In surprising news for England, Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell were rested for the Argentina game. This did not hinder England in Argentina when they played without their Lions, so it was positive to see Henry Slade being pencilled in to play the creative role outside George Ford. Unfortunately, Slade was underwhelming in what was the least impressive performance of the weekend, being termed a ‘Grindathon’ by Eddie Jones. Fortunately for the rugby fan, the weekend threw up some excellent games including a try-fest between Samoa and Scotland that nobody was quite expecting!
Scotland vs Samoa
Starting with the first home nations game of the weekend, Scotland opened their try account almost immediately by taking advantage of a fortunate bounce after a fly-hack from Tommy Seymour which Stuart Hogg collected. Samoa underlined their desire to compete by being completely physical in the contact area as always. Samoa exhibited good gainline play and Lee-Lo at 12 for Samoa impressed early on with some arcing and powerful breaks. However, deft kicks through the defensive line by Russell bore fruit against a less organised Samoa defence. Discipline and organisation was eventually the deciding factor in this game, but four second-half tries including some individual brilliance from Nanai-Williams (cousin of Sonny Bill) kept Samoa in the game until the very last, with Scotland hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Scotland will need to improve dramatically for their contest with New Zealand next week, but Samoa will carry some hope into their upcoming fixtures.
Argentina vs England
A cagey start between Argentina and England never really opened up into the game that many were expecting, particularly given the exciting games we saw this summer. An early exchange of penalties were all that either side could produce early on in a physical confrontation. Some sparks of brilliance in an otherwise dull match included some excellent vision on a miss pass by George Ford led to a Nathan Hughes try. England, however, failed to fully capitalise on the man advantage after a brave Mike Brown catch led to the Argentinian full back being controversially yellow carded. Brown did not return to the field giving his HIA replacement Rokodunguni 55 minutes to make an impact. Argentina's forward pack helped them keep some parity during the yellow card period, but some terribly inconsistent kicking by their fly halves left Argentina without the parity on the scoreboard that they deserved. Lozowski's pace and power lit up a fairly dry second half on the 67th minute with a dubious pass leading to a try for Rokodunguni who gratefully accepted the benefit of the doubt. Sustained Argentina pressure led to a late try for Sanchez which was little but a consolation after nearly 30 phases of effort by the Argentinians, when the game was already settled.
Wales vs Australia
Wales started nervously with an England-esque 10-12 partnership against the obvious physical power in the backs that Australia have brought on this tour. Gatland’s attempt to emulate the Ford-Farrell axis bore some fruit with some sweeping passing moves giving Jonathan Davis some room to work with. However, Australia dominated the Welsh pack within the first 15 minutes with a driving maul and the resulting try moved ahead of an early Welsh penalty. Wales struck back through Evans with a large overlap being effectively exploited. From that point on momentum generally swung between the sides, with each making good inroads into the others’ defensive lines. The game was turned by an exceptional steal by Kurtley Beale leading to a very unpopular breakaway try (in Welsh circles at least!). Video evidence seemed to suggest that Beale managed to retain possession of the ball after the steal, but an incensed Warburton in the commentary box seemed to interpret an inconclusive alternative angle otherwise. A late yellow card for the Australian captain Hooper for a cynical breakdown offence made for an exciting last 12 minutes with Wales 13 points behind. An excellent juggling finish by Hallam Amos gave Wales hope but a missed conversion and a sad late injury to the ankle of Jonathan Davis will leave Welsh fans and players with a sour taste after another loss to the southern hemisphere.
Ireland vs South Africa
Ireland had a physical prospect against a riled South Africa team who will still be stinging from a very ineffective Rugby Championship. A strong and controlled first half left Ireland 14 points up thanks to three penalties from the boot of Sexton and an unconverted try. With Ireland in the ascendancy, South Africa made the most of the first 25 minutes of the second half, but each side only mustered 3 points apiece. Finally, South African resistance was broken and Ireland took advantage in the final ten minutes to add a further 3 converted tries to put a gloss on a very tactically astute performance. Joe Schmidt showed himself to be a wily tactician and has an Ireland team willing to put everything on the line for him. In what was an exceptionally dominant performance, Ireland have again silenced their critics and will fancy themselves for a whitewash against their opponents this Autumn. Sexton and Murray again proved a critical combination with a strong performance in both halves. South Africa need to accept that power alone will not win matches, particularly when their fitness seemed to drop in the final quarter.
All Blacks vs France
The only headline fixture not easily accessible to watch in the UK, the All Blacks managed to hold on to their lead to beat France having utterly dominated the first half. Four tries in the first half by a flowing New Zealand against a consolation by Teddy Thomas for France meant that New Zealand went into the break 31-5 up. From that point forward France steeled themselves and produced a more cohesive and controlled performance, meaning they won the second half 13-7, with forward power leading to a 13-7 second half ‘win’. France will be desperately missing the creativity of Camille Lopez, sadly injured in the Champions Cup.
Italy vs Fiji
In other news, Italy moved to a strong win against Fiji, which will be a psychological boost for Conor O’Shea and his men, with Georgia stepping up and winning comprehensively against Canada. One for the highlights reel was Soso Matiashvili’s try against Canada which involved some exceptional athleticism to dot down after a kick chase into the corner, get it on YouTube if you can!
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