Hong Kong witnesses a classic as O’Connor comes of age
In the final Blediloe Cup match of the season, Australia beat New Zealand 26-24 en route to Europe in Hong Kong, ending the All Blacks’ ten-match winning streak. The game was wonderful for the neutral, but a real omen to the rest of the rugby world of just how far ahead of the rest New Zealand and Australia are.
There were plenty of quality tries from both sides, many of which are strong contenders for this week’s try of the weekend. It’s hard to single out individual performances as everyone gave their all, but Adam Ashley-Cooper and James O’Connor for the Wallabies were awesome. O’Connor’s temperament for such a young guy is remarkable; many forget he is only 20 years of age, yet the way he glided past three tacklers to score the winning try in injury time was the work of a seasoned test veteran. And the fact that he nailed the touchline conversion to win the game straight after? Another example he could become one of the great Wallabies of all time.
For the Northern Hemisphere teams about to face them, this was a very strong warning. Australia are not the youthful, inexperienced side many critics suggest they are; they possess composure in the positions where it matters, and are arguably the quickest side in the world across their backline. The only question mark over their ability is whether their wide expansive game can work in the Northern Hemisphere conditions. As for the All Blacks, their one possible weakness in the tight five looked a little bit exposed, but when you have players in your side like Carter, Nonu and McCaw, the flaws are quickly concealed. England will have taken note, but should expect an aggressive response from Graham Henry’s side.
The volcano erupts as the champions are beaten
Second half substitute Lesley Vainikolo made a massive impact as Gloucester beat Leicester up at Kingsholm. In atrocious weather, and with Nicky Robinson’s boot utterly unreliable, the Cherry and Whites left it late. But none of it mattered in the end. Serious grit and power at the breakdown was coupled by some impressive showings in the centres from young guns Henry Trinder and Jonny May. But it was Vainikolo stole the show; his lines and strength were first rate, and his try in the corner was an example of classic wing play. Leicester performed well considering the lack of Youngs and Flood at half-back, but the Gloucester pack dominated backed by a buoyant home crowd.
Exeter stun Sarries for first away win
The Chiefs made a mockery of last week’s Key Clash preview here onThe Rugby Blog by producing a shock win at Vicarage Road. Many doubted their ability to perform away from Sandy Park, and with Gareth Steenson, their leading points scorer so far, out injured, Ryan Davis had some big boots to fill at 10. He did so admirably. Eighteen points, including a well-executed try in the first half, saw Exeter home, but Saracens will be left wondering what went wrong. Even with Barritt and Strettle on at half time, there was no breakthrough for them as Exeter held firm.
Treviso climb up to sixth with another win
Whilst Aironi are languishing at the bottom of the Magners League without a win, Treviso continue to get better and better as they recorded their fourth win of the season so far. Well marshalled by scrum half Tobias Botes, who kicked 14 points, they swept aside Connacht 24-17, moving them above the Ospreys in the league table. Their success is important not just for the league but Italian rugby as a whole, especially with Aironi struggling, and the likes of Botes, ex-Bath wing Joe Maddock and centre Tommaso Benvenuti have really impressed. If they can finish in the top six at the end, then they will have had an incredible debut season.
Try of the weekend had a plenty of contenders from Hong Kong, and it goes to the outstanding break in midfield from Adam Ashley-Cooper for Australia. The timing of the pass from Cooper and line from AAC were perfect, and he turned Cory Jane to stone as he stepped him for the score. The celebration afterwards was also one to remember as his own scrum-half Will Genia took him out. Classic.
This week’s Hero had a number of nominations as always. James O’Connor put in a more than worthy performance, but it goes to another rising star in World rugby, Patrick Lambie. The young fly-half scored two tries as the Sharks won the Currie Cup at a rocking Absa Stadium against Western Province, ending with a personal tally of 25 points. His first one was an absolute scorcher, stepping inside and brilliantly handing off Schalk Burger as he sped over. He has now been added to the Springbok squad for the Autumn tour, along with another impressive young Shark in Lwazi Mvovo, and rightly so.
The Villains for the this week are Harlequins and Bath, who in contrast to much of the running rugby and tries seen all over the world this weekend, produced a rather unimpressive 6-6 draw. Optimists will point to some excellent defence, but both sides lacked the cutting edge to score, leaving little for watching England attack coach Brian Smith to get excited about.
By Ben Coles (@bennycoles)