Best of the Weekend: Experienced Wolfhounds maul the Saxons

bath blues
Wolfhounds prove too much for the youthful Saxons

The Irish Wolfhounds came away from Kingsholm with a highly impressive 14-8 victory against the England Saxons, and a number of players certainly put their hands up for full international selection over the coming weeks. Iain Henderson, Tommy O’Donnell, Rhys Ruddock and Robbie Henshaw particularly impressed for the Wolfhounds, but it was their impenetrable defence which ultimately won the day, as they repelled everything the Saxons threw at them, and England’s only try came through an interception from the electric Anthony Watson.

Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy were also given the chance to impress after recently returning from injury, and although neither player had too many opportunities to make their mark on the game, it would be surprising if at least Zebo isn’t involved in the senior Ireland squad when they open their Six Nations campaign against Scotland.

It was a dire first 40 minutes for the Saxons, whose back row seemed to be MIA at the breakdown, whilst Freddie Burns’ painful season continued, with the fly half struggling with both his execution and decision-making throughout. Alex Waller had a solid game at loosehead, keeping the highly-touted Martin Moore quiet all game, and Elliot Daly made a number breaks, especially after being moved to 13 in the second half, and constantly looked like a threat whenever he got his hands on the ball.

The Saxons performed much better in the second half, thanks in large to the performances of Rob Miller, Sam Dickinson and Scott Wilson from the bench, but it proved to be too little too late for the home side. The increased experience of the Wolfhounds clearly showed at Kingsholm, and whilst this loss will be tough to stomach for the young Saxons side, they will have learnt a lot from the game, and should become better players for it.

Rusty Sharks unable to upset in-form Saracens

Saracens played host to the Sharks on Saturday, in a landmark encounter between southern and northern hemisphere club sides. With the Sharks still in their preseason preparations for the upcoming Super Rugby season, they were always facing an uphill challenge against Saracens, even with the Premiership leaders missing their international contingent, and the visitors ultimately succumbed to a 23-15 loss at Allianz Park. There were concerns prior to the game that the Sharks’ preseason fitness levels would tell, and they would fall away in the second half, but conversely, it was their lack of precision early in the game which hurt them, and they turned in a far more impressive second half performance, outscoring Saracens 12-3.

With their international contingent missing, and other players rested for their encounter with Newcastle in the LV Cup, Saracens will surely be thrilled to emerge victorious from a clash with the Sharks, whose squad boasted the likes of Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira, Pieter-Steph du Toit, and Willem Alberts. Fittingly, Saracens’ South African contingent acquitted themselves particularly well, with Mouritz Botha, Schalk Brits, and Matt Stevens leading the charge for the North Londoners. Most pleasing for the home side may have been the performance of 24-year old Richard Barrington, who had the better of Jannie du Plessis throughout his time on the pitch, and that’s a praiseworthy accomplishment, regardless of where the Springbok is in his preseason preparations.

Wild weather derails the LV Cup

Torrential weather, including gales dismantling scaffolding, caused early abandonment and delays in this weekend’s LV Cup fixtures, but outside of nature, the status quo was fairly well upheld in the third round of the competition. With clamours for an Anglo-Welsh league seemingly growing by the day, added attention was surely on the cross-border clashes, and all four delivered in their own way. Scarlets started the weekend well for the Welsh sides, beating Gloucester 13-7 on Friday night, but Saturday proved to be far less fruitful for the regions, as the Ospreys and Cardiff returned winless from Exeter (36-22) and Bath (24-13) respectively, whilst Northampton triumphed 34-16 in Newport, in a hail-delayed game.

Try of the Week is far from spectacular, but goes to Paul Sackey. Conditions up and down the country made free-flowing, exciting rugby hard to come by, and Sackey’s effort takes the accolade, as he evaded the challenge of the reliable Scott Hamilton, on his way to running in a 40 metre try.

Villains of the Week are the Saxons’ back row, for their absence in the first half against the Wolfhounds. Whether through a poorly thought-out game plan, or lacklustre individual performances, England’s back row had a first 40 to forget at Kingsholm. They were thoroughly outplayed at the breakdown by their Irish counterparts, and this was typified by Luke Wallace often standing out on the sideline, nullifying his impressive ability at the tackle area. Dave Ewers carried the ball reasonably well, but not with enough dynamism to countenance his lack of impact at the breakdown. In fairness, the unit grew into the game in the second half, but did not do enough to redeem a poor first half.

Richard Barrington is my Hero of the Week, for going head-to-head with Jannie du Plessis, and emerging victorious. There are obviously a number of mitigating circumstances, including du Plessis still being in his preseason, and an unfamiliar pitch at Allianz Park, but getting the better of a prop as skilled and powerful as du Plessis will be a real feather in the cap of Barrington. At this time last year, Barrington was playing for Jersey, and his strong performance against the Sharks shows just how far the player has come in that time.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

13 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Experienced Wolfhounds maul the Saxons

  1. OK Mother Nature took away the opportunity fir a free flowing spectacle, but whoever came up with the idea of picking the Premiership’s in form breakdown specialist and then deploying him nowhere near a breakdown needs to go get another job. Factor in the opposition and that Anglo/Irish encounters are often won by the Irish on their ability to own the tackle and ruck area and it becomes even more bemusing.

    At least Daly looked the real deal. Nice impact from Dickinson off the bench as well.

  2. I though Sam Hill looked useful in the brief time that he was on the pitch. An out of position Henry Slade also.

    The other player in the forwards whom I thought shone was that teenage Tight Head who came on as a replacement, both in the tight and in the tackle.

  3. I know I’m biased but I thought Ben Ransom could have been in for try of the week. Especially after Tim Streather’s midfield break to set him up!?

  4. Tbh given the gulf in experience and the shocker of a game Burns was having, I think it’s quite an acheivement that the match was so close. Thought Daly, Slade and Dickinson really put their hands up, and whilst he didn’t have much to do Watson did make some good yards, taking the kick offs and running the ball back.

    Whilst agree that whoever thought up the breakdown tactics needs shooting is it beyond the wit of our young players to realise when something isn’t working and implement plan b? Clueless.

        1. If cap counting was a parameter to ability to win games then Ireland would have beaten England last year with all the caps we had.

          You can make excuses to the cows come home. 70 caps is only approx 4 caps per person. It is hardly an enormous advantage to suggest that those on average four games were the difference. England had plenty of quality on that pitch but a poor game plan. Since when was losing good enough.

          Anyway with a better ten you might have won the game.

          1. Not saying losing is acceptable but if the main point of these a games is to assess who can step up and who can’t (albeit presently not writing anyone off) then a few players put their hands up here for England against some seasoned internationals (Boss, Madigan, Zebo).

            The match was dreadful as was the game plan (which is a worry) but we really should have been thumped given that performance, we at least showed some resilience which is small comfort.

          2. Cap counting on its own isn’t a parameter for an ability to win games, but is most certainly a parameter for experience.

            Benjit said there was a gulf in experience and he is entirely correct. 70 caps to 8 (3 of which belonged to Burns) is quite clearly a gulf

            Now experience does not win games on its own, but it is one of many parameters that can affect a team’s ability to win games – this is even more true when stepping up to international level rugby

            Personally, I think that whilst its a shame they lost, I am quite pleased that this team of novices and prospects almost managed to clinch a draw/win despite by all accounts, playing pretty poorly

            Bodes well for when they do play well!

  5. The Irish back row played well, as did Madigan and Boss. Madigan completely showed up Burns, who had a nightmare. Disaster that Hill got injured so we had to play Slade at 12 instead of subbing Burns off.

    Pros: Dickinson, Miller (probably the classiest player on the pitch by the end, surprisingly), Daly, Simpson, that newcastle prop, Hill

    Down: Burns, Clarke, Wallace, the gameplan.

    Would be nice to see next week: Simpson; Slade; Roko; Hill; Daly; ??; Miller

  6. I think the young Newcastle prop is called Scott Wilson, and he impressed me too when he came on, along with Dickinson, Daly and Miller in the second half.

    The biggest disappointment was the fact the Saxons game plan didn’t change when it was clearly not working well. i.e. the long passes out wide (esp. from Burns) weren’t going to hand in the weather and the Irish back row were dominating the breakdown, with our open side stood out wide.

    The Sky commentators were saying they expected England to play like that in the Six Nations – which may work if the conditions are ok. But let’s hope the senior team can adapt much more quickly than the Saxons did if it’s not working.

  7. Wilson, yes of course that was his name. Only 19 I believe!

    I forgot all about noting Miller. I think I am right in saying that he was a late inclusion on the bench in place of someone who got injured.

    If so, he certainly grabbed his opportunity with both hands

  8. It will be less of a problem for the seniors in some ways, our entire pack pretty much works at the breakdown, so I don’t expect us to lose out in the middle of the field like we did. The problem is I don’t know if Wood or Robshaw are fast enough to keep up with any breaks that may come at the outside for it to be worth them avoiding the midfield for. This is somewhere that Croft really excels, he can play tight, but if we want to play a wide game, a flanker like Croft is essential (and very useful).

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