Another great weekend of autumn rugby, here are the headlines….
Wales end decade of Wallaby woe with tense victory
It was a case of 14th time lucky at the Principality Stadium as Warren Gatland’s Wales secured their first victory over Australia since 2008 in a cagey 9-6 triumph. With all the points coming from the kicking tee, this was not a match for the rugby purists but that will be of no concern to Wales supporters who have experienced some agonising last-gasp defeats to the Wallabies over the last decade. Both sides were strong in defence yet lacked imagination in attack with each side cancelling each other out amongst the backs. Unsurprisingly it was two forwards who were the stars of the show with Justin Tipuric and David Pocock starring for their respective teams with their influence in defence crucial in ensuring neither side’s try-line was breached. Welsh full-back Leigh Halfpenny may have landed two penalties but it was a somewhat uncharacteristic display from the kicking tee for the Scarlets man as he missed two kicks that he would usually get with his eyes closed. Going into the final five minutes it looked as if those misses may be telling with Bernard Foley and Matt Toomua responding in kind from the kicking tee to leave the scores all square at 6-6. Having seen Halfpenny depart the field in the final ten minutes with concussion having been floored by a controversial late hit from Wallaby centre Samu Kerevi – that subsequently went unpunished – it was Halfpenny’s replacement Dan Biggar who showed nerves of steel to step up and land the crucial match-winning penalty in front of a jubilant and relieved Welsh crowd. With the two sides due to meet at next year’s World Cup, Wales coach Gatland will have been delighted to end the talk of his players having something a ‘mental block’ when coming up against the Aussies, but given the tight score-line this result – whilst giving Wales momentum going into that clash – may not be as decisive as some think and the likelihood is we can expect another close-fought game in Japan.
Lady luck deserts England in titanic Twickenham tussle
The adage that lucky breaks even themselves out is common in sport. Eddie Jones’ England know all about that. Having been on the right side of a tight call against South Africa that proved decisive in England coming out victorious, this time against New Zealand they were on the wrong end of such a call that ultimately saw New Zealand sneak out of Twickenham with a narrow 16-15 win. Having seen Sam Underhill profit from Courtney Lawes’ charge-down by racing in at the corner for what looked like a match-winning try, England supporters were soon cursing their luck when a TMO review saw the officials judge Lawes to be fractionally offside when charging down TJ Perenara’s box-kick. With replays fairly inconclusive many watching on had differing opinions, but what was clear was that New Zealand had got away with one having rode their luck throughout a riveting test match. A much-anticipated game four years in the waiting, England started the match at a frightening pace that shook the All Blacks with first Chris Ashton diving in at the corner before a drop-goal from Owen Farrell and a monsterous driving maul by the English pack resulting in Dylan Hartley dotting down for the hosts’ second try to leave England 15-0 up after 30 minutes. With English half-backs Youngs and Farrell mastering the wet-weather conditions, new Zealand just had no answer to the ferocious intensity brought by the England team with uncharacteristic errors creeping in to the world champions game. However New Zealand are the best side in the world for a reason and they proved that with a devastating passage of play late in the half that saw them score ten points in just under two minutes. Having regained some composure towards the end of the half New Zealand hit back with the dangerous Damian McKenzie bursting on to a Jack Goodhue pass to crash over from close range for a converted try before Beauden Barrett stepped up to kick a penalty goal that saw England go in at half-time with a slender five-point lead. After such a brusing first-half New Zealand coach Steve Hansen would have been relieved to see his side go in at the break just the one score down and England were made to pay for their sloppy ending to the first-half as the visitors gained the upper-hand in the second-half. Having replaced Dylan Hartley with Jamie George at half-time England’s line-out began to falter with Brodie Retallick producing a masterful display in stealing opposition ball. With England unable to hold on to their own ball, New Zealand went on the hunt in attack but a resolute English defence held firm. With the English defence on top, New Zealand fly-half Beauden Barrett showed a more pragmatic approach than previously seen in landing a drop-goal and a penalty that took New Zealand into the lead for the first time in the match going into the final quarter, and despite England’s best efforts that one-point lead proved to be enough to see the world champions sneak the win. Having gotten off to such a strong start England will know they missed a great opportunity to lay down a marker ahead of the World Cup and captain Owen Farrell will be rueing his decision to turn down two penalty shots at goal early in the second-half when successful penalty shot at goal would have been enough to clinch a famous win. New Zealand will have been relieved to escape Twickenham with a win that they scarcely deserved and will need a big improvement if they are to end this European tour unbeaten with reigning Six Nations champions Ireland lying in wait in Dublin.
Scottish swagger returns as Seymour hat-trick floors Fiji
After a frustrating showing in Cardiff in their autumn opener, it was a welcome return home to Murrayfield for Gregor Townsend’s Scotland as they turned on the style to rack up a big win against Fiji. With just one defeat in their last ten tests in Edinburgh, it was perhaps no surprise that the Fijians were unable to seal a surprise win but the manner in which the hosts put their opponents to the sword in attack is further proof that this Scottish side are progressing nicely under the stewardship of Townsend. Having missed the defeat to Wales, the return of star duo Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg brought a touch more magic and imagination to Scotland’s play but it was the forwards who were influential in the early stages with first Allan Dell and then Fraser Brown finishing off patient forwards play with close-range scores as the hosts built an early lead. However the Fijians hit back, punishing Scotland for some sloppy play as a missed line-out saw Fiji’s Peceli Yato scoop up loose ball before putting fellow back-rower Viliame Mata through to dive in under the posts. Another Fijian try quickly followed as centre Semi Randrada profited from more loose play by the hosts to give Fiji a 17-14 lead thirty minutes. As half-time approached the visitors became more and more desperate to hold on to their slender lead and lost their discipline in defence with Tevita Cavubati and Leone Nakarawa being yellow carded in quick succession, and playing against 13 men Scotland made their numerical advantage count with Tommy Seymour going in at the corner thanks to a beautifully executed miss-pass from fly-half Russell. Having regained their composure the Scots never looked back adding 33 unanswered points to the score-board with a relentless display of attacking rugby, with wingers Sean Maitland and Seymour crashing over from close range before the hosts showcased their skills with a wonderful counter-attacking move involving Hogg, Russell and Chris Harris before Seymour finished the move off in the corner for his hat-trick. More tries followed with the impressive Jamie Ritchie going over for his first try before replacement Adam Hastings finished off the scoring, playing a one-two with Russell in midfield to run in for his debut test try. All in all a thoroughly impressive showing from the Scots who managed to weather an early Fijian storm before cutting loose in the second-half and showing their class in attack. The return of Russell and Hogg saw the hosts looked much more dangerous in attack, whilst Tommy Seymour reminded everyone of the finishing prowess that saw him become a British Lion last summer. A solid forward platform allowed the likes of Russell and Seymour plenty of opportunities in attack, with Jamie Ritchie the star performer in the back-row and there was even a brief glimpse of a tantalising ‘dream-team’ partnership in midfield between playmakers Russell and Adam Hastings with the two linking up beautifully for a score that suggests the two may have a bright future together in the Scottish back-line.
Irish labour past Pumas in Aviva encounter
Having enjoyed a comfortable win over Italy in Chicago, Ireland were given a much tougher test on their return to Dublin as they gradually wore down a resilient Argentina team to record a scrappy 28-17 win. After resting some regular starters for the transatlantic trip, it was the return of the cavalry for Irish coach Joe Schmidt at the Aviva with the likes of captain Rory Best, Sean O’Brien and Jonny Sexton returning to the team. An all-star forward pack containing seven Lions soon went to work on the Pumas as repeated pressure at scrum-time eventually resulted in scrum-half Kieran Marmion pouncing on a loose ball to dive over for the opening score of the night. However indiscipline in their own-half was proving costly with Nicolas Sanchez kicking two penalties to push the visitors 6-5 ahead in the early stages. That Pumas lead grew with an incisive piece of attacking play that saw Matias Orlando firstly scythe through the Irish defence before the visitors quickly worked the ball out wide for winger Bautista Delguy to run in at the corner for the try of the night. The hosts soon hit back from their slow start, pushing their way up-field before patiently going through the phases close to the Argentina line where Bundee Aki eventually found enough space to wriggle through and score Ireland’s second try. A penalty apiece from fly-halves Sexton and Sanchez saw the hosts go in with a slender 15-14 lead at the break. Any hope Schmidt had that his players would improve their discipline for the second-half was soon forgotten as Nicolas Sanchez once again punished the hosts with another penalty that saw Argentina regain the lead. The Irish soon responded with another Sexton penalty before replacement scrum-half Luke McGrath pushed Ireland’s lead out beyond a converted try, sniping in from close range to score under the posts. Sexton added the extras before sealing a hard-fought win with another penalty. Coach Joe Schmidt will have been pleased with the outcome – if not the performance – of Ireland’s first real autumn ‘hit-up’ but with New Zealand lying in wait ahead of a much-anticipated match-up at the Aviva, Schmidt will know improvements are needed if this Ireland side are to secure their first win on home soil against the All Blacks. Having conceded 12 points from penalty kicks at goal, the Irish defence will need to be far more disciplined to avoid giving New Zealand a head-start like the one the Pumas enjoyed. However with a strong performance in the scrum and three tries scored despite a somewhat patchy display in attack, Ireland are still going along nicely and next week’s encounter between the two best sides in world rugby promises to be a mouth-watering encounter.
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