Monday 18th June: 09:30
The fallout from the weekends internationals continues. More on this in a moment. Firstly congratulations France: winners 2018 Under 20 World Championship. Not the best game of the tournament but a solid French performance with victory earned by good defence, solid scrummaging and success at the breakdown. England gifted France points through their high penalty count and except for a few attacks of merit their lack of creativity failed to put France under too much pressure. England were far too predictable in attack simply hoping to bludgeon their way to the line. It is a malaise that plagues the Premiership and in my view why English rugby is failing to compete at international level.
Three things of note came out of the game. Many of the French youngsters had experienced Top 14 rugby. This in part due to the French union and clubs now recognising the fact that highly paid overseas imports are killing the game, internationally and financially. All the English players were attached to Premiership clubs but only two; Ben Curry and Marcus Smith with Aviva exposure. The question here is how many will be discarded as overseas players prevent them reaching the top of the senior game in England. Finally after the Benjamin Fall incident, which has taken a bizarre turn, why was the French hit on the English player in the air not even penalised. It was a deliberate act on a player in the air and a yellow card as a minimum surely??
Back to Saturday. Doing my normal daily trawl through the rugby news my eyes popped out when I read Benjamin Fall's red card had been rescinded and he is free to play next week. As I have said my first reaction was the red was harsh but on reflection I had to agree with the referee's call, which I still do. Steve Hanson was sympathetic by saying perhaps the referees in times of genuine doubt should put a player "on report" a la rugby league. I for one think this is a cop out. All Black Ben Smith thinks differently. He believes players need to take responsibility and split second decisions are part of the game. Make the wrong call and you have to suffer the consequences. World Rugby have got to get their act together on this. You cannot allow incidents like the one in the Under 20s and the Benjamin Fall one to contradict each other.
For what it is worth if there was any bending of the rules/laws to be done it could have been done differently. World Rugby could have supported the referee and his team wholeheartedly. The disciplinary panel could then have gone through the correct due process and found a way to say based on the mitigating circumstances etc, etc, etc as stated the sending off was "sufficient". This based on the exact wording of the sanctions would be a serious bending of the guidelines but would have been better than World Rugby clouding the issue totally.
Wales climb to third in the world rankings after their succesful tour. If Wales can keep their players fit for the Autumn tests and then onto Japan in September 2019 who knows what could happen. An Autumn test against Scotland by the way is an absolute farce. That shouldn't happen.
Eddie "the wise" Jones has been backed by the RFU. So he should be. He has a handful of games each season, games in which he has to try and get players who are mechanically coached into playing one way then to change their mindsets to play another. A huge task. He has to work with players who are knackered after a long hard domestic season. He has to contend with being limited in his selection because key positions in many clubs are filled with overseas players. He does have a long list of injured players he can't select. Food for thought.
That said being based at sea level and playing at altitude seemed strange as did the omission of Cipriani from the starting line-up and the exclusion of Alex Goode from the squad totally.
Argentinian coach Daniel Hourcade has resigned and will leave his post after the test vs Scotland this coming weekend.
Gregor Townsend's bold selection experiment backfired with defeat against the USA. It sounds as if the Scots rushed into a big lead only to allow it to be whittled away with ill-discipline and a dogged USA fight back. A last second miss at goal would have secured victory but it wasn't to be. Townsend and his troops shouldn't be downhearted. A. He made his intentions clear: experimentation with a young predominantly inexperienced squad. B. Millions is being thrown at US rugby. You should expect some success from the investment.
Billy Vunipola breaks his arm. Will Genia suffers the same. Both out for some time. Shame.
Players of the weekend: Duane Vermeulen and Peter O'Mahony
Idiots of the weekend: Nathan Hughes and Ross Moriarty (the latter could have featured above except for his moment of madness)
Try of the weekend: Halom Amos for Wales v Argentina. Excellent team try.
Team of the weekend: France Under 20s. World Champions.
Cheat of the weekend: Sam Cane for his cheap and unnecessary push on Morgan Parra.
Spoilt brat of the weekend: Eddie Jones for his lame excuse of missing 25 key players (which by the way I am struggling to see how many changes he would have made if everyone had been available. A long way from 25!!)
Best humble pie of the weekend: Eddie Jones for having the honesty and decency to apologise to Bruce Craig for his Donald Trump jibe.
Back on Wednesday with more inane drivel.
Sunday 17th June: 09:45
I don't think the games this weekend had the same "wow" factor as last week but they were intense, intriguing and very watchable for a range of reasons.
Bloemfontein is the only place to start. Eddie Jones was seen as the Messiah when first anoited as England head coach. In the early days his results would seem to indicate England were ready to make space in the trophy cabinet for the World Cup which would be won at a canter in 2019. Here we are 15 months away from RWC 2019 and Eddie is being seen more as a pariah than a Messiah.
The headlines scream anarchy. Players arguing with fans, petulant behaviour during interviews, and worst of all continued ill-discipline on the field. Yet again England started well. Two beautifully worked tries from scintillating play with backs and forwards linking together effortlessly. Then gradually England succumb to sustained South African pressure. Pressure that was aggressive, intimidating and sometimes on the edge of legality. Yet again as the pressure built so England conceded unnecessary penalties. The Mako Vunipola slap was outrageous and he was lucky not to see yellow and even a red card for that. Yes, yes it was just a slap but it was totally unwarranted on a player who was defenceless. In the build up to that Maro Itoje was lucky not to have been sanctioned for what appeared to be a kick at Faf de Klerk (the citing team might pick up on that). Then late on what was Nathan Hughes thinking. The big Fijian must have had a brain meltdown to think he could get away with that pathetic slap at the ball.
It was deja vu at the breakdown too with England failing to compete as effectively as say Wales, or the All Blacks. Yes they won their fair share of the ball but after the opening stanza were unable to use it effectively when not in contention and failed to stifle South Africa's bruising runs when the opposition had the ball.
I smiled when Jones post match said he was a good coach. A really good coach would have put Cipriani on with at least 25 minutes to go, or better would have started with him. A good coach wouldn't have lamented the absence of (in his mind 25) key players. That England line-up was still a VERY strong side. A good coach should have said; "we have come with a young side to see what they can do, to try new things and learn ahead of RWC 2019. We are happy in defeat because we have learnt a lot, players have gained experience and we can see how we can improve over the next 15 months". He wasn't able to say that because he didn't try anything new, his players learnt absolutely nothing, and he now has a squad of discontents in his charge and a pack of baying press hounds on his tail.
One more test to go to redeem something out of these three games.
Santa Fe in Argentina next. What a contrast. Young players given their chance and taking them with both hands. Experimental selections paying off. Fast ball from the breakdown being used effectively. High levels of discipline and control. Determined and solid defence and excellent attacking prowess. Yes we are talking about Wales who dominated from start to finish against Argentina. Yes Argentina were poor and the complicated structure where Los Jaquares turn into Los Pumas under a different coach is clearly not working. The men in blue lacked discipline which Patchell punished with aplomb. Gatland, unlike Jones, can look at his decision to leave previously first choice players back home in Wales as a good one. He has the unenviable challenge now of keeping every one happy and of finding the right balance for his RWC 2019 squad.
It was difficult to pick a man of the match from the Wales squad but I went for Ross Moriarty. That was before he went into meltdown with what can only be described as brain freeze. His head-lock on Nicolas Sanchez was outrageous and he can expect a pretty lengthy ban for that I think. What was equally outrageous was an Argentinian medic coming onto the field and punching Moriarty. Yes he was trying to help his player but....??
Wales tour is over. All those who played can be happy especially Cory Hill, James Davies and Josh Adams to name but three.
Ireland showed why they are the number two in the world after coming back to equal the series against Australia. This was a much better, more controlled and determined showing by Ireland who deserved the win. Led from the from the front by Peter O'Mahony they simply out-thought and out-muscled their opponents. Yet again it was winning the breakdown battle that was important and that with a solid defence being the key difference. The Irish rush defence was simply excellent. Australia had a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot conceding a plethora of penalties which surprisingly did not result in a yellow card.
In this game we saw the best and worse ("worse" might be better stated as "frustrating") of the TMO. The late intervention of the TMO to identify the miscreant who knocked the ball out of Nick Phipps hands was great. The frustrating element was the ruling out of Keith Earls try. Even now I am not convinced he lost control of the ball in his effort to score. Hey Ho!
Australia lose Will Genia with a broken arm. A big blow for Cheika.
Finally to Wellington. The contest was over the minute Benjamin Fall was red carded. At the time I felt it was harsh but with hindsight Angus Gardener had no option. It was not an equal and fair challenge and the way Barrett landed was postively dangerous. Yes Fall had his eyes only on the ball but he needed to be aware of the risks. Yes it is harsh and yes if you look at the trajectory of the ball uncontested Fall would have been in the perfect place to catch it. That isn't the point though. Fair play to the French they stuck at it and kept the All Blacks in check for long periods. The crowd rose as one when France went over at the death as recognition of a magnificent effort by the 14 men in blue. Three talking points. The NZ penalty count was again high when under pressure. This indicated cynical cheating to me which yet again and very sadly went unpunished. Secondly the TMO intervention preventing a French try was frustrating. The TMO has the benefit of many angles and slow motion capability. In "real time" that was a good French try. When slowed down it was a double movement and in law that is a penalty. In reality and without a TMO that was a try. Food for thought. The worst point to consider is why oh why was Sam Cane allowed to stay on the field after a late and cynical push on Morgan Parra. That was a yellow card all day long..... of course... unless you are an All Black.
I read the USA beat Scotland. Wow! More on this tomorrow.