The last Test rugby action of November brought joy for England and Wales, but which individuals stood out for the best and worst reasons in those contests and in the club clashes?
Biggar the better
He didn’t create any tries with breath-taking passes or scything runs, he didn’t kick any points as he had Leigh Halfpenny to do that job, but Dan Biggar was still the deserved Man of the Match in Wales’ historic 12-6 win over South Africa after an immense all-round performance.
The outside-half got stuck in like a back row. He made 11 tackles and won two turnovers. His aggression in contact was reminiscent of Jonny Wilkinson and his bravery in the air worthy of the highest praise.
It was a mature and telling performance from the man who has made the Wales No 10 jersey his own and Wales fans will hope for many repeats in 2015.
England’s 26-17 win over Australia was built on the foundations of a great performance from their pack and all eight deserve a share of the credit, but top of the bill is No 8 Ben Morgan – not only for his two tries but also for his all-round excellence.
The Man of the Match made 31 metres with his bullocking runs – bettered only by Mike Brown (58) and Anthony Watson (36) on the England side. He was busy in defence too, making 12 tackles and missing just one. Billy Vunipola is a great talent with many fans in his corner, but Morgan is making the running at the back of the scrum at the moment.
Wales and South Africa were tied at 3-3 with 32 minutes on the clock and a score from either team before half-time could have been critical. The Springboks’ huge lock Eben Etzebeth was charging into the Wales 22 and looked odds-on to score the first try of the game, when who should dash back to bring him to the ground short of the line but Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny. It mattered not that Etzebeth was ten inches taller and five stone heavier than Halfpenny – he was hauled to the floor and the day was saved.
The boot of Owen Williams proved to be Leicester’s best attacking weapon as they beat Wasps 18-16 in the Aviva Premiership to stay in fifth spot and level on points with fourth-placed Saracens.
The Welsh fly-half hit the target six times with penalties, most tellingly from 40 metres out in the 78th minute when he took the Tigers from 15-16 down to 18-16 up. He didn’t miss once and not all of the kicks were from easy angles.
Williams was not the only kicker on dead-eye form this weekend. Gareth Steenson struck nine penalties for Exeter Chiefs in their 27-19 win over Saracens. He didn’t miss any and is leading the Premiership’s top-scorers list this season by some distance. In the Guinness Pro12 Duncan Weir slotted 14 points in Glasgow Warriors’ 19-15 win over the Dragons, and Jimmy Gopperth and Ian Madigan kicked three penalties each to earn Leinster an 18-12 win over title-rivals Ospreys.
How many times have Wales turned a potential victory over one of the Southern Hemisphere’s big three into a defeat with a moment of individual madness at the death of a game?
Replacement full-back Scott Williams came within a whisker of repeating that terrible pattern on Saturday and has his pack to thank for digging him and Wales out of the hole he has dropped them into.
With 77 minutes gone, Wales were 12-6 up and Handre Pollard attempted to kick a penalty deep into the right-hand corner to set up an attacking lineout. The ball was heading for touch in goal, but instead of letting it go, Williams leapt up to try to catch it.
Whether he had misjudged his exact position on the pitch I don’t know, but he fumbled a ball he should have left alone and conceded a five-metre scrum.
Fortunately for Williams, his pack forced South Africa to cough up the ball and Wales escaped from their tight spot, but it was exactly the kind of muddled, panicked thinking which has cost Wales all these close games in the past. Williams has 27 caps and has been in the Wales set-up since 2011 and should know better.
Two handling errors from Israel Folau contributed to a two-try turnaround for Australia against England. Firstly, he carelessly knocked on a bouncing ball deep in his own half to give England an attacking scrum from which Ben Morgan’s first try was created, putting the home side 13-3 up.
Much later, with eight minutes left of the match, he was racing up the wing with Robert Horne outside him, but what could have been a scoring pass from Folau was a little too wild and his team-mate could not catch it.
Kickers can be heroes or villains, depending on whether or not they land the crucial kicks and unfortunately for him, Ian Humphreys missed a conversion which would have stolen a 22-21 victory for Ulster over Munster on Friday night.
Nick Williams scored a late try to bring Ulster to within one point of their hosts but Humphreys couldn’t find the target with the relatively straightforward conversion and his first miss of the night turned out to be a costly one.
It left Munster top of the Guinness Pro12 table with 32 points and Ulster just behind in third on 31. No doubt Humphreys will be the hero on another occasion.