There were triumphs and tries, defeats and debates in a weekend of action-packed Test match rugby.
Irish eyes are smiling
For the first time since 2006, Ireland won all three of their November Tests, as a ferocious rear-guard action in the last quarter of their match against Australia enabled them to secure a 26-23 win.
With a 29-15 victory over South Africa and a 49-7 thrashing of Georgia already in the bag, Ireland could not have asked for more from their autumn series.
Paul O’Connell led from the front, Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe scored the tries and Jonathan Sexton kicked 16 points, but plaudits can be handed out all through the Ireland team, with Peter O’Mahony making 17 tackles, Rhys Ruddock 12 and Zebo, Rory Best, Devin Toner and Jamie Heaslip 10 each.
Ireland led 17-0 during the first-half and O’Connell said their fear of losing after being so far ahead drove Ireland in the closing stages. “It would have been fairly devastating if we had lost,” he said.
Through the pain barrier
Special mention has to go to the Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, who watched Saturday’s win over Australia in pain, then hot-footed it from the Aviva Stadium to hospital to have his appendix removed. That is dedication to duty, above and beyond the norm.
Ireland skipper Paul O’Connell said Schmidt had not let on about the severity of his illness. “Guys were aware he was sick, he was kind of stand-offish, he was worried about passing on anything he had,” he said. “If you hadn’t have been told, I don’t think anyone would have known.”
Dancing with delight
For more years than any Scotland players and fans care to remember, their team has struggled to score more than the bare minimum of tries at Test level. But all that seems to be changing, as Scotland ran in no less than 11 in their three November Tests.
They crossed for five in their 41-31 win over Argentina, one in the 24-16 defeat by New Zealand and five more in Saturday’s 37-12 triumph over Tonga.
What a contrast to last season’s Six Nations, when Scotland managed a total of four tries in their five games, drawing a blank against England, Ireland and Wales and scoring two each against France and Italy. Last November they ran in five against Japan, but couldn’t break through the defences of Australia and South Africa.
That Vern Cotter has given Scotland the confidence to score more freely must bode well as the World Cup year looms large. Tommy Seymour led the way by grabbing a try in all three November Tests, but it was stand-off Finn Russell who was dancing with delight as Scotland secured their win over Tonga.
The real McCaw
This week’s Saints’ list would not be complete without mention of Richie McCaw, who reached the astonishing landmark of captaining the New Zealand All Blacks for the 100th time on Saturday. His team duly paid tribute to him by fighting back from 16-15 down with 11 minutes to play against Wales to steal a 34-16 win.
It is still relatively rare for a player to take part in 100 Tests, never mind lead his side in that many. Behind him on the list of men who have been skipper for the most International matches is Brian O’Driscoll with 84, John Smit with 83 and then the trio of Will Carling, George Gregan and Sergio Parisse way back on 59.
McCaw has played 137 Tests and won 131 of them. He will turn 34 on New Year’s Eve, so his days on the pitch are numbered now. Yes, he has his critics and many people believe he gets the benefit of the doubt from too many referees on too many occasions, but he is undoubtedly one of rugby’s greatest ever players.
I do not know who is to blame, but something is wrong with a sport which allows a team – Samoa – to play in front of 84,000 people at Twickenham and pocket none of the gate money. There has been quite a furore around Samoan rugby in the past couple of weeks, with their players threatening to strike to draw attention to what they see as financial mis-management by their own Samoa Rugby Union (SRU) and a neglect of grass-roots rugby.
World Rugby (formerly the IRB), tried to broker talks between the players and officials, but the SRU delegation failed to show up.
The SRU needs to talk to its players, to clear the air and reassure them, but World Rugby and the tier one nations also need to ensure countries like Samoa get a fairer deal. I don’t know what kind of appearance fee Samoa get from other nations they visit, but surely World Rugby should have some hard and fast rules about such things, rather than letting individual unions give different amounts to different visitors.
England’s players joined Samoa’s in a spontaneous huddle and prayer after Saturday’s Twickenham Test and teams from across the globe were Tweeting their support of Samoa last week, but the powers that be in the game need to back up that kind of noble gesture by treating all nations with respect and fairness.
Leinster came home from Italy with their tails between their legs after becoming the first Guinness Pro12 team to fail to beat Benetton Treviso this season.
The Irish province could only manage a 24-24 draw at Stadio Monigo and would have lost if Treviso fly-half Jayden Hayward had not missed a simple late penalty.
Yes, Leinster had ten players on International duty, but their team still boasted a host of household names, including Jimmy Gopperth, Dave Kearney, Richardt Strauss and Zane Kirchner. They put in a lacklustre performance against the league’s bottom side and will know they have to really up their game against the Ospreys next week.