Bold England lack cutting edge against the All Blacks
England backed up their performance last summer in Sydney by competing right to the death against a far from perfect All Black side at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon. Five minutes of heavy pressure aside, where the All Blacks battered England scoring two tries in five minutes, England acquitted themselves better than most predicted. There were plenty of positives for the full house at Twickenham, notably the performances from young guns Courtney Lawes, Ben Youngs and Chris Ashton.
But they were also wasteful in attack, and when compared to the precision of the All Blacks, England lacked the basic skills to finish off crucial overlaps. Mike Tindall was especially guilty in ruining a break down the left with Lewis Moody outside him, and it happened again for England at the end of the first half as they attacked down the right, with four attackers to New Zealand’s two, when Ben Foden was held up in the corner. Hosea Gear’s great finish off first phase ball, was a clear example to England of how it should be done.
It raises the question of whether England have enough creativity in midfield to give their lethal back three enough opportunities. If they’d taken the chances on offer on Saturday then they could have got another try or maybe two. The margins are never as tight than in Test match rugby, and whilst not heavily defeated, in all honestly England never looked as though they could go and win the game, despite their resurgence towards the end of the second half. It was a vast improvement from a year ago, but they are not yet the finished article.
Great entertainment on display as the Wallabies shine in Cardiff
The Green and Gold army arrived in Wales on the back of a historic win in Hong Kong over the All Blacks, brimming with confidence, and with the rugby world from pundits to supporters singing their praises. Thankfully for the watching crowd at the Millennium Stadium, they did not disappoint. Three tries displayed the various weapons in the Australian artillery; David Pocock’s power as he drove over for the first, James O’Connor’s rapid pace as he shrugged off Shane Williams before putting in Kurtley Beale, and lastly the brilliant hands of Quade Cooper as the ball went wide to O’Connor, before he slipped in Ben Alexander for the third.
In the middle of all of this was a wonderful piece of skill from Kurtley Beale. His up and under, brilliant snatched from the waiting arms of Mike Phillips, was then followed by a deft grubber kick round James Hook. All that was missing was the finish, but it was a wonderful piece of skill from a player who is not only arguably the most improved international player of the last year, but the best full back currently in the world.
All is not perfect however for the Wallabies. Their scrummaging woes continue, and the Welsh pack took them apart, resulting in a try as the forwards wheeled them to the left, creating the space for Richie Rees to dart over. Yet for all their dominance in this area and the amount of possession they had, much like England at Twickenham, they couldn’t finish off their chances.
Understrength Boks defeat Ireland despite late comeback
Despite being without nearly a full fifteen of top international players, South Africa pulled off a surprise win in the first Test match at the new Aviva stadium. Ireland were pretty much at full strength, missing only the influential Paul O’Connell in the second row, and were expected to dominate an inexperienced Bok backline, who had Zane Kirchner playing out of position at 13 opposite Brian O’Driscoll.
What the game showed was that South Africa, much like New Zealand and Australia, have wonderful strength in depth. Even with Fourie Du Preez, Jaque Fourie, Frans Steyn, Schalk Burger and a whole host of other names missing, they still had plenty of world class players to pick from, and Kirchner’s play in the centre was wonderful, especially when he drew across three defenders to send through the rapid Gio Aplon to seal the win.
However, Ireland’s comeback was a sign though that they’re not a spent force just yet. Tommy Bowe crossed after latching on to a brilliantly weighted chip through from Ronan O’Gara, which was strikingly similar to the try Bowe scored in the Grand Slam over Wales in 2009. There was the luckiest of bounces for Rob Kearney’s try in the dying seconds, and had Ronan O’Gara’s conversion not struck the upright then they would have snatched a draw they did not really deserve. Ahead of the World Cup, Declan Kidney’s side find themselves in a poor run of form going back to the loss against Scotland at Croke Park in the last game of the Six Nations. Irish fans should be concerned.
LV Cup springs some surprises
Newcastle turned over a heavily depleted Ospreys team to snatch an 18-17 win at home, Luke Fielden the two try hero for the Falcons who would have been on the losing side had Ospreys substitute Matthew Jarvis’ late kick not hit the crossbar. For Exeter, debutant fly-half Ignacio Mieres dominated proceedings as a much changed Chiefs side thrashed Wasps 29-6 at Sandy Park. The Scarlets romped home against Leeds, thrashing the Yorkshire side 52-14, including a hat-trick for on loan back row forward Jonny Fa’amatuianu. Sale battered London Irish 39-14 up at Edgeley Park, taking revenge for their loss the week before at the Madejski. And lastly, Harlequins beat Leicester 34-25 up at Welford Road for the first time in 14 attempts, with Nick Evans starring at fly-half.
Try of the weekend this week goes to the aforementioned Hosea Gear. In what was a superb team effort, the quick ball off the lineout from Sam Whitelock was perfect. Sonny Bill Williams’ burst and offload created the overlap, before Jerome Kaino’s beautifully lofted pass fell into the arms of Gear, who did well to finish under pressure from Chris Ashton in the corner. It was a clear example of how perfect the All Blacks play is when it clicks together.
The hero for the week is Twickenham’s Television Match Official on Saturday afternoon, Giulio De Santis. Called into action twice, he judged perfectly first as to whether Hosea Gear’s foot touched the ground as he placed the ball, spotting the minuscule difference between Gear’s hovering foot and the ball touching the ground. He was then consulted for Shontayne Hape’s effort in the corner, spotting the slight knock-on as Hape went for glory. Two big calls, both correct, despite the crowd trying to persuade him otherwise.
The villain for the week is the IRFU and their bizarre ticketing policy, that saw nearly 15,000 empty seats at what was meant to be a landmark game at the Aviva stadium between Ireland and South Africa. Not only does it kill the atmosphere, but it looks dreadful on television, and judging by Ronan O’Gara’s passionate rallying call following the game, affects the players maybe more than people realise. If the stadium isn’t full for a game against the Boks, then what will happen when they face Samoa next weekend? It’s a situation that needs to be addressed rapidly.
by Ben Coles