Best of the Weekend: One for the ages in Dublin

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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

8 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: One for the ages in Dublin

  1. Time for Wales to ditch Fri night rugby. It’s always awful but at least we won this time.

    Cracking match on Sunday, surprised everyone I expect. Still a SH win despite the pulsating nature of the match. Ireland were scoreless in the second half which does indicate a NZ dominance. Welsh fans know only too well that a miss is as good as a mile.

    1. The World Cup isn’t that far away. This was a nice opportunity for New Zealand to stamp their authority given that they may well end up playing us in the first knock-out – should Ireland get there, but they didn’t quite deliver. They may not be so sure they can win that game if it comes now. It’s enough to sew some doubt in their minds, if nothing else. If the squad was a bit more strengthened by having Ferris, Strauss and Wallace available, it might have given us enough stamina for the 2nd half, to push on and put them to the sword. I’m a bit concerned that we still don’t have adequate replacements for these players, especially the likes of Ferris, O’Connell, and even there overrated O’Driscoll, maybe even D’Arcy. They’re big game players that will be sorely missed.

      1. I think it would be very difficult to replace many of these players, however, you make it even harder for yourself to replace them by not giving viable replacements a chance. Although d’arcy played well this week. His time and Odriscolls is finished. Marshall should be playing in the 6 nations. Henshaw should also be given the chance to develop into test match quality. Ian Henderson is a class act coming through. We need players like martin Moore, jack mc grath, o donnell, etc to be given their chance.

  2. Please do not talk Soctland up they lost by 9 points without Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser and Matt Scott but on the flipside how many were missing from the Australian side?

    Toe to toe the best Scottish 15 would not even come close to the best Australian 15.

    Its all hypothetical but the bottom line is they still lost.

  3. Mitchell

    You may have some doubts, but as mentioned on a prev blog, JS’s input into Ireland’s team should be informative.

    His thinking is light yrs away from that of Kidney & so, even given that it’s early days yet, he ought give Ireland fresh impetus, as he did with Leinster.

    Regds putting doubts in the ABs’ minds, I’m not so sure. 1 swallow doesn’t make a summer & the ABs had a similar scare @ home on the last Irish tour. They rectified that pretty quickly.

    But time will tell.

    1. That’s true, but I don’t think anyone else ever quite caught them on the hop like that. Stats? I have no idea. 19-0 up after 19 minutes? But the Kiwi commentary summed it up perfectly – only Ireland can surge like that and then shoot themselves in the foot. Kind of like a vortex – a lot of power and destruction but then calm, and if you can weather it, and catch Ireland off guard you can pull it back, or even capitalise on it. It’s a bitter pill for many of the Leinster caps who will remember doing the same to Northampton in the final of the HC a few years back – another classic game. Now they know how that must have felt, as they had no right to come back from that game really either, and Northampton could equally have been accused of taking their foot off the gas and thinking they had it won or throwing it away. It’s never over against the best, and they don’t get better than the AB’s. And remember they do all this away from home year after year. Still a bit of a gulf between NH and SH unfortunately. I still think overall, England will be regarded as the best performing of the home nations in this series. France were surprisingly disappointing.

  4. Mitchell

    I’m not too sure about this ‘taking their foot off the gas’ thing, or ‘letting them back into it’. Why on earth would a side do this? Teams surely don’t do this on purpose? The other team may ‘outlast’ them, or keep their thinking going better & for longer under pressure though.

    At the top level, when it’s tight or when a team’s down, it doing the simple things i.e. running (straight), passing or kicking (? unsure of the last one) at speed & accurately that can count. And this includes the fwds if they’re in the backline, otherwise what the hell are they doing there? Also abit of luck helps.. & the bluddy ref’s calls!

    I thought 1 of the Irish tries was dropped just before contct with the ground… & was there clearly a hand under that AB ‘try’? The Irish early charge of Cruden’s kick, too, gave the ABs a 2nd bite. These things can & sometimes do effect a game’s result.

    It could so easily have been a draw… or an Irish win.

    Stressed me out more than my School ‘C ‘exams!

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