By Alan Dymock
THE SUMMER tour schedule is over, with the exception of the Lions. All the Six Nations sides are done and now the players can look forward to a relaxing five minutes of rest before the hard work for the 2013/14 season begins.
It was a summer where development was at the forefront of thinking, with all the touring coaches wanting to be competitive as well as readying younger charges for the harsh and unforgiving environment of Test rugby.
In some circumstances this was a triumph, while in others it was a rougher ride.
Performance: Slashing and restricting like cruel seamstresses, England handily dispatched all in front of them in their South American tour. A select side made up of Argentine amateurs and internationals from Brazil, Chile and Uruguay were dealt with before an understrength Pumas side was obliterated on two occasions by Stuart Lancaster’s belligerent squad.
Development: While more experienced players like Tom Wood, Ben Morgan and Mike Brown showed up well, it was the impressive upstarts Christian Wade, Marland Yarde and Kyle Eastmond flashing through opposition backlines and Matt Kvesic getting his hands dirty. In Freddie Burns, too, Lancaster has a challenger for Owen Farrell to deal with.
Improvements for next season: With options in the backline that are exciting and nimble, Lancaster needs to decide on what style he wants England to play going forward. If he keeps things the same, he must impartially decide which of those options is able to fit into that style.
Performance: It is hard to determine which word to use to describe France’s disastrous summer. ‘Incroyable’ sounds too positive and ‘catastrophe’ doesn’t encompass the thigh-slapping ludicrousness of the selection policy used by Phillipe Saint-Andre. In 18 months the team have been as shapeless as Jabba the Hutt’s body-sock and just as ugly, watching them trying things out for the first time.
Development: Remi Tales is no spring chicken at 29, but with the experiment with Freddie Michalak appearing to be total bust – again, visualise the body-sock – the Castres fly-half is the man France need to pair with Morgan Parra when he is good to go again. Apart from that, France still have a plethora of players like Antoine Claasen and Jean-Marc Doussain who could be used, but only really as back-up to their recognised names.
Improvements for next season: Big meetings are being held to discuss the breakdown of the current preposterous Top 14 season as well as the number of foreign players in the league. However, beyond the politics, it must be asked whether Saint-Andre is really the right man for the top job. Either way, a long-term plan for the national side needs to be set out.
Performance: They cut it fine against the USA Eagles but finished well by clapping a heavy score on Canada. Mission accomplished for Ireland.
Development: Robbie Henshaw has been smoothly eased into international rugby and Stuart Olding has seen action, but the most important aspect for interim coach Les Kiss was to show on-looking and incoming boss Joe Schmidt what auxiliary options he has at fly-half. Ian Madigan has stepped up.
Improvements for next season: Ireland started well in the Six Nations before fading, and in the new regime they have to make use of the new generation and those who will aid the transition as older players prepare to hang up their boots. Expect Dave Kilcoyne, Darren Cave, Kevin McLaughlin, Tommy O’Donnell plus Henshaw and Olding to be used more in the near future.
Performance: Went hard, but fell short once again. The same song, if only with a few different dance moves.
Development: New players? Italy wanted to be competitive and so it was a case of same old, same old when they fell to South Africa, Samoa and then Scotland. By this point we all know their strengths, but at least Matias Aguero and Davide Giazzon hint at options in the front-row.
Improvements for next season: There are no new names, no bright young superstars. Italy need to continue improving as a team while begging the powers that be to improve their Pro12 sides.
Performance: Outmuscled by Samoa; furious and belligerent against the Springboks; just good enough to beat Italy. Scotland’s summer stint in South Africa for the Quadrangular Tournament was a mixed bag, but when you consider they scraped through with a patchwork squad and many new caps it is a wonder they survived at all.
Development: New caps for Duncan Taylor, Fraser Brown, Tim Swinson, Tommy Seymour, Peter Murchie, Pat MacArthur, Alex Dunbar, Greig Tonks, Stevie Lawrie and Pete Horne tells you what sort of tour it was. Several different stand-offs and jersey swapping to boot, consistency was hard.
Improvements for next season: Keep everyone fit and make sure that the management are able to keep competitive fires burning and men well managed heading towards next season’s camps.
Performance: A tour of two halves. Good enough to beat Japan once, but unceremoniously dumped in the second outing. Some fans may be angry with the outcome, but some new names have pushed ahead while others have shown they are not quite up to it yet.
Development: The improvements in Liam Williams, Harry Robinson and James King will make Welsh fans happy, but the way in which the team fell to Japan for the first time ever, 23-8, may be heartbreaking. There is clearly depth there in Wales and it is about breeding confidence to take forward into future internationals. Dan Biggar may now be considered a leader, too.
Improvements for next season: Instead of turning over a volume of players, the challenge is turning those who could be knocking on the door into fully-fledged Test rugby players. Can the new caps make use of their Japanese experience?