Lady luck frowns on Wales
November 11, 2013
Japan deserve plenty of praise for the way they played against Scotland © Getty Images
All six of Europe's finest were in action this weekend as the November Tests begun in earnest and for some, they were taught a southern hemisphere lesson in finishing and precision. England are two from two in the autumn series but are someway from the finished article while Wales battled bravely against the Boks but came up second best. Ireland started life under Joe Schmidt with a five-try victory while Scotland eventually did enough to get over the line against Japan. And then there was the wonderfully unpredictable French who fell to the All Blacks and Italy who were brushed aside by the Wallabies.
Monday Maul picks out some of the key talking points from the weekend's action.
Lady luck frowns on Wales
Playing the Springboks is tough at the best of times; facing them with an injury-ravaged squad is near impossible. But credit to Wales, they battled valiantly against the Boks despite losing Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams and Adam Jones to injury in the first-half.
Wales' dreadful run against the big southern hemisphere will end at some stage. They are without doubt the best the northern hemisphere has to offer at the moment and it is a shame fate went against them on Saturday. It would have been a great contest had Davies, Jones and Williams stayed fit.
But South Africa are a scary proposition at the moment. They are huge and skilful, the best of both worlds. Willem Alberts seems to just love tackling while Fourie du Preez is a wonderful scrum-half. If they continue in this vein over the next couple of years, they will have a very real chance of winning the World Cup.
The aptly named Brave Blossoms
Japan deserve huge credit for the way their attitude against Scotland. They played with plenty of ambition and attacked Scott Johnson's side rather than cowering in the floodlights of Murrayfield. Their first try from Kenki Fukuoka was a wonderful sweeping move and testament to the work Eddie Jones is doing in the Far East.
It is also a credit to the rugby being played in Japan that three of the Springboks who have been playing in the Top League slotted seamlessly back into the Test swing of things. Du Preez is still the world's best scrum-half while Jaque Fourie's offload to his scrum-half for the Boks' third try was a great piece of skill.
Time to throw caution to the wind
It is fairly simple, if England play like they did in the second-half of their win over Argentina against the All Blacks on Saturday, it will be ugly. This will be a different outfit facing England than the shattered outfit that crawled out last year. New Zealand are going for the perfect year, have strength in depth and will have been hurt from last year's defeat.
But England are not a bad side, they just need to tweak their game plan. At times they will need to gamble, show some ambition and just really have a go. They need some more muscle in their centre partnership and are missing Manu Tuilagi. Dylan Hartley and Alex Corbisiero have to start while Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury should keep their place in the second-row. Lee Dickson, although unspectacular, deserves to keep the No.9 shirt while Danny Care did enough to keep the reserve berth. In the backs, Stuart Lancaster's hands are likely to be tied by injury but he has to find a place for Luther Burrell in the centres and Marland Yarde on the flank if fit.
The weekend's awards
The powerless Pumas
For those who witnessed Argentina's performance in the 2007 World Cup, their win over England in 2006 and their triumph against Wales last year, Saturday's performance paled in comparison. They have huge talent in their ranks, you feel they just need to get their ducks in the right order and they will do some damage. For the good of the southern hemisphere game, rugby needs a competitive Argentina. On Saturday there was no ambition or accuracy, had they really attacked England in the second-half and given the likes of Horacio Agulla and Santiago Fernandez a chance to have a go with ball in hand, it could have been closer on the scoreboard.
They need a hard task-master to get them back to the force we know they are capable of. Step forward Michael Cheika.
A sorry sight
Both the Millennium Stadium and Stade de France pitches were a disgrace. The Cardiff turf was cutting up before the game started while the pitch in Paris also struggled to carry the weight of the players. Two eye-catching matches, but Tests tainted by the dreadful surfaces, as All Blacks coach Steve Hansen mentioned.
"It's frustrating when you're trying to scrum and the ground rolls up like a carpet. This is a magnificent stadium, probably one of the best in the world, but the ground let it down today."
A new era for Ireland?
It was a solid, if unspectacular first win for Ireland under new boss Joe Schmidt. There was the old, he went for Ireland's traditional D'Arcy/ O'Driscoll centre partnership, and there was the new with Dave Kearney and Jack McGrath getting their first run outs for Ireland. It is always hard to judge a team on just one performance but there is reason to be optimistic over the ditch in the Emerald Isle.
McGrath was superb against Samoa and got the better of both Lugovi'I Mulipola and James Johnston while Kearney chipped in with two tries. And then there was O'Driscoll, the most talented player of his generation, who showed he still has it as his opportunist, through-the-legs pass teed up Sean O'Brien's score. It's all ticking along nicely. And all that with Jonathan Sexton rested.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.