts.

There have been highs – a 2021 Six Nations title triumph and a first Wales victory over the Springboks in South Africa – but crushing lows are the dominant force.

Wales are in strife less than 10 months out from the World Cup, with next Saturday’s autumn finale against Australia a game they dare not lose.

Dancing to Russell’s tune

“Form and consistency” was Gregor Townsend’s explanation for leaving Finn Russell out of his squad for the autumn, but Scotland’s maverick fly-half is continuing to place a large question mark over his head coach’s judgement.

An impressive outing against New Zealand has been followed by a man-of-the-match display as Argentina were thumped 52-29.

Townsend now sees him as the “man in possession” of the number 10 jersey, conceding that Adam Hastings and Blair Kinghorn are on the periphery.

It was Hastings’ knee and head injuries sustained against Fiji that instigated Russell’s recall, but the name of the Racing 92 ringmaster is surely now inked into the starting XV for the World Cup.