South Africa v Wales: Team of the Series

South Africa v Wales: Team of the Series

We are one week on from the end of Wales’ summer tour to South Africa. A series that saw sporting stadia in South Africa return to capacity, while Wales also made history with their first victory over the Springboks in South Africa, while the World Champions emerged with a 2-1 series victory.

And so, as we spend this period after the Summer Tours patiently waiting for the beginning of the Rugby Championship, it’s time to look back over the tour to create my combined XV.

Who do you think should have made the XV? Let me know in the comments below.



My combined XV from Wales’ 3-Test series against South Africa is:

1) Steven Kitshoff: Ended the club season winning the inaugural URC final and followed it up with some solid performances off the bench as part of the Bomb Squad. May not have been as noticeable in the loose with Wales spending much of the time he was on the pitch defending but caused the opponent tightheads issues in the scrum.

2) Malcolm Marx: Sticking with the Bomb Squad, Marx continued to impress all over the pitch with his appearances off the bench, and scored a crucial ty as the South African fightback began during the opener in Pretoria.

3) Sam Wainwright: Probably a shock to everyone with my selection here. At 24 years old and with just 6 appearances in the Premiership for Saracens (all off the bench, totalling less than 50 minutes), it was understandable that many were asking who this third choice tighthead on the tour was, but he held his own at the scrum against some of the best in the world and will surely be adding many more caps to his name over the coming years.

4 & 5) Eben Etzebeth & Will Rowlands: The South African behemoth was the only one to start all 3 Tests for the Springboks as he brought up his century of caps and payed a key role in South Africa setting their dominance. As for Rowlands, with Beard’s performances having secured one of the Welsh lock spots, the pressure was on him to step up and reach his potential as Alun Wyn Jones reaches the twilight of his career, and that’s exactly what he did with some strong carrying and defence, while he even had some success disrupting the South African lineout.

6) Dan Lydiate: Much like Peter O’Mahony, Lydiate was given the 6 shirt and rolled back the years with a series of brilliant performances. His reliable and tireless tackling played a key role in a Welsh defensive display that did itself proud against the Boks.

7) Tommy Reffell: Fans have been clamouring for his call-up for a couple of years now, and when he was finally selected, the Leicester Tigers openside certainly produced the goods. Looked a natural at Test level, tackling well and turning ball over to end South African attacks with regularity. Fully deserved his try in the decider.

8) Taulupe Faletau: Jasper Wiese had a solid game in Pretoria but could not back that up in the finale, while Evan Roos was not able to impose himself in a team that lacked chemistry and Kwagga Smith found his minutes limited and split between 8 and flanker. Faletau therefore gets the nod as he continues to just quietly go about his business in all areas of the game.

9) Kieran Hardy: Wales have some strong options at scrum half, but Hardy certainly feels the right choice at the moment. Controlled the game well alongside Dan Biggar, while his box kicks were right on the money.

10) Dan Biggar: Another quality series from the Northampton stand-off, who was the most consistently impressive of the 3 starting 10s we saw during the series. Kicked well, controlled the back line well when they actually attacked and made some crucial interventions in defence. Was unfortunate to be the one who Willie le Roux coaxed into a deliberate knock-on for the deciding penalty at Loftus Versfeld.

11) Josh Adams: It was a surprisingly quiet series for Makazole Mapimpi, while Alex Cuthbert’s involvement was cut cruelly short by injury, and so the slot goes to Josh Adams. Not that he didn’t earn it, playing with a leg heavily strapped and yet still chased kicks so well, not to mention scoring the late try in the second Test that tied the game and gave Gareth Anscombe the chance to win the match.

12) Damian de Allende: Nick Tompkins is looking more and more comfortable as he gains experience at this level, but de Allende was a difference maker here. Solid in defence and running hard in attack, he als showed his more technical side with a lovely grubber for Cheslin Kolbe’s try in the corner.

13) Lukhanyo Am: George North was a solid defender but anonymous in attack until the decider, whereas Lukhanyo Am continued to show the world just how good he is with 2 more fantastic performances at 13, while he looked equally impressive after injuries forced hi out onto the wing.

14) Louis Rees-Zammit: Rees Lightning’s pace proved a real threat to the South African defence and caused them some real problems, while he was also unlucky to et a yellow card after a try-saving tackle and great jackal, though I can understand how the referee was not in an ideal position as he was unable to keep up!

15) Damian Willemse: The new utility back in the Springboks squad and the reason they can feel comfortable putting only 2 backs on the bench. Willemse had a solid series despite injuries and a first half horror show from Elton Jantjies forcing him to play a range of positions over the 3 Tests.

Lions Tour 2021: South Africa “A” v British & Irish Lions

Lions Tour 2021: South Africa “A” v British & Irish Lions

With just 10 days until the first match of the 3-Test series, the British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa took a step up in intensity with a match against South Africa “A”. Intended to be made up of the fringe players from the wider South African squad, however the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic—which has heavily impacted the South African squad’s training and caused the cancellation of their second warm-up match against Georgia—resulted in the home team picking a squad full of World Cup winners and experienced international, turning this into an unofficial fourth Test.

If there were any questions over the home side’s ability to match up after so long without rugby at this level, the South Africans soon answered those questions by establishing an early dominance, with Faf de Klerk’s kick following a turnover just evading Willie le Roux on the bounce, while Anthony Watson put in a superb covering tackle to deny Sbu Nkosi in the corner, with the hosts being forced to settle for a penalty. However it was not long until the South Africans were crossing the whitewash, with promising Lions attack reaching an abrupt end as Owen Farrell’s attempted chip into the South African 22 was charged down by Eben Etzebeth, with Damian de Allende picking up the loose ball and feeding Nkosi to go the length. Ten minutes later and the South Africans were on the offensive again, only to be denied by a knock-on at the breakdown metres from the line. Given a reprieve, the Lions soon opened their account for the night with an Owen Farrell penalty, but a moment of magic from Cheslin Kolbe saw the wing beat Chris Harris and draw in Elliot Daly before feeding captain Lukhanyo Am for another try. As the clock ticked down, the Lions had a sustained spell of pressure in the South African 22, and after both Faf de Klerk an Marco van Staden were sent to the bin, Wyn Jones thought he had scored with the final play of the half, only for replays to show a clear double movement, allowing the South Africans to go into the break with a 17-3 lead.

The Lions’ numerical advantage continued after the break, and they finally took advantage of it, with Wyn Jones legally getting the ball over the line this time and Owen Farrell kicking the conversion and adding a penalty a few minutes later. As substitutions began to disrupt the flow of the game, Louis Rees-Zammit almost scored in the corner, but van Staden and replacement Damian Willemse just managed to bring him down short of the line, while at the other end, Steyn dragged a penalty just left of the posts as well as missing the target with a late penalty. That left the tourists with the chance for 1 more attack before the final whistle with a try needed to win the game, but Zander Fagerson’s handling proved costly and he knocked on in contact to bring the game to an end, with the Lions suffering their first loss of the tour, 17-13.

Holding back

While the ideal tour (from the Lions’ perspective) would have been a 100% winning record, I can guarantee that Warren Gatland would much rather lose this match than one of the official Tests. As such, there was an important balance to meet between sending a message to Jacques Nienaber’s squad, while also not overly tipping their hand towards their tactics for the Tests. As such, I think we saw a few areas where the Lions tried to hide their plans for the tests.

First up is in the lineout, where you may remember a few weeks ago they were regularly going long and direct to the centres. Well in this match it was the complete opposite, with the majority of throws going tot he very front of the lineout. It’s rather understandable, Ken Owens hasn’t always shown himself to be the most reliable on longer throws, so a quick up and down at the front was a reliable way to win the ball back against Eben Etzebeth and co. However, as I have theorised since before the touring party was even named, don’t be shocked to see Tadhg Beirne providing a third lineout option at 6, with a range of throws that also includes the direct throw to the centres and some quick throws to the front before the Boks are fully set.

But even more notable tactically was the decision to repeatedly go for the tap penalty in the South African 22 when they had a numerical advantage. With both a forward and a back in the bin, the scrum was the obvious call here, as the extra man in the pack would allow the Lions the possibility of pushing over for a try and maybe even increased the numerical advantage as Trevor Nyakane was struggling in the scrums for the second match in a row, while the missing man in the South African back line would also leave gas on first phase for the Lions to exploit. However, while taking the scrums here may have led to more success in this match, it may have also allowed the Springboks to see some of the Lions’ key strike plays ahead of the Test series, giving them 10 days to find an answer.

While in the moment it may have looked like poor decisions from captain Conor Murray, I firmly believe that there was method to the madness, which could end up being crucial in the Test series.

A wider picture

There was one other tactical decision from the Lions in this match that I also sincerely hope was for the same reasons as above, but also can’t help but worry that it may have been the way they are planning to play.

The Lions had some fantastic attacking moments in this game, as they used tip-on passes to break the line in midfield while also causing real problems by beating the South African blitz defence to the outside, with a number of outside back and back row players getting a chance to run at wide open space. However, while these moments were highly successful, they were few and far between, as the game regularly devolved into an arm wrestle between the packs and the inside backs, which then ended in a poor kick from the Lions—with Owen Farrell especially having a poor day kicking out of hand—gifting possession back to the home team or hoping that the wingers could do something special on the chase.

Granted, this probably wasn’t helped by Dan Biggar pulling out injured (his replacement Farrell looking well off the pace, no real shock when he’s been playing against semi-professional teams last season) Josh Adams pulling out last minute due to the birth of his child and then an early injury to Liam Williams bringing on Ellit Daly at 15, but these are professional rugby players, who should be able to analyse that by keeping the ball tight they were playing into the hosts’ hands, as the South Africans put pressure on the breakdown and caused a number of turnovers with their destructive counter-rucking. With players like Lukhanyo Am, Frans Steyn and Damian de Allende in midfield, and the incredible options in their back row, keeping it tight is not a smart move for the Lions, and they need to utilise the quality of their players in open space, while getting in behind the South Africans will then put the pressure on them to get back onside before they can compete at the breakdown.

Hopefully when the first Test comes around, we see a Lions team willing to take the match to the Boks out wide. If they continue with tonight’s tactics, then they could be in trouble.

Passing the test

Following the last game against the Cell C Sharks, I put my neck on the line by predicting the Lions’ starting XV for the first Test. With a number of those players involved in this game, as well as some who just missed out, did anyone put their hands up to secure their spot or challenge for the shirt?

The obvious name that needs discussing here is Tom Curry. The Sale flanker had an incredible performance, winning turnovers, securing ball and carrying hard while also showing good speed when in put through a gap by Maro Itoje. Against most nations, I would happily pick Curry at 6 with Hamish Watson at 7, but against the Springboks, I feel that the extra ballast of Tadhg Beirne (who would be my first choice at lock if I was selecting my dream team from every current player) at 6 will be essential, leaving Curry and Watson fighting for the 7 shirt. Whoever wins out will have certainly earned their spot, while the other is surly guaranteed a space on the bench regardless of whether Gatland goes for a 6/2 split or the traditional 5/3.

Sticking with the forwards and replacement Adam Beard put in a strong performance off the bench. I still see Iain Henderson and Maro Itoje as the likely second row pairing for the first Test, but with Alun Wyn Jones on his way back to South Africa, his injury replacement has a good chance of keeping him out of the matchday 23 for the first Test at least.

Moving out to the backs and while he may have become the latest player to fall victim to Cheslin Kolbe’s footwork, Chris Harris put in another fantastic performance. I remember when it was announced that he was joining Gloucester, I was disappointed to see my team signing a defensive specialist with nothing much else to his game. Well either my read of him was completely wrong or he has grown his game considerably, as he is now one of the best 13s in the game, a top defender who has also developed a strong attacking game and can even fill in as an emergency wing. While I felt there was a chance that Robbie Henshaw’s history with Gatland from the last tour and his experience partnering Bundee Aki would give him priority if he could prove his fitness, I think that Harris has now proved himself worthy of the starting spot regardless.

Similarly, Anthony Watson made my predicted XV after just 1 match on tour due to my knowledge of his qualities that would be beneficial against the Springboks. Well I feel even more confident in that call after this game, where he repeatedly found success against his opposition winning the ball in the air, and should have scored a try when he outjumped Willie le Roux for an Owen Farrell cross-kick, only for Farrell’s kick to not be quite deep enough to put him over the line. I’m sure Warren Gatland’s heart was in his throat when Watson stayed down with an apparent ankle injury, but he completed the game and will surely be given the weekend off in preparation for the Test series.

And finally we reach a player whose stocks rose by actually not playing. Dan Biggar was due to start but replaced by Owen Farrell as he recovered from a slight ankle sprain. With Finn Russell having not played since the first Sharks game and Marcus Smth only just arriving and only having 2 caps to his name, it looked like this was between Farrell and Biggar for the starting 10 jersey, but a poor 80 minutes for the England captain has surely left him hoping for a spot on the bench, as a couple of attacking cross-kicks were off the mark, a penalty kicked to the corner went into the in-goal and of course his poor attempt at a chip which led to the opening try. Farrell looked off the pace of international rugby, so Gatland will surely be hoping Dan Biggar makes a quick—and full—recovery.

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France v Wales

France v Wales

With the 2020 Six Nations set to finally conclude next week and the Autumn Nations Cup begin straight after, France and Wales met at the Stade de France for a highly entertaining warm-up match.

Les Bleus may have won the Six Nations fixture back in February, but they were soon behind as some lovely passing from Justin Tipuric helped put Leigh Halfpenny over in the corner, Biggar landing the conversion and a penalty soon after. The French soon got going though, and after Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont broke to bring possession all the way to the Welsh try line, prop Cyril Baille crashed over from close range. France were growing into the game and after another penalty from Biggar, an offload from Virimi Vakatawa released Teddy Thomas down the right wing and he played the ball back inside to send Antoine Dupont over for the try, with Ntamack adding the conversion to put the French ahead. Their lead was soon increased as Gaël Fickou put Vakatawa through a hole and Dupont was again found supporting on an inside line for a second try in quick succession, Ntamack nailing the kick to make it 21-13 at the break.

The second half started close, with both kickers adding 3 points to their team’s score, while the closest either team came to a try in the 3ʳᵈ quarter was as French number 8 Grégory Alldritt ran a beautiful out-to-in line to breakthrough the Welsh goal-line defence, only to fail to keep hold of the pass. The French struck soon after the hour mark, though, as Josh Adams – who had moved to fullback following Halfpenny’s departure – failed to collect a high ball from Dupont, which the scrum half then collected before breaking through a gap in the Welsh defence and feeding his captain Charles Ollivon for another try. The Welsh kept coming, though Biggar (who had been struggling with an injury since the tenth minute) missed a couple of kicks at goal, but after Ntamack failed to clean up a kick through by Nick Tompkins, George North collected and fed Tompkins to bring the Welsh up to the French goal line, with Nicky Smith forcing himself over a few phases later. Any chance of a Welsh comeback was soon ended however, as Teddy Thomas chased and collected his own chip to go over in the corner, with Ntamack kicking the conversion to secure a 38-21 victory.

French flair

If the Irish were watching this match in preparation for next weekend’s Six Nations fixture, I can imagine they got a little nervous.

This may be one of the best French teams I can remember watching, and there is the potential that they will only get better over the next few years as the younger players gain experience and more players from the recently successful U20s team make the step up to the seniors. Right now, all the politics that always seems to plague French squads appears to be gone, and the pressure is off the team, leading to incredible performances.

Antoine Dupont is securing himself as one of the best scrum halves in the world, while Virimi Vakatawa is almost unplayable when on form, with an incredible blend of strength, pace and footwork, and a killer offload when all that fails! Teddy Thomas’ abilities have never been in question and Romain Ntamack looks experienced beyond his 21 years and 17 caps. And then in the pack, you are getting a great blend of sheer physical power and more technical prowess.

In this game, the French attack was pummelling away at the Welsh defensive line throughout, but as they grew into the game, they started to find and manipulate the gaps, especially around wherever Vakatawa could be found, while Dupont always seemed to be in just the right place whenever a teammate broke through.

Assuming the French can stay away from all the infighting and politics that seems to always destroy them, I would make France my favourites for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Risky business

When Gareth Anscombe first started showing signs of discomfort during Wales’ World Cup warm-up match against England, I felt that he should be removed immediately to avoid the risk that a small niggle could potentially become something worse. The doctors chose to let him continue, but he went off a little later with his World Cup dream over and an ACL injury that he is still to return from. Obviously, I can’t say that keeping him on the pitch made things worse, but in a “warm-up” or “friendly” ahead of a tournament, the last thing I want to do is risk one of my key players if they are carrying a knock.

So imagine my surprise when Dan Biggar started struggling with an injury to his leg just 10 minutes in, but continued to play until the 73ʳᵈ minute. Now, credit to Biggar that he is a warrior who doesn’t want to go off and let his team down, but there were a number of moments throughout the match where he was either clearly limping or not looking fully comfortable, and I can’t help feeling that this injury helped contribute to his uncharacteristically poor 57% success rate off the tee. I also noticed that he didn’t seem to be as much of a figure in the kick chase as usual, a big loss considering just how impressive he is in the air.

What makes the decision to keep him on even more perplexing is that they had a replacement fly half on the bench in the form of Rhys Patchell, who could have very easily taken over the running of the team at any point, but was instead wasted on a 7-minute cameo with the victory already out of Wales’ reach.

It will be interesting to see how Wayne Pivac acts in the future of any key players take a knock.

The beginning of the end?

While it is wonderful to see Taulupe Faletau back in the Welsh line-up, I couldn’t help question before the match if he was still able to hold a spot in the starting XV, let along the wider squad. 80 minutes later and I still don’t feel any more confident.

The Bath number 8 was arguably one of the best in the world at his position and at 29 should still have a handful of good years in him, but he has missed so much time over recent years with a number of injuries and looks a shadow of the player he used to.

He used to be a real threat with ball in hand in wide areas, but in this game only carried 4 times for a tiny 9 metres. Defensively, he was still reliable with a 100% tackle success rate but that was only from 9 tackles, far off the total of Justin Tipuric, who you would much rather have getting over the ball after the tackle rather than making the tackle himself. The only other bit to Faletau’s game was his cleaning up, which he did to some degree with the scrum coming under heavy pressure.

But is tackling and cleaning up really enough from a Tier 1 starting number 8 these days? The Welsh need physical carriers in the pack to help them get on the front foot and make up for the loss of Haleigh Parkes at 12 and as such, I think that the team would benefit far more from Ross Moriarty or Josh Navidi (who should be nailed on as a starter) rather than Faletau. There is only so long that a player can be picked on past performances. To me, it is time for Faletau to earn his place back in the squad.

A Big Decision for Wayne Pivac

A Big Decision for Wayne Pivac

Wayne Pivac is having some horrible luck in his early games in charge of Wales. Going into only his 4ᵗʰ match in Round 3 of the Six Nations, it looks like he may have only 1 fit fly half. But how did he get here and what are his options?

Falling like dominoes

Things were already going wrong at fly half for Pivac before he even took charge of the team, with Gareth Anscombe picking up a serious knee injury in the World Cup Warm-ups that will keep him out for the season. Going into the Six Nations, he also found himself missing Rhys Patchell, who is still recovering from shoulder surgery.

Then in Round 2 of the Six Nations, things reached breaking point for Wales as Dan Biggar went off in the first half for a HIA and didn’t return. With this being his 3ʳᵈ concussion in a short space of time (he suffered knocks in the World Cup against Australia and Fiji), they are understandably being careful in managing his recovery, putting his chances of passing the return to play protocols in time for this weekend’s match against France in doubt. That wasn’t all though as Gloucester fly half/centre Owen Williams, who has only recently returned from a long injury lay-off, tore his hamstring in the warm-up before the Ireland match.

This means that the only recognised fly half in the squad who is currently fit is 23-year-old Jarrod Evans, who has just a handful of caps to his name.

Calling for reinforcements

While this is a big opportunity for Evans, Wales need to call someone up to cover him from the bench. The big talk that has come up over the weekend is that Wayne Pivac will try to use the exceptional circumstances of having 4 fly halves injured to allow him to bring Rhys Priestland into the squad despite being based outside Wales and having less than the required 60 caps.

While Priestland is a quality player and brings so much experience, I don’t understand this decision form Pivac and hope that he is not allowed to call Priestland up. At 33, and playing for Bath, it is unlikely that he will gain any more caps once Biggar is back, so surely Pivac should take this as an opportunity to look at an eligible option who could look to put themselves in contention over the coming years.

Just a couple of years ago, Sam Davies was fighting with Dan Biggar for the number 10 jersey, but he fell out of favour and lost form. He made the decision to move to the Dragons rather than take a more lucrative option outside Wales, and at 26 he still has plenty of years of international rugby ahead of him. Picking Priestland ahead of him would be a kick in the teeth, whereas bringing him back into the fold, even if just for a match or 2, could be just what Davies needs to fire himself into contention moving forward.

Alternatively, Pivac could look to the West Country for a fly half who would be eligible. Bristol’s Callum Sheedy has played for Ireland U19s and Wales U16s, and has been a key part of the Bears’ recent success. At 24, he is just hitting his prime and would be a great addition to the squad. He has played for England, but that was in an uncapped XV, so he is still available for Wales. Bringing him in and getting him a cap now would be another one stolen from England hot on the heels of Nick Tompkins, while also all-but assuring that another talented fly half would be returning to Wales at the end of his current Bristol contract. It’s a win-win situation.

Finally, Pivac could look back to his old club, the Scarlets, for another young fly half he knows well: Dan Jones. I don’t think Jones would usually come into the international discussion, but desperate times call for desperate measures and his familiarity with the new Wales coaching staff’s tactics may just give the former Wales U20 stand-off an advantage coming in at the eleventh hour.

 

With 3 first choice 10s missing, Pivac will not be judged too harshly, so he should take the chance to add one of these 3 options to his squad to see what they could do. With at least 1 of his fly halves likely to be on the Lions Tour, he may need to look back to this player next summer, so he may as well get them in now.

Who would you call up if you were in Pivac’s position?

Eyes On: Wales v England – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Eyes On: Wales v England – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Wales and England’s warm-up for RWC2019 continued Saturday afternoon at the Principality Stadium with the reverse of last week’s fixture. 7 days earlier, England had ran riot to build up a score before Wales could even get going, but this week’s match was a far closer affair, with George North’s first half try –  when England had just lost Anthony Watson to the sin bin – and Dan Biggar’s conversion proving the difference as they emerged 13-6 victors.

This result meant that Wales rose to #1 in the World Rugby rankings for their first time in history, knocking New Zealand off the top spot for the first time in 509 weeks! Congratulations!

Wales

As someone who prefers a more attacking fly half, I may not be the biggest fan of Dan Biggar (especially when he’s appealing for everything and making a fuss), but I respect him as a top quality international 10. However, this week former Wales international J.J. Williams decided to undermine Wales’ World Cup preparations by saying that Wales would not win the tournament with Biggar at 10.

Biggar used his words as motivation this week and put in a great performance. Defensively, Biggar is one of the best at his position and there are very few players – at any position, not just fly half – who are as accomplished under the high ball. Whether kicking out of hand or off the tee, he is highly reliable. What he isn’t, however, is Gareth Anscombe. With both of them, it brought a great dynamic to the team, with Biggar coming off the bench to either seal the victory or put Wales int he right positions to get the wing. With Anscombe now out, however, Biggar is the only top quality 10 in the squad and the running of the entire game will likely fall to him. Biggar starting means that a change in tactics is required, but I think that sometimes this tactic becomes too much of a kick-first game, which can sometime feel wasted – as with some of the early kicks that Elliot Daly took unchallenged. He will not work the back line in the same way, but that does not make him a bad player. He showed as much when Anthony Watson was sin binned by immediately taking advantage of the extra man, catching England sleeping – don’t listen to Ugo Monye, it was entirely legal and he did not have to wait for Watson to leave the field – with a cross-kick to Josh Adams that took them into the England 22, before another cross kick back to the left wing for George North to catch with only Ken Owens anywhere near him.

What did surprise and worry me during this match was just how long Biggar was kept on the field. This was not an experimental lineup that needed to build chemistry, and after losing Anscombe last week I think Biggar should have been wrapped in cotton wool. When he injured his shoulder, he should have been straight off, but it seemed that Warren Gatland was again more interested in winning a nothing game for ranking points compared to protecting his star players ahead of the World Cup. Hopefully it doesn’t cost them in the coming weeks.

England

It feels like we have been saying this for years, but there are questions over the England midfield. George Ford looked good last week with a pack putting him on the front foot, but struggled to create anything in this match, while Piers Francis and Jonathan Joseph were anonymous. Even Joe Cokanasiga had a relatively quiet game in attack, rarely being brought into the midfield. As a result, England failed to muster any attacks of note and finished with just 2 penalties to their name.

While having a big carrier at number 8 in the form of Billy Vunipola is a big help, England need a physical ball carrier in the back line to give them regular front-foot ball. Even if they are not taking the ball every time, they will be an effective decoy as defenders will have to account for them, leaving gaps somewhere in the defensive line. England really need to hope Manu Tuilagi can stay fit.

RWC2019 Winners & Losers

Coming in late for his first Test appearance since the match against Australia that saw him get injured, Leigh Halfpenny had a solid game and put in a timely reminder of his abilities as a defensive 15, while Aaron Wainwright built on last week’s performance with a great shift at home, making good metres and keeping attacks going with some good offloads. With Faletau out of the tournament, I think he is a near-certain member of the squad after the last 2 weeks.

Wainwright’s place in the squad may come at the expense of fellow starter in this match James Davies. Cubby is an incredibly talented flanker whose 7s experience gives him a different skill-set to his rivals, however he has found his chances limited in such a deep Welsh back row and an enforced removal just 24 minutes into this match will have not helped his chances of making the 31. Anscombe’s injury may have opened the door for Jarrod Evans to make it onto the plane, however Gatland’s insistence at keeping Biggar on the pitch despite being visibly uncomfortable following an injury makes me think that he is hesitant to bring in the inexperienced Cardiff Blues stand-off this close to the tournament.


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