Summer Tours 2012: Losers

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.

Losers:

Rhys Priestland

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.

Ireland

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.

The ARU

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.

Morné Steyn

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

32 thoughts on “Summer Tours 2012: Losers

  1. 3 number 10s on the list. More than ever, fly half is the pivotal position now and a good number 10 is vital. NZ are spoilt for choice with Carter, Cruden and now Barratt. Australia have ‘found’ Barnes, but cover is not particularly strong. After Steyn, Jantjes must be due a run for the Boks. Argentina always seem to be able to find a decent footballer and their U20 Poet (great name for an artistat 10) seems a prospect.

    In the NH, I would hesitate to suggest that while Ireland probably have the best current bet in Sexton but little coming through hence O’Gara still being around, England have more potential with Flood, Farrell, Ford (particularly) and anyone else whose name begins with F. Scotland have promise with Hogg behind Laidlaw while Wales, France and Italy have problems. Priestland needs confidence but I don’t see a stand-out option if he doesn’t regain it. France, as has been written here before, struggle due to foreign imports restricting options for young French 10s (Wilkinson, Hernandez, Contepomi, James, etc) and Italy have never replaced Dominguez.

    All in all, a worrying problem for the top Nations as they try to close the gap on the ABs.

    1. I’d say Wales do have some strength at 10 and are in one of the better positions of the NH teams. Tovey (Dragons, joining the Blues this season), Matthew Morgan (orchestrator of the U20s win over the ABs at the Junior World Cup), Biggar (seems to have lost his mouth and regained his form – arguably should have been taken on tour if there was never an intention to play Hook there), Patchell (biased selection as he is the Blues young outside half but also coaches my son) and a few others in and around the regions, and even Hook who I’d rate above a few of the other NH teams 1st choices.

      However, you are right that they pale in comparison to what the ABs have. For me, as it seems for the Ireland management, the jury is still out on Sexton being the complete and reliable article. Magical when his team are on top but when his team are losing (I am thinking of games against Wales and NZ this year and last) he seems to focus more on cheap shots than turning the game around.

      1. It seems any comparisons with New Zealand are just not even worth making at the moment they are so far ahead as you point out.

  2. I’ve written it here before. I just can’t see Farrell ever becoming an effective attacking 10 the vision/distribution is a lot harder to work on if you have no natural ability for it. England need Flood to stay fit and pick him consistently. Ford (maybe even Burns) for the future.

    Could we put Wales as a whole for the losers? With Roberts as the only key player missing through injury and Aus missing more (JOC, Cooper, Mitchell i’m sure there was more) and the schedule stacked in Wales’s favour, will they ever have a better chance to beat Aus away? Whilst England had a similar tour, Wales were expected to step up and didn’t.

    1. Yes, we lost 3 tests in the SH after winning the 6 nations so we deserve to be up there as losers, along with every other team this summer that lost a test in the SH… but this idea that we’re bigger losers because of some sort of expectation is laughable. We expected to win and stated as such because going out there with any other sort of belief is pointless. England gave similar interviews before their tour, Lancaster is gutted they lost a series he thinks they had opportunities to win, etc. But they didn’t win and they came second in the six nations, but I would not advocate putting them up there as big losers for the same reason I wouldn’t Wales – they lost some narrow games and they improved on the last time they toured the SH. It’s quite funny watching people dying to put the boot into Wales, trying to claim that there was this massive hype before we went (where?), that we played the easiest SH team (yeah, the tri-nations champs, the easiest team…), that the schedule was “set up for us” (yeah, two games before they played us should have made the Aus unable to play properly for a month) but the other NH teams (Scotland excepted) all had this creditable performance despite losing their games more convincingly than we did.

      We did not do what we wanted, we wanted a win. We are not yet better than the SH teams, we remain better than the other NH teams (I expect that’ll sound arrogant but given that we beat them all this year I’m standing by it), we need to get better. But we’re not some sort of massive bunch of losers who blew a golden chance to whup a crap team. We narrowly lost to one of the best teams in the world, in that teams home.

      1. I agree, no way could you put Wales as a whole for the losers. If anyone that has to go to Ireland. 60-0!!!!

      2. OK I think I hit a nerve. Sorry. I get that everyone is taking a dig at Wales and maybe its a bit too much. I just think that most Wales fans will look at the tour as a missed opportunity whereas English fans will see their tour as more of a building step. I think results were more important for Wales at this stage than they were for England. This Welsh team has had several narrow losses to SH sides before this tour and everyone had them (perhaps naively) as clear favourites before. The good thing is Wales are a young side so its all still good experience. I really don’t mean to be one of those commenters who turns everything into Wales vs England!

        1. “I just think that most Wales fans will look at the tour as a missed opportunity whereas English fans will see their tour as more of a building step”

          – couldn’t agree more. Don’t get me wrong, I am gutted we lost, but it needs to be put into perspective. 12 months ago this Welsh team were dismissed as no hopers and Gatlands job was under threat. I’m in my fifth decade, so for most of my life Wales have been complete losers … so this last 12 months has been amazing. To come so close to beating Aus in their own back yard was unthinkable only 12 months ago … we’re still getting better … we need to keep with it.

          “whereas English fans will see their tour as more of a building step” – and I’ve been pretty vocal on this point because I tend to think more along the lines of your original Welsh assessment when it comes to England (not a surprise I expect). I’m amazed by how much slack England are cut. Lancaster is not some babe in arms. His team is not full of U20s. The low cap count cannot be considered without also looking at the ages – a lot of those with their first caps are still very seasoned professionals, players that I’ve been told for years are brilliant but don’t get selected because of the Woodward/Leics hangover. So I expected more from England than the containment focus they had in SA.

          England have more rugby players than Wales have adult males. They should be massively dominant, so it’s odd to see them expected by their fans to just about squeeze through simply because they have a new coach, some new players and didn’t win the world cup.

          1. “I’m in my fifth decade, so for most of my life Wales have been complete losers” – discounting the 70s of course because I was too young to enjoy it or even notice it.

          2. I think the difference between English/Welsh expectations is less about caps/age/coach’s credentials but more about how long the set up has been in place. Lancaster’s England (with Robbo at the helm) as a team has been together since the start of the 6n. Gatland’s Wales (in current format) has been together at least 6 months longer.

            Perhaps i am cutting England too much slack but i just didn’t expect a win this tour from England. I did expect one from Wales. Nearly all pre tour analysis agreed with that.

            “England have more rugby players than Wales have adult males.” kind of opening a whole new can of worms there really. Having that many rugby players doesn’t help your national set up unless you have an effective coaching/infrastructure throughout the country and the players are actually interested in taking the game seriously rather than an excuse to get drunk. 100 players well coached and taking it seriously is better than 1000 who don’t care about what they achieve.

          3. Agree that the player count is a massive can of worms and probably needs another thread – but I think it’s related in terms of expectation. England should (and their media constantly does) expect to be world beaters in rugby given their resources (player numbers and cash) but aside from one world cup (not belittling it, one more than the rest of us NH teams) they’ve never really dominated world rugby. My point is that a country that large shouldn’t really lower expectations just because they have changed coaches because the systems should be in place to make that a change that can happen and the depth of coaching should already be there … but we all know the RFU have messed that up on a gigantic scale so I do take some of the point that they’re a new setup.

          4. Player numbers don’t really demonstrate anything. Fifa reckon that the USA have the 2nd most registered football players (after Germany). Doesn’t therefore follow that the US should be winning as many world cups as Germany

            Just to throw in another view of this, I’m sure I remember reading a BBC blog on the subject of players and cash.

            I recall someone pointing out that if you take each nation’s number of registered adult players and then divide it by the turnover of each union, then the argument over England’s numbers and cash subsides somewhat

            I remember rightly it demonstrated that per head, Scotland had the most to spend on players, followed by Wales and Italy, with France and England very much bringing up the rear

            Simplistic I know but it does demonstrate that larger numbers and larger turnover are not the be all and end all

          5. I can see the cash argument but I always think that participation is key – getting the best players is about finding the diamonds in the rough, so the more rough the more diamonds.

            Cash only comes in when you then want to polish those diamonds. So I agree that the smaller countries seem to do a better job of polishing them so we do not waste the smaller pool of talent we do have.

            Also, ignoring total numbers which as Nick points out includes a lot of part time players full time drinkers, England has far more professional rugby players than most of the other countries so it should expect more from it’s team, even when that team is in transition? Transition should be less painful for a country with the self-proclaimed (by the league stakeholders) best professional rugby league in the world as it should have the extra player depth and coaching depth to cope?

          6. Beginning to get confused by the order of these replies, but I would chuck in National sport as a key to expectations of the public and also whether the best athletes in a country play that game.

            I would suggest that in NZ, SA and probably Wales Rugby is the national sport and all of the best athletes aspire to play for their country at that sport. Laughable as it seems at the moment, football is probably that sport in England (doesn’t really bode well for us as a nation of athletes!). Anyway I agree that it is a great topic for a post – has really got the debate going.

      3. In a way its a compliment that this series is seen as a loss/ set back or however you wish to describe it. Not long ago these results would have been seen as a success. I don’t think anyone other than the team/ management expected England to win their tour, most fans were hopeful we could nick a win in the first match. However expectations of a series win for Wales were widespread and based on recent results entirely reasonable.

      4. Have to say that I tend to agree with brighty on this one (very rare comment indeed!). I don’t think Wales should be regarded in the losers column. They certainly expected more, and I thought that they would take one or two wins from the matches against Oz. They didn’t but there wasn’t much in it. They will be disappointed I’m sure but all of the ones named in the article came off far worse.

        Interesting that two promising FH’s in the 6N both struggled down under. Is it greater intensity in the games? Have they both just hit a temporary wall in their development? Have other teams worked out how to play them and pressure them. I don’t know but would be interested in views on it.

        1. Agreed they are not losers in the same sense as Ireland. I suppose its just how you look at it. That is why when i posed the original question that sparked this debate it was just that, a question “could we put Wales as a whole for the losers?”

      5. I heard an interesting comment while in NZ following the Ireland Tour (admittedly it was in a pub after the 2nd Test in Chch) – but the comment was along the lines of “The All Blacks play to win, whereas other teams play not to lose”……………..that was followed by “it was an ugly wiin, but they won’t be happy”

        The 3rd test showed just how unhappy they were. However back to the point. Yes Wales lost the series – but so did England and Ireland. To suggest that Wales are the biggest losers is laughable, that dubious honour belongs to Ireland (and I’m Irish). The only winner was Scotland and yet that feat seems to have been relegated to the “who cares” column.

        It would be fair to say that all the home unions have a lot of work to do before the autumn series when the big three SH teams venture north. Historically we have reasonable results against these teams (except the AB’s) on home ground so it will be interesting to see if the gap has been closed over the summer mnonths

    2. For me Ford and Farrell are the way forward. If Ford could bulk up a little he would be the best fly half we’ve had for years. Possibly even better than Johnny!! Farrell is in a similar mould to Johnny, in that he’s dependable and solid in defence, but doesn’t know how to unlock a defence. Flood can, but is not great on the back foot. Ford can do it all, but just doesn’t have the bulk that Farrell has to finish the tackle, the technique is there, but not the weight or muscle.

      1. Ok I know I’m going to get shot down for this, but are we writing off Cipriani at 24?

        Farrell, like Barrett are excellent options to have within the sqaud, especially if conditions dicate a more tactical kicking approach. However if Farrell is going to be Steyn rather than a Carter he needs to spend some time with Aldred and atleast get his kicking right.

        1. Cippers not ‘written off’ as much as ‘needs to prove he can get some conistency’. From what i hear he was the same player in Aus he ever was here (flashes of brilliance, poor defence and occasional massive mistake). Of course there is an argument that that is better than what Farrell brings (solid defence, brilliant goal kicking, terrible distribution/kicking from hand, never made a line break in his life).

    1. Oh yes, I felt sorry for Ford when I read that. Young man, a couple of good club games, and already he’s better than JW if he just puts on some weight? Poor kid doesn’t stand a chance of developing, he’ll be a washed up boozer by his mid 20s … cough … Cipriani … cough.

      1. Not sure that I was suggesting that it will end his career, just that it wasn’t very helpful! I guess it is like a generation of Welshman being compared to Bennett, JPR, etc. Not sure it helped them find their own place in the rugby world. Wilkinson was Wilkinson. No one will be quite the same again, although they might be similar in playing style and it is unlikely that an English FH will go down in English rugby mythology quite like the man who dropped THAT goal!

  3. I debated on Twitter that as an England fan, I’d be happy if we were competitive in this series. Nick Kennedy stated that when it comes to a team like England it is always about winning and not about just being competitive, whatever the stage of the team. With that in mind England should be counted as losers, as should Wales, France and Ireland.

    Wales had a golden opportunity to win a series, Ireland seem miles behind both England and Wales. France are France and at their most inconsistent best as always.

    In the case of both England and Wales I think it would be hard as a fan to be disheartened. They have both progressed well, and a few players seem to be feeling the effects of a long season. I think you have to Wait until the Autumn internationals before judging on whether they are winners or losers.

    1. OZ are # 2 in the world, we were, what, 5,6 ? We played them in their country and with some selection changes we would have beaten them, but overall, after cooling down, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

      1. Yes we played them in Australia and still lost – how many times do SH teams travel north and still beat us? Until we can start winning consistently at home and away then we’ve made little progress.

        Likewise theres no point in complaining about the long season, the SH teams do their tours at the end of their season to so in all it balances out and still they flog us.

        Lets see what the autumn series brings before we start crowing about how much we’ve improved.

        1. Ralph – totally agree, being able to win a home and away series is the ultimate. The only team that can consistently do that is New Zealand, very few others have been able to manage that on a regular basis. I know France and England have both recorded series wins abroad but by in large they lose more than they win.

          As for the rest of us we`re still trying to register a win either at home or away and as you pointed out, until we can do that with any level of consistency then all the hype is meaningless

Comments are closed.