After another fascinating weekend of international action, we take a look at who's up for the Oscars and who's up for a Golden Raspberries
Teddy Thomas: Remember the name
The 21-year-old from Biarritz is the latest player to be anointed the ‘the prochaine grand chose’ in French rugby. It’s not hard to see why. Four tries in two games, has elevated the Racing Metro wing to hero status at a rate of knots. His try against Australia was sublime. He sidestepped the heavy Wallaby traffic, out on the touchline, darted through a gap in the defence like a master thief and stepped off his right-leg to power round a despairing Nick Phipps tackle. Bravo!
Dave Foley: A debut to remember
The second row from Tipperary has been learning from the master, Paul O’Connell, at Munster, and on Saturday his dream came true as he won his first Ireland cap. He repaid Joe Schmidt‘s faith by putting in a Man of the Match performance, winning 100% of his lineouts. He also showed how adept he is around the park, making seven tackles and missing none, beating one defender, and carrying 17 metres.
Foley narrowly beat Ian Madigan to win the Man of the Match award, who was deputising for Johnny Sexton and kicked 19 of Ireland’s 49 points. The Leinsterman also made two clean breaks and beat five defenders.
The Incredible Schalk
The Burger family of Port Elizabeth would have doubtless shed a tear on Saturday night after young Schalk picked up his Man of the Match award, rumbling over a try in the process, when South Africa were down to 14-man. His comeback from a life-threatening bacterial meningitis scare and a broken leg would have broken lesser men but Burger, one of the most popular players in the Springbok camp, has forced is way back into the Bok back row by sheer force of will and he was magnificent, maurauding presence at the breakdown this weekend
Liam Williams: One shining light
Liam Williams was the only standout performer for Wales on a day to forget in Cardiff. His running from deep saw him carry 224 metres – nearly forty per cent of his side’s entire total against Fiji – and he beat 13 defenders, with next best carrier Alex Cuthbert on 67m. Williams also kicked intelligently out of hand and showed his customary bravery in the air. Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him and he will feel rightly aggrieved if he’s not lining up against New Zealand next weekend.
Scottish feelgood factor
Okay, it was an under strength side put out by the All Blacks, but Scotland played with enough vim and vigour to suggest Vern Cotter is making positive steps with his squad. Cotter has kept things simple, and engendered belief in his players, and with Tommy Seymour and Greig Laidlaw, in particular, shining under the former Clermont head coach. With a rabid Murrayfield crowd behind them, there are building blocks for progress in the Six Nations.
The only red card of the weekend went to George David Campese Ma’afu for driving through under the legs of the airborne – and former regional colleague Bradley Davies – at a lineout and thus getting his second yellow card, leaving Fiji with 14 men for the final 27 minutes. It was dangerous and particularly brainless from the loosehead given that he hadn’t long returned from his initial spell in the sin-bin and his team-mates would not have been thanking him – not that they did badly without him.
The All Blacks
When the All Blacks concocted their side, with no less than 13 changes – and rolled out a rusty Dan Carter and talisman Richie McCaw to keep the assembled masses happy – they probably thought they were in for an easy day at the office. After all, it was only Scotland, right? Sadly, Scotland hadn’t read the script, as they tore in the All Blacks second-string. With 73 minutes on the clock they were within a point of the World Champions and could have been in front if Greig Laidlaw had kicked a late penalty, before Jeremy Thrush crashed over. By that time, both Julian Savea and Sonny Bill Williams had entered the fray to see out the win. It smacked of not taking Scotland seriously, and nearly cost them.
You want some match atmosphere but the plastic horns which are on sale outside the Millennium Stadium, and blown constantly throughout the match by fans are grating in the extreme. We’d all prefer to Hymns and Arias during the game but sadly there was none of that during the Wales v Fiji match, just and incessant and repetitive blasting of horns. Few tears will be shed if they are banned from the stadium before the Six Nations
Saturday was a dark day for England. A fifth successive defeat – albeit, four times to the World Champions – was sobering, but it was the manner of the loss was disspiriting. England fashioned three tries, but they were all made in the tight exchanges. At half-back, Danny Care and Owen Farrell were ponderous and off-colour and could not unlock the Springbok defence or set the tempo and the balance in midfield is not right, this time with Kyle Eastmond and Brad Barritt. It’s time for Ben Youngs and George Ford to see if they can spark some sort of ingenuity against Samoa.
The pastings continue. Wasps scored 11 tries and 71 points against the now Oxford-based team in their final league game at Adams Park, leaving London Welsh to rue their 11th straight loss. The Championship play-offs have a lot to answer for; Bristol sat at the top of the Championship table for the whole season, but fell at the final hurdle leaving London Welsh to progress to the Premiership. But this system also gives teams a mercilessly short period of time in which to plan for the following season, sign new players, and get a solid pre-season training programme done.
But the Exiles have also managed their situation poorly, and letting go the team that got them into the top tier has been biggest problem this season. Twenty-odd new signings won’t gel overnight, and their results have proved this. They’ve failed to score a point in two games so far this year, and have had more than 50 points scored against them in five games. Furthermore, you can rest assured that the players they have got this season, like Olly Barkley, Chris Hala’ufia and Piri Weepu, won’t be sticking around if they drop back down to the Championship, and where will that leave the club then?
To read RW’s verdict on England’s midfield problem, check out the December issue of Rugby World – in shops now! Visit po.st/RWSub for all the latest Rugby World subscription deals, or find out how to download the digital edition of the magazine at po.st/RWDig