Autumn Nations Series 2022: Italy v Australia

Autumn Nations Series 2022: Italy v Australia

The second weekend jam-packed with Autumn Nations Series action kicked off in Florence as Italy hosted Australia. The Azurri were coming into the match off the back of a big win against Samoa, but were forced into a late change as Paolo Garbisi was ruled out with a hip injury, with Tommaso Allan taking over at fly half, and it took just 86 seconds for hi to open the scoring with a penalty after the Wallabies failed to secure the kickoff. Australia were fielding a highly-changed side from their last-gasp loss in France, and after a clever lineout move saw Will Skelton carry hard up to the line, Italy held out over a series of phases at the expense of an easy penalty for Noah Lolesio to even the scores. Allan missed his next kick at goal, but Italy just looked to keep coming each time they got the ball, and when Monty Ioane released Allan down the wing, the fly half was illegally impeded by Jake Gordon as he chipped on, resulting in a yellow card for the scrum half and a kick to the corner for the Azzurri, and as they looked to go wide, Tom Wright just managed to cover Ange Capuozzo’s grubber to the corner before the arrival of Pierre Bruno, though it came at the expense of another 5m lineout, which came infield to create a blind side for Italy to attack, with Luca Morisi’s looped pass sending Bruno over in the corner. And when Will Skelton was turned over just as the sin bin period was about to expire, Italy burst en masse down their right wing, creating an overlap that sent Capuozzo over for the try, Allan adding both conversions to make it a 14-point powerplay. A high tackle from Federico Ruzza gave Australia possession in the hosts’ 22, and after going through the hard phases, Lolesio’s wide pass allowed Tom Wright to dive over in the corner. As the clock ticked down on the half, both teams continued trying to go at each other, but both defences held firm and the teams went in at the break with Italy leading 17-8.

The Wallabies started the second half carrying more directly, and when Fraser McReight went over for the try, Lolesio was able to cut the deficit to 2 points with his conversion, while Allan soon struck back with a penalty of his own, while missing his next attempt. But just after the hour, a clever backs move after a lineout deep in Australian territory saw Capuozzo sent over for his second try of the game and a 10-point lead. A handling error at an Italian lineout saw Taniela Tupou turn the ball over, and he and Ned Hanigan sent replacement prop Tom Robertson over in the corner just moments after he inexplicably escaped a yellow card for a late hit on Tommaso Allan—which ended the Italian’s game—and Lolesio’s conversion brought the visitors back within 3 points with 10 minutes remaining. A high tackle from Darcy Swain allowed Allan’s replacement Edoardo Padovani a chance to extend the lead off the tee, but his kick from the 10m line fell well short, however his next kick from closer in with 5 minutes left was struck much better to stretch the lead to 6. The Azzurri were minutes away from making history, but there was time for one more Australian attack, and when Cadeyrn Neville forced his way over out wide on the final play, it all came down to the conversion. Ben Donaldson had only just come on for his debut 5 minutes earlier and now had the chance to save his nations’ blushes, but with all eyes on him, the young Waratahs fly half pushed a tricky kick wide of the far post, leaving the Azzurri to celebrate their first ever victory over the Wallabies, by a score of 28-27.

Onwards and upwards

This is another huge result for Italy and a statement to the rugby community. After ending a long run of losses to Tier 1 nations with victory in Wales at the end of the Six Nations, to now back that up with another Tier 1 scalp inthe summer shows just how far this team has come.

But it is so much more than that. This team performance was miles on from even the start of the 2022 Six Nations. This is a team that was not just dogged in defence, but also dangerous in attack, with big carriers in the pack like Lorenzo Cannone, who was a standout today, a balanced midfield in Morisi and Brex and a back 3 that had a great blend of pace, power and elusiveness. And then you must remember that this team was even missing its first choice fly half in Paolo Garbisi and also Jake Polledri, who continues his return from long-term injury. Even in the very recent past, the team lacked depth, but now it is truly starting to become apparent, and that is a testament to the rebuild Conor O’Shea started during his time in charge.

And now they have the personnel, they can go further. Their attack is not just passing down the line and hoping they can find space ot wide, or hitting one-up runners. This is a team that is creating shape and misdirection with their attacking in line with any Test team.

Granted both this and the Wales win were against weakened suads, but in both cases, it has still been a group of players who are in and around the wider squad on a regular basis, while even these teams would have been putting 50+ points on the Azzurri a few years ago. Now teams have to look at fielding their first string teams, and I don’t think it will be long until we see the Azurri beating one of those.

Consistently inconsistent

This is a dark day for Australia. Yes they may have put out a highly-changed squad, but the majority of these players will be pushing for a spot in the World Cup squad. And yet for much of the game they struggled to create anything of note and were generally outplayed by the hosts. This team should have been strong enough to beat Italy, instead it is just another example of an embarrassing defeat, which completely wipes out last week’s great performance against France.

But what was even worse was the stupid penalties. Jake Gordon’s yellow card was costly and unnecessary, and the final 10 minutes would not have been so close had Robertson been rightly sin binned for his cheap shot on Tommaso Allan, while a number of other players were also penalised for tackle offences.

To me, this suggests that the main issue is with the coaching. With Wales, Fiji and an improving Georgia in their pool, can they afford to continue with these inconsistent performances under Dave Rennie, or do they need to look to move on at head coach and hope that a late change has the same inspired affect that it did when Michael Cheika was brought in as head coach in October 2014, going on to reach the Rugby World Cup final a year later.

Autumn Nations Series 2022: Scotland v New Zealand

Autumn Nations Series 2022: Scotland v New Zealand

After a bumper day of rugby yesterday, there was just one Autumn Nations Series match on the Sunday, as Scotland hosted New Zealand. The All Blacks were looking to test some of their depth with a number of changes, but it was new first-choice hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho who drove his way over for he opener after just a couple of minutes. The visitors failed to take the restart though,and the Scots piled the pressure on, until Dalton Papali’i eventually forced a turnover. And just minutes later, a clever grubber out wide released Caden Clarke down the wing, and while the Scottish defence managed to stop him, Jordie Barrett then took advantage of the recovering defence to kick to the corner, where ark Telea dotted down just 6 minutes into his debut. A clever piece of play released Stuart Hogg through the middle and when the fullback kicked on to take advantage of Murrayfield’s deep in goals, he was taken out off the ball by Anton Lienert-Brown in-goal, resulting in a penalty try and a yellow card for the Chiefs centre. And things got better for the Scots just minutes later as the next kiwi attack saw David Havili pass straight into the hands of Darcy Graham, who outpaced Clarke and stepped around Jordie Barrett to score, with Finn Russell—back in the suad and straight back into the 10 shirt following Adam Hastings’ injury—converting to level the scores after 16 minutes. The momentum and belief was with the Scots, and when Hogg kicked into the corner and just failed to complete the tackle on Jordie Barrett on the touchline, he had bought just enough time for Hamish Watson to arrive and play the fullback into touch deep in the All Blacks 22, but as they looked to attack the line, captain Jamie Ritchie was penalised for rolling after the tackle. As Lienert-Brown prepared to return to the pitch, Sam Whitelock was lucky to escape being penalised for a no-arms tackle on Duhan van der Merwe and the 15 men in black were soon back on the attack, the Scottish defence had answers for them this time. As the game approached the half hour, a driving maul from the Scots entered the All Blacks 22 and drew in the defence, and when the ball was spread wide, Darcy Graham just ran out of space and put a foot in touch as he dived for the line. But the maul had drawn a penalty so the hosts had another chance, and a series of hard carries from the forwards drew another penalty beneath the posts, which Russell kicked for the lead. The All Blacks were going through the gears as they looked to get back on top, but the Scottish defence held firm and forced an error from Finlay Christie in the corner, and the pack then won the penalty at the crum to allow them to clean their lines. There was just time for one more Scottish attack before the break, and when Duhan van der Merwe as stopped just short in the corner, the forwards took over with a series of pick and go carries, only to be pinged for sealing off, allowing the All Blacks to kick to touch for a 17-14 halftime score.

An offside penalty against Lienert-Brown allowed Russell to add another 3 points to the scoreline just minutes into the second half. Scotland were looking dangerous every time they entered the kiwis’ 22, but too often failed to convert, and when Stuart Hogg was stopped inches short after a break to the corner, a penalty again allowed the All Blacks to clear their lines. The All Blacks continued to look rattled and the Murrayfield crowd felt like it was beginning to believe, and when the hosts won a scrum penalty in the middle of the field, Russell called for the tee and extended the lead to 9 points. A big turnover at the maul from replacement hooker Codie Taylor gave the All Blacks a scrum in the home 22, and after the pack earned a penalty advantage, Beauden Barrett tried a cross-kick into the corner for Caleb Clarke but overhit it, leaving brother Jordie to kick the 3 points. This appeared to spur on the visitors, who took advantage of a dropped high ball from Hogg to attack into the 22, and when Jack Dempsey was adjudged to have deliberately knocked on as appearing to go for a tackle, the former Wallaby was sent to the bin, and after choosing a scrum to draw in the Scottish pack, it took just a couple of phases before Scott Barrett forced his way over, with Jordie adding the extras to put the visitors back ahead. It looked like the 14 men would just manage to hold out through the rest of the sin bin period, but as the 10 minutes came to an end, they just ran out of numbers on the blind side, allowing Mark Telea to go over in the corner with just 5 minutes left, with Barrett’s touchline conversion making it a two-score game with just minutes remaining. Of course if any team could still snatch victory, it would be one with Finn Russell at 10, and the fly half sent a lovely chip over the head of Caleb Clarke to Darcy Graham, who kicked on and was tripped as he chased, an offence the officials chose to ignore, and the All Blacks saw out the final minutes to secure a 23-31 victory that will leave the hosts wondering what might have been.

Van the man

When you have a player like Duhan van der Merwe in your squad, you want him on the ball as often as possible. Today, Scotland really got his usage right.

The gargantuan wing was being fed the ball as often as possible, and rather than staying on his wing, he looked to bring the ball infield. While it would put him against more physical players, this was clever usage of him, as it meant that the All Blacks couldn’t just push him into touch for an easy turnover, but it also meant that he was drawing in defenders into the middle of the pitch, creating space out wide for Finn Russell to exploit, effectively using him as an extra forward to establish a physical dominance.

And this is how a unit like him should be used: helping to create the physical dominance infield to create space for others, while still having some strike plays to utilise his pace in wider positions where he can then run over smaller wings. The gameplan showed its effectiveness today against the All Blacks, now they need to keep at this, and look how to build off this to further take advantage of the situation.


This was an odd performance from the All Blacks. When they came flying out of the blocks to lead 0-14 after just 8 minutes, I thought that it was going to be a long day for Scotland, but the immediate comeback from the hosts and the manner of it appeared to stun the All Blacks.

It was asif the reminder of their vulnerability left them scared, and while they still frequently made ground in attack, there was not the composure that we are used to, while the spaces weren’t opened sufficiently for them to convert any chances (truly only half-chances if we’re honest) that they were creating. In the end, they had just enough late on as the replacements made a difference, but they must also be thankful that Scotland wasted so many opportunities on the New Zealand try line.

So what happened here? Yes there were a number of changes from recent squads, but Telea aside they are all still highly experienced players who are used to this set-up. Did last week’s canter against Wales lull them into a false sense of security? Or is this just another example of New Zealand under Ian Foster being a shell of the team they used to be?

While they may have come away with the victory, this is just another reminder to the rest of the world that the All Blacks are very beatable right now.

Autumn Nations Series 2022: Ireland v Fiji

Autumn Nations Series 2022: Ireland v Fiji

Having backed up their Summer Series victory over the All Blacks with a winover World Champions South Africa, it was a very different Test for Ireland this weekend as they welcomed Fiji to the Aviva Stadium. The Irish had made a number of changes from their “first choice” XV and were lucky not to go behind early on as Teti Tela’s early penalty was pulled wide. However it was just a temporary stay of execution, as just moments later the visitors spread the ball wide on halfway and got around the Irish to put Kalaveti Ravouvou over for the try, while things got even worse for the Irish as Robbie Henshaw’s game was brought to an end after just 4 minutes. Nick Timoney escaped punishment minutes later for a no-arms tackle on Levani Botia, and the Ulster back row took advantage of this to go over for Ireland’s first try after 15 minutes, a time that should have still been during his sin bin period. Fiji were struggling to find an answer to Ireland’s driving maul, and after Kieran Treadwell was held up under penalty advantage, Manasa Saulo was sent to the bin for the team’s accumulation of penalties in their own 22, and the Irish took advantage of the extra man in the pack to drive Timoney over for a second try. Tela soon added a penalty after Treadwell was caught offside at a clearance, but the Irish were straight back on the attack and Robert Baloucoune was sent over for the try in the corner, with Mathieu Raynal deciding that a crawl in the build-up from Jimmy O’Brien was legal. A breakdown penalty against Levani Botia as Saulo returned to the pitch allowed Ireland to kick up into the Fijian 22 again, but after a couple of phases opened up space to hit back on the blind side, Mack Hansen knocked on with the line a his mercy. However when some of the Fijian kick chasers started their run before they were played onside, Ireland were given another chance from 5m out and after going through the phases, Jack Conan tried to crash over out wide but couldn’t stop himself being pushed into touch. As Fiji looked to attack in the final minute of the half, Tadhg Beirne’s counter-ruck led to a turnover and as Hansen chipped on, Fiji just about covered it under heavy pressure at the expense of a lineout close to their line, but the defence held firm andBotia won a turnover that allowed them to kick the ball out to end the half with the score at 21-10.

With Fiji struggling for much structure in attack, Ben Volavola was brought on early in the second half, but the Islanders’ chances of victory were dealt a huge blow just 5 and a half minutes into the half as Albert Tuisue was sent off for a no-arms tackle that made contact with the head of Joey Carbery. Things soon got even worse as Api Ratuniyarawa was sin binned 5 minutes later for collapsing a maul, while at the other end of the pitch Cian Prendergast showed them how to legally deal with a maul, coming through the middle to get on the ball carrier and taking him to ground. As the game reached the hour, the 13 men of Fiji successfully turned over an Irish driving maul, but they were then pushed off their own ball on the resulting scrum, which wheeled perfectly for Craig Casey to send Hansen over on the blind side. As Fiji returned to 14 men on the pitch, a fabulous offload from Seta Tuicuvu to the looping Jiuta Wainiqolo allowed the wing to break and feed back inside to replacement scrum half Simione Kuruvoli to go over beneath the posts, to allow Volavola an easy conversion. Ireland continued to attack and look dangerous as debutant fly half Jack Crowley appeared to have opened up the attacking game with his introduction, but a series of individual errors meant that these chances continually ended in disappointment. However as the game entered the final 10 minutes, a strong carry by replacement Max Deegan took the hosts up to the Fijian 5m line, and Cian Healy finally burrowed over for the try, with Crowley kicking the conversion to secure a 35-17 victory.

Developing depth

With the World Cup less than a year away, Andy Farrell was clearly using this match to look at the depth within the squad with a view to filling the final couple of spots in the World Cup squad, but also to start looking ahead to the players who will be replacing the outgoing generation as we enter the next cycle going into 2024. So who really stood out among the fringe players?

Nick Timoney was lucky to avoid being penalised early in the game, but performed well for the rest of the match, with his 2 tries and a Player of the Match award deserved after his big carries, while replacement back row Cian Prendergast also looked a real handful in defence. Kieran Treadwell partnered well with Tadhg Beirne and though he gave away a poor penalty int he first half, he made up for it with some great carrying.

In the backs, Muster duo Craig Casey and debutant Jack Crowley certainly appeared to bring more to the attack than the starters, though it must be noted that they also benefited from the extra space caused by Tuisue and Ratuniyarawa’s cards. Robert Baloucoune will be disappointed with the lack of good ball that came his way, but his Ulster teammate Stuart McCloskey put in a solid all-round display to try and further his claim for a spot in the first team.

Their own worst enemy

We all know that teams like Italy and the Pacific Islands are not often refereed as leniently as the bigger Tier 1 nations, but even so, Fiji’s discipline is atrocious!

While you can understand the odd offside or breakdown penalty as every team gives these away, they were giving away basic penalties like chasing a kick from an offside position or poor tackle technique—just look at Tuisue’s red card, where his tackle on Carbery was always too high, but then made even worse as he led with the shoulder and made no attempt to wrap the arm, or last week where a swinging arm cost them a yellow card.

But what really kills them is their inability to defend the maul legally. It cost them a yellow card last week against Scotland and 2 in this match, and that will usually be enough to kill off any chance of victory, especially against the top teams. And it’s not as if they are unable to do it, as they successfully dealt with an Irish maul on the hour despite having 2 of their more experienced forwards in the bin, so if they can do it in those circumstances, why cant they do so with 15 men on the pitch?

I recognise that this is far from their only issue, and that for those playing in Super Rugby, the atrocious disciplinary standards of SANZAAR will not be helping the matter, but they have the physicality and skill to compete against most of the top teams, and while they clearly need a fly half to control this team and get them directed, simply just improving the discipline will be enough to put the pressure on some of those teams above them and start turning these gutsy losses against Tier 1 into wins.

Autumn Nations Series 2022: France v South Africa

Autumn Nations Series 2022: France v South Africa

A Saturday full of rugby came to an end in Marseille as France hosted South Africa. A hugely physical start saw Faf de Klerk’s early offside give Thomas Ramos an early kick from range, which he despatched with ease for a 3-0 lead. With Willie le Roux back in at 15, South Africa were looking much more comfortable than last week, but things became much harder after 11 minutes as Pieter-Steph du Toit was sent off for a dangerous clean-out to the head of Jonathan Danty. As both teams continued to look to play positive rugby, a turnover by Charles Ollivon caught Kwagga Smith offside for Ramos to double the lead, while the World Champions found their lineout reliability taking a huge hit, and when France finally found themselves with possession in the visitors’ 22, Cyril Baille managed to force himself over from close range. While the French were starting to take hold of the game, they were struggling to deal with the Springboks’ driving maul, and one such maul earned the visitors a penalty just inside the French half which Cheslin Kolbe kicked to put them on the board after 25 minutes, while the next one 5 minutes later saw Siya Kolisi break out as it collapsed to go over for a try without any tackler even getting close. As the half came to a close, Ox Nche was penalised for not rolling away, and Ramos successfully bisected the posts for a 16-10 lead at the break.

Another penalty from Kolbe cut the lead to 3 soon after the restart, but when Faf de Klerk failed to effectively clear his lines under pressure from Cameron Woki, a mighty French maul allowed Thomas Ramos to almost immediately take the lead back out to 6. What had already been a crazy game then took it’s next massive twist, as Antoine Dupont was given a red card for taking out Cheslin Kolbe in the air just 8 minutes into the half, and after a series of penalties in the corner, the South African forwards attacked infield and then he ball went back blind for Willie le Roux to put Kurt-Lee Arendse over in the corner, de Klerk kicking the conversion (having taken over kicking duties while Kolbe underwent a HIA) to put the Boks ahead, before kicking a penalty minutes later. France hit back with a Ramos penalty just before the hour. As both sides emptied the benches going into the final half hour, Maxime Lucu and Sekou Macalou just combined to force Kurt-Lee Arendse into touch as he went hunting another try, but the French wing was pinged moments later for getting back to his feet when held, and with both de Klerk and Kolbe off the pitch, Damian Willemse found he target with his penalty. As the game entered the final 10 minutes, South African replacement Deon Fourie was sent to the bin for an offence at the French maul, while Romain Ntamack made way for Mathieu Jalibert, but it was the forwards who put France back ahead, as their siege on the try line saw Sipili Falatea pushed over the line with a pick and go, but a first miss of the night from Ramos left them with just a 1-point lead with 5 minutes remaining. As the clock ticked down, a huge scrum from the French against the depleted Springbok pack allowed Thomas Ramos to kick the lead to 4 points. South Africa secured the restart, but a crucial turnover from Yoram Moefana won the ball back for Les Bleus and they held out for the final 30 seconds for a 30-26 victory.


One thing that will likely have Fabien Galthié a little worried will be just how effective the Springboks maul was. Despite being a (very big!) man down, the Springboks were making France look like Japan, such was the ease they were making metres with the maul.

Now granted this isn’t France’s ideal pack (or biggest, with players like Paul Willemse missing) and the sheer number or injury-enforced changes made early on won’t have helped, but these were not fringe players packing down against the Springboks and being made to look they they were facing a team 2-3 age grades above them. As the game went on, the French pack had some success themselves with the driving maul, but they still looked at risk whenever the visitors were setting the maul.

France have a wonderful all-round team, but teams with big physical packs will look at those maul and perhaps see a chink in the French armour. The good news is, with almost a year still to go, there is still plenty of time to work on this.

Where there’s a Willie, there’s a way

Is there anybody more underrated in Test rugby than Willie le Roux. Often panned online by fans, and continually looking to be replaced by the coaches, the experienced fullback continues to show his quality when given the chance.

Granted he isn’t the best defensively, but what he does is so vital to the Springboks attack, as he plays the second playmaker role, comfortably coming in at first or second receiver depending on the phase and what the team are looking to do, while when he takes the ball around the 13 channel, there are very few players who will time the simple pass tot he winger so perfectly while making it look so easy.

Right now, South Africa have a serious issue at fly half, but it is notable just how much less of an issue this is when le Roux is there to assist them, as he takes so much pressure off of them and allows them to focus on what they do best—a perfect example being how last week Damian Willemse’s runs with the ball brought the attack to a standstill, while this week they looked like a way to draw in defenders and look for a gap to exploit.

So go ahead and keep hating him, he may just be the difference between defending the World Cup or losing in the quarterfinals.

Autumn Nations Series 2022: Wales v Argentina

Autumn Nations Series 2022: Wales v Argentina

After a disappointing hammering from a “beatable” New Zealand team, Wales were hoping to get their Autumn back on track with the arrival of Argentina, and they were almost immediately on the attack as a kick counter from Louis Rees-Zammit, making his first test start at fullback, sparked a break that took them up to the Pumas 22 before a handling error. Wales had the early momentum but errors continued to end their attacks, while the Puma’s first attack saw them break into the 22 and draw a penalty, which Emiliano Boffelli kicked for the early lead. Welsh indiscipline soon had the Pumas back in the hosts’ 22, and Rees-Zammit was forced to cover a clever grubber into touch right in front of his try line, while another penalty at the lineout allowed Boffelli another simple kick at goal. A knock-on at the breakdown from Gonzalo Bertranou gifted Wales a scrum going into the second quarter, from which they won a penalty and went to the corner, but after the first attack was stopped illegally and they went back to the corner, Matias alemanno managed a timely steal in the air to allow the visitors to clear their lines. Wales were soon back on the attack though, only for Ken Owens to spill the ball as he went over. Another penalty on the half hour saw Wales go to the corner, and this time they were able to get the driving maul going, giving Taulupe Faletau an easy ride over for the opening try, with Gareth Anscombe’s conversion giving them the lead, while he kicked another penalty 3 minutes before halftime for a 10-6 lead at the break.

The second half started much like the first, but when Juan Cruz Mallia failed to get any height on his kick, Tomos Williams successfully charged it down and beat the fullback on the trn to dive on the ball in-goal to extend the lead. The Pumas responded by bringing on a new front row, who immediately won a scrum penalty, but after the Pumas went to the corner, Adam Beard won a crucial turnover penalty. The Pumas were soon back attacking the Welsh try line, and after a clear high tackle on Ignacio Ruiz was ignored by the officials, Pablo Matera was held up over the line. As Argentina looked to get their next attack going, a cynical play on the scrumhalf from Will Rowlands while he was off his feet saw the lock sent to the bin and allowed the Pumas to kick back into the Welsh 22, only for Pablo Matera to knock on as he slipped as the ball was passed to him. Errors continued to blight the Pumas’ second half, and with Rhys Priestland kicking a penalty just after the hour, they were now even losing their 10-minute powerplay. But a strong rolling maul just moments after Rowland’s return saw Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro escorted over for the try with 12 minutes remaining and Boffelli’s conversion cut the lead to 7. A poor exit at the restart from replacement scrum half Eliseo Morales on his debut gifted Wales a lineout in the 22, and when they went for a clever chip into the middle, Mallia just beat George North to the ball on the try line. As the game reached the final minutes, the Pumas had possession on halfway but were unable to create any line breaks, and as the clock went red, Wales turned them over and kicked out for a much-needed 20-13 victory.

Zam the man

While Wayne Pivac’s constant chopping and changing means that you can never quite be sure, pretty much everyone else will be in agreement that wales have found their new 15 in Louis Rees-Zammit.

The Gloucester speedster has made a name for himself with some incredible performances on the wing, but has been known to go missing for Wales out there as their team have sometimes struggle to get the attack going. However right from the start, it was clear that the move to 15 was one that would see him much more involved in the game.

While everyone knows about his incredible pace, he also has a great eye to spot the gap to exploit to start a break, is more than capable of competing in the air—he certainly held his own against Emiliano Boffelli today—and has a big boot to play his part in the kicking game.

But more than that, it’s a simple matter of getting the best players on the pitch at the same time, and by moving to 15, it allows both Alex Cuthbert and Rio Dyer to cover the wings, resulting in 2 strong and quick wings who can cause problems out wide or coming inside and a lightning quick 15 just looking for a gap, who can also hold his own in contact.

Wales will face tougher tests, and still need to work on how to utilise Rees-Zammit better, but a move to 15 seems a strong start.

Kicking off

Is it time for Argentina to make a change at their restarts? Usually, you will see the fly half kicking the restarts, but there is no law that this has to be the case. It’s understandable why, as it means that if the ball is won back, there is a playmaker who has naturally been held back at the restart and not involved in the chase, but at this level of the game, there are more than enough players who could temporarily fill in as a playmaker for one phase at the restart.

Santiago Carreras is a fantastic player with an incredible skillset, but pretty much all of his professional experience as a fly half has come at this level, and you do see some errors in his game as a result, including a tendency to float a couple of restarts too long and into touch on the full. Meanwhile, his performances at Gloucester have highlighted his quality in the air, with him often being used to compete at the restart, as Boffelli often is.

What I would suggest is looking for an alternative option to take the restarts, which would free up Carreras to join Boffelli in trying to compete for the ball, while also allowing them to vary things up more as opposition teams would have to account for both of them if they moved around at the restart.

Right now, I feel that Carreras needs some of the pressure taken off him while he learns a new position on the hardest stage. If this small change can not just relieve pressure on him, but also utilise his skills to add an extra weapon at the restart, surely that’s a win-win.

Autumn Nations Series 2022: England v Japan

Autumn Nations Series 2022: England v Japan

After a week of excuses for their loss to the Pumas, it was back to the pitch for England as they take on Japan. After waiting forever for the Smith/Farrell/Tuilagi midfield that we were promised would make England world-beaters but did very little, the trio were immediately broken up, with Guy Porter getting the start at 13, but it was his opposite number with the first action of note as he charged down Marcus Smith’s kick and looked to break downfield, only for the officials to adjudge his teammate Ryohei Yamanaka was offside, allowing Owen Farrell an easy kick off the tee to open the scoring. England’s pack were gaining early dominance, and when they won a penalty that allowed England to kick into the 22, the ball came out to the backs and Marcus Smith put Freddie Steward over for the opening score the opening try after 12 minutes. It wasn’t long until another England scrum penalty allowed them easy entry into the Japanese 2, but as England tried to play quick attacking rugby for that rare occasion under Eddie Jones, the accuracy was lacking. As the game entered the second quarter, a break by Steward on the kick counter saw Jack van Poortvliet release Joe Cokanasiga, who was stopped just short but managed to offload to Marcus Smith to score in the corner. They found themselves under pressure on the half hour mark though, as a contested lineout was recovered by Japan, which allowed them to open their account for the day with a penalty from fly half Takuya Yamasawa. And they were soon back on the attack, Michael Leith breaking out of his 22 and feeding Dylan Riley; the centre found himself isolated so kicked on and surprisingly beat Jonny May to the ball in the 22, and while the England wing successfully stopped him short of the line, he was then sent to the bin for illegally killing the ball, allowing Yamasawa another easy kick to narrow the gap. However the 15 men conceded just on the stroke of half time. A clever kick to the corner from van Poortvliet was recovered by Japan, and as the ball was played infield to create a better angle for the kicker to clear, the England chase converged to force a turnover, with the ball then being quickly spread to put Porter over, with Owen Farrell adding the extras for a 24-6 lead at the break.

The second half saw Yamasawa replaced by Seung-Sin Lee, whose early penalty attempt from long range was pushed wide as England returned to a full complement. Meanwhile, England chose to put their next penalty into the corner, and after the spread right to left failed to result in a try, the ball started coming back through the forwards and Ellis Genge crashed over for the try. Momentum was with England, and after a great counterruck from Maro Itoje created a turnover, Farrell put boot to ball and Porter won the chase for his second try. As the hour approached and both teams began using their replacements, Japan managed to steal a try as the ball came out unexpected from a ruck deep in English territory, while their next attack of note saw Farrell win the race to Dylan Riley’s grubber. And as England went to the other end of the pitch, a driving maul was brought down illegally for a penalty try, with Siosaia Fifita sent to the bin.  And the hosts brought up the half century with 6 minutes remaining after Freddie Steward’s kick bounced kindly for Henry Slade to kick on (while leaving Kotaru Matsushima stranded) for Marcus Smith to cross for his second of the day, while another break from Slade just moments later ended in disappointment as his grubber kick to the corner was just too heavy for Jonny May to catch up with, leaving England 52-13 victors.

Wasted opportunity?

So what did England actually learn from this match? Their defence performed well against a team that likes to spread the ball, managing to keep the key players quiet for most of the match. However their attack was once again limited and unimaginative, with some questionable decisions from Marcus Smith.

Van Poortvliet showed that he should be the starter at 9 going forward, though an opportunity to get Alex Mitchell used to Test rugby was wasted as Ben Youngs was gifted another cap, while Porter’s inclusion also feels somewhat wasted when we know that Jones is focused on Manu Tuilagi joining Smith and Farrell in midfield, especially as Slade’s impressive late cameo on his 50ᵗʰ cap reminded everyone that he is likely the next up at 13 in Tuilagi’s absence.

Meanwhile the pack showed it’s dominance at the set piece, but with Kyle Sinckler and Ellis Genge the clear starters, would this not have been an opportunity to start Joe Heyes and a less experienced loosehead? Similarly with Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie the clear top 2 for England, was this not an opportunity for those lower in the pecking order to push their case for the third hooking spot?

Finally, while it is great to see Owen Farrell kicking 100% off the tee, is a match like this not the chance to give the kicking duties to Marcus Smith to get him used to kicking at Test level in case Farrell were to be unavailable in a key World Cup match?

This may be a solid victory for the hosts, but has it really been used effectively as Eddie Jones builds for the World Cup?

When push comes to shove…

As talented as Japan are, they are not going to compete for any tournaments any time soon, as they are just not competitive enough in the tight 5.

They may be reliable in the loose, but find themselves unable to cope with a decent pack in the scrum or the mauls, going backwards at a rate of knots or going to the floor, either of which results in a penalty for the opposition, gifting them territory and possession while forcing Japan to defend again rather than use their attacking skills.

In attack, they can mitigate this by getting the ball in and out, but the problem is in defence, where they are immediately under pressure, and their opposition know they have the dominance so will happily keep the ball in there and push on until they get the penalty.

But how will they improve at this area? Does keeping all their talent in Japan hinder them, as they don’t end up playing in the Northern Hemisphere leagues where scrummaging has become and art form? Or do they need more matches than just the World Cup, June Tests and Autumn Nations Series to face off against the best teams in the world and make playing against an elite pack the norm?

Autumn Nations Series 2022: England v Argentina

Autumn Nations Series 2022: England v Argentina

After a busy day of matches yesterday, there was just one Autumn Nations Series match on Sunday: England’s campaign opener against Argentina. With “wet” probably not doing the conditions at Twickenham justice, both teams were going to the boot early on, finally resulting in an English penalty on 5 minutes as Santiago Carreras was pinged for obstructing a chaser by changing his line. This allowed England to kick possession into the Pumas 22 for the first time, put it came to nothing as Marcus Smith’s attempted cross-kick to Freddie Steward instead floated into the grateful hands of— Mateo Carreras. And the wing was soon beating England to another kick, this one a long ball into the English 22 following a turnover from Juan Martín González, and when Alex Coles tackled Tomás Lavanini off the ball, Emiliano Boffelli was more than willing to kick the penalty to open the scoring. Owen Farrell soon evened the scores after the Pumas defence were wrongly called offside as Ben Youngs struggles to control the ball out of a ruck. However a dropped restart from Coles and and an English offside off the scrum allowed Boffelli to immediately put the Pumas back ahead. Argentina were causing England issues in the scrum, but Andrew Brace decided otherwise and gave England a penalty, but the Pumas defence dealt well with the resulting 5m lineout driving maul. However England’s next 5m scrum after Santi Carreras was forced to cover a kick into his own in-goal—was much more successful as they sent Joe Cokanasiga on the crash ball for the opening try. Boffelli cut the lead with a penalty just after the half hour mark following a wonderful jackal from Julián Montoya, but a late hit from the Pumas captain just minutes later allowed Farrell to kick a penalty of his own. Another England error from the restart gifted Boffelli another simple 3 points, but there was just time for Farrell to kick another of his own after the ball squirted out awkwardly from a scrum, leaving Gonzalo Bertranou under pressure, and the teams went in at the break with the score 16-12.

After another tight start to the second half, a scrum penalty allowed the Pumas to kick up to the English 22, and while England expected the catch and drive, the ball was spread immediately to the backs, and the looping Santiago Carreras put Boffelli over in the corner for the lead. A timely tackle from Mateo Carreras was all that saved the Pumas just moments later as Cokanasiga broke and fed Marcus Smith, and as England looked to create the next attack, Owen Farrell’s pass went behind Billy Vunipola and Santiago carreras was the first to react, picking it up and just holding off the chase of Freddie Steward as he went over for Argentina’s second try in just a matter of minutes. England introduced Jack van Poortvliet following this, and with almost his first touch of the ball, the replacement halfback sniped through a gap at the side of a ruck to go over for a try. After Brace decided that that a high tackle from Jack Nowell on Santiago Carreras was worthy of an England scrum, a strong drive from the home pack won them a penalty that they kicked into the 22, and when Ivan Nemer stupidly played the 9, Farrell kicked England back into a 2-point lead on the hour. Boffelli and Farrell traded penalties over the next handful of minutes, and another Boffelli penalty took the score to 29-30 with 10 minutes remaining. A break from Alex Coles put England on the front foot, but as the phases went on in the 22, he then undid his good work by getting caught running a blocking line, allowing the Pumas to clear their lines and hold on for a first victory over England since 2009.

Prop stars

England have added an extra dimension to their game, and it’s about damn time! Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler have always been great carriers of the ball, but they have been underused as carriers in recent years.

However as of this season, that pair are now playing and training together every week at Bristol, where Pat Lam has utilised not just their carrying, but also their reliable handling skills, having them frequently attack the line together and look to tip the ball on to the other as the defender commits. Now Eddie Jones has also added this to the England playbook.

It’s something so simple, but it makes a great impact, as 2 such big carriers will force so many defenders to commit, and if they breach the defensive line, they have the strength to keep their feet long enough for support to get there, and the handling skills to offload if it is on so that the team can take full advantage of the half-break. And in the close matches, these extra carrying options could prove vital.

Learning and growing

Last time that Argentina played in slippery conditions, they got their tactics wrong, trying to play too much rugby in conditions that didn’t support that style. Today, however, they prioritised the territorial game, relying on the big boots of players like Santiago Carreras to push England deep and then the defence to deal with an England attack that would be blunted by the conditions, allowing them to get after the breakdown and win a number of penalties, which Boffelli—whose reliability with the boot has increased exponentially as he has become the regular kicker—would happily kick all day long. And as the conditions improved slightly, they knew when to take the risks, with a lovely move off a lineout to set up Boffelli the highlight of the game, while Carreras’ handling skills to pick up a greasy ball on the run for his try were incredible.

Are they the finished article? Not yet, as they still give away some stupid penalties, while I still feel that Carreras is held back at fly half and benefits from being able to attack the space from 15, while their scrum needs to become more reliable. But they now have wins over Australia, New Zealand and now England in 2022, and that kind of belief for a team that was until recently in an absolute shambles is a great achievement and will encourage them to just continue growing over the next year with a view to repeating this result in the pool stages of the World Cup.

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Autumn Nations Series 2022: Italy v Samoa

Autumn Nations Series 2022: Italy v Samoa

With the Test Window now open, Italy kicked off their Autumn Nations Series in Padua against Samoa. The visitors were given an immediate chance as Christophe Ridley and his crew wrongly adjudged that Michele Lamaro had not attempted a wrap during a low tackle on Danny Toala, and with the Samoans kicking to the corner, but while the visitor’s pressure saw Chris Vui go over for a try, the officials found a knock-on in the build-up to deny it. Both teams were looking to put pressure on the opposition breakdown early on, but the calm head of Stephen Varney dealt with it, and a kick to the corner allowed his chasers to put the pressure on and win a penalty which Tommaso Allan, starting at fullback, kicked with ease for an early lead. In a physical battle, Samoa’s handling was costing them as they tried to attack the defensive line, while Rodney Iona pushed his first penalty attempt to the right of the posts on 17 minutes.Varney continued to control the game with his smart kicks to the corner, and when Italy followed up a driving maul with a backs move, Juan Ignacio Brex successfully hit an angle that took him straight through the defence and over for the opening try. Buoyed by this, the Azzurri were immediately back on the attack from the restart, sweepend round the corner on second phase rather than looking for the clearance kick, which led to an overlap that allowed them to break from their own 22 in numbers and at pace to go the length, with Pierre Bruno the man to touch down. Allan soon added a penalty to stretch the lead to 20-0 just before the half hour. Samoa were still taking on the Azzurri defence but lacked the clinical edge as too many balls went astray, while the next Italian visit to the Samoan 22 saw Nigel Ah Wong sent to the bin for a high tackle on Allan, and after Paolo Garbisi kicked the resulting penalty, the Azzurri took advantage of the extra man to kick a 50-22 off the restart and send Montanna Ioane over for a try on the stroke of half time for a 28-0 lead.

As the second half started, a dropped high ball from Iona gifted the Azurri with a scrum in the 22, and as the wheel encouraged them to go to the blind side, Ioane had the strength to stay in the pitch and dot down as Iona tried tackling him into touch, with Allan nailing the touchline conversion to make it 35-0. With Samoa getting back to a full complement, they were back on the attack, and after a 5m lineout maul crabbed infield, a late look back to the blind side saw D’Angelo Leuila get his arm through the tackle and offload to put his centre partner Ulupano Junior Seuteni over for a try. A knock-on off the restart gifted Italy with a scrum in the 22, and when too many Samoan forwards went to wrap around the breakdown to the open side, Varney hit the ball back to the blind side to put debutant back row Lorenzo Cannone over for a try, with older brother Niccolò the first there to celebrate with him. As the game reached the hour mark, the Samoan line was under siege again, and Paolo Garbisi’s grubber under penalty advantage was deflected straight into the hands of Bruno, who gratefully accepted his second try of the match. Samoa never gave up, though, and as Italy looked to play out from their line with 10 minutes remaining, they turned the ball over out wide in the Azzurri 22 to send debutant Duncan Paia’aua over for a try, and with just a minute left, Theo McFarland was released down the left wing, with the Saracen having just enough strength to fight his way to the line and stretch over for the consolation try and a 49-17 final score that will move Italy above Samoa in the world rankings.

Restarting the attack

One thing that became very noticeable in this game was Italy’s plan to get the game going again when the restart was coming to them.

Usually at the restart, a team would look to clear either immediately or after setting a phase to give a structured platform. Italy however were looking to set up a breakdown in the middle of the field within the middle of the pitch. And at this point, their next phase depended on the defensive set-up. If the defence was well set on both sides, then the Azzurri would look to clear through Varney or Garbisi. However, as with Bruno’s first try, if the defence just expected the clearance and did not sufficiently over either side of the breakdown, the team were ready to wrap around to the lightly defended side late and en masse, creating an overlap that would allow them to break downfield with enough support to go the distance.

It’s a high risk/ high reward tactic, as if it works and they manage to break, they will have a very good chance of going the length as it being a set move means that they have pacey players and people with good handling skills making the break, and plenty of support runners there who are expecting the team to break away. However, there is always the risk in setting up the midfield breakdown of a handling error or giving away some form of turnover or penalty at the breakdown.

Was this just a tactic devised for taking on Samoa, who will not have the same level of defensive organisation as Tier 1 nations? It will be interesting to see if they do the same against Australia next week.

Worrying times

Right now, I’m very worried about Samoan Rugby. The team has hardly played together during this cycle, and that lack of cohesion showed, with Rodney Iona looking bereft of ideas at fly half. While the team clearly has the physicality and there is a clear quality in th team, they need to be playing reglar rugby to get as a team, which will reduce the handling errors, errant passes and lack of defensive organisation. Only 1 year out from the World Cup, they are running out of time, and with a pool that includes England, Argentina, Japan and an impressive Chile team, there is a distinct danger that they not only miss out on a top 3 finish in the pool (automatic qualification for RWC2027) but in fact end the tournament bottom of the pool!

And the worry doesn’t just stop there, as something that is clearly standing out to me is just how many of Seilala Mapusua’s squad are either the wrong side of 30 or in their very late 20s. Very few of these players will be around or in their prime when the next World Cup comes around, so the next cycle will require a massive rebuild… but are the players there? I can’t help worry that we are seeing the slow decline of Samoan rugby, and hope that it can be turned around soon.

Autumn Nations Series 2022: Scotland v Fiji

Autumn Nations Series 2022: Scotland v Fiji

With the Test Window now open, Scotland’s Autumn Nations Series campaign continued at Murrayfield against Fiji. With Premiership players now available, the home team made a number of changes, and they found themselves temporarily a man up after just 80 seconds as Ratu Leone Rotuisolia was sent to the bin for not getting back 10 at a quick-tap penalty. With the man advantage, the home side looked to attack early, but Darcy Graham just ran out of room in the corner. Fiji may have managed to clear their lines but only to the edge of the 22, and the Scots’ pressure soon had them kicking a penalty to the corner, from which they mauled George Turner over for the opening try. A soft offside penalty gifted Fiji with an early chance at goal, but Setariki Tuicuvu pulled his kick wide. Back to 15 men, another penalty gave Fiji a lineout just outside the host’s 22, and after going through the phases, they got the ball wide to Tuicuvu, who was strong enough to stay infield espite Stuart Hogg’s tackle as he went over in the corner. Fiji had grown into the game—witht he help of Scottish indiscipline—and they went ahead early in the second quarter as Rotuisolia forced himself over from close range, while Stuart Hogg was also sent to the bin due to persistent offending from the hosts. With the man advantage, the visitors were on the attack again almost immediately, with Vinaya Habosi breaking down the left wing and only just being stopped by Adam Hastings, who escaped being penalised for a trip. The ill discipline continued from the Scots, who were forced to replace the injured George Turner with Ewan Ashman after half an hour, but a knock-on from Levani Botia at a ruck just short of the Scottish line allowed the hosts to clean their lines and get back to a full complement, while Fiji soon lost Kini Murimurivalu to injury, with Sireli Maqala coming on in his place. With just minutes left in the half, Darcy Graham was given a chance to score in the corner, only to fumble the ball as it reached him, however they had a scrum advantage between the posts, and when Adam Hastings wasn’t held by Kalaveti Ravouvou as the entire Fijian back line drifted too early, the Gloucester fly half went over for the try and kicked the conversion for a 14-12 lead at the break.

The Scots were forced to replace Hasting just minutes into the second half after he was rocked by a massive but legal hit from Rotuisolia, and the Scots were lucky not to concede just moments later a Levani Botia went over in the corner, only for the final pass to be called forward. And as Scotland got some possession and territory of their own, a wide pass from Chris Harris allowed Duhan van der Merwe to force his way over in the corner. Breaks from Graham and Richie Gray brought the Scots up to the line on their next attack of note, but Ewan Ashman was held up as he tried crashing over the line. Things got worse for Fiji just after the hour as Vinaya Habosi was sent to the bin for a swinging arm on Rory Sutherland. And with Fiji under heavy pressure, Scotland managed to earn a penalty beneath the posts with a dominant scrum and used the advantage to kick to the corner via Ben White, with Vilimoni Botitu just getting back to deny the ball reaching Darcy Graham. But the pressure continued and after Cam Redpath had a try disallowed for Jack Dempsey’s knock on at the back of the scrum, replacement prop Livai Natave was binned for a scrum offence just minutes after they returned to a full complement, and the next scrum saw Ben White scamper over unchallenged as he took advantage of wing Habosi filling in at flanker to avoid the scrum being pushed back over the line. As the game reached the final minute, a Scottish attack broke down, but Fiji’s counter was hampered illegally by Darcy Graham, who was sent to the bin, and though Scotland stole the lineout, they were turned over in their 22, only for Fiji to knock on with the clock in the red, denying them a late consolation as the game ended 28-12.


Adam Hastings will be desperately hoping that his Autumn Nations Series has not been brought to an early end, as his place in the Scotland squad is far from secured with a year until the World Cup. Go back a year or 2 and he was the clear back-up to Finn Russell, and a trusted starter in his own right. In the Six Nations, he found himself dropping behind Blair Kinghorn, while injury and playing in England left him unavailable for the Summer Tests and last week respectively. and in that Absence, Ross Thompson has now also come on the scene.

Today, his match was cut short following a massive hit from Rotuisolia, but even before that, he was not having things his own way. A couple of poor kicks ended promising opportunities, while even his try was more a matter of poor defence from the visitors than great play from Hastings.

Whether Russell is brought back into the squad or not, it is unlikely that Kinghorn doesn’t go to the World Cup due to his ability to also cover other positions. And with Stuart Hogg able to deputise at 10 in an emergency, Gregor Townsend may decide to only take 1 specialist 10 in the squad. Russell would be the obvious call, except that his relationship with Townsend looks strained (to put it lightly!). And if it comes down to Hastings v Thompson, while the former may have the greater experience, Thompson is playing and training with many of the squad on a weekly basis at club level.

As long as Russell remains out of the squad, the selection at 10 for Scotland will be one of the key points of interest.


Fiji have pace. Fiji have power. Fiji have incredible handling skills. All of that will take you a long way in rugby. But what Fiji really missed was a fly half. With Ben Volavola left out as he struggles for minutes at club level, and Fijian Drua 10 Teti Tela arriving in camp late after passport troubles, the team were left giving Vilimoni Botitu a first Test start at 10.

And as great a player as he is, he is not a natural 10, and it cost Fiji. Their kicking gamewas limited, as they didn’t get much length on their penalties to touch, and many open play kicks were able to be countered by the Scots. Also without a recognised kicker, it led to them struggling off of the tee, reducing their ability to fully penalise the Scots for their ill discipline.

While there is an incredible strength in depth at some positions for Tier 2 teams, especially the Pacific Island nations, it’s noticeable how few fly halves are coming through, and those that are often choose to push for a Tier 1 nation instead. And fly half is arguably one of the most important positions in Test rugby. Until these teams can get a capable 10, it’s going to be very difficult to consistently pick up victories over the Tier 1 nations.

Autumn Nations Series 2022: France v Australia

Autumn Nations Series 2022: France v Australia

A day full of rugby came to an end with Australia continued their Autumn Nations Series campaign with a trip to France. The Wallabies could consider themselves lucky to have won last weekend against Scotland, but were fully deserving of their early lead after Taniela Tupou won a penalty at the scrum, which Bernard Foley kicked. However, the hosts were soon level after the Wallabies failed to release Antoine Dupont in the tackle, allowing Thomas Ramos an early kick from distance, while a Grégory Alldritt jackal allowed Ramos to kick them into the lead from halfway just minutes later. Foley soon levelled the scores offt he tee after Uini Atonio tackled Michael Hooper off the ball, while the fly hal successfully covered a Ramos kick to the corner moments later at the expense of a 5m lineout. And though the French pack were unable to maul it over, the team went through the phases before Charles Ollivon forced his way over on 15 minutes, only for it to be judged a double movement. Foley’s clearing penalty failed to find touch and the French were back on the attack, but when the bounce of Dupont’s chip just evaded the chasing Ramos, Australia recovered it and countered down their left wing for Len Lalakai Foketi to score. As the visitors began to take control, Foley missed a penalty, while Foketi was forced to leave the field with an injury, Hunter Paisami taking his place. As Les Bleus grew back into the game, Ramos added another 6 points off the tee, and they took the lead on the stroke of half time. The ball went to ground as Australia tried playing it though their backs, and when Fickou kicked the ball on, Andrew Kellaway managed to cover it, only for Dupont to drive him back to his own try line in the tackle, before the next men in cleared over him to turn the ball over, allowing Julien Marchand to cross from close range, with Ramos’ conversion giving them a 19-13 lead at the break.

Foley was able to quickly cut the deficit to 3 after the break as the French defence advanced too soon at a lineout, but an error off the restart gifted Les Bleus possession on the edge of their 22, and as the front row’s carries began to make ground, Rob Valentini’s high tackle allowed Ramos to kick 3 points of his own, though his next kick from halfway drifted wide. As the substitutes began to make an entrance, a wide move directly following a driving maul saw Jock Campbell go over for his first Test try just before the hour, with Foley’s conversion giving his side a 1-point lead. A penalty for Dany Priso going off his feet allowed Foley to stretch the lead to 4. However the French were straight back on the attack and when Jonathan Danty was taken out off the ball, the hosts chose to go to the corner, but as Alldritt tried to offload close to the line, the ball went loose and the visitors earned a penalty to clear their lines with 10 minutes left. Ramos soon cut the lead back to 1 with a penalty, while Australia replaced Bernard Foley with the big boot of Reece Hodge, and one of his first actions was to kick the lead back out to 4 points with 5 minutes remaining. France were straight back on the attack, and after making a break down the left, replacement fly half Matthieu Jalibert floated a wide pass to Damian Penaud just phases later, and the French wing somehow manager to beat Tow Wright to go over in the corner and give Les Bleus the narrowest of leads as Ramos’ conversion drifted wide. With just seconds left, Australia turned the ball over just inside their own half, but the French defence held firm and a jackal from Danty earned the hosts a penalty, securing a 30-29 victory, a record 11ᵗʰ in a row for them.


How often do we see it in rugby: a team scores and then immediately maks some error either securing the restart or with their exit play, often resulting in them quickly conceding themselves.

Well for the French, the restarts will likely be a huge focus during the week as they repeatedly struggled to secure the ball, continually putting themselves under pressure. It doesn’t matter how good your defence is, if you are continually gifting the opposition possession in and around your 22, then you’re putting yourself under pressure and will likely concede points.

This is a fairly settled team, with just a few changes to the usual starting XV, so it is a little shocking to see them struggling so much. But with someone as meticulous and disciplined as Shaun Edwards, you can guarantee that they will be looking to sort this out ahead of next weekend. Because you can guarantee that next weekend’s opponents South Africa will have picked up on this and will likely be putting extra pressure on at the restarts to try and win them back.

Kicks covered

Whether intended or not, Australia’s back 3 selection for this game may have helped them nullify the French kicking game for the most part. With usual starter Marika Koroibete unavailable for this series, the Australian coaches chose to go for a back 3 of Tom Wright and Andrew Kellaway on the wings, with impressive youngster Jock Campbell at 15. Notably, this means that all 3 of them had experience playing at fullback.

Now while France may be better known for their exciting rugby, that is usually reserved these days for possession inside the final third of the pitch. The rest of the time, they will usually go through a couple of phases to create a platform, before kicking downfield, allowing their now-reliable defence to put the opposition under pressure. All well and good, until they find themselves playing against a back 3 who are all comfortable cover the kicks for territory and then replying with a territorial kick of their own.

Suddenly, that territory advantage is disappearing and, if anything, with Foley and White also there to control the territory game, the Wallabies are doing this better than the hosts. Suddenly without that control of territory, France were having to play from deeper with ball in hand, and though they still had some success with this, it was also playing at much greater risk.

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