The weekend saw the last of the summer tour matches in the southern hemisphere as Ireland ran Australia close and Wales salvaged some pride against the All Blacks.
Mike Phillips was certainly not wrong in declaring, that despite not finding a way of beating New Zealand since 1953, ‘these teams, they’re there for the taking’. Indeed they are, and had it not been for poor discipline, Wales could have attacked with a greater sense of belief that they might produce a winning score. The penalty count was far too high for a side capable of the result they crave. What’s more, I’m beginning to worry how much like my Dad I sound when I am shouting at the screen, ‘Around the legs!’
Watching the highlights again, it’s criminal how many standing challenges are made in midfield as the All Blacks powered forward. Combine this with the fact that they are a side whose upper body strength could arguably be the most powerful in world rugby and you have a recipe for defensive suicide and consistent line-breaks. Some mini-rugby ‘basic tackling’ worksheets could be worth handing out at the Millennium Stadium come November.
Ireland’s narrow 22-15 defeat in Brisbane left Declan Kidney ruing the penalty count aswell. Stopping the casual penalties could have brought a different result. Bearing this in mind, does this mean the gap between northern and southern hemispheres is tighter? Does it still exist?
Meanwhile in South Africa, while the vuvuzelas were being blown towards the round ball, East London played hosts to Italy who were soundly beaten by the Springboks 55-11. With their football side’s exit from the World Cup, you could be forgiven for having a light chuckle to yourself about the horrific week in sport that they and their European cousins France also suffered. Felipe Contepomi contributed 31 of Argentina’s 41 points as they hammered France in Buenos Aires. After their South African embarrassment, Mark Lievremont’s summary of what he saw? “I expected tough matches, but these defeats are ridiculous. It was a nightmare.”
The summer tours have been ever-present in the annual rugby calendar and criticism has often been levelled at our home nations for travelling with light teams. It has felt different this time around. Whether the likes of Johnson, Gatland & Kidney took it more seriously as it’s pre-World Cup year or if it’s simply time to give respect to those opponents who are taking us on, I’d say every game has been hugely beneficial to each side as a result. For England it has given some much needed confidence to a wider group of players who consistently look to two or three men to make it happen. For Wales and Ireland, the opportunities to identify their strength in depth must have been satisfying and will give both coaches plenty to think about ahead of selection in the autumn.
Who impressed you? Who’s out of their depth? Who do you think still needs to prove their worth on the international scene?