Rugby Union summer internationals: what next for England, Scotland Wales & Ireland after first tests?
It was a clean sweep for the Southern Hemisphere sides at the weekend as New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina were all victorious.
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It was a dominant day for the Rugby Championship nations over four of the Six Nations sides on Saturday, as Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland all fell to defeat in the first tests of their respective summer tours.
The day started and ended with resounding victories for the host nations as New Zealand trounced Ireland 42-19 and Argentina looked comfortable for large parts of their 26-18 win over Scotland.
Australia managed to overcome England 30-28 despite playing a large portion of the match with 14 men while an absolute classic test between South Africa and Wales was decided by a stoppage time penalty that saw the world champions win 32-29.
Here’s what we learned from the opening tests and what needs to change for the European sides going forward:
Brute force not the answer against All Blacks
Ireland’s relentless barrage of big men battering the ball up the park has served them well for several years now.
It’s a simple but effective strategy of wearing opponents down before distributing out wide for the backs to score - assuming the forwards don’t just force their way over the line to begin with.
However, the All Blacks were prepared for this and Andy Farrell’s post match assessment was spot on when he said if you “take your eye off the ball for one second” then they will make you pay.
Ireland’s game plan has been relient on their sturdiness, but the Kiwis were able to withstand the ‘up the jumper’ drives at the line from five yards time and again.
It might be time for a bit more creativity and flair - they might not be known for it but have shown in flashes that they have the players capable of it.
It’s risky for sure and could backfire, but with the series score at 1-0 it’s already all or nothing and they have little to lose.
Discipline costs England yet again
England rugby fans must feel like they are stuck in a Groundhog Day loop of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory with silly mistakes at crucial moments in matches costing them time and again.
They had a 14-9 lead going into the final 17 minutes against the 14 men of the Wallabies and turned that into a 30-2 defeat.
Eddie Jones’ commented after the match that officials seem to want to “even things up” after showing red cards but Billy Vunipola’s yellow for a high tackle on Michael Hooper was deserved.
And that moment was the touchpaper that ignited the England collapse.
Marcus Smith is still very much the future of the nation but at this stage it’s probably fair to say he’s had more disappointing games for his country than impressive ones.
A 23-year old shouldn’t have to shoulder the blame for a poor team performance, but the game could have been beyond the Wallabies way before they even had the chance of a final quarter comeback.
It begs the question: why wasn’t it?
Perhaps the Smith/Farrell combination isn’t quite clicking and a ball carrier might be a better option than a distributor at 12, but where does that leave the immediate future of the 10 jersey? Does Jones stick with the unpolished jewel in his crown or return to the tried and tested former skipper?
Then again, maybe it’s not as complicated as that and a little bit more discipline at key times will be the difference and see them to the 2-1 series win they are perfectly capable of achieving.
Wales blow big chance against lackluster Boks
Wales had an up and down Six Nations but Dan Biggar had been Mr. Reliable throughout the tournament and brought all his experience and guile to Pretoria on Saturday.
His drop goal early on to make the score 8-0 was as beautiful as it was intelligent and it was obvious at that stage that the South Africans were there for the taking.
Prior to the match the hosts were 1/8 on with bookmakers to secure what was supposed to be a routine victory but it was anything but with the world champions way off the boil.
However, the Welsh were the architects of their own downfall and, unlike England earlier in the day, the Boks took full advantage when opposition players started finding their way to the bin.
In the end it was Biggar who missed the crucial conversion to turn a draw into a lead and then gave away the penalty which handed victory to the hosts.
The experienced fly-half said afterwards he felt it was a harsh decision and the ball came off his hand rather than him slapping it down deliberately, but the rules are clear and it could be argued a player of his experience should have known better at such a crucial moment in the game.
Unfortunately for Wales this feels like their big chance to make a mark in this series has come and gone and the Boks will go into the second test looking to display the dominance many had predicted they would last weekend.
However, if another chance does present itself then Wales need to be ready to capitalise on it and hopefully they have learned some lessons from the disappointment.
Selection changes provide no answers for Scotland
It was a bold call for Gregor Townsend to leave Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Chris Harris at home for their tour of Argentina.
It was applauded by many as strength in depth will be critical if they are to finally push on and start challenging for major honours but those who were given a chance failed to grasp it in the first test.
Blair Kinghorn had moments in the game that did suggest he could be an impactful test level fly-half but they were few and far between and the Scots went the whole first half without ever really testing the hosts in any way.
The final score of 26-18 feels like an accurate reflection, Argentina were the better side but not head and shoulders above.
This series is far from over and Kinghorn is not the only man in that fresh looking squad that has something to prove over the next two tests.
What Gregor Townsend and the supporters will want is for them to start the second test as they mean to continue the series by posing an attacking threat from the off and not taking an entire half to get up to speed.