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