What The Papers Say
Mixed report card for Home Nations
November 9, 2008
Delon Armitage of England launches an attack during the Investec Challenge match between England and Pacific Islanders at Twickenham in London, England on November 8, 2008.
A near-perfect debut for England speedster Delon Armitage at Twickenham © Getty Images

Following a feast of international rugby on Saturday the press passes judgement on the winners and the losers.

  • England 39-13 Pacific Islanders

    "Martin Johnson's first selection in charge of England seemed ideal for a Sevens tournament played in somewhere like subtropical Queensland. However, on a wet, dark and atmosphere-free afternoon at Twickenham, it only barely passed muster. This was a first victory of the autumn campaign but unless England can find some power and devil, then it will also be the last victory of the autumn." Stephen Jones, Sunday Times

    "A decent first outing under Martin Johnson. There was a sense of adventure from England and clear signs that they are a lot nearer to finding a back three which can cause defences problems, but there were also a number of concerns. Danny Cipriani made a hash of a clearance which gifted a try to the Pacific Islanders then booted the re-start straight into touch, and England produced too much slow ball and were careless at the breakdown where they conceded a number of penalties for a plethora of offences." Paul Ackford, Sunday Telegraph

    "With Paul Sackey scoring a brace of tries to underline his role as England's senior winger, and Danny Cipriani accumulating 19 points thanks to a try, two penalties and four out of five conversions, it was a satisfying first work-out of the season at a Twickenham only two-thirds full. Yet, there is a but - and an obvious one as well. The Pacific Islanders, although teeming with Premiership experience and full of speed and muscle in the backs, were very poor - hardly surprising considering they have been cobbled together from all corners of the globe and trotted out on to the turf at headquarters after just a few days to gel their talents." Ian Stafford, Mail on Sunday

    "England played out of their skins against the Pacific Islanders; not in the sense that they were particularly brilliant, but in the way they changed their approach to the game. For the past five years the team has essentially been based upon the bludgeon, based around the front five. Yesterday the attacking emphasis switched from the front row to the back three. It was refreshing." Stuart Barnes, Sunday Times

    "More by accident than design, England appear to have found a genuine full-back in Delon Armitage, the London Irish utility back who took his chance brilliantly to leapfrog Josh Lewsey, Mathew Tait and Nick Abendanon, having been fast-tracked into the national No 15 jersey by the influence of Brian Smith, the Red Rose backs coach who moved to Twickenham from London Irish in the summer. Armitage, who was born in Trinidad, did the rugby equivalent of scoring a ton on his debut. He did not put a foot wrong and with Paul Sackey, who was back to his best, and Ugo Monye, the Harlequins flyer, England have hit on a dynamicback three who have pace to burn." Tim Glover, Independent on Sunday

  • Wales 15-20 South Africa

    "So, again, the question: why didn't Wales win? First, they couldn't score a try. They couldn't finish off all their build-up moves with the ultimate flourish. South Africa swapped their attacking paralysis for an animated defence. There were gaps, but never holes. And, second, Wales went ragged as the end drew near. Their line-out was picked off by the master of that art, Victor Matfield. Byrne spoilt his good day by dropping a simple kick. A Welsh scrum was turned and the put-in reversed. And when they were offered a final line-out, Matfield denied them. The game was there to be grabbed, but Wales groped and fumbled. It was tense and inspiring... but it was 'hugely disappointing' for Gatland." Eddie Butler, The Obersver

    "South Africa's hex over Wales continues. In 23 attempts there remains just one win for Wales. And for the umpteenth time this was an opportunity missed. It might be tempting to call it a brave defeat, but we are talking here of the winners of a Grand Slam last winter. Yes, opposition came in the form of the World Champions, but such thoughts belong only to a bygone, bad-luck-chaps age." Steve James, Sunday Telegraph

    "Wales dominated the second half in terms of possession, but too many of their attacks were launched from deep positions, allowing the Springbok defence - which pushed the offside line to its limits - to bury them. This was despite the best efforts of Andy Powell, who had an outstanding debut at No 8, and Lee Byrne, who frequently broke the first line of defence only to run out of support. Wales had their chances to clinch victory in the last eight minutes of the match, but their failure to damage South Africa at a defensive five-metre scrum, with John Smit vulnerable at tighthead, betrayed their lack of scrummaging clout." Nick Cain, Sunday Times

    "A ruthlessly efficient first half performance from the Springboks, straight out of their Rugby World Cup text book, was sufficient to see off a plucky but inefficient Wales - but only just. This was a sobering slap of reality for the South Africans in this first match of a tour that is unashamedly a precursor to the British and Irish Lions tour in June. The basic lesson learned will be that resting on laurels in test matches is the preserve of the foolish." Mike Greenaway, Sunday Independent

    "A sensible and structured approach was needed for this first Test on UK soil, and while South Africa's performance was far from polished, their application of an effective game plan allowed for a deserved victory. It's not that Wales were lacking in effort, but the chasm between the world champs and the Six Nations title holders was embarrassingly evident. It wouldn't be unfair to say the most impressive Welsh performance was in the stands, with the local contingent attempting to galvanise their men towards victory through the power of Gaelic song." South African Sunday Times

  • Scotland 6-32 New Zealand

    "Scotland have been trying to beat New Zealand for 103 years. And they'll have to keep on trying. Frank Hadden's side started brightly yesterday and threatened in flashes but a lack of finishing power combined with the regular concession of turnover ball scuppered any slim hopes they had of pulling off a historic victory. The long wait only gets longer. At this rate Godot will make an appearance before the Scots record that longed for victory over the All Blacks. It is proving every bit as elusive as the Snark, the "God" particle or any rational explanation as to why New Zealand remains the only rugby nation that Scotland have never bested." The Scotsman

    "Fancying your chances against second-string All Blacks is always a dangerous game. So Scotland learned to their cost at Murrayfield last night, as the optimism they had taken into the match was extinguished by good old-fashioned New Zealand ruthlessness. The Scots had promised a brave new world of winning rugby, but to most of the crowd their display looked depressingly redolent of their drab old world of losing rugby. Frank Hadden's side never really had the nudge in any significant area of the game. New Zealand were faster across the prairies and sharper in contact by far." Alasdair Reid, Sunday Herald

    "New Zealand were edgy but they won and they were comfortable. Why? Because Scotland not only failed to take their chances, but gave Graham Henry's side far too many, far too easily. New Zealand did not need to play well to win well, and that will frustrate the hell out of Frank Hadden and his new assistants. Only the last of the four Kiwi scores, conjured by Stephen Donald's cute little kick ahead and brilliant offload to Anthony Boric, was clean of Scottish prints." Mark Palmer, Sunday Times

    "The All Blacks will leave Edinburgh having failed to answer some key questions. They got the job done in terms of producing the desired result but it was only half a performance. The enterprise and resistance of the Scots was a big factor in diluting the quality of the All Blacks' work, as was referee Wayne Barnes who really should be thanked for his contribution and then encouraged into a new career - one that doesn't afford him any authority. The game never flowed and both sides clearly wanted to play football. The All Blacks have to take some responsibility for their failings as they were sloppy and disjointed into many areas." Gregor Paul, New Zealand Herald

    "There were changes in global governments but no alteration in the world rugby order, not at Murrayfield as the All Blacks overcame Scotland 32-6 to continue their 103 years of dominance against their hosts. There was no change in Wayne Barnes' curious world of refereeing either as he perplexed most of the 51,511 crowd with a first half of curious decision-making. Barnes has not been on the All Blacks radar since Cardiff at the World Cup last year when he was in charge for their infamous quarterfinal defeat. The wait was not worth it although at least the result improved." Wynne Gray, New Zealand Herald

    "New Zealand may have been fielding a mix and match XV - there is no such thing as an All Blacks Second XV - but they saw Scotland off comfortably enough at Murrayfield, although there were occasional glimmers of quality from the home side. Scotland have famously failed to register a win in 103 years of international combat against New Zealand and there was just a sniff of optimism in the Edinburgh air yesterday as supporters talked up their full strength side and tried to suggest New Zealand were fielding an 'experimental' team. Wrong, New Zealand knew exactly what they were doing from start to finish." Brendan Gallagher, Sunday Telegraph

  • Ireland 55-0 Canada

    "A landslide followed the flood at Thomond Park as Declan Kidney's first game in charge turned into a one-sided rout that will offer the coach little as he prepares for next Saturday's clash with the All Blacks. Ireland were on another level to the hapless Canucks on a miserable night in Limerick, running in five tries in the first half to stretch away to a 38-0 lead at the break. Inevitably, Kidney made a raft of changes in the second half and what little momentum there was in the game was washed away." Irish Times

    "Watching this farrago the thought occurred that rugby union has not much more depth than the league version which has been derided for the skimpy nature of its World Cup line-up. The gulf between Ireland, let alone the giants of the Southern Hemisphere, and the likes of Canada grows by the year. The greatest danger to Ireland on the night was that a player might be hit by one of the lightning bolts which illuminated the sky over Thomond Park in the first half or be eroded by the rain which pelted down as if trying out for a part in a Hollywood remake of the story of Noah's Ark." Eamonn Sweeney, Irish Independent

    "The Canucks were bullied upfront with Paul O'Connell and Jamie Heaslip powerhouses in the loose, but there was some brave defence, led by Mensah-Coker. Canada were only the warm-up act on a filthy night. Ireland have the small matter of New Zealand in Dublin on Saturday, but all the talk in Limerick is of Munster against the All Blacks in nine days time for the official opening of the new Thomond Park, 30 years after Munster's famous victory over the All Blacks and Jonah Lomu is even switching on the Christmas lights in the city the day before. Rupert Bates, Sunday Telegraph

    "Not so much a brave new dawn for Declan Kidney's Ireland as a miserable old evening in Limerick and a decent enough job done against dreadfully limited Canadian side whose only real comfort was that they limited Ireland to just 17 points after the break, when Kidney tinkered with various combinations ahead of next week's slightly more searching examination by the All Blacks. An awful hammering was on the cards by the end of a first half in which Ireland had scored at a rate of just under a point a minute despite conditions that ranged from difficult to dreadful. Most satisfying for the new coaching team was that four of the five tries in that period came from a back three combination which took everyone by surprise when they were revealed earlier in the week." Peter O'Reilly, Sunday Times

    "So no palpitations for the new coach, his players did not get decent working conditions in which to run through some combinations. You would have wanted the captain Brian O'Driscoll and his young partner Luke Fitzgerald to get some better quality game time together to complement what is a promising combination in Leinster. Or for either of the newly arranged back three or the back row to be able to focus on stuff other than staying warm. Still, it is questionable what value they would have got out of it given the weakness of Canada, not so much in the physical stakes as in the basics of defence." Brendan Fanning, The Observer

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