Best of the Weekend: Lions roar, England and Ireland impress

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)

16 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Lions roar, England and Ireland impress

  1. Ah Wales, how I love that you keep it interesting. Euro champs 2 years on the trot then the first ever top 10 nation to lose to Japan.

    I agree that Japan were good value for their win. What did Wales learn? First, it reconfirmed something we always knew – our top XV or even 22 players are up there with the best in the world, the players behind them are very far behind. Little strength in depth, certainly not a whole squads worth. Second, McBryde is not a future Welsh coach – resting the good old heads (Jones, Hook) and taking the crap ones (McCusker, Reed); playing 4 6’s in the first test and relegating our 7 to waterboy, thus giving Japan a lot of belief that they could win the test.

    In the first 30 mins Wales had a hatful of chances, scoring one or two of those and we’d have been home and dry, but the last inch wasn’t quite there. Japan grew in both confidence and fitness during the game (Wales wilted in the heat – not an excuse, both teams were out there, Japan dealt with it better) and were totally on top in the last 20.

    Plus sides? Patchell and Robinson impressed. A few guys have now had their own mini “tour of hell” (that’s clutching at straws as I never believed that was a thing anyway).

    1. Oh, and good shout on Sam as hero of the week. A lot of pressure (you can tell from his dad’s Twitter feed that a lot of it has been below the belt again) and played an excellent game in defence and attack. Got his head in for some turnovers, a cert to start next week. I still know he will be an unpopular choice for 7 though.

  2. Yawn – the Lions and England win against poor opposition.
    I’m sure the All Blacks are worried.

      1. Dream on. That result was more about the AB’s being sick before the game than England’s performance.

        1. Trevor, can you do me a list of all the games the AB’s lost because they were “ill” and/or “robbed”? We’re up to quite a few new? – Last autumn, 95 world cup in SA, against France in qtr final in 99. There must be more? They must be a) hated by referees and b) in serious need of better caterers.

        2. Ah this is the same guy who heralded the Argentina V England test as ‘pointless’ i’d ignore this fella he is obviously a troll.

          Lets face it if the last world Cup wasn’t held in Nez Zealand it wouldn’t of been won by them but more by a deserving team like Wales or France and trust me being English it hurts to say that!

        3. The norovirus is a 24 hour virus and all players were deemed fit for play, and not by ATOS I’ll have you know.
          McCaw, Hansen and the team Doctor all said the past illness played no part in the defeat. But hey, some troll on his keyboard is obviously more clued up than the captain, head coach and physician…

    1. Argentina were only missing 4 or 5 more regulars than England, playing at home in front of a crowd baying for blood. No it wasn’t like playing the ABs but it was a decent enough test for a team that collectively had fewer international caps than BOD.

      Didn’t think the ‘Tahs disgraced themselves either.

  3. Can’t see how the Eastmond try (good as it was) can be Try of the Week when compared with some of the tries which the All Blacks scored against France, especially the two second half ones…

  4. Samoa deserve an honourable mention. They played some brilliant heads up Rugby, Tusi Pisi back to his RWC 2011 form. If they can compete with the Boks in the tight/round the fringes next week I think they can take the win. It’s going to be a war!

    1. Samoa will be tough at RWC 2015, qtr final place at least beckons:

      South Africa
      Asia 1
      Americas 2

      1. Completely agree. There’s no Kahn Fotuali’i sparking the performance in SA either, plus a few other stalwarts not on tour. A fair number of the Samoa squad are 30 or over, so biggest risk for them is guys not making it to 2015. Some of the new guys have gone well in SA, Jack Lam (openside) looks to be real quality.

        Looks bleak for Scotland, they take on Samoa in the final round of pool games and I expect Samoa to keep getting better with time together. I don’t think a last 4 finish is inconceivable for the Samoans.

  5. Brighty I did like your caterer comment. Actually made me chuckle out loud to the consternation of my fellow staff at work.

    We will continue to disagree about Warburton though, however it was a much improved performance and if he can step up his game again for next Saturday as he is a cert to be picked, I think that it should work for the Lions.

    I won’t refer you back to your comments about the relative merits of tours to Argentina and Japan!

    Trevor – you can only play what is in front of you. I have already said on another thread that England aren’t as good as this set of results suggests or indeed the game against the AB’s but then we aren’t as bad as some of our recent results would suggest either. All teams need to average out performances, as sometimes everything clicks and other times it all goes horribly wrong. It’s one of the great things about sport – it’s unpredictable!

  6. And might I add that Gerrie Coetzee’s decision was atrocious. I can’t imagine many Scots would support England when we next face South Africa but Scotland were by far the better side for the opening 50 minutes. It all went downhill after the card, but as Etzebeth retaliated, he was equally deserving of a yellow.
    A bad decision ruined what would have been a massive victory for Scotland as well as a great game for the viewers. Beating South Africa, the 2nd best team in the world, in South Africa would have been bigger to Scotland than beating the ABs was for England. Massive shame.

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