France buck trend
World Cup finalists France carried the flag for the Northern Hemisphere at the weekend.
World Cup finalists France carried the flag for the Northern Hemisphere in weekend Rugby Union action, outclassing a leaden-footed Australia to post a first win over the Wallabies since 2005.
But there was no such drama for Australia's Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championship rivals New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina.
The All Blacks ran out 51-22 winners over Scotland, the Springboks edged Ireland 16-12, while Argentina beat European champions Wales 26-12 in the shock result of the first round of November touring internationals.
In more gentle introductions to the rigours of a new international season, England routed Fiji 54-12, while Italy scraped past Tonga 28-23.
In Paris, Philippe Saint-Andre had spoken of his desire to blood a new generation of French players with an eye on the next World Cup in 2015.
Handing out three new caps and fielding some largely untested players, his side rode out some strong Australian first-half pressure to turn the screw in impressive style in the second period and run out comfortable 33-6 victors.
"When you see what other Southern Hemisphere countries did ... I've told my players to enjoy the win because it's not often you beat Australia, especially by 30 points," Saint-Andre said.
Importantly, the result meant France leapfrogged England into fourth spot in the IRB world rankings ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2015 pool allocation draw on December 3.
IRB rankings will be used to rank the 12 directly qualified teams for England 2015 into three bands for that draw with the sides ranked one to four in band one - and crucially avoiding each other until the knockout stages - those five to eight in band two and the remaining four in band three.
Next up for Australia are England, and coach Robbie Deans was left in doubt that "significant" improvement was needed to get their November tour back on track.
World champions New Zealand made the Scots pay for defensive lapses at crucial moments in racking up a 51-22 victory in Edinburgh, extending their unbeaten run against Scotland to 29 Tests.
Dutch-born wing Tim Visser marked his home-turf Test debut with a try-double and showed why he is a hot bet to be part of the Lions plans next year.
But the bottom line was that the visitors were in a different league when it came to turning chances into points, star playmaker Dan Carter controlling things with aplomb.
Carter played a part in three of New Zealand's six tries and also kicked six conversions and three penalties.
Argentina, fresh from a first year of rubbing shoulders with the cream of the Southern Hemisphere, produced the surprise result of the weekend, coming from behind to win 26-12 thanks to second-half tries by Juan Imhoff and Gonzalo Camacho.
"They played the All Blacks, South Africa and Australia over a six-week period and they have certainly learned from that and we were exposed to it and we very much came second," said interim Wales coach Rob Howley.
In Dublin, South Africa overcame a 12-3 half-time deficit to beat Ireland 16-12 thanks to a verbal sand-blasting at the break from coach Heyneke Meyer.
"There were a few harsh words, it was really unacceptable," Meyer said of his team's performance in the first 40 minutes.
"We gave up too many penalties, we couldn't get going, it was very hard work."
Following Argentina's victory in Wales, Ireland now need to beat the Pumas in two weeks time to boost their crucial ranking points.
"Obviously, we need to get something out of a match in a fortnight's time against Argentina and pick ourselves up for Fiji next week," Ireland coach Declan Kidney said.
The weekend also saw the kick-off of an unprecedented November schedule for Tier 2 and 3 Unions.
Playing in Colwyn Bay, North Wales, the United States repeated their Rugby World Cup 2011 Pool phase defeat of Russia with a 40-26 win.
The second match saw an exciting Samoa side beat Canada 42-12, signposting the Pacific Island team's intent prior to a mouth-watering match against Wales next weekend.
IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset hailed the IRB November International Series as "a major milestone in the drive to increase the competitiveness of Test rugby".
The series, Lapasset said, demonstrated the "IRB's commitment to assisting Tier 2 and 3 Unions access a competition schedule that meets their strategic high performance needs and delivers IRB world rankings opportunities".
The second round of the series will be played next Saturday when Tonga will replace Samoa.