Twickenham hospitality for the Old Mutual Wealth Series at Twickenham Stadium
For English rugby autumn internationals represent a litmus test. It is revealing of just how much a new side is progressing or not. Players and coaches are under an intense spotlight.
Now sponsored by wealth management company Old Mutual Wealth, England typically play the likes of South Africa, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand at this time. They are very popular fixtures with fans keen to take up hospitality opportunities and supporting the home team in great numbers.
The games are usually sold out. The Autumn Internationals tend to be somewhat experimental, an opportunity for coaches to introduce new players and see how they perform.
Southern Hemisphere sides, at the end of a long domestic season, will frequently rest some of their top stars. But be assured these are hard games. There has always been and always will be fierce rivalry between the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.
In recent decades the Southern Hemisphere has generally been dominant. That hasn’t always been the case – for example England’s glorious World Cup victory in 2003 under captain Martin Johnson.
However it is vital that England play the leading teams on a regular basis. They are up against quality sides, high calibre opposition, with games coming up one after the other with not a great deal of recovery time available.
Can the players’ translate what they are doing in training under the white-hot intensity of Twickenham and put on a show for the 80,000 fans?
It is the sort of intense programme which replicates a World Cup where squad depth is given the most rigorous of examinations and the mental toughness of players is crucial.
So to that extent the Old Mutual Wealth series is a good correlation, puts pressure on players and challenges a squad.
It also a test of the England coach who has to address rivals with different styles of play, cope with injuries, wrestle with tactics, make alterations as a game is in flow, handle yellow cards, motivate players, pull together a huge backroom team and a host of other challenges.
For their part, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa have historical ties which offer them the chance to make a point. But it also offers them an indication of where they stand vis-à-vis the Northern Hemisphere given the tours will also take in fixtures against Wales, Ireland, Scotland and France.
Argentina have grasped their chance on the basis that you can only improve if you are playing the best on a regular basis. The autumn internationals are now crucial to the economics of world rugby and offer smaller but ambitious nations the prospect that if they work hard they might too be able to break into this elite, just as Argentina have done.
As for the supporters, they can relax, soak in the atmosphere, enjoy the rugby and take advantage of the hospitality on offer.
The games are so-called ‘friendlies’ where the result is not all important but victory spices up the banter. So all in all there is something in it for everyone.