On any other weekend, Ireland’s achievement in becoming the first northern hemisphere team to win a test series against the All Blacks in New Zealand since France in 1994 would have completely dominated the rugby conversation.
But it says something about the spectacle of rugby we’ve just witnessed that there were plenty of other storylines for the headline writers to consider.
Like Ireland, South Africa, England and Argentina claimed 2-1 series wins, Samoa won the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup and Chile qualified for a Rugby World Cup for the first time in their history.
🔝 @IrishRugby move to No.1 following their historic series win over New Zealand— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) July 18, 2022
This is the second time they have occupied top spot in the Men's World Rankings, powered by @capgemini pic.twitter.com/mH1MXbuy1o
‘DECIDER DAY’ DIDN’T DISAPPOINT
All too often in sport the match or the occasion doesn’t live up to the hype but that accusation cannot be levelled at the last weekend of test rugby.
Half of the 10 matches were settled by six points or less and none were more dramatic than Argentina’s 34-31 win over Scotland, which was won right at the death when winger Emiliano Boffelli dived over in the corner with the clock in the red.
In Colorado, two points was all that separated Chile from the USA as Los Condores fought back from 19-0 down to beat the Eagles 31-29 on the night and 52-51 on aggregate in the Rugby World Cup 2023 Americas 2 play-off.
Meanwhile, Samoa edged Fiji 23-20 in an enthralling World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup 2022 title decider, England held on to beat Australia 21-17 in Sydney and Uruguay won 26-20 against Romania.
RUGBY WORLD CUP HAS A NEWCOMER
Rugby World Cup will have its first debutant for 12 years when Chile take to the field to play Japan in Toulouse for their opening match at next year’s tournament in France.
Los Condores join England, Japan, Argentina and Samoa in Pool D. Chile’s encounter with Argentina in Nantes on 30 September will be the first all-South American tie in Rugby World Cup history, while Chile have never played England, Japan and Samoa before.
Russia were the last new team to make their tournament debut when they took part in Rugby World Cup 2011. All participants at the 2015 and 2019 editions had previous Rugby World Cup experience.
Since the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, to date, nine new teams have joined the original 16 participants in taking to the game’s greatest stage: Samoa (1991), Ivory Coast and South Africa (1995), Namibia, Spain and Uruguay (1999), Georgia (2003), Portugal (2007) and Russia (2011).
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP THROWN WIDE OPEN
In most years the All Blacks go into a Rugby Championship campaign as overwhelming favourites, but their fall from grace to a record low of fourth in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini has seemingly thrown the 2022 title race wide open.
The All Blacks have dominated the competition since it took on its current format 10 years ago and have claimed four of the last five titles.
But three weeks out from the opening round, the pressure is on them following a 2-1 home series defeat to Ireland.
While Ian Foster’s side remain the team to beat historically, South Africa will sense they have a golden opportunity to add to their solitary Rugby Championship title in 2019, the year they went on to win the Rugby World Cup for the third time.
Throughout their 2-1 series win against Wales, South Africa have showed they are still without peers when it comes to physicality with players like Eben Etzebeth – their latest test centurion – leading the way.
However, the Springboks’ game was far from perfect across the three tests against Wales, who let’s not forget, had never beaten them in South Africa before.
Australia, meanwhile, will have taken as many negatives as positives from their 2-1 series defeat to England. Some good, some bad is the inconsistent theme – plus no end of injuries – that has prevented the Wallabies from showing their true potential for some time.
For Argentina and new head coach Michael Cheika, a 2-1 series win over Scotland presents a satisfying start to his reign but, again, there are aspects of their performance which need improving if they are to bely their underdog status in the Rugby Championship.
That said, they will be a match for anyone at home, especially now that their raucous fans are back in full voice.
All-in-all, it leaves everyone guessing as to the destination of the title when the competition kicks off on 6 August.
AGE IS JUST A NUMBER
From Ireland’s evergreen inspiration-in-chief Johnny Sexton to England’s promising crop of young guns, the weekend just gone was another reminder that the date on a player’s birth certificate is irrelevant if the talent is there.
Every time Sexton is injured the whole of Ireland holds their breath, he is that important to the team.
The Dubliner turned 37 a week ago and will be 38 by the time the next Rugby World Cup comes along but unless anything untoward happens to him between now and next September, his name will be one of the first in Andy Farrell’s squad.
In Ollie Chessum, Joe Heyes, Guy Porter, Jack van Poortvliet and Freddie Steward the future of English rugby is in safe hands if the recent tour of Australia is anything to go by.
Steward is just in front of the others in terms of test experience having been a regular starter for England in the last year but all five Leicester players can return home with their heads held high.
TURNOVER KINGS UNEARTHED, OLD AND NEW
Wales openside, Tommy Reffell is another player from English Premiership champions Leicester to have taken his chance with aplomb on tour this month.
To stand out as a back-row in a series against South Africa takes some doing given the Springboks are spoilt for choice in that area, but the former Wales U20 captain has stepped into Justin Tipuric’s boots and been a real livewire at the breakdown.
In Wales’ historic 13-12 win in Bloemfontein, Reffell made three crucial turnovers and his work rate at the ruck throughout the series has been exceptional. A maiden test try in last Saturday’s finale was a fitting sign-off for the 23-year-old.
Scotland's Rory Darge is another who enhanced his reputation through his ferocity over the ball.
However, at this moment in time, there cannot be a better player at winning his side a turnover than Ireland’s Tadgh Beirne.
Whether he has a four or a six on his back, Beirne has been stealing ball at the breakdown and at the lineout for many a year but his contribution against the All Blacks in Saturday’s series-clinching win was on another level altogether.
Opposition attack coaches will be longing for the day he hangs up his blue scrum cap!