Best of the Weekend: Wales heartbroken, England retain JWC

wyn jones

Boks spring late resurgence to end Welsh hopes

Wales were denied a famous victory in the most heartbreaking fashion by South Africa in Nelspruit on Saturday, as they came within minutes of recording their first victory on South African soil, but were edged out 31-30 at Mbombela Stadium. Wales raced into a 17-0 lead thanks to tries from Jamie Roberts and Alex Cuthbert, but two yellow cards opened the door for the Springboks to work their way back into the game, and they were able to take just a three point deficit into the interval. The visitors regained some momentum early in the second half and were able to establish a 13-point lead, thanks to the clinical boot of Dan Biggar and a Ken Owens try.

The Boks had their backs to the wall with little over 10 minutes remaining, but their experience and composure shone through as Willie le Roux pierced the Welsh defence for their first try, before Cornal Hendricks won his side a game-winning penalty try after drawing an illegal shoulder charge whilst he was effectively in the act of scoring. The performance will be extremely encouraging to Warren Gatland’s charges, but the psychological blow of losing such a golden opportunity so late, may yet be felt by a Wales team that were in desperate need of a fillip after a tough season.

England shaken, rattled and rolled in Hamilton

A tired-looking England side were put to the sword in Hamilton, falling to a 36-13 loss to New Zealand in a result which sealed a 3-0 whitewash in the series. Contrary to the impressive starts they made in the opening two tests, England looked lethargic and error-prone out of the gates on Saturday. Two tries apiece from Julian Savea and Aaron Smith sent the hosts into the half time interval with a 29-3 lead, but in truth, it was a score line which flattered England.

The visitors were able to restore some small measure of pride with a good second half, but it will have been a chastening experience for the players and management alike, both of whom had been enjoying a fairly encouraging tour up until that point. Kyle Eastmond and Chris Ashton will be amongst the English players keenest to forget the experience, with both players defensively culpable for multiple All Blacks’ tries. It was a game too far for England at the end of the long season, but for all the encouragement the first two tests offered, this was a stark reminder of how far England still have to go to reach the summit of world rugby.

Scotland finish their conquest of the Americas

Scotland maintained Vern Cotter’s unbeaten start as Scotland head coach, thanks to a hard-fought 21-19 victory over Argentina in Cordoba. It was another disjointed performance from a side still trying to find their feet under new leadership, but the visitors showed great patience and resilience to take a late, game-winning lead. Excellent work from Nick De Luca and Tommy Seymour set up tries for Stuart Hogg and Henry Pyrgos, but Scottish fans will still be concerned with how many chances their team spurned, particularly against a mixture of second and third string Argentinean players. Scotland will finish their summer tour in South Africa next weekend, but for the Scots to have any chance in that match, they will need to find another couple of gears in training this week.

Australia cruise to easy victory over France

A miserable summer was finally ended for France, as they succumbed to a 39-13 loss to Australia in Sydney. Monstrous lock Will Skelton impressed on his debut for the Wallabies, scoring a try and setting another up for Waratah teammate Israel Folau. Skelton was just one of a host of Australians to impress, including the aforementioned Folau, as well as Michael Hooper and Wycliff Palu. France have not set the most testing benchmark this summer, and the upcoming Rugby Championship will give a far more accurate representation of where Australia really are in their preparations for the 2015 World Cup.

Two-in-a-row for England at the JWC

England ended a superb Junior World Championship campaign by retaining their trophy in a compelling 21-20 victory over the South Africa in Auckland. Nathan Earle and Joel Conlon both went over for England, but it was the performances of the trio of Maro Itoje, Daniel Hobbs-Awoyemi and Henry Taylor that particularly impressed. The Baby Boks were a step-up in quality to the opposition England had previously played at the 2014 tournament, but they rose to the challenge well and were deserved winners on the day. IRB Junior Player of the Year Handre Pollard, prop Thomas du Toit and centre Jesse Kriel also shone in the final, but they could not quite get their side over the final hurdle. Ireland gave New Zealand a very good game in the third Place Play-Off, but the class and depth of the Baby Blacks showed late in the game, and although the host nation were able to canter away to a 45-23 victory, it does not paint an accurate picture of just how close the game was for 60 minutes.

Try of the Week goes to Jamie Roberts. It wasn’t a weekend for vintage tries, but the line run by Alex Cuthbert in the build-up to try was perfect, drawing all defenders to him and allowing Roberts to take a simple offload and cruise over unopposed.

Victor Matfield is the Hero of the Week, not only for a masterful performance in Nelspruit, but for also becoming the most capped Springbok of all-time. Matfield’s return from retirement has been a great success story and it would not be a surprise to see him leading out South Africa at next year’s World Cup.

A couple of candidates for Villain of the Week, not least so England for their first forty against New Zealand or Liam Williams’ ill-considered leading shoulder on Cornal Hendricks, but France were once again dire against Australia. Philippe Saint-Andre’s men peaked with a below average performance in the second test against the Wallabies, but sandwiched it with two fairly abysmal performances to begin and end a 3-0 series loss Down Under.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

8 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Wales heartbroken, England retain JWC

  1. If there’s one thing we can deal well with it’s the psychological trauma of narrow last minute losses to SH teams. We’ll be fine – I prefer to think that, much like the narrow loss in the last WC, this will spur us onto another level, especially with Warbs/Tips/Halfpenny to come back, Samson Lee developing, Morgan/Williams/Davies as the exciting bench options, Scott Williams challenging Jamie, Dan Baker a real find at 8, Patchell hopefully injury free for a season. I’m excited. At least the game on Sat achieved that. Especially when contrasted with England who showed that they’re not the notch above everyone else in the NH that they were in danger of being built up to be (but perhaps it would have been good for us if they had been able to keep believing the hype), and Ireland didn’t set the world on fire in Arg either.

    It’s encouraging to hear this described as a tough season for Wales – won all of our home 6 nations games, lost to the 2 teams above us. Didn’t beat a top3 SH side, again. Our expectations are now far, far higher than they were a decade ago. Good stuff.

    Gutted though, gutted. What a chance. Should have won it and we can only blame ourselves.

    1. Brighty, take the chips of your shoulders, seriously. I haven’t seen any over hyping of England anywhere.

      The first match, most thought we blew a golden opportunity, but considered the result not too bad given the selection constraints.

      The second test most fans and media said the score line flattered England, as the game was effectively over after the three try blitz from ABs. The only hype I really read (Austin Healy aside) was that England’s performances had dimmed the All Black’s allure somewhat, and I don’t think that is incorrect.

      England were competitive in the first 2 matches for a significant period and had a game plan to beat the ABs, but sadly could not sustain it for the whole match. The last match was a horrible capitulation that I largely blame the coaching staff for. It was clear that some players were dead on their feet after a long season (Brown and Launchbury to name but two), and he should have used his squad more (what’s the point in having this supposed depth, if we don’t use and capitalise on it). But ultimately the ABs look far more beatable than at any time in the last 3 years IMO, and I don’t expect them to remain unbeaten during the RC.

      Also lets wait and see how Wales do in the next test before we start bigging them up, and see whether SA took their foot off the pedal as the ABs seemed to at times against England. I suspect the AIs will be a huge marker for both teams. Really England have to beat ABs at home to prove their good stints in NZ were gifted to them by the ABs, Wales likewise with SA. Unfortunately Eng also have a must win game against Aus (as the next time we meet them will be the crucial WC group game) and SA (not yet beaten them under SL – wouldn’t want that hanging over us if we meet them in the knockout stages). All in all a very big ask.

      1. Then you’ve been ignoring the tiny thing I mention in passing in that paragraph that you have chosen to focus on Benjit – I’ve seen plenty in both the printed media and online blogs/comments. On Fri I listened to Ian Robertson dismiss Wales’ chances of progression from the RWC 2015 group and in the same breath talk about Eng challenging for the top honour. I saw Wales labelled as “hapless” because we lost in Twickenham, a game I didn’t see as anywhere near as one sided as it is remembered by some as being. As for the chip on your shoulder – I’m not bigging Wales up. I’m excited by what lays ahead and reiterate that I do not see England as a) “a notch off NZ” or b) a sure thing to qualify out of that group next year.

        As for SA foot off pedal – NZ did that when a gazillion points up, Wales were ahead at all points until the last 2 mins. Can’t see how the two situations compare at all… Except perhaps you mean Eng got close in the 1st test because NZ assumed they’d be an easy win?

        1. You’ve mentioned it twice in as many articles Brighty, so hardly a passing mention, please be honest. You cite one subjective article by Robertson (which would seem utter t0ss to be fair), to justify this passing comment, ignoring most of the other articles and blogs on this subject. Most of the articles focussed not on how great England were but how ordinary (at times) NZ seemed. Maybe the RC will prove that to be pure hyperbole, but rinsing a knackered and disorganised Eng team in the third test doesn’t mean that is not a sound assessment.

          The point I was making about the “foot of the pedal” as you describe it, is that it is impossible to tell whether SA took Wales for granted after comfortably beating them in the first test, in the same way that England couldn’t tell how well they had played in the first test or how rusty NZ were until they played again. Sadly the latter was the case, though the Horlicks of SL’s selections didn’t help.

          With a year to go until the WC, I think all NH sides are still a way off their SH counterparts, but the encouraging performances of Eng and Wales away and depleted, show to me that the gap is closing. England I would say have an advantage over Wales, because of home advantage and surely you would agree that the home nations on both our tours got the rub of the green – not an excuse, but it was a reality nevertheless.

          1. Yes, I agree SH sides have the advantage. The NH remains a competitive pool amongst itself but 0 wins against the top 3 from 8 tests so far says all we need to know.

            Home advantage is a fair comment but it doesn’t play so much for me as Twickenham has been up and down for England over last few years?

            Agree with you overall – we have a massive 15 months coming up and I think it’s much tastier looking now than it was a month ago.

            1. PS I suspect I wouldn’t be so riled by the “hype” if I turned down the volume on sky sports. I know they don’t represent England but Miles, Harrison and Barnes do talk them up a lot. This probably fed my perception that the hype train was running full speed….

  2. England made so many errors in the opening 5 mins, and didn’t recover until the second half. Restarts were awful, both receiving from NZ and kicking our own. This really has become a “set piece” area in the game, and needs addressing fast.

    Also, Farrell Snr seems to like having a really narrow defence, a common problem for England, going back to the 2013 AI’s has been that teams get a lot of joy out of spreading the ball wide early. I know people will want to blame Ashton for tries being scored down his wing, but he didn’t stand a chance, NZ had two men over every time. (although he should have tackled Smith for the first one)

    NZ commentary on the game highlighted that the width that Smith is able to get from the breakdown with his pass, completely negated the first 3 England defenders. Add a few players looping round and disaster.

    Maybe not Hero of the Week, but some mention must go to LeRoux. 2 tries and assisted pretty much every other try scored across the 2 tests. Wales really didn’t seem to have an answer for him. If I was a Wales fan I would really hope that Gatland & co took notice of the fact that the smallest man on the field was tearing them to shreds, Wales have players like Morgan who have shown similar potential, would very much like to see them played more.

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