Rugby Post – England in South Africa
THE BRITISH teams’ summer tours down under started predictably badly – almost.
England faced the Springboks in Johannesburg and lost 22-17. They came up against a South African side determined to take no prisoners. Full back Mike Brown saw his tour come to an end with a broken thumb while centre Brad Barritt suffered a sickening eye injury – a doctor had to stitch up his left eyeball.
There was some consolation for Stuart Lancaster’s men in the performance of Owen Farrell at flyhalf. The 20-year-old was stout under pressure, putting over four penalties. He also conjured up a brilliant try in the closing minutes for Ben Foden.
But the Springboks played outstanding powerful rugby and England knew they needed to find much greater strength themselves if they were to get anything out of the three-Test tour.
Wales against the Wallabies
The Welsh found things even harder. Coming to Brisbane on the back of a six-match winning run, their confidence foundered in the face of Australians in dominating mood and went down 19-27 despite a second-half revival. The Wallabies showed they retained their high-level handling skills under pressure, always able to run out of trouble.
Toby Faletau missed the rest of the tour after being invalided home with a broken hand. One of the areas where Wales looked strangely uncertain was at flyhalf. Rhys Priestland seems to have lost his sureness of hand and foot since his goal-kicking travails cost Wales so dearly at the World Cup last year.
Ireland suffer in New Zealand
To complete a trio of British miseries, Ireland ran straight into a brick wall when they faced New Zealand in Auckland. The World Champions, now coached by Steve Hansen once of Wales, ran with deadly power and skill, scoring almost at will in their 42-10 demolition job. Their debutant winger, Julian Savea, crossed the line for a hat-trick of tries.
The one good thing for Ireland was the return of Brian O’Driscoll after a season in the hands of doctors, preparing him for one last great season. On this showing, alas, it will not be for Ireland for whom this is a time for team re-building. Maybe for the Lions tour next year to Australia where we last won in 1989.
Scotland’s great victory
The one beacon which lit up the skies was a win for Scotland over Australia in Newcastle, New South Wales. It was the first-ever rugby union international in this rugby league-mad part of the country, and it was played in atrocious conditions which severely limited the ambitions of the players. Avoiding drowning was probably the chief motivation.
Prior to this match the Scots had lost seven games in a row but had beaten Australia 9-8 in Murrayfield in similarly grim weather back in 2009. Here they won by three penalties to two with Greig Laidlaw’s winner coming with the final kick of the match. A magnificent achievement.
Two things made the result even more satisfying: that Scotland had been given a mid-week fixture by Australia and that they had been sent to an obscure rugby outpost to practise their skills.
Well done the boys in blue!