Lions challenged by Waratahs, but prove too strong
The NSW Waratahs may have been missing many key players due to their presence in the Wallaby squad, but they still proved to be a significant step up in quality to the previous opposition the Lions have faced so far on tour. The Lions coped admirably however, and powered their way to a 47-17 victory. The Waratahs were boosted by the return of both Dave Dennis and Rob Horne from the Wallaby squad, and although their class shone through, it wasn’t enough to derail the thus-far undefeated Lions.
The likes of Drew Mitchell and Peter Betham also added some real quality to the ‘Tahs back line, and if there was one pertinent criticism of the Lions performance, it was the poor defence of their backs, particularly out wide, with a poor attempted tackle from Sean Maitland in the build up to the ‘Tahs first try, being a prominent example. If they occasionally struggled in defence, the Lions backs more than made up for it with their efficient attacking play, with Jonathan Davies particularly impressing, and giving Warren Gatland a real selection headache in the centres ahead of the first test. Injury to Jamie Roberts did however taint the day, and with growing concerns over George North’s fitness, Christian Wade, Brad Barritt and Shane Williams have all been called up as cover, in addition to the arrivals of Simon Zebo and Billy Twelvetrees last week.
There was much more good news in the pack however, as the majority of the unit put in strong performances, and made strong claims to start against Australia in the first test. Lock Alun Wyn Jones, perhaps sensing the growing calls for Geoff Parling or Richie Gray to start alongside Paul O’Connell, put in a virtuoso performance, excelling in all facets of the game. Club colleagues Tom Youngs and Tom Croft also linked up very well at the lineout, whilst Sam Warburton answered many of the questions over his form, putting in a great shift at the breakdown, and allowing the aforementioned Croft to flourish in open spaces. The likes of Alex Corbisiero, Richard Hibbard, Geoff Parling and Toby Faletau may still have hopes of pushing their way into the test XV, but it would certainly not be a surprise if Gatland opts for an unchanged pack to take on Australia.
Mixed fortunes for home nations
England secured their first series win in Argentina since 1981, thanks to a 51-26 victory over a much improved Argentina side, who were clearly smarting from their demolition in the first test. Headlines will rightly be stolen by a two try debut for winger Marland Yarde, and his performance will certainly have made him a strong candidate to continue featuring for Stuart Lancaster’s side in the Autumn Internationals (England vs Australia, Argentina and New Zealand). Although Argentina were not a full-strength by any means, the performance of England’s front row was particularly pleasing, and culminated quite rightly in Joe Marler being named man of the match.
Ireland also notched an impressive win, beating a relatively strong Canadian side 40-17 in Toronto. The visitors established forward dominance early on, gifting their backs the quick ball they desired, and helped unleash the talents of Ian Madigan, Darren Cave, Andrew Trimble, and Fergus McFadden, with the latter helping himself to a hat-trick in an accomplished performance from a young Irish side.
The weekend was not so kind to Scotland and Wales, who lost to South Africa and Japan respectively, but the losses will be extremely polarising to their expectant fans. Scotland ultimately lost 30-17 to South Africa, but were competitive throughout, and up until a last minute try from Jan Serfontein, were in a position to still win the game, trailing by just six points. Incoming coach Vern Cotter will be encouraged by Scotland’s performance, particularly without the talents of Stuart Hogg, Kelly Brown and Ryan Grant, and will be relishing working with Alasdair Strokosch, who went head-to-head with a vaunted South African pack, and more often than not emerged victorious at the breakdown. There was much less to be pleased about from a Welsh standpoint however, as they fell to their first ever loss to Japan, losing 23-8 in Tokyo. Credit should be given to Japan, who fully deserved the win, and showed they are continually developing as a rugby playing nation. The likes of Ayumu Goromaru and Fumiaki Tanaka were particularly impressive, outshining their Welsh counterparts, and helping this Japanese side make history.
England new boy Kyle Eastmond scored the Try of the Week, as his dazzling footwork helped him beat four defenders (at my counting) on his way to the try line.
Hero of the Week goes to Sam Warburton. The Lions captain was roundly criticised after his first game on tour, but bounced back admirably against the ‘Tahs, and has probably done enough to warrant selection against Australia on merit, rather than solely as captain.
The loss of Jim Hamilton to the sin-bin was arguably pivotal in South Africa’s victory over Scotland, and although his dismissal seemed soft, the TMO judged it to be worthy of a yellow card. Take your pick for Villain of the Week depending on your standpoint – Jim Hamilton or the TMO, Gerrie Coetzee.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)