By Rugby World reader, Andrew Hartup
The Final Whistle
Must try harder. That sentiment sums up the performance of the Northern Hemisphere teams over the past week (with the exception of Scotland – not something you hear every day!). It’s been a pretty catastrophic week for home-nation rugby – something of a comedown after the recent Premiership and Magners finals – both storming games of top-class rugby.
So what went wrong? Wales were given the best chance to get us off to a flying start, and they almost did so in a match with plenty of tries and some smart rugby. Victory in the Magners and Amlin had put the Welsh in a winning mood, but sadly, their game against the Boks all came down to errors made: and South Africa, narrowly, made fewer. Wales went for one of their trademark ‘last minute’ victories, but this time is wasn’t to be. However, there should be plenty of optimism in the Welsh camp especially if they learn to play a full game of that effortless, beautiful rugby they usually reserve for the last ten minutes…
The same can’t be said for England. Poor against Australia’s second string Baa-Baas team, they were equally as clueless against the Aussies proper. It takes an enormous amount of skill, patience and tactical planning to take 15 players who have been superb for their respective clubs all season and turn them into an incoherent band of lost-boys on the international stage, but somehow Martin Johnson and his staff have managed just that. Was that the same Toby Flood that drove Leicester through the thrilling finale at Twickenham a short couple of weeks ago? Was that the same Shontayne Hape who rarely misses a tackle at The Rec? Do the coaches know that wingers like Aston and Cueto can do more than catch and kick? Australia made England’s backs look like fools, despite the dominance of the home-nation’s pack. The solution? Whatever it takes to stop the English three-quarters looking so terrified of the ball would be a start….
Next up Ireland. Hmm… Jamie Heaslip’s sending off was the key moment, but Ireland were beaten long before that by a rampant All Black side. We won’t dwell on the ensuing massacre, but we will say that now might be an ideal time for Ireland to start drafting in the youngsters in preparation for next year’s World Cup – or more likely, the one after.
France? They really should have done better. It seemed like a different team to the one that took this year’s Six Nations (and to an extent Heineken Cup) by the scruff of the neck – but that’s the flamboyant French for you. Brilliant one week, but the next… Gallic shrug.
That’s the bad news out of the way. Yeah, there was a lot of it. Now to finish with the positive – Scotland. The Scots are a team on the up, and with players who can score tries consistently, they could be lethal. Dan Parks’ unlikely resurgence continued as he booted over all of the Scottish points, but there were star performances all over the field. Sean Lamont, Rory Lawson, Max Evans – as things stand, these are going to be the names we hear most this summer unless players from the other home nations step up and, well, try harder…