Euro tour wake-up call for Rugby World Cup

Less than two years before the next World Cup, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand have been given a wake up call by rugby's northern powerhouses.

They travelled over as the best-ranked three nations in world rugby but Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are returning from their European tours with their tails between their legs.

The Wallabies completed their first winless European tour since 1976 with a 29-28 loss to Wales in Cardiff on Saturday, after losses to Scotland and England in the previous two weeks.

The narrow defeat was a creditable one after Dave Rennie's team had to play short-handed for 66 minutes after Rob Valetini was sent off.

Nonetheless the string of defeats is a reality check for Australia having jetted to Europe on the back of a five-game winning run and ranked third in the world.

The All Blacks started their tour with a one-point win over England but leave with plenty of questions to answer after back-to-back defeats to Ireland and France.

The 40-25 defeat to Les Bleus in Paris is particularly worrying given New Zealand will start their 2023 World Cup pool stage against the French at the same venue.

World champions South Africa also ended their tour on a low note, toppled by Eddie Jones' England in a one-point defeat at Twickenham.

The southern hemisphere trio's weekend wipeout brought predictable scorn from the United Kingdom with Sunday Times journalist Stephen Jones tweeting it was "hard to see the relevance" of the annual late-year clashes any more.

Jones's comments may have been tongue-in-cheek but the struggles suggest a real battle to keep the Webb Ellis Cup out of northern hands in 2023.

A northern hemisphere team hasn't won the World Cup since Jonny Wilkinson's drop-goal success for England in Sydney in 2003 but with England, Wales, France and Ireland all showing their level that 20-year drought could be about to end.

England coach Jones, however, was playing down the long-term significance of the results after his team secured a win over the Springboks in the first meeting between the nations since the 2019 World Cup final.

"It's a one off game between first and third in the world, that's where we stand at the moment and we're happy to knock off the top team," the Australian said.

"We have four campaigns left before the World Cup.

"Next is the Six Nations and we want to be better."