1. History was made
And more than once. Not only did Wales beat South Africa for the first time ever in the Republic but Ireland did a number on New Zealand for the first time down under. In fact, it was a great day for European rugby with five wins in all … France, Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland. Just the fillip the somewhat stale rugby world needed. Kudos especially to Ireland. Although helped by a red card shown to Angus Ta’avao, the men in green looked the better team for long periods of this match. It will be interesting to see if the All Blacks can recover their winning ways, not to mention that aura of invincibility that has clung to them like a Ready Brek halo for decades now.
2. Kiwi fans should know better
The Dunedin crown booed referee Jaco Peyper after that red card but goodness only knows why? Lab rats learn faster than some rugby players and Ta’avao made zero attempt to lower his point of contact on Garry Ringrose. It wasn’t just a red card it was a dumb, avoidable, slam dunk, nailed down and obvious red card. Ta’avao didn’t just ruin his own day, and that of the legion of Kiwi fans, but he also ended Ringrose’s game and perhaps the Irishman’s tour? Rugby has a duty of care to its players and the Dunedin fans should know better.
3. Scotland improved
Although arguably only because they could not get any worse. Are you a glass half full or half empty sort of person? I only ask because the former will rave about Scotland’s clinical second half and the running lines of Sam Johnson and Mark Bennett. The latter will instead concentrate on the fact that, at least for the first 40 odd minutes, the Scots appeared unable to pass the ball or, when they did manage that feat, to catch the stupid thing. Some players appeared to have met in the sheds five minutes before kick-off. And if they can play that well in the second half why on earth were Scotland so bad for the opening 40? A coach’s only task is to persuade his charges to play to their potential every time they step on the field and Gregor Townsend is failing badly on that count. Twin opensides Hamish Watson and Rory Darge made a big impact on both sides of the ball and their back-row buddy Matt Fagerson was very much busier than last weekend. But they are, to some extent, papering the cracks.
4. You can only beat the team in front of you
How ordinary were Argentina? Nothing like the giants who beat New Zealand just two short years ago. You fear for them in the upcoming Rugby Championship.
5. Ben White catches the eye
I have argued before that Ali Price doesn’t offer enough threat with the ball in hand and the point was underlined when his replacement, London Irish scrummy Ben White, showed him how. In the lead up to Mark Bennett’s crucial score just after the break, White made not one but two half breaks, offloading to Rory Darge the first time and Bennett, for the score, the second. A threat from nine means that defenders have to watch two or more attackers which is obviously more difficult than one and White made good use of Scotland’s quick ruck ball.
6. Sorry, but Blair Kinghorn looks happier manning the last line
He was a fly-half at schoolboy level and I couldn’t understand why the powers that be switched the leggy 10 to a full-back when he turned pro way back in 2015. Fly-half is a big ask and young players need years of experience in the hot seat to produce the goods at the highest level. But now, after years of playing in the 15 shirt, Kinghorn looks far more comfortable as the last line of defence and the SRU have only themselves to blame for messing him about in the first place.
7. Japan falls short.
I was a little condescending about Japan last week and wrong to be so because they should have won their second match against France at the weekend after leading 15-7 at the break. It was an emotionally charged game coming so soon after the assination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and 57,000 odd fans packed the National Stadium to cheer on the Cherry Blossoms. Japan played much the better rugby with their backs’ ability to keep the ball alive in the contact zone contributing to two superlative team tries. Check them out on YouTube. Japan ultimately lost by 20-15 but they had the ball over the French try line six minutes from time with a simple kick to win the game only for the TMO to inform Scottish referee Mike Adamson that Japan’s breakaway Tevita Tatafu had dropped the ball in the act of scoring. Or, to be more accurate, in the act of not scoring. Japan won’t win anything next year but no one will take them lightly. They play fast and loose but their rugby is far more accurate than some other teams that have tried that route and failed. Only the set scrum allowed France to win this one.
8. Gareth Anscombe earns plaudits
Anscombe kicked the touchline conversion that gave Wales their monumental win over the Bokke. He had taken over the kicking duties when replacing Dan Bigger and he also takes credit for the floated miss-pass that gave Josh Adams the few centimetres the winger needed to score in the corner. Anscombe’s kick was never going anywhere other than through the middle of the posts from the moment it left the tee.
9. And so does Andrew Porter
Ireland can occasionally struggle against power teams (France and South Africa especially) but while Andrew Porter is on the field they have a fighting chance. The giant prop scored two tries against New Zealand and he was a wrecking ball at the set scrum. He can play both sides of the scrum, which is gold dust, having started out at loose, moving to tight-head before being shunted back again. Still only 26-years-old, he has been living in the shadow of Tadhg Furlong but not, I suspect, for very much longer. Is there a better loose-head around?
10. England impress
Australia are another team that can be bullied at the highest level and in Billy Vunipola England boast one of the biggest bullies in the game. I mean that as a compliment. He was looking stale a while back but having sat out the Six Nations, Billy V looked like he was enjoying himself mightily on Saturday, certainly when compared to one week earlier. The England pack upped the ante and bossed the possession stats 54/46%. Perhaps even more importantly, England showed some composure when Australia threatened a comeback in the third quarter, and the 10/12 axis of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell finally looks like it’s coming together. Might England yet make a late bid for World Cup glory? They have the easiest group of all (Japan and Argentina are the other seeds) although whether an easy pool is a help or a hindrance come the World Cup is a moot point.