International Rugby was back in full swing this weekend with England, Ireland, Wales and Italy all picking up defeats in the Southern Hemisphere. Here are the best bits:
England and Wales left to rue missed opportunities
With South Africa working with minimal preparation time and Australia reeling from a shock defeat to Scotland, fans had every right to expect England and Wales to possibly pick up rare wins on tour. Instead, both sides were left to wonder what might have been after narrow defeats against the Southern Hemisphere juggernauts. Wales struggled early on against Australia, who broke away to lead 20-9 after tries from Scott Higginbotham and the brilliant Will Genia. But a try from Alex Cuthbert and penalties from Leigh Halfpenny brought Wales back into the game at 20-19, before Pat McCabe crashed over for the hosts to secure victory.
England on the other hand started well in Durban, tied at 6-6 going into half-time but faded away after a brilliant 20 minutes from South Africa when Morné Steyn and Jean De Villiers both went over for tries. The Springboks were typically bullish all afternoon and eventually England cracked, despite making 126 tackles in all. Injuries will deprive them of Brad Barritt and Mike Brown for the next test but they will take heart, as will South Africa from what was a bright start to a new era for the Springboks.
All Blacks in imperious form as Argentina see off Italy
An incredible display from New Zealand at Eden Park saw the World Champions get the summer off to a comfortable start, scoring six tries including a hat-trick for young Julian Savea on debut. Ireland showed flashes of encouragement at the breakdown and in the scrum but were comprehensively outclassed, though whether anyone could have lived with the All Blacks is doubtful. Fergus McFadden did grab a consolation try but Ireland will be disappointed with their performance.
Meanwhile a weakened Argentina side led by Felipe Contepomi brushed aside a strong Italy team, running in four tries including a score for the Pumas veteran Rodrigo Roncero. Argentina rested plenty of key stars ahead of the two test series against France this month yet looked comfortable, running out 37-22 winners in what was a worrying performance from the Azzurri.
Samoa seal back to back victories in Pacific Nations Cup
Two tries from new Worcester Warriors signing David Lemi saw Samoa edge past Fiji 29-26 in Tokyo, their second win of the campaign after defeating Tonga last weekend. Fiji captain and Edinburgh number 8 Nateni Talei grabbed a try for the visitors but ultimately Ki Anufe’s penalty proved the difference. Meanwhile Paula Kaho scored the winning try for Tonga in their 24-20 victory over Japan.
Toulouse seal their 19ths Top 14 title in Paris
There were no tries despite the array of talent on show in the Top 14 final, but 18 points from the boot of Luke McAlister where enough for Toulouse to win yet another league title, their 19th in all. Jonny Wilkinson and Benjamin Lapeyre both missed long-range penalties for Toulon as they fell short of a first title in 20 years, in a match where three yellow cards were handed out including one to William Servat in his final ever game.
Try of the Weekend has to go to Will Genia. The Wallaby scrum-half had a superb game on his home ground in Brisbane, his try capping a great performance.
Hero of the weekend is Jean de Villiers. On a day of huge importance for South African rugby, the new captain was on brilliant form. No one in the world could have stopped him as he hurtled towards the line for his try.
As for a Villain, whoever contributed to Brad Barritt’s lacerated eye should be feeling guilty.
by Ben Coles