After the first stage of the Autumn international’s its safe to safe each home nation had its fair share of positives and negatives to walk away and reflect on. Wales faced the ever improving Argentina, Ireland stepped out against a strong South Africa team, England had the physical challenge of Fiji and Scotland drew the short straw with the mighty All Blacks coming to town. So how did they each get on at the weekend?
Wales 12-26 Argentina
A damning performance from a side we have come to expect so much from, Wales would have been expecting to showcase their attacking skills and their raw power in the face of a traditionally physically and defensively strong team. However, Argentina came to play and with Wales continually slipping on the greasy pitch and being ravaged in the scrum, losing four of their own, Argentina took charge and made them pay. Caretaker coach Rob Howley must now look at both his pack and his backs before Wales face Samoa as not only did they lose a lot of scrums they also didn’t make a single line break against Argentina. A poor stat for a team priding itself on it’s attacking prowess. Dropping captain Sam Warburton due to a lack of form appears to be a start and Howley must now act ruthlessly if he is to improve performances as dramatically as they are needed.
England 54-12 Fiji
A game England were expected to win and win they did. Lancaster selected a very mixed team for this game. In the one hand he held a group of players relatively untested on the international stage many of them with less than ten caps to their name. In his other hand he held bags of experience an ideal balance to compliment the enthusiasm of the newcomers and stifle the over-zealous reaction that comes with pulling on the white jersey for the first time. England didn’t have it all their own way though. The first fifteen minutes they were camped in their own half and some stern defence and some Fijian handling errors spared early blushes for the Red rose contingent. This game was where Charlie Sharples really staked his claim for a starting place, carrying his Gloucester form onto the international stage with flawless ease and an unerring performance from Toby Flood may have knocked Owen Farrell back a step or two.
Ireland 12-16 South Africa
Ireland have every right to feel a great sense of lethargy following this result. Not only did they control the possession and territory in this game but at half time they controlled the scoreboard leading by nine-points. In the end it would be easy to say it was the set piece that let them down on the day. You can’t lose seven scrums and fifteen line-out’s and concede fifteen penalties and expect to take a win relying solely on the boot of one man. However, despite these seemingly disturbing frailties Ireland did recycle the ball well for long periods of the game and if not for a second half fight back from South Africa they would have come away with a huge win not only for their fans but for their World Cup seeding rank. If Declan kidney can drill the players in the functionality of their set piece over the next couple of weeks before they face Argentina they may just be able to take a big win away from the Pumas.
Scotland 22-51 New Zealand
On paper you would expect New Zealand to waltz through this game with ease, although they did run rampant with tries at times and exposed a few holes in the Scotland defence the Scottish fans can be proud of their team. Firstly, not many teams get more than 20 points over on the All Blacks and Scotland deserved every single one of them. Secondly, Tim Visser, he appears to be that influential and dynamic winger Scotland have been missing to get over the try line on a regular basis. Scotland are building a strong platform but the South Africa game will really be the measure of where they are as a team. With South Africa losing a couple of key names Scotland have a great opportunity to pick up a massive win.