International Rugby Ramble: Autumn Internationals Week 3

International Rugby Ramble: Autumn Internationals Week 3

Building for the future

Since taking over the England head coach job after their abysmal group stage exit from the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Eddie Jones has done a fantastic job of making England competitive again, to the point that they have only lost 1 game in 2 years!

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How much longer can Chris Robshaw hold off the young talent coming through?

When he named his first squad, the players picked were for the most part the same ones that Stuart Lancaster had called on, but as each subsequent squad has been named we have seen more and more young players earning their first caps as Jones looks to build towards 2019’s tournament in Japan. While I’m sure he would have done this anyway as he has talked about his desire of having at least 60 players to pick his EPS from, he has also had his hand forced somewhat by injuries, suspensions and this summer’s Lions Tour.

In the back row, Billy Vunipola is arguably one of the best number 8s in the world, but his England appearances have been limited recently due to a succession of injuries, which has given Nathan Hughes the chance to develop into a more-than-able deputy a international level. Chris Robshaw’s move from 7 to 6 has seen him become an integral part of the team despite Jones’ misgivings about him before taking up the role. James Haskell also played some of the best rugby of his international career early in Jones’ tenure, but has struggled to regain that form since injury. Tom Wood, a former contender for captaincy under Lancaster, was brought back into the fold for a while to help give the team some experience, but his ban at the end of last season has pushed him down the order as the Australian has looked at other options.

Maro Itoje and Courtney Laws are regulars in the England squad and are generally considered as second rows, however Jones has not been afraid to move one of them to 6 in order to give the team more physicality – though I personally prefer them at lock. Jack Clifford was one of the first young players to be given a chance under Eddie Jones and certainly brings more pace to the back row in attack when compared to most of his rivals, but he has also suffered with a series of injuries that have seen him drop down the order. At only 24 though, he has plenty of time to force his way back into the squad. Ben and Tom Curry are both on Jones’ radar but at 19 it is probably slightly to soon for them to be regulars, though they could still force their way in before the World Cup, as could Zach Mercer whose form for Bath and England U20s over the last season and a half have seen him join the senior squad as an apprentice player.

People have been looking forward to Sam Underhill’s return to England for a coupe of years and he has not really disappointed when given a chance in the England back row so far, showing himself to be a tackling machine in his first couple of starts. Sam Simmonds has broken through in the Premiership this year in a way similar to Mercer last season and certainly deserved his debut this autumn. He had a quiet first half against Samoa but really grew into the game. Compared to many of the players around him he seems quite small, though he runs stronger than many bigger players. He also has that extra turn of pace that many of his rivals (other than Clifford) don’t have.

With so much young quality coming through, it will be interesting to see how much longer Robshaw can hold onto his place in the squad. At 31, you can imagine that RWC2019 will be the end of his international career at the latest, but Jones may decide that he has the quality to leave him out before this, so that the world cup becomes just the next stage in a quest for dominance rather than the end of a cycle. I have nothing against Robshaw, but his big draw outside of his experience is his tireless tackling, which is now able to be covered by Underhill. I enjoy a back row with a balance of speed, strength and defensive capability, so would love to see Jones start to focus in on combinations containing Vunipola, Hughes, Clifford, Simmonds and Underhill going forward.

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It would be a shame if future generations of rugby fans did not get to experience Samoa’s Siva Tau (pictured), Tonga’s Sipi Tau or Fiji’s Cibi

The Pacific Island problem

I’m not going to write much about this because I am no expert on Pacific Island rugby and the issues that Samoa in particular are having. Every day in the build-up to this weekend’s game there seemed to be a different story coming out about the state of Samoan rugby: the head of the SRU says their bankrupt, World Rugby says that’s not the case. Regardless, rugby benefits from strong Pacific Island teams and currently only Fiji makes the top 10 and Samoa aren’t even in the top 15!

Samoa showed they have quality against England, with Jack Lam especially having a good game, but I felt that Tim Nanai-Williams was wasted at fly half as he is at his best further out where he can take advantage of space.

So many players are lost to the Pacific Islands due to choosing to commit to other unions who can provide more financial security. Just this morning I read that former All Blacks Charles Piutau and Frank Halai are considering switching allegiance to Tonga in time for the World Cup, as they will have both gone long enough without playing for New Zealand’s representative teams so will be eligible if they play a couple of Olympic qualification 7s tournaments for Tonga. While I would rather players committed to these countries straight away rather than as a second option once being deemed surplus to requirements by the Tier 1 nations, having players of this calibre in the national team can surely only help the Pacific Islands.

What World Rugby needs to do though is find a way to stop the talent drain away from the islands in the first place. It is far too rare that a Tier 1 nation plays one of the Pacific Island teams in that country and if the vast majority of the revenue goes to the home team then that is not fair on the Islands. I feel that having a Pacific Island team in Super Rugby would also help as players would not have to leave for Tier 1 countries in order to play top flight rugby.

While rugby continues to grow in countries like Georgia, Japan and the USA, it would be a shame if this was at the expense of countries that have given fans so much to cheer about over the years.

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The results from this weekend’s internationals – From http://www.worldrugby.org

Return to greatness

Those days are past now,
And in the past
they must remain,
But we can still rise now,
And be the nation again,
That stood against him,
Proud Edward’s Army,
And sent him homeward,
To think again.

The final verse of Flower of Scotland, which along with the first verse is sung as part of the national anthem before matches.

As someone who did not get into rugby until late 2002/early 2003, I have no memories of Scottish rugby success, but Gregor Townsend’s men are rising again. They were clearly improving in recent years under Vern Cotter, but Townsend seems to have taken the players to another level again.

After a win against Samoa that left them disappointed with their leaky defence, they put in a great performance against New Zealand and lost by just 5 points despite playing much of the second half with a hooker in the back row, and even then could have won the game had Kieran Read’s cynical playing of the ball on the floor been picked up with less than 10 minutes less, or if Stuart Hogg had not lost the ball forward at the death. In many years past, I feel that such disappointment would have resulted in them getting hammered by Australia in their final match, yet instead they ran out 53-24 winners. They were certainly helped by Sekope Kepu’s red card just before half time, but I feel that they had already shown enough to suggest they would beat Australia for the second time in 2017, despite losing Hogg in the warm-up.

Probably the most impressive thing about these results is that they have done so well despite a number of players – including Richie Gray, Ross Ford, Fraser Brown, Matt Scott, Duncan Taylor, Sean Maitland, Stuart Hogg, Alasdair Dickinson, Allan Dell, WP Nel, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar and captain Greig Laidlaw – missing some/all of the games through injury. For a nation with only 2 pro teams, that should be a crippling injury list, yet they have had probably the most impressive Autumn Series of all the Home Nations.

If Scotland can continue this trend that they’re on and get as many of their players available as possible, I fully expect them to finish at least top 3 in the 6 Nations and possibly even push for their first title since the last season of the 5 Nations in 1999.

International Rugby Ramble: Autumn Internationals Week 2

International Rugby Ramble: Autumn Internationals Week 2

Déjà vu

I’m sure many fans remember where they were when they saw the 6 Nations match between France and Wales last for 100 minutes. More than that, I’m sure many remember how wrong it felt watching the French conveniently need to switch props due to a ‘head injury’, which benefited Les Bleus by providing them a better scrum with the game on the line. Fans and pundits everywhere felt that this was an exploitation of the HIA laws to cheat the Welsh out of the win.

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When even your Welsh friend calls it blatant cheating, it doesn’t look good for Wales

Fast forward to this November and we see some more conveniently injured props, but this time from the Welsh! Against Georgia, the inexperienced pairing of Nicky Smith and Leon Brown were dominated by the Lelos’ scrum for the opening 56 minutes before being replaced by Wyn Jones and Tomas Francis. The new props shored up the scrum considerably and made the set piece a much more even contest… until Francis decided to give away a stupid penalty on his own line with the clock in the red and get sent to the bin. With Wales a man down in the pack and the score at 13-6, it was no surprise to see the Georgians choose the 5m scrum, which meant that Wales needed to bring one of their original props back on. In a shocking twist though, both Brown and Smith had conveniently started suffering from cramp after their removal and were unable to come back on, meaning that any scrum would be uncontested and the Georgian advantage nullified. The Georgians switched their decision to a 5m lineout (I’m not sure if this was entirely legal but given the circumstances I think it was fair) but were unable to get across the line and had to settle for a 7-point loss.

I’m not even close to being a medical professional so it may be that Brown was genuinely injured – Smith does not play tight-head so the scrum would have still been uncontested – however he did not seem to be hindered when leaving the pitch and looked to be ready to come back on following Francis’ yellow until he “remembered he’s supposed to be injured” as Martyn Williams put it. We’ve had a couple of dubious ‘injuries’ in international rugby over the last 12 months and there was also a similar incident in the Challenge Cup Final. I think that it would be prudent for World Rugby to mandate at least one independent medic at games to confirm a player’s injury status, as this would probably make any similar situations in the future less controversial if a neutral entity is declaring a player unable to continue.

Angry man

Just days after Steve Diamond finally gets banned for his outburst about the match officials following Sale’s loss to Exeter, we were reminded that he is not the only angry man leading a rugby team. Michael Cheika is known to wear his heart on his sleeve but his actions at Twickenham crossed a line. I can understand being frustrated at the way the game was going, but his anger seemed directed towards the officials and it certainly looked like he called the ref a “cheat” after one of the decisions went against him. He also appeared to get into some verbals with a fan on his way down to the pitch and appeared to be remonstrating with the officials at half time. Granted the 50/50 decisions did seem to go England’s way, but did Cheika really have any argument that the officials’ calls were wrong?

I can also understand why Michael Hooper was shown yellow considering he gave away a couple of cynical penalties close to the try line in quick succession, but I would have also understood him getting a final warning rather than a card. However I am totally in agreement with Beale’s yellow as it did not realistically look like he had a chance of catching the ball and his professional foul stopped an England break down the wing.

Looking to the tries that were allowed and disallowed, whether Elliot Daly’s try should have stood will come down to which side you support. I initially thought the ball touched the line, but there was no camera angle that clearly proved one way or another. I am 100% behind the referee disallowing Hooper’s try as he was clearly in front of Tevita Kuridrani when he initially kicked the ball and continues to move forward before being played on by Marika Koroibete, so I feel that the offside penalty was right despite Hooper being onside by the time Koroibete kicked the ball on. The decision as to whether Koroibete’s try should have stood comes down to whether you feel Stephen Moore was interfering with play. He was clearly in front of the ball and in my opinion he impeded Chris Robshaw – who appeared to try tackling both players at the same time – so I feel the decision to disallow the try was correct… but then I am an England fan so I may be a bit biased.

results
The results from this weekend’s internationals from http://www.worldrugby.org

Regardless of the decisions, Cheika is meant to be a role model in a sport that prides itself on its respect of officials and I feel that his actions on Saturday reflect badly on him. I have read today that World Rugby have referred the case to the disciplinary authorities, it will be very interesting to see what punishment (if any) he gets for his outbursts.

The gaps are closing

The best news from the second week of the Autumn Internationals is that the gap between Tier 1 and Tier 2 nations is closing. Wales and Ireland may have both fielded less experienced teams, but they still had plenty of talent and experience, yet still only beat Georgia and Fiji by 7 and 3 points respectively. The Georgian scrum looks like it will be a match for most national teams and if their backs continue to improve the calls for them to join the 6 Nations will just continue to grow. Romania also beat Samoa and Scotland will consider their loss to New Zealand the one that got away, despite being down to their third choice at some positions and spending most of the second half with a hooker playing flanker.

As the gap closes between the tiers, this will just improve the quality of international competition – both the Summer & Autumn Tests and the World Cup – which will then just continue to improve the popularity of the sport in Tier 2 and Tier 3 countries. I for one can’t wait for the day we have to re-think the Tiers or scrap them altogether!

International Rugby Ramble: Autumn Internationals Week 1

International Rugby Ramble: Autumn Internationals Week 1

Never give up

Saturday gave us the next chapter in possibly one of the greatest rugby stories of the modern era: that of Ian McKinley. The fly half, who played for Ireland U20s was forced to retire from rugby in 2011 after a stray boot caused him to lose sight in his left eye. McKinley moved to Italy to help coach junior rugby, but over recent years has worked his way back into playing professional rugby through the Italian leagues wearing a pair of specially manufactured goggles. His performances with Viadana and then Zebre led to him earning a contract with Benetton ahead of the 2016/17 Pro12 season.

The 2017/18 season has seen McKinley’s incredible comeback continue, as he has was called into the Italian national team’s squad for the Summer Tests – though he did not make an appearance – and was called up again for the Autumn Internationals. On Saturday, McKinley earned his first senior cap for Italy coming off the bench to replace Carlo Canna and even slotted the final penalty in their 19-10 victory over Fiji.

I can understand why people do not like the residency rules – and when it comes to project players I completely agree – but this is one of those wonderful circumstances where it has really benefited a player and given them a second chance. It is also a real benefit to Italy, as fly half has for years been a weak spot for them but they are now getting a bit of depth at the position with Canna, McKinley and Tommy Allan. Italian rugby is on the up in the Pro14, hopefully the national team won’t be far behind.

Persistence pays off

Another rugby story that shows the importance of never giving up is that of Welsh back row Josh Navidi. The Cardiff Blues back row made his senior debut for Wales way back in June 2013, when Wales played in Japan, but did not gain another cap until this summer, when he started against Tonga and Samoa during the Summer Tests. On Saturday, over 4 years after his first start, Navidi finally made his home debut for Wales in their 21-29 loss to Australia. Navidi has been so consistent for the Blues over the years, it is great to see that he is finally getting the caps his performances have deserved.

Of course, it is the unavailability of other players that has given him this chance. His first 3 caps have all come when players have been away with the British & Irish Lions and this autumn the Welsh are missing Ross Moriarty, Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric. Against the Wallabies, both Navidi and fellow flanker Aaron Shingler put in solid (if not spectacular) performances that suggest they can at least hold their own on the international scene. Wales currently have incredible depth in the back row, and if everyone was available I would not want the job of picking the best out of Navidi, Shingler, Warburton, Moriarty, Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau, James Davies, Sam Cross, Dan Lydiate and James King. Just imagine if Sam Underhill or Ben Morgan had picked Wales over England too…

An unfortunate incident

If I was asked to pick the best outside centre in rugby at the moment, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick Jonathan Davies. It is a huge shame then that we will not see him in the 2018 6 Nations as he is expected to be out for 6 months following surgery for what looked to be an ankle injury but is being reported as a foot injury. The replays of the incident did not look nice as Davies twisted awkwardly as he was brought down by Marika Koroibete, but should he have even had the ball?

The restart from Australia was taken when the clock was already in the red beyond the 80 minute mark. It is great to see the new-look Welsh team willing to play from deep, but with the score at 21-29 there is no way they could win that game. The kickoff was taken by Dan Biggar who had enough time to kick the ball dead, however he immediately shipped it off to Davies. Trying to play the length on the field had no benefits in this circumstance, but has proved extremely costly for Wales.

On the plus side for Davies, at least he didn’t have a medic making things worse like South African prop Coenie Oosthuizen did!

Falling foul of the laws

There have been talks of a global season for a long time, but I appreciate that it is not easy to implement due to differing seasons. However even if there is no global season, I think World Rugby need to look at when they implement law changes.

When I looked at the new law changes back in July, I was looking at all the laws being brought into Northern Hemisphere rugby at the start of this season. However half of the laws had already been in place in the Southern Hemisphere since the New Year and the other half are not coming in until the coming New Year. This does not make it easy for referees or players who are suddenly having to play different laws than what they are used to, while knowing that they will be back to their usual laws in just a couple of weeks. We saw South African flanker Siya Kolisi fall foul of the law variations as he was penalised for kicking a ball out of a ruck – still legal for now in the South, but illegal in the North – and I’m sure this won’t be the last time someone gets caught out during the Autumn Internationals.

If World Rugby do not feel that a global calendar in feasible I can understand that, but I think that they need to ensure any law variations take effect at the same time worldwide and need to find a date when they can do so without changing the laws part way through a competition.

2017 Autumn Internationals: Eddie’s Men

2017 Autumn Internationals: Eddie’s Men

England kick off their Autumn Internationals on 11th November with a game against summer opponents Argentina with games against Australia and Samoa following. Eddie Jones has today named a 34-man squad for the series that has – as usual for an Eddie Jones squad – thrown up a few surprises. We are now only 2 years away from the next World Cup in Japan, and it is clear that this is in Eddie’s thoughts as he continues to bring in more younger players in place of the tried and tested old guard.

Having had a few hours to digest the announcement while at work, I’ve pulled together a few thoughts on the squad:

 

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England’s 34-man squad for the 2017 Autumn Internationals – from http://www.englandrugby.com

Versatility is key

The way that the squad is presented gives a clear idea as to Jones’ thinking behind a number of these selections. The squad has been split into 4 sections: Front Row, Back Five, Inside Backs and Outside Backs. While the front row section is obvious, the way that the other 3 sections have been split shows the versatility of this squad.

In the ‘back five’, Jones has named 6 players who would usually be considered second rows and 5 who would be considered back rows (including Zach Mercer who is not intended to be included in the match day squads). However of those second rows, both Itoje and Lawes have spent a large portion of time playing at blindside flanker for their clubs and also have experience playing there internationally. Sam Simmonds can easily cover 6 or 8 so could be used alongside or in relief of Nathan Hughes, while the other back rowers could all be considered 6.5s and play either side of the scrum dependant on the personnel on the field.

In the backs, we have Farrell, Ford, Lozowski, Slade and Francis all capable of playing anywhere in midfield depending on Jones’ needs, while Jonathan Joseph and Elliot Daly could both conceivably feature at 13 (though I think Daly will be kept in the back 3). With no obvious crash ball options in the inside backs, it would not surprise me to see Eddie Jones continue with a 3 man midfield of hybrid fly half/centres. In the back 3, Mike Brown looked back to his best in Argentina but I would love to see Daly or Watson given a chance to make the 15 shirt their own. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Joseph given some time on the wing as he now has much more competition in the midfield when everyone is available.

In a similar vein to the All Blacks, having such flexibility allows Eddie Jones more chance to get his best players on the field, rather than being limited by something as mundane as a position.

The Apprentice(s)

I really like Eddie Jones’ decision to bring in Zach Mercer and Marcus Smith as apprentice players for this series. Mercer is only just 20 and Smith still 18, but they are clearly both in the coaches’ plans moving forwards. I have been a fan of Zach Mercer for a while now and having seen Marcus Smith play against Leicester earlier this season I can see that he is going to be a great talent on the world stage. There is a lot of competition ahead of them but I think they are both in with a good shot of making the World Cup squad or becoming regular starters soon after, so to get them used to the environment and the tactics now will really help their international development going forward.

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6 Lions (Vunipola was picked for 1017 but pulled out through injury) are all unavailable for selection – from http://www.englandrugby.com

A costly ban

Joe Marler’s latest ban could have just cost him his England career. Eddie Jones has decided to streamline his front row to just 3 hookers and 5 props, so with Marler unavailable for the first 2 games of the series, he has been left out of the 34-man squad altogether. In his place comes Leicester’s Ellis Genge, who has been so impressive for Tigers. Genge and Mako Vunipola will make a dangerous 1-2 punch at loosehead prop as both are good quality scrummagers who are dangerous in the loose. If Eddie Jones is to continue only picking 4 props for his squads, then Marler may have to rely on injuries and suspensions in order to pull on the white shirt again.

Incredible depth

As strong as this England squad looks on paper, it can be even stronger. Due to injuries or suspensions, there were a number of players not included, which includes a couple of Lions. Further to that, there are also the players who were available but still missed out on selection. Don Armand won his first cap in Argentina but despite a great start to the season with Exeter has been left out of this squad. More experience players like James Haskell and Tom Wood have also missed out as the youth gets its chance, while wingers from the last squad like Nathan Earle, Marland Yarde and Joe Cokanasiga also fail to make the 34.

In the summer, I wrote about a number of players who continued to be overlooked for England squads. Once again, none of these players feature, despite some of them like Dan Robson and Semesa Rokoduguni having brilliant starts to the season. There may have been much made in the media in recent weeks about injuries and suspensions limiting Eddie Jones’ options, but when you take a minute to look at the situation, Jones could probably name another 34-man squad that could legitimately compete this autumn. If we have everyone available for the 6 Nations, Eddie will be spoiled for choice!

Tim’s Thoughts: Wales v Australia

So moving forwards, I’ve decided to start a new series of articles called “Tim’s Thoughts”. These posts will follow the same rough format of my previous article recapping one of England’s U20 matches, with a quick discussion about my main thoughts and opinions having watched the game. These will often focus on a particular match, but I may also focus on a series of matches, for example recapping a full weekend of 6 Nations games in one article. So without further ado…

 

On Saturday, Wales kicked off their Autumn series with a crushing defeat at the hands of Australia. Though the final score was 8-32, it is safe to say that Australia could – and probably should – have finished with at least 50 points. A combination of injury and personal issues meant that Wales went into this game without a number of 1st team regulars, including Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Warburton, Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies and Taulupe Faletau, however this does not excuse the manner of defeat. With the Pools being drawn for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in May, every match is important as Wales look to get their best possible place in the World Rankings to avoid another Group of Death. With that in mind, here are 6 thoughts on Saturday’s game:

No defending that defence

For years, Wales have been considered as a team with a very strong defence. Shaun Edwards has been repeatedly praised for his work as the national team’s defensive coach, but their performance on Saturday afternoon was nothing short of woeful! That Australia only scored 32 points was due more to their errors in attack than Wales defending well, butchering a number of chances with handling errors. It is also likely that had Dan Biggar not tackled Dane Haylett-Petty early, he would have gone over for the try – though I completely agree with Craig Joubert’s decision not to award a penalty try, citing that with North coming across to cover the try was not 100% certain.

Wales defended very narrow, often getting in trouble when Australia got the ball wide quick – including a number of early cross-field chips to the Welsh left wing – however they still got cut apart through the middle on first phase ball from the set piece on numerous occasions, which would have been almost unthinkable just a few years ago. While the late withdrawal of Jonathan Davies will not have helped the defensive organisation, Scott Williams has been the go-to replacement at centre for a number of years and is a regular in the Welsh squad, so this should not have caused such a poor performance defensively.

In international rugby, it is not very often that you win a game having conceded 5 tries, so Wales must get back to the high levels of defensive performance if they want to start winning the big games.

Options in the back row

As a Gloucester fan I may be a bit biased, but I think it’s safe to say that Ross Moriarty was one of the few Welsh players who gave a good account of himself on Saurday. He threw himself about in defence, making a number of big tackles, and was also one of the more effective players making the hard yards in attack. One of Gloucester’s standout players so far this season, his mix of pace and power gives the Welsh back row a new dimension. Moriarty, Warburton, Lydiate, Faletau and Tipuric all bring something different to the team, so when all are fit and available it will provide a great chance for the coaching team to be able to pick the players on form and allow them to adapt their playing style dependant on the opposition.

Many happy returns?

It was great to see Leigh Halfpenny back in a Welsh shirt after over a year of absence from the international game due to injury. Unfortunately, his return wasn’t as glorious as he was likely hoping. His goal-kicking almost perfectly summed up the Welsh performance: usually so reliable but completely off the boil on the day, only managing one successful kick at goal. Hopefully he will be given the chance to make amends in the next game, but with Dan Biggar’s reliability off the tee, a poor start could see him lose his place as Wales’ primary goal kicker. Assuming the 1st choice back 3 comprises Halfpenny, George North and Liam Williams, it will be interesting to see who is picked at 15, Williams having performed well there for Wales in Hafpenny’s absence.

Another player to make a not-so-grand return to the international game was winger Alex Cuthbert. Often left isolated by the his teammates’ narrow defending, he was caught out of position on a number of early chipped cross-field kicks and was also caught on an island in the initial break leading to Dan Biggar’s yellow card. His impact going forwards was also limited, with only one attacking run of note that saw him stopped just short of the line having broken through around the half way line on the opposite side of the field. An experienced international with over 40 Wales and Lions caps to his name, I agree with the pundits and commentators who were suggesting that Cuthbert should have done better, either carrying the ball in the opposite hand to allow him to fend off the tackler or straightening his line to draw the last defender and put over the man outside him. Liam Williams is all but certain to take Cuthbert’s place once fit, but I would not be surprised to see Hallam Amos – who impressed after replacing George North as the game opened up – take the starting spot for the next game.

Fantastic Foley

Much like Leigh Halfpenny, Australia fly half Bernard Foley had an indifferent day kicking off the tee, succeeding with only 2/5 conversions and a penalty. However his performance in open play caused Wales problems all day and he finished the game with a try and a deserved Man of the Match award. English fans will remember how devastating he can be with ball in hand from the World Cup and he clearly showed on Saturday that it was not a one-off. He may not be the complete 10 that some teams boast, but for a team looking to play exciting and expansive rugby, there are very few better fly halves in international rugby at the moment.

An argument towards a global season

The Australian team have come to the Northern Hemisphere at the end of their season, having spent the last couple of months competing against Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand in the Rugby Championship. The Welsh players are only a few months into their season, so have spent the same time period playing in their domestic leagues and a couple of matches in the European Cups. While it could be argued that the Wales should have been the fresher team, the Wallabies will have been able to use the last couple of months to improve their chemistry whilst playing against a higher level of competition. What may have been lost watching the fantastic try-saving tackle by Nick Frisby on Hallam Amos is that Wales should have scored phases earlier on the far side of the pitch, but butchered a huge overlap with a number of pick and go attempts between the posts and then a poor miss pass that gave the defence time to adjust. If the team had been playing international rugby together for the last couple of weeks then I am sure they would have taken this chance.

I can’t see it happening any time soon, but I seriously feel that the only way we can get a fair assessment of where teams stand against each other away from the World Cup is if they are all playing at the same point in their season.

Awful timing

With the draw for the Rugby World Cup pools due in May and based on the world rankings at that point, every game between now and then is vital. Wales went into the weekend 5th in the rankings. This loss, combined with Argentina’s defeat of Japan and Ireland’s historic victory over New Zealand, has seen Wales drop down to 7th. Wales are without head coach Warren Gatland for the rest of the season as he prepares for the Lions Tour to New Zealand. Their remaining Autumn Internationals are against 2 of the teams ranked above them (Argentina and South Africa) and Japan, a potential banana skin, before a 6 Nations where they play 3/5 matches away from home. With so much at stake, there will be a lot of pressure on the players, but also on caretaker head coach Rob Howley and the rest of the coaching team. The current coaching team has been in place for a long time, could a poor Autumn series be the beginning of the end for them?

 

As always, these are just my thoughts on the game, I would love to hear your opinions. Do you think that this was just a poor performance on the day, or is this something more serious for Wales?