Best of the Weekend: Lions tested, England cruise

Lions battle to hard-fought victory in Queensland

On a jam-packed weekend of international rugby, you could be forgiven for missing the odd fixture here or there, but if there was one game that should have been set in stone in your diary, it was the Queensland Reds playing host to the British and Irish Lions. Though the Lions eventually won 22-12, the game was anything but plain sailing, and gave Warren Gatland’s squad exactly the kind of test they needed if they are to be prepared for the Wallabies in just under two weeks’ time. The game wasn’t all good news however, as Tommy Bowe broke a bone in his hand, and is now a major doubt for the rest of the tour, with fellow Irish international Simon Zebo being called up as cover.

A try for Ben Youngs and a flawless kicking performance from the tee for Owen Farrell were enough to secure victory for the Lions, with the latter easing some concerns over his place in the squad, showing much improved distribution and composure from his first game on tour. Loosehead prop Mako Vunipola was another player to impress, and could well have catapulted himself into Gatland’s Test XV after two of his fellow props suffered tour-ending injuries last week. George North also shone, with the winger coming on as a replacement at outside centre, and displayed a level of versatility which Gatland will appreciate given the growing number of injury concerns.

Not everyone impressed however, with both Sam Warburton and Stuart Hogg in particular struggling. Hogg was often found running away from support, giving the Reds easy opportunities to turn the ball over, and at times looked rattled under the high ball. Warburton’s lack of form is more understandable, with the captain only recently shaking off a knee injury, and will hopefully turn in a much-improved performance in his next game, which will most likely be against the Waratahs on Saturday.

England cruise past Argentina in Salta

Prior to the England squad leaving for South America, there was a real hope that the young squad would be pushed hard by Argentina, and have their international credentials well and truly tested. However, with Santiago Phelan resting many of his starters, there were growing worries that the hosts would not have sufficient depth to be competitive with England, and unfortunately these fears proved to be true, as England cruised to a 32-3 victory.

Tries for David Strettle, Billy Twelvetrees and Ben Morgan helped England take a 25-3 lead into the interval, as the visitors dominated the game in the first half. A combination of England taking their foot off the gas at half-time, and an improved Argentinean performance, meant that a late Billy Vunipola try was the only score of the second half, and Stuart Lancaster will be sincerely hoping that Argentina’s second half performance is a portent of things to come, as he seeks to see his players pushed harder in the second Test. Debutants Christian Wade and Matt Kvesic both impressed, playing key roles in attack and defence respectively, whilst Dave Attwood also put up his hand to ensure that he’s not forgotten in Lancaster’s long-term plans for the second row.

Wales and Ireland sneak wins, whilst Scotland fall to Samoa

Wales were pushed hard by an ever-improving Japan side, and went into the interval trailing 11-6, after being outplayed by Japan in the first half. Japan started the second half equally well, but ultimately Wales’ quality showed, with Liam Williams setting up Harry Robinson for the visitors only try of the game, and one which proved critical in earning Wales the win.

Scotland were less fortunate however, losing 27-17 to a powerful Samoa side. Alesana Tuilagi punished the Scottish defence with two tries, and looked back to his vintage Welford Road best. Scotland did manufacture chances of their own, but often lacked composure at the most important times, and will need to improve significantly before they take on South Africa at the weekend.

Ireland, like Wales, were pushed hard by their opposition, but also emerged victorious, beating the USA Eagles 15-12. All 15 points came via the boot of rising star Ian Madigan, whilst the Eagles’ 12 all came from the boot of Chris Wyles. Although the try-less game will have done little to make the game appeal to the US fans, debutants Stuart Olding and Robbie Henshaw impressed for Ireland, whilst their front row looked to be a significant step up in class to their US counterparts.

Wales, Ireland victorious at Junior World Championships; England and Scotland frustrated

Wales secured their second victory of this year’s Junior World Championships, beating Scotland 26-21, and moving joint top of their pool with Argentina, who they will meet in a winner-takes-all match in the next round of fixtures. England quickly went down 21-0 in their game against reigning champions South Africa, but fought back admirably, eventually succumbing to 31-24 loss. They will be hoping to pile up the points in their last remaining group game against the USA, and hopefully secure a place in the semi-finals as the best runner-up in the pools. Ireland rounded off the weekend’s action, and although they were slow out of the blocks, they soon found their rhythm, and cantered to a 46-3 victory over Fiji.

Mako Vunipola is the Hero of the Week after impressing in all three of the Lions fixtures so far, and with both Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins going down with injuries, Vunipola’s good form will be a huge relief to Gatland, who has already had to draft in both Alex Corbisiero and Ryan Grant as cover.

Try of the Week goes to Luke Morahan of the Reds for his superb individual effort against the Lions. Not an absolute spectacular by Super Rugby standards, but certainly a very good one, especially when you consider the quality of the defence he was playing against.

Villain of the Week is Michael Foley. The Western Force head coach rested many of his key players for the game against the Lions under the pretence he needed those players for their upcoming match against the Waratahs. With Force sitting near the bottom of the table, and unable to make the playoffs, the game against the ‘Tahs, which they went onto lose, was a dead rubber. ‘Karma’ is perhaps the most apt word.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

2 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Lions tested, England cruise

  1. Wales were nearly caught by the insane decision to have 4 6s and not a single 7 in the matchday squad. Add to that the shocking ineptness of McCusker and Reed and it was a miracle we managed to get any ball at all to launch the sweet attack (the only one really) that resulted in the try. Pain compounded by watching Navidi wander on as a waterboy, how we could have done with him. It was a simple problem for Wales on Sat – rubbish forwards = no ball.

    I’m not surprised Samoa turned over Scotland. I know that those NH teams who have not played them in the last year (so not since their Tier 2 funding increase has really kicked in) will laugh at the Scotland loss but I’m looking forward to more NH teams playing a full strength Samoa so they can get an idea of how much they have improved.

  2. Congrats to Samoa, after correcting the injustice of the RWC schedule against Wales in the autumn I think they are after doing the same against the Boks in a couple of weeks (assuming they get to the final!).

    Agree with Brighty, after beating Wales they gave France an almighty scare, outscoring France 2 tries to 1 and leading up to the 60th min.

    When you consider the weekend’s win was without superstar Kahn Fotuali’i and 4 new caps (including those off the bench) they are shaping up pretty well for 2015. I would not be surprised to see them challenging for a top 4 IRB ranking by them or make a semi final.

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