What a weekend of rugby we have just seen. It is saying something when an England game is third, arguably fourth in the pecking order but so it came to pass. Much of the attention was on the Lions but there was plenty more rugby to enjoy.
England 26 v 33 Barbarians
England are very much playing second fiddle this summer but they still have an important two match series against the Pumas to come. It is a valuable chance for Martin Johnson to learn about the strength in depth at his disposal and to try to build on the green shoots which began to appear in the second half of the 6 Nations Championship.
They have not exactly got off to a flyer. They were confronted with a most Barbarians-like line-up. In the back-line you had solid and reliable performers of the highest class (Iain Balshaw aside), with the likes of Josh Lewsey, Ben Blair and Glenn Jackson where you may have expected to find Carlos Spencer, Joe Rokocoko and Brent Russell.
And at 33-3 down at one stage, England looked like taking one hell of a shoeing. Josh Lewsey said that if it had not been for the referee, the Baa-Baas could have racked up 60. As it was England showed commendable spirit, albeit against a tired side, to pull back. There was encouragement in the shape of Ben Foden, Matt Banahan and Chris Robshaw but Andy Goode struggled and England were simply outgunned. It was a new England team but they were playing the ultimate scratch side. Argentina will be more organised so England will not be able to wait for an hour before playing. Furthermore, they scored 3 of their tries from kicks and the Pumas will be better equipped to deal with that threat. Not an auspicious start for England’s young guns. Needless to say, Johnno was far from impressed.
IRB Edinburgh Sevens
Some more of England’s young guns came to Edinburgh on the back of a thrilling tournament win at Twickenham. They had a faint hope of winning the title but more realistically had their eye on securing second place. As it was, they achieved neither. They looked tired as they lost to both Scotland and Kenya in a group they were expected to win and neded up in the bowl. Thanks to tries from Oduoza and orchestration from captgain Olly Phillips, they secured the Bowl, beating France in the final.
Scotland continued their vast improvement, coming within seconds of making the Cup Final, only to fall at the last to a sudden death try from this year’s circuit Champions, South Africa.Scotland wheeled in a few of their 15s team and Sean Lamont and Ally Hogg made big impacts. The only tournament Wales have made much of an impact on this year was the World Cup which they came from nowhere to win. They finished their season on a high though, reaching the semi-finals before falling to Fiji. Fiji went on to take the tournament and steal second place from England at the end of another thrilling series of high class 7s.
Super 14 Final – Bulls 61-17 Chiefs
Well if the British and Irish Lions were under any illusions about the size of the task confronting them in South Africa, they will not be any more. The Blue Bulls absolutely destroyed the Q=Waikato Chiefs to take the Super 14 title for the second time in 3 years. Inspired by Fourie Du Preez, the best scrum-half in the world by a distance, and with Pierre Spies and Bryan Habana, both of whom will be confronting the Lions, showing well, and Morne Steyn making a rfeal case for the test number 10 shirt, it was a real statement of intent.
On a day when the Lions struggled, South Africa’s confidence will have grown even further.
by Stuart Peel