Ireland seconds away from rewriting the history books
One of the best matches of recent years played out at the Aviva on Sunday, as Ireland came within seconds of breaking their duck against New Zealand. The Irish raced into a 19-0 lead early in the first half, thanks to tries from Connor Murray, Rory Best and Rob Kearney, and looked to be well in control of the game at half time, as they went into the interval with a 22-7 lead over the All Blacks. New Zealand are not the number one side in the world for nothing however, keeping Ireland scoreless in the second half, and then narrowed the deficit to just five points in the dying seconds of the game. Breaks from Ma’a Nonu and Dane Coles gave New Zealand the field position they needed, and then a neat offload from the hooker gave the ball to Ryan Crotty, who was able to dive over the line and tie the game. With the clock well in the red, Aaron Cruden’s conversion could win the game for New Zealand, and although he initially missed, Ireland were adjudged to have begun running off the line prior to Cruden starting his own run up, and the Kiwi dutifully converted his second attempt to secure a memorable 24-22 victory in Dublin.
A frustrating night for Scotland culminated in a 21-15 loss to Australia at Murrayfield, as they narrowly failed to secure a third consecutive win over the Wallabies. Ultimately the clinical nature of Australia won the day, as Scotland failed to convert any of their attacking opportunities into tries, which was most disappointing given that Australia, due to suspensions, were missing many of their starters. Admittedly, Scotland had their own list of missing players, most noticeably Richie Gray, Tim Visser, Stuart Hogg and Matt Scott, and their attacking struggles were understandable when you consider what these four players can offer with ball in hand. The loss curtails an inconsistent autumn for Scotland, and although Christian Lealiifano’s unusual inaccuracies with the boot kept the score line close, Scotland never really looked like upsetting South Africa or Australia.
Although Wales rested some players for their game against Tonga, clearly with an eye on a fixture with Australia just a week away, their 17-7 victory was a frustrating watch for Welsh fans and neutrals alike, as neither side played to their true potential, and the game was perhaps the scrappiest encounter of the autumn. The fact Wales emerged relatively unscathed will be most pleasing for Warren Gatland, but giving debuts to wing Hallam Amos and scrum half Rhodri Williams will also be positives, as Wales look to build significant depth ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
Wins for the usual suspects in the Premiership
Saracens and Northampton both welcomed their England contingent back in good fashion, recording wins over Exeter and Newcastle respectively, and securing their places at the top of the table. Luther Burrell, try scorer for Northampton, had another good game for the Saints, and his continual good form has to be good news for Stuart Lancaster, who still has serious questions over his injury-riddled centre partnership. Two penalty tries were enough for Leicester to see off the challenge of London Irish at Welford Road, ending their recent slump with 20-11 victory, whilst Harlequins’ early season inconsistencies seem to be falling away, as they won a tough 27-19 victory over Gloucester at The Stoop. Worcester’s chances of survival seem to get slimmer with each passing week, as they remained winless after a 26-10 loss to Sale on Friday night, and Dean Ryan’s men are now in dire need of a reversal in their fortunes, with relegation already looming on the horizon. London Wasps and Bath wrapped up the weekend’s action at Adams Park, as the home side fell to a comprehensive 28-5 loss to the visitors from the West Country, and the result sends Bath into third, three points ahead of Harlequins.
Dragons spring upset against Glasgow, as Welsh sides prosper
The undoubted match of the round saw Newport pull off one of the most unexpected victories in the PRO12 this season, beating an in-form Glasgow side, 23-8, at Scotstoun on Friday night. Admittedly Glasgow were bereft of many of their Scottish internationals, but they were still unable to beat a Newport side who picked up three yellow cards during the course of the game, and were undone by a brilliant showing from Jason Tovey, who accounted for 18 of the Dragons’ 23 points. Ospreys kept up their title ambitions with a 30-20 victory over Zebre, whilst the Scarlets were able to escape a late comeback from Connacht, and leave Ireland with a 24-21 win. Good fortune ended for the Welsh sides ended in Cardiff on Saturday however, as they were humbled 31-10 by a dominant Munster side, who now stretch their lead at the top of table with their bonus point victory. Elsewhere, Ulster cantered to a 41-17 victory over struggling Edinburgh, where fly half James McKinney and wing Craig Gilroy were in resplendent form, and Leinster were pushed extremely hard by Treviso, but were ultimately able to prevail, registering a 21-20 victory in Italy.
An extraordinary amount of candidates for Hero of the Week (most of whom were playing at the Aviva on Sunday), and although Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney, and Cian Healey were all worthy of very honourable mentions, the award has to go to Beauden Barrett. The young Kiwi was sublime after being brought on in the second half, and his breaks were able to get New Zealand into a position where they were able to win the game. Without him, their undefeated season would almost certainly have ended in Dublin.
Try of the Week goes to Paul Marshall of Ulster, who, after a great break and offload from Darren Cave, managed to volley the ball ahead and beyond the try line, before then collapsing on the ball for a try. Although the skill might be a poor man’s version of the Simon Zebo heel flick against Wales earlier this year, Marshall gets credit for being able to finish off the try himself.
Very soft Villain of the Week goes to Sean Lamont, who, after a great break from Sean Maitland, should have really done better with his opportunity to score, and was a magnification of the problems suffered by Scotland for some time now. Scotland lost by just six points, and if they want to beat opposition like Australia consistently, these are the opportunities they need to take. That being said, Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser and Matt Scott are all to come back into this Scottish side, and things could improve quickly when they do. The TMO in the Ireland vs New Zealand also deserves a mention for awarding Conor Murray’s try, when it certainly looked as though the scrum half had knocked on. Fortunately, it did not affect the final outcome of the match.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images