Nude Blacks and a failed rebellion
Martin Williamson and Tom Hamilton
June 16, 2014
Manu Tuilagi is stopped just short of the line .. is his pace enough? © Getty Images
The Manu Tuilagi dilemma
Tuilagi may have made the most of England's players with ball in hand, but he failed to finish off his one guilt-edge chance. When he broke away in the dying embers of the first-half, you would have put your last dollar as they have in these parts on either Chris Ashton or Jonny May scoring. But while Tuilagi has impressive pace over the first 40 or so metres, it was the next few where he was found wanting. Ma'a Nonu also benefitted from having Tuilagi on the wing. It is no coincidence that he enjoyed more time with ball in hand and had a freer reign in the middle of the park with Tuilagi exiled on the flank. For Saturday's third Test in Hamilton, it is time to have Tuilagi back at outside centre.
One the less appealing aspects of the Test in Dunedin - and also, to a lesser extent, in Melbourne - was the boorish booing of kickers and the equally childish jeering when kicks were missed. While the days of stony silence when kicks are being made are history, the football mentality of being so partisan as to not appreciate good rugby unless it is played by the side you are supporting appears to be on the increase. As with deterioration of respect for officials and even simulated dives to try to get opponents sent off, rugby should be learning from its football counterparts how not to behave.
The key Crusaders game
What has become abundantly clear over the past couple of days is just how important Tuesday's game against the Crusaders is for England. Opportunities to see players pull on the white shirt prior to the World Cup are becoming rarer as the games tick on and for some, this may be the only chance they get to prove their credentials to Stuart Lancaster. The game will be a big moment for all involved, but for players such as Danny Cipriani, Ed Slater, Dave Attwood, James Haskell and Anthony Watson, a good showing on Tuesday night could see them move up the Test pecking order ahead of the autumn internationals.
A failed revolution
Listening to the rhetoric of wannabe coup leader David Moffett in the last few months, those not closely following the infighting which is blighting Welsh rugby might be forgiven for thinking that Sunday's EGM of the board would not only bloody the noses of the current executive but also drag them to the Millennium Stadium and hang them from a crossbar. In the event, not only did the uprising not happen, but it was Moffett who was sent packing with his tail firmly between his legs. Only four club representatives voted for the no-confidence resolution, with 462 opposing it and 18 abstaining. The Twittersphere will be a quieter space without Moffett's constant berating of the board, the media (those who don't back him at least) and seemingly most others who did not agree with him. But the WRU should not think it is out of the woods. Welsh rugby remains in a mess and there is a huge amount of hard work to be done to remedy that.
Streakers at sporting events have long since stopped being amusing, especially as most seem to be male and ideally best viewed clothed. TV rightly denies them any publicity and the punishments they face from ground authorities and the courts are hefty. Even so, the way the streaker in Dunedin was smashed into from behind was disproportionately aggressive. Yes, he being a nuisance but was not threatening so much as annoying. The way the steward acted was the behaviour of someone spoiling for some action, and his colleagues who joined in were not much better. Exhibitionists usually end up humiliating themselves as they are frogmarched past the stands into custody. But the way they are handled needs to be proportionate to the way they behave.
The two sides of the Conrad Smith coin
On one hand, it is good news for England that Conrad Smith is not playing on Saturday. He has been an outstanding performer in this Test series and the All Blacks will feel his absence through injury. On the other, it is a shame for international rugby to be robbed of the chance of seeing the great outside centre in action. While Ben Smith, rightly, got plaudits for his performance at the weekend, his namesake at outside centre put in a phenomenal showing. Conrad Smith is not getting any younger, but there are few with his skillset and rugby brain. Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Dan Carter are normally mentioned in the same breath when talk of great All Blacks comes around but Conrad is right up there.
Vern Cotter's tenure as Scotland coach has started with two wins, which given Scotland's form of late is promising. But the opponents were USA and Canada - both ranked well below the Scots - and also that the margins of victory in both cases were slim - and also fortunate against Canada when the hosts had a straightforward late penalty kick revered after foul play was spotted - Cotter's satisfaction will be limited. The acid test comes this weekend when they face Argentina, themselves twice beaten by Ireland but a much tougher foe even if they misguidedly are resting some frontline players ahead of the Rugby Championship.
Who'd be a hooker?
A maul between the New Zealand Nude Blacks and England © Getty Images
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