Autumn Internationals Round-up

Scotland 22 –v-  New Zealand  51

Dan Carter guided World Champions New Zealand to victory against Scotland in front of a full house in Murrayfield.  Carter is peerless in world rugby and today he showed all his skills as he orchestrated three of the All Blacks’ tries and amassed 21 points with his boot.  Before kick-off, a fiery Scottish side marched forward to meet the haka, signalling their intent.  Throughout the match the Scots endeavour could not be faulted but the gulf in class was always evident as New Zealand never looked troubled.

It only took two minutes for the All Blacks to register points in this game courtesy of Carter’s boot.  Then Scotland struck.  In what was his only mistake of the game, Carter threw a pass that was picked off by Scottish centre Matt Scott.  He galloped free but had the presence of mind to pop a pass to his flying winger Tim Visser on his left shoulder who outpaced Corey Jane for the first try of the game.  It was converted and Scotland had the lead 7-3.  An aberration?  Indeed.  Minutes later Carter was making amends; with two breaks in quick succession he tore the Scottish defence asunder.  Each time he realised he was up against a forward – a mismatch – and stepped inside.  On the second occasion he fed Israel Dagg who crossed for the try. Carter converted, and normality was resumed 7-10.

In a ten minute spell from the 30 minute mark, scoring three tries in quick succession, the New Zealanders showed why they are the best team in world rugby at present.  Led by their captain Richie McCaw’s example they got their hands on the ball, rucked mercilessly, passed deftly and ran at space; no other team combines all these skills as they do.  The second try summed it up.  It was quick hands all the way across the field but each man, no matter what number was on his back, especially Adam Thompson, displayed the hands of a first class centre.  It is the simple skills but they have mastered them and they do it at such pace.  Scotland could not live with them as Piri Weepu displayed the same deft handling down a narrow channel before Andrew Hore crossed for the try.  With three hammer blows this game was effectively won and with panache.  It threatened to get ugly with the All Blacks scoring at will but Scotland fronted up again and they were rewarded deep into first half injury time with a score of their own.  After a number of quick tap penalties, Geoff Cross slipped under Richie McCaw’s tackle for the try that did not need the TMO.  Scotland went in 17 – 34 down.

In the second half the All Blacks were down to 14 men when Adam Thompson stamped a Scottish player in the head while he was lying prostrate in a ruck.  He will be cited for the offence and could miss the remainder of the tour.  Scotland took advantage of the numbers as Visser went over for another try.  Warren Gatland got proof today that Visser is a test level winger.  Visser and Richie Gray could be the only Scottish players on the starting Lions team when Gatland’s men tour Down Under at the end of the season.  New Zealand received a penalty shortly after this try and they elected to kick for goal this was a measure of the resilient Scottish performance.  Two further All Black tries inevitably came to put a gloss on the scoreboard but Scotland will take pride in their resolve and the fact that they scored three tries and 22 points – more than any other team has put on the board against New Zealand in the last two years; moral victories are made of such.

These Autumn Internationals will showcase the All Blacks in the first stage of transition towards the 2015 World Cup in England.  Their squad is a mix of fresh caps, new combinations, experience and excellence.  Hanson and his coaching team know that in three year’s time they will come to the Northern hemisphere to defend their World Cup.  The All Blacks’ conveyor belt looks as healthy as ever and the transition appears seamless – it doesn’t bode well for the rest of us.  Next year, Captain McCaw will take a six month sabbatical from the game which will see him miss the whole Super Rugby campaign.  This is in order to increase his longevity in an attempt to have him play until 2015.  It’s a long shot but Hanson is willing to do whatever he can to keep his inspirational leader, together with his playmaker Dan Carter, on the international paddock for as long as possible.

France 33 –v- Australia 6

France were the only Six Nations team to beat their Rugby Championship opponents this weekend and they did so convincingly.  Warren Gatland will bemoan the fact that he can’t select any of the Gallic men for his touring squad at the end of the season but he will draw comfort from the weak state of Australian rugby.

The Wallabies have to select from a smaller pool of players than their fanatical neighbours New Zealand as a result of the sport being the fourth most popular code in the country.  Yet in the face of this they have always managed to produce attacking players of the highest calibre but with an injury list including most of their marquee names their strength in depth will be tested on this tour.  The Wallabies have failed to cross the whitewash in their last two tests.  This doesn’t signal a crisis for coach Robbie Deans but he will know that England will be targeting next weekend as a chance to put one over on the Wallabies.

French intensity at the breakdown and scrum-time blew away a callow Australian team.  The men in blue were led by Freddie Michalak – plying his trade in Super Rugby with the Sharks franchise – he kicked two penalties, three conversions and a drop goal for a total of 15 points from his boot.  The mercurial fly-half has been out of favour with the national team. This was only his third test in so many years but with current form he looks ready to guide this team.  The French at home are hard to live with but the Wallabies will need to re-group and fast or this will be a long Autumn tour.  They will be boosted by the return from injury of their captain David Pocock and winger Digby Ioane.

Wales 12 –v- Argentina 26

Argentina have emerged battle hardened from their first year in the inaugural Rugby Championship competition and this showed in their defeat of Wales in the Millenium Stadium.

It was a gruelling encounter as is always the way when the Argies are involved.  The game saw the re-introduction of Felipe Contepomi to the test arena but this was short lived as he came off injured only fifteen minutes in after tackling George North.   Welsh centre Jamie Roberts, who has become the latest Wales international to announce that he will leave the Cardiff Blues for the lucrative French Top 14, also came off injured after 25 minutes because of a head clash.  He was replaced by James Hook who is already playing his club rugby in France.

All the Welsh points in this game came from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny.  Argentina were 9 – 6 down at half time but they came out in the second half and scored two tries to take victory.  Argentina more than matched Wales throughout the game and their reward came on 55 minutes when Juan Imhoff beat Leign Halfpenny to score the first try.  Gonzalo Camacho also scored in the corner.  Both these tries were converted by out-half Nicholas Sanchez who also added a penalty that gave them the deserved win.

The Welsh team were bereft of attacking ideas during the game and the home fans showed their dismay at the final whistle by booing the team.  Rob Howley, who is interim coach with Warren Gatland on Lions duty, has now presided over four defeats in five games in charge.  Perhaps the Welsh team’s gruelling Polish training camp has them a little flat on the field or maybe the mass exodus of players is having an effect on the international side.

In the other games on the weekend England hammered a weak Fijian side – England 54 –v- Fiji 12  and Italy narrowly defeated Tonga –  Italy 28 –v- Tonga 23.

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