In the second part of today’s series on the Winners and Losers from the 2012 Summer Tours, we pick out five parties who will have had trips to forget and will be quietly begging for pre-season to come around once more, or The Rugby Championship in the cases of others.
No one has arguably had a more torrid summer than the Scarlet. Selected to start in all three Tests of Wales tour to Australia, Priestland received a deluge of criticism from fans and writers regarding his persisting kicking away of possession, poor game management and generally being outshone by his opposite man in Berrick Barnes. This was all before he sent the ball into Australian hands in the dying stages of the 2nd Test in Melbourne, giving the Wallabies back the ball which led to the injury-time winning penalty kick from Mike Harris.
Given that 10 months ago Priestland was the golden boy of Welsh rugby – playing brilliantly in the warm-up matches against England and at the Rugby World Cup – such a disastrous dip in form is bizarre but the cracks have been there for some time. A tense performance against England in the Six Nations on reflection was an omen for this tour. Wales desperately needed greater control from an imposing fly-half and Priestland failed to deliver, the absence of Jamie Roberts on his outside having a noticeable effect. At 25 he come again, especially given Rob Howley’s faith in him looks solid having stuck with him for all three Tests, but he is capable of so much more. His defence is good, he has the talent, but Wales need a leader at 10 and right now Priestland is not that man.
When it comes to old age debate of whether it is worse to lose by the narrowest margins or to be obliterated on the scoreboard, Ireland are now experts. Having been blown away in the 1st Test due to the brilliance of Dan Carter and a Julian Savea hat-trick, they went on to produce one of their best performances ever against the All Blacks in Christchurch, and at 19-19 if Johnny Sexton’s long-range penalty hadn’t fallen short then we might have celebrating their tour in the Winners article.
But it didn’t. The All Blacks generated a drop goal opportunity for Dan Carter who naturally put it over and the chance was gone. How close Ireland were was only confirmed by the hammering they received in Hamilton last weekend. Nine tries conceded and no points scored is a nightmare nobody can ignore, regardless of the fact that the Ireland squad were spent at the end of a long season. It has rightfully called into question Declan Kidney’s selection policy – why include Paddy Wallace after travelling across the world within a week when Keith Earls played there in the 1st Test and Darren Cave is waiting in the wings – and also thrust into the spotlight the now seemingly eternal dilemma as to why Irish domestic success cannot be translated onto the international stage.
Ben Morgan & Owen Farrell
Two of England’s young guns that shone in the Six Nations both had a rough ride down in South Africa this summer, losing their starting spots and searching for the form that had served them so well earlier in the season. Morgan’s power in the Stade de France was greeted by most as a sign that England had found their new long-term number 8 to replace Nick Easter – a youngster with speed and power who would create precious front foot ball. Down in the heartland of big running rugby however, Morgan found the going tough. The metres he racked up in the Six Nations disappeared and too often in defensive situations he seemed rooted to the spot when facing one on one tackles.
As for Farrell, much like Priestland his defence is strong but the quality of his distribution in the 1st Test was sub-standard, with his tactical kicking astray after returning for the injured Toby Flood in the 3rd Test. Too often Farrell was found hoofing the ball away and wasting possession, whilst his drop goal attempt at the end was poor. The long-term plan has always been to turn Farrell into a fly-half but the question that now lingers is whether that is his natural position, or whether he is better suited at inside centre. Conclusions should not be drawn rashly from one poor tour by a 20-year old but England want to be winning these tours for which a competent fly-half is essential. With Farrell the jury is out, for now.
Sticking the first match with Scotland for eight years on Australian soil out in a town not renowned for its rugby history appeared to be a tiny bit disrespectful from the Australian Rugby Union, let alone the fact that the game was on a Tuesday and their side was largely a second-string XV. It backfired spectacularly – the heavens opening, a Scottish defence playing out of its skin and then finally an injury-time penalty that gave Scotland a first win in Australia since 1982. The loss might not have affected their series with Wales but losing to a side ranked at the time 12th in the world is a record Robbie Deans does not want on his CV.
No one will dispute that Morné Steyn’s best ability is his metronomic goal kicking, but when he goes and misses 12 kicks out of 22 over three tests, there is a problem with his selection. With The Rugby Championship coming up in August, Steyn’s place is under threat with Pat Lambie, Elton Jantjies and even Peter Grant waiting in the wings to take his spot. For so long South Africa’s favourite son, to see Steyn booed after missing yet another drop goal attempt in the 3rd Test was a surreal experience.
Who do you feel had a poor summer series?
by Ben Coles