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International Rugby: Five things we learned from Home Nations' summer tours

The home nations have endured mixed fortunes after completing their respective summer tours to the southern hemisphere.

Ireland were the standout performers. Here are some of the takeaways from the weekend's third Tests.

Ireland are the real deal

Plenty has been said about Ireland in years gone by and whether they have had the ability to lift the World Cup, but Saturday's performance was a major statement on their credentials to next year's showpiece in France, with the men in green now priced at 5/1 to lift the Webb Ellis trophy in 2023.

Last week's 23-12 win in Dunedin was an historic achievement in itself, as it was Ireland's first-ever win on All Black soil, while it also levelled the series at 1-1.

However, to follow that victory up with the sort of performance they put in on Saturday is of tremendous credit to all concerned, cementing the achievement as Ireland's greatest in its rugby history, and sending a warning to their rivals about next year.

Andy Farrell's men were at it right from the off and dominated the All Blacks in their own back yard in a match which had everything on the line.

They may have had to weather something of a storm and perhaps got the benefit of  refereeing decision that could have seen them have a man sent off, but they showed great character and composure to come through that test to regain the ascendancy late on and secure the win.

Every facet of their game seemed to be on point and if they replicate that sort of performance consistently in France next year, they may well be tough to stop.

Foster facing uncertain future

All is not well in the New Zealand camp and their aura of invincibility has been eroded further with a fourth loss in the last five Tests, which also resulted in their first series defeat on home soil for 28 years.

The All Blacks remain one of the favourites for World Cup success, but a price of 3/1 to regain the Webb Ellis trophy next year may only get bigger with head coach Ian Foster seemingly under intense pressure to keep his job, with a little over a year to go until the showpiece tournament.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson labelled his side's performances as "unacceptable" and it remains to be seen whether Foster will still be in charge when the All Blacks open their Rugby Championship campaign against South Africa on August 7.

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England showcase resilience

There may still be plenty of work to do for England in attack, but they have shown they have decent foundations to build from after turning round what had been a disappointing 2022 to date by securing a series win in Australia.

Eddie Jones' men registered only two wins in a poor Six Nations campaign and surrendered an advantage against 14-men in the first Test to put themselves under pressure.

To their credit, they responded in the second Test by grinding out a 25-17 win to set up the decider and backed that up with another streetwise performance, perhaps helped by an error-prone Australia, as they ran out 21-17 winners in Sydney.

Their set-piece play looks to be in a good shape, while they enjoyed the better of the breakdown against the Wallabies, with the defence standing up when it needed to, with the Red Rose keeping their discipline to ultimately see out the win.

There may still be problems defending out wide, as the hosts showed in the first half, while the playmaking axis of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell has yet to convince, despite the former's decisive score in the second half.

However, this series success, with a number of key injuries to boot, should only give the players confidence they are on the right path, as well as the knowledge they can see out close games.

Wales returning to form

Wales have taken a step back in the right direction with their tour of South Africa, giving the world champions a real run for their money, but ultimately ending in defeat with a 30-14 loss in Cape Town in the decisive third Test.

The fact that the series went to a decider speaks volumes for the character of the squad, particularly as they had to deal with one injury setback after another, while they went into the series on the back of a home loss to Italy which saw them finish fifth in the Six Nations as defending champions.

However, they stood up to the test that the Springboks inevitably brought, and the emergence of the likes of Tommy Reffell means there are plenty of positives to take in defeat.

Wayne Pivac's men did of course secure their first ever win on South African territory to level the series at 1-1, with a 13-12 victory in the second Test, having also had their chances in the opening 32-29 defeat.

Having beaten only Scotland in the Six Nations, this series was a welcome boost as the Welsh start their preparations for next year's World Cup.

Scots let lead slip

There are plenty of things to work on for Scotland as they suffered a disappointing 34-31 defeat in the third Test against the Pumas in Santiago del Estero to lose the series 2-1.

Scotland will be kicking themselves after playing some excellent rugby to have established a 15-point lead in the game, only for ill-discipline and poor execution to let the hosts back in.

Still, it will have been a real gut-punch to lose the game in the fashion they did, having been 28-13 in front with 30 minutes to play, only for Emiliano Boffelli to cross over at the death before converting his score to confirm a famous win for the Pumas.

Blair Kinghorn was pulling the strings at number 10, in the absence of the likes of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg, but ultimately Gregor Townsend's men just couldn't control the game when they needed to under pressure, and they will be hugely disappointed with the setback.

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