November is upon us once again, and with it comes more than just the relentless pressure of ‘Only six more shopping weekends until Christmas!’. No, November is also traditionally the time of year when Northern and Southern Hemisphere rugby superpowers collide.
Yes, for the bulk of November, the Northern Hemisphere domestic seasons gets put on hold as the test teams meet up to welcome the big guns from south of the equator to their patches for a series of one-off test matches.
However, of all events on the international rugby calendar, the November Internationals is perhaps the most nebulous and seemingly random, and it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on. Never fear, we’ve got your back – read on and we’ll get you up to speed in no time…
So what are the November Internationals?
Well, that’s the thing… unlike the Six Nations or The Rugby Championship, the November Internationals isn’t a tournament, or a test series or anything as formally organised as that. It’s not even technically just in November! Simply put, from the last week of October until the first week of December, the top teams from the Southern Hemisphere travel to Europe to take on the best of the North in a series of one-off games.
Depending on who you talk to will depend on what these games are collectively known as – in the Southern Hemisphere these are generally known as the Northern Tours or the End-of-year Tours, while in Europe they’re often called the Autumn Internationals. To further complicate matters, it’s become quite common for the host nation to group their November tests as a series – so for example Wales will be taking on Australia, Georgia, New Zealand and South Africa in the Under Armour Series, while England will be playing Argentina, Australia and Samoa in the Old Mutual Wealth Series.
Got that? No? Don’t worry it doesn’t really matter – all that you need to know is that these teams will be taking each other on in a series of one-off games. There’s no league to top, no series to win like when the European teams go south in June – it’s a one-off chance to go head to head, with the winner taking the bragging rights until these sides meet again.
Okay, so who’s actually involved?
Well, traditionally the November internationals have been a chance for the big guns in the North – England, Ireland, France, Scotland and Wales – to take on the big guns down south – New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina – but in recent years things have been expanded to include nations big and small.
So, this year the likes of Georgia, Samoa, Fiji and Japan will all have a chance to pit themselves against the big guns of European rugby, while the November tests also gives rugby teams further down the ladder a chance to go on tour – the USA Eagles will be heading to Georgia and Germany, for example.
So what’s at stake if they can’t win anything?
Well, the most important thing of all – pride. In other sports, playing one-off games with no external stakes might be classed as a ‘friendly’, and treated with very little importance, but in international rugby, nothing could be further from the truth.
The November Internationals are some of the most eagerly anticipated games on the calendar, particularly for the European teams – in the professional era, the Southern Hemisphere teams have dominated the Rugby World Cup, so the chance to get a rare win over one of these teams in front of your home crowd adds huge amount of spice to proceedings.
As a case in point, who can forget the scenes when Ireland secured their first ever win against the All Blacks in Chicago last November – put simply, the November Internationals give European teams the chance to write their names in the history books.
For the Southern Hemisphere teams there’s much to play for too, however – the Northern Tours are usually the final games of their year, and getting big away wins and potentially achieving a Grand Slam (beating all four home nations in one tour) can be huge achievements in themselves.
So who should I root for?
Well, the beauty of the November Internationals is that if you’re a neutral, you don’t have to pick a team and stick with it, because each game is its own unique storyline.
So, if you don’t have any skin in the big games, you might decide to root for the All Blacks one week, Wales the next and Georgia the week after. Hell, depending on how much of a sucker you are for the underdog, you might well find yourself rooting for a team for one match, and rooting against them the next depending on their opposition!
Okay, so what are the key games I should look out for?
Well, one of the biggest clashes of the Autumn is without doubt England taking on their old adversaries Australia at Twickenham – England won their first ever tour down under last year and the Wallabies will be bristling for revenge after beating the mighty All Blacks a few weeks ago.
Equally, Warren Gatland will be looking to prove a point after he oversaw the Lions secure an unlikely draw against New Zealand in the summer – the Wales coach will be looking to prove it wasn’t a fluke when the All Blacks come to Cardiff. Can Wales beat the World Champions for the first time in over 60 years?
Finally, while Northern Tours don’t usually involve multiple games against the same opposition, the All Blacks have lines up a two-test mini-series against France – Les Bleus have been something of a bogey team for New Zealand over the years, so there will be plenty of drama and excitement over the two tests.
So there you have it – for the neutral or new rugby fan, the November Internationals provide a great chance to appreciate the best teams from both hemispheres taking each other on, with clashing styles and philosophies leading to some truly captivating games that will live long in the memory. After all, what better excuse do you need to put off the Holiday shopping for a few weeks?