We hand out bouquets and brickbats after a scintillating weekend of rugby
New Zealand pipped England 28-27 in a ding-dong Test match battle on Saturday, and so took an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series. The brightest spark in the All Blacks side was full-back Ben Smith, who put in an absolutely magnificent display.
He had won 27 caps at wing, centre or off the bench but this was his first start in the No 15 jersey and he wore it well.
When England were already 10-6 up towards the end of the first half, Smith chased down Manu Tuilagi as the England wing sprinted up the right from his own 22 and was closing in on the All Blacks line. If Tuilagi had scored and stretched England’s advantage, the hosts would have had a mountain to climb to come back, but Smith ensured he didn’t by tackling him, then stripping the ball from him on the ground.
Smith was also prominent in attack throughout the game, scoring New Zealand’s first try and frequently sending England’s defence scrambling.
He was named Man of the Match and his coach Steve Hansen said: “His all-round game was very good and he mirrored what he has been doing in Super Rugby at full-back. He’s been waiting a long time to get an opportunity and he seized it.”
England’s replacement prop Matt Mullan claimed a notable scalp in Dunedin on Saturday. Earning only his fourth cap off the bench, the 27-year-old stopped one of the game’s all-time greats in his tracks, when he held up Richie McCaw over the try-line.
The All Blacks were 28-20 up with just four minutes to go, so if England’s hopes of a win weren’t already dead and buried, they certainly would have been had McCaw turned a period of powerful attacking play into a try. However, Mullan wasn’t about to give up and he managed to prevent McCaw from scoring when the world-famous openside charged over the line.
England earned a penalty from the ensuing scrum and cleared their lines and Chris Ashton scored their last-gasp try a few minutes later, which meant England lost by just a single point.
Long live Lamont
It was a landmark day for Sean Lamont on Saturday when he turned out for Scotland v Canada in Toronto. The 33-year-old won his 88th Scotland cap, which took him past Scott Murray and into second place in the list of his nation’s most-capped players of all time.
Lamont has started 85 of his 88 Tests, having made his debut against Samoa back in June 2004. Saturday was his 16th start in the centre, with the rest having been made on the wing, and he has scored 12 tries in his Test career.
The only player ahead of Lamont now is Chris Paterson, who won 109 caps. Whether or not Lamont ends up overtaking him, he has still enjoyed a career to be proud of.
Red-hot le Roux
Just as Ben Smith shone at full-back for New Zealand, Willie le Roux was in stunning form for the Springboks as they beat Wales 38-16 in Durban. Everything he did, he did well, creating tries, scoring one and opening up a different box of tricks to the normal physical South African approach.
Almost as good was wing Bryan Habana, who grabbed a brace of opportunistic tries to show his predatory instincts remain as sharp as ever, and capped off a fine weekend by announcing the birth of his first child, a day after his own 31st birthday. Plenty to celebrate there, then.
Danny’s No 1
England U20s qualified for their second consecutive IRB Junior World Championship final with an emphatic 42-15 semi-final win over Ireland on Sunday morning. There were glimpses of excellence from half a dozen or more England players, but loosehead prop Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi carried off the Man of the Match award for a magnificent all-round display.
He was part of a scrum which took Ireland to pieces on several occasions and he powered over for a try, after taking a scoring pass from his front row pal, tighthead Paul Hill.
Hobbs-Awoyemi even put through a grubber kick which led to Ireland going into touch inside their own 22 and hooker Tom Woolstencroft scored from the lineout. Not a bad skills-set for a No 1.
Richie McCaw is among the bad boys this week, for missing what should have been a try-saving tackle. There, that’s not a sentence you often see! The All Blacks skipper let Marland Yarde through for England’s first try, but luckily for him it didn’t cost his team the game.
Jamie Roberts finds himself on the naughty step after getting himself sin-binned for taking out an airborne Willie le Roux during Wales’s defeat in Durban. A stricter ref might have red-carded Roberts, even though the hit looked accidental, so in some ways he was lucky to be able to return to the fray. However, what was not so lucky was the 14 points Wales had conceded to South Africa in his absence.
Roberts wasn’t alone in having errors to contemplate after the 38-16 loss to South Africa. The Wales pack, which Warren Gatland has spent his reign building, was totally outmuscled by the hosts and Adam Jones, so many times a hero for his nation, was taken off after half an hour even though he wasn’t injured.
Wales will be keen to do better, much better, next weekend.
Dark moment for Moonlight
Canada’s full-back James Pritchard had just kicked them into a 17-16 lead over Scotland. There were ten minutes to go and the hosts just needed to keep cool heads and battle to the finish to secure a precious win over the Scots.
Unfortunately for them, openside flanker John Moonlight failed in this mission. Almost immediately after the re-start, Canada’s replacement scrum-half Gordon McRorie launched a wayward box kick, Moonlight found himself in an offside position as the ball bounced up off the turf, but just could not resist grabbing it. Result – a penalty to Scotland which Greig Laidlaw kicked to give the tourists a 19-17 lead, which they never relinquished.