England stumble in Dunedin
A much-improved performance from New Zealand saw them take a decisive 2-0 lead in their test series against England, following a thrilling 28-27 victory in Dunedin. In all honesty, the scoreline flatters England, who scored two late tries, as the visitors were blown away by a dominant 30 minute spell after the interval by New Zealand. England were actually in charge of the game at half time, leading 10-6 thanks to a well-taken Marland Yarde try, and perhaps should have taken a bigger margin into the break.
The Ben Smith-inspired All Blacks then kicked into another gear in the second half, and tries from Smith, Julian Savea and Ma’a Nonu gave the hosts an unassailable lead with time beginning to run down. Credit should be given to England however, who didn’t give up, and although the TMO awarded Mike Brown’s try, which looked not to be grounded, a well-worked score for Chris Ashton at the death allowed England to narrow the deficit to a single point.
Two penalties silence France
There are a lot of adjectives that could be used to describe Australia’s 6-0 victory over France in Melbourne, none of them flattering. It was a dire game, strewn with errors, and although neither team seemed determined to win the game, it was Australia’s unwillingness to lose it which seemed to swing the result in their favour. France deserve some measure of praise for recovering from one of the worst international performances in recent memory last weekend, but they were still well below the standards they would usually expect of themselves. A hard-earned edge at the set-piece, particularly at scrum-time, will give Philippe Saint-Andre some hope ahead of the final test, but optimism certainly won’t be abounding in the French camp this week.
Wales put to the sword by efficient Springboks
The ‘Big Three’ rounded off a clean sweep of their northern hemisphere opponents this weekend as South Africa clinically dispatched a weakened Welsh team in Durban, winning 38-16. With high-profile stars like Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny ruled out of the tour through injury, expectations for Wales were restrained, but South Africa’s dominance in almost all facets of the game will still have been very disappointing for Warren Gatland and his charges.
Like Ben Smith earlier in the day, Willie le Roux was on fire for the Springboks, and involved in almost everything good that the South African backs conjured up. Bryan Habana crossed the try line twice, and he was joined by Duane Vermeulen, le Roux and Cornal Hendricks, whilst Wales were only able to offer a superb solo try from Alex Cuthbert in response.
Ireland wrap up a 2-0 series win in Argentina
Ireland were victorious in Tucuman, beating hosts Argentina 23-17, and secured their first ever series win in Argentina in the process. Tries from Simon Zebo and Ian Madigan lit up a fairly lacklustre game, but once again, Ireland will be frustrated that they were not able to put away a severely-depleted Argentinean side with more aplomb. A number of Irish players improved their stock heading into the Autumn Internationals later in the year, but there are still significant questions about their midfield combination. You can only beat the opposition in front of you, which Ireland did this summer, but with neither youngsters blooded nor comprehensive victories recorded, there’s a buzz of apathy towards their tour of Argentina.
Scotland almost scalped by Canada
Scotland were made to work extremely hard by Canada, but ultimately emerged with a 19-17 victory in Toronto. Two unconvincing performances from the Scots this summer have not prevented them from beating the best North America has to offer, and Vern Cotter will happily take a 100% record in his tenure as Scotland coach into their game against Argentina net week. It’s hard to lay too much criticism at Scotland’s door given that they are adapting to a new coach, but given what we have seen from Argentina so far this summer, Scotland will need to take their game to another level if they are to avoid a humbling defeat in Cordoba.
England and South Africa make JWC final
England and South Africa teams took contrasting routes to the final, with the former putting Ireland to the sword, 42-15, whilst the Baby Boks were made to work hard by an improved New Zealand side, but managed to grind out a 32-25 victory. An intense battle between their two packs awaits on Friday, with both sides eager to win their second Junior World Championship trophy, whilst Ireland will take on New Zealand for third place, and top seeding for next year’s tournament that goes along with it.
Try of the Week goes to Alex Cuthbert for his excellent solo try against South Africa. The wing went almost the length of the pitch and beat both Habana and le Roux on his way to a consolation try for Wales (skip to 3.18 in video below).
Video credit: NZAUTV
Two fairly obvious candidates for Heroes of the Week in Ben Smith and Willie le Roux, but I’m ignoring both of them for a pair of hookers, Nathan Charles and Matthew Rees. Charles, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, and Rees, who recently recovered from a battle with testicular cancer, have both overcome huge adversity to be playing at the pinnacle of rugby union. Both players have inspirational stories, but let’s not forget, they’re also cracking rugby players.
Not much trouble naming the Villain of the Week, as it was certainly the Australia vs France game in Melbourne. To those of you who watched it, it really was a case of 80 minutes of your lives lost – more so if you stuck around for the half time and full time analysis.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images