Best of the Weekend: England proud, Ireland tested


So near and yet so far for England in Auckland

England opened a packed weekend of international rugby at Eden Park, Auckland, where they impressed considerably, but ultimately succumbed to a 20-15 loss to New Zealand. The visitors, who were fielding a significantly under-strength XV, were competitive throughout and held a 15-15 tie late into the game, only for a Conrad Smith try to break English hearts in the dying minutes. Though the loss will be tough to stomach for Stuart Lancaster and his players, who arguably deserved at least a draw from the game, the positives far outweigh the negatives coming out of the fixture. Concerns over England’s depth in certain positions will likely have been allayed for the foreseeable future and there seems to be real competition developing for first XV spots, particularly in the engine room, back row and midfield. The All Blacks will be a far more cohesive unit in the second test in Dunedin, but if England can take the set-piece dominance they enjoyed in the first test, and mix in the regular first XV players without too much disruption, then they could still record that elusive win in New Zealand that they have been searching for since 2003.

Australia dissect disinterested French

Saturday was not a proud day in the history of French rugby, as they were thoroughly dismantled, 50-23, by a good, albeit not great, Australian side at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. The scoreline even flatters France, who scored two late tries when it’s fair to say Australia had switched off somewhat, and a winning margin of closer to 40 points would have been a more accurate reflection of the game. Away from the harrowing score, coach Philippe Saint-Andre will be equally displeased with his players’ attitudes and demeanours, some of whom looked thoroughly disinterested in the game for the entire 80 minutes and showed no urgency defensively whatsoever. It was a good start to the series for Australia, who never really had to get out of third gear, whilst Michael Hooper as usual excelled on the openside, seemingly taking on France’s breakdown almost singlehandedly and emerging victorious.

Springboks find their rhythm ahead of the Wales’ arrival

A familiar looking Springbok side took on a South-African flavoured World XV at Newlands and after surviving some initial scares, showed their class, beating the invitational side 47-13. The presence of Springboks such as Juandre Kruger and Alistair Hargreaves in the World XV pack caused some issues for South Africa at the set-piece, but the visitors just didn’t have the cohesion to trouble the home side, despite many of their stars having played together for the Barbarians just a week before. The grizzled pairing of Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield were solid in the engine room, although admittedly not the dynamic duo they once were, whilst Willie le Roux and Bryan Habana looked lively and eager to be involved, coming off their wings regularly. Wales should present a bigger challenge to South Africa on Saturday, but it’s difficult to see an under-strength Welsh team springing a surprise, especially now that the Boks have got a full 80 minutes of top level rugby under their belts.

Argentina impress in competitive loss to Ireland

If you believed the pre-match build-up, Ireland were going to have their way with a youthful and inexperienced Argentina side in Resistencia, but the Pumas actually gave a very good account of themselves, although ultimately falling to a 29-17 defeat. The game was still in the balance until the 59th minute, but an Andrew Trimble intercept try took the game beyond the hosts, who also looked to be tiring at that point. Blindside flanker Robbie Diack had an impressive debut, but it was a few unheralded Argentineans who arguably stole the limelight. Winger Manuel Montero, who scored a superb try, and flanker Tomas de la Vega both enjoyed good games, as did the more well-known Maritn Landajo, and with all three still plying their trade in Argentina, it’s likely they will be fielding some calls from European clubs in the near future.

1-from-1 for Vern Cotter

Scotland rounded off the weekend at the BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, where they beat the USA Eagles 24-6. The match was Vern Cotter’s first in charge of Scotland, and probably went as well as could be expected for not only the first match of the summer tour, but also the first match under new leadership. Several handling errors cost Scotland the opportunity of widening the winning margin, but Tim Visser and Stuart Hogg were both able to claim tries and the Scotland pack earned their side a further through a series of penalties earned at the scrum. Tests against Canada, Argentina and South Africa loom for Scotland, with each a step-up in class from the previous, but Scotland, although not imperious in Houston, have got Cotter’s reign off to a good start.

Northern hemisphere excel at the JWCs

The Junior World Championships have also been taking place this past week and have played host to some scintillating rugby. England have begun the defence of their crown well, dispatching Italy with ease in a 63-3 rout, and comfortably seeing off a highly-touted Australian side, 38-24. Ireland are also in a great position to qualify for the semi-finals thanks to a 35-21 victory over Wales and a losing bonus point picked up in their 19-13 loss to France. Wales’ remaining hopes hinge on them beating France, and Scotland somehow restricting New Zealand to less than four tries, but realistically it looks as if their aspirations towards the title died during their loss to Ireland. With just one more round of group fixtures to go, South Africa, England, France and Ireland look to be in pole position for semi-final spots, whilst the teams which fail to make it to the final four will battle it out for seeding in next year’s tournament.

Try of the Week goes to Manuel Montero of Argentina. Nicolas Sanchez created the try with a piercing run through the Irish defence, before Montero fended off the last man, and then beat the cover defence with pace and an acrobatic finish in the corner.

If the U20s were to be included, Hero of the Week would be shootout between New Zealand’s Tevita Li and England’s Nathan Earle, but given a full card of test rugby, we should probably put the JWC to one side. Instead, Martin Landajo of Argentina takes home the accolade. The scrum-half was a real livewire for the Pumas, showed excellent game management, and even managed to outplay the impressive Conor Murray. The quintet of Joe Marler, Jerome Kaino, Bakkies Botha, Bismarck du Plessis and Robbie Diack all came close to pipping Landajo.

Villain of the Week goes to France, who narrowly edge out their own coach, Philippe Saint-Andre. Questionable selections of Saint-Andre aside for a moment, the XV on the pitch looked so ambivalent, you could be forgiven for thinking they were turning out for a local 3rd or 4th XV, and even then their passion would likely have been found wanting. It was not until France emptied their bench that there looked to be any desire in the team.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

16 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: England proud, Ireland tested

  1. Without wanting to go all football – Villain of the week could possibly have been Nige. Undue influence on that game and, imo, it made too much of a difference in terms of the yellow cards (not given one side, given the other side for the exact same thing).

    Not so sure I agree with “under strength” in general for Eng. Yes, these are not the boys Lancaster is picking but he should see that he should be. Burns offers much more than Farrel and can kick. Eastmond was fine in defence and good in attack, no need to see Barrit/12Ts again. Front row did well and I would always, always have Parling in my team no matter how many slo-mo baiting hits Lawes makes.

    Great game in terms of score/excitement. Thought England had them there. Norovirus obviously…

    1. Would have to agree about Mr. Owens. Normally his decision making and handling of those situation is exemplary. But how Nonu stayed on the pitch I don’t know. If that had been two minutes from the end of the game, he would have been yellowed, so why not two minutes into the game.

    2. Although I was annoyed at the time, I’m not so sure St. Nige’s mistakes cost Eng the match. Eng made far too many errors. I still reckon they would have messed up try scoring opportunities even against 14!

    3. Yeah, I like Nige, but not his best game. I think a lot of the calls were tough and although I’d say that there were 2 key yellows he failed to give New Zealand, I think they were benefit of the doubt calls. However, for Yarde’s card it was just too difficult to not give

  2. They’re talking about moving Manu onto the wing?? I think Eastmond had a good game, and I know 12T is fit, but he hasn’t played since the 17th May! I think we need to see Burrell and Tuilagi together. Burrell has been playing mostly at 12 for Saints, and to be fair he’s been playing better than 12T. He’ll be confident after just winning two trophies, whereas 12T has just recoveres from his injury, and won’t be as sharp as Burrell.

    I’m also not sure about Farrell’s fitness. Has he overcome his ankle injury?! Didn’t look like it in the last two games of the season. If not don’t risk him, stick with Burns and Cips. Burns had a great game, and Cips looked very good when he came on. I would be tempted to give him more time on the pitch for the second test.

    1. Marler, 2. Hartley, 3. Wilson, 4. Launchbury, 5. Lawes, 6. Wood, 7. Robshaw, 8. Vunipola, 9. Care, 10. Burns (Farrell if fully fit), 11. Yarde, 12. Burrell, 13. Tuilagi, 14. Ashton, 15. Brown

    16. Webber, 17. Mullan, 18. Thomas, 19. Parling, 20. Morgan, 21. Dickson, 22. Cipriani, Eastmond (gives cover for full back, wing and centre).

  3. Much as I hate to say it, because normally I think Nige is the best ref out there, I agree with you Brighty.

    I’d really like to know how he’d explain his decision making on the yellow cards (and why Nonu wasn’t given one for one of the most obvious professional fouls we’ve seen in a long time)

    Such a shame as I was really pleased when I first heard he was reffing.

    Plus someone needs to explain the difference between backwards and forwards to him.

    As for ‘understrength’ England, I think its easy now to say that they weren’t because they all stepped up. But before the game both Eastmond and Burns hadn’t even played for their clubs since April or similar – and even then Burns wasn’t in form.

    The one area to my mind that di really make a difference, we scrum-half. Thought Youngs was poor. Care could have made the difference between a loss and a win

    Pleased to see the strength in depth we seem to have though

    1. I know what you mean about “understrength” Pablito, my point was more that I don’t see England becoming sig. better with their supposed “first choice” players because imo some of those guys who played on Sat should be their first choice players. So I wouldn’t put too much stock in the “and we’ll be so much better next week” view personally. Sort of been there before with Wales e.g. WC 03, Wales “2nds” against NZ, full of guys who went on to be nailed on starters e.g. Shane Williams and Gareth Thomas.

      Nicely set up for next weekend – will it be like NZ v Ire 2nd test last year (it was last year, wasn’t it?) when the ABs handed out 50 points after a deathly close first match.

      1. It was 2 years ago – we had a Lions tour last summer.

        Ireland got pasted 42-10 in the first test. Played magnificently in the second holding it to 19 all until Carter dropped a goal as time expired.

        I tuned in for the third expecting to see another decent contest only to witness the mother of all beatings. 60-0.

        I think England missed a chance to notch a win on their belts. NZ are often poorest in their first outing but have the ability to really turn it on in subsequent games with virtually the same personnel.

        We’ll see……….

  4. In terms of the missed yellow far more obvious to me was the pen England got on the NZ tryline for NZ player not rolling away. Delib pro foul, then mins left, I think the scores were tied at that point? 3 mins later, down the other end, same offence, yellow card… Right, I’ll have to stop now or I’ll sound like an Arsenal supporter.

    1. Brighty for that incident I thought England were lucky to get the pen for tackler not releasing, May and the ball looked held up to me so thought it wouldve been a NZ scrum.

      1. also Nig clearly missed a tackle in the air by Haskell I think on Dagg which caused him to knock on which led to englands 2nd or 3rd penalty. In short I agree he was below par but probably evened out. Yarde was just too obviousy lying on top of the ball to not get a yellow.

        1. I remember seeing the Haskell tackle and thinking England were fortunate to get away with it. In all honesty there was a lot from both sides that went unpunished. I noticed that NZ were flying into lots of rucks off their feet, Faumuina did one when Yarde was penalised that under different circumstances could have gone against NZ.

          The issue for me wasn’t that Owens didn’t pick up on certain fouls, but that he penalised NZ for two professional fouls (Nonu and Fekitoa) that occurred in positions where if the foul had not been committed, a try could well have been scored.

          Given the number of defenders that Tuilagi was attracting, a missing player in the back line for a quarter of the game could have caused NZ some serious problems.

      2. Lukov, someone else mentioned this earlier, and I have to disagree with May being held up.

        The pertinent point though is that Owens penalised it, but chose not to sanction it with a yellow.

        One could argue that at the juncture of Yarde’s yellow, then the New Zealand supporting player went off his feet sealing off the ball.

        The point is that Owens awarded both as penalties consistent with how he had refereed the game up to that point. The consistency missing was in his “choice” to only issue the one yellow.

        There was much talk since Saturday on how it is difficult for the ref to make decisions in the heat of the game. That is very true, BUT yellow cards do not need to be awarded in the “heat of the game”. The ref has the opportunity to consider this sanction, calmly and objectively once the penalty award is given.

        1. Yep, that’s it well put Blub. The point for me was that he spotted that both were pro fouls, both stopping tries being scored, but decided to only hand out a yellow for one of them. Mystifying.

  5. All any of us ask for is consistency in reffing, whether you agree with the decisions or not. However that’s the rub if the green and on another day we may get the fortune of the decisions going our way, so it is what it is – another loss. Let’s change that around in test 2 whoever is playing.

    As to under strength, you could argue that only 3 of the forwards would have started had everyone been available and 3 of the backs. It is very nice to be able to call on Lions like Parling to step in though! Growing up it was always nz who had this strength in depth and they could send over a second team and still either win or come close. Quite enjoying the fact that it is us who have the depth now! However the lack of experience and impact from the bench was probably the most noticeable thing of having so many players unavailable and that did have an impact on the game.

    Still trust SL to put out our best team for the second test, whoever that may be. Can possibly see Hartley and Vunipola on the bench, partly due to fitness and game time issues.

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