In this post we take a whip round last weekend’s Test action which although not as dramatic as the high stakes Lions tour in South Africa, taught us a great deal about what might be available come the much bigger prize of the World Cup in two years time. Canada and the USA got to play their first games since the World Cup. Japan continued to hold us spellbound, and as we suspected looked even better than in their spirited duel with the Lions a week earlier. England finally unearthed its young guns, while Wales and Ireland took a more tried and trusted route, but still had a healthy sprinkling of the next generation of talent, especially Wales.
Ireland get their revenge against Japan – but only just!!!
Thrill of the weekend by a country mile that one and a genuinely proper Test match. Japan had shown us last week that they meant business at Murrayfield against the Lions, despite an almost two year absence from the Test arena. Consequently they arrived in Dublin hungry to show that their defeat of Ireland at the last World Cup was no mere stroke of luck. Ireland knew they needed to pay their visitors the utmost respect and as a result named their strongest possible side barring their Lions absentees. Our respects to both sides as in the process they provided us with an absolute humdinger of a Test match, with Ireland narrowly taking the spoils 39-31 as revenge for their World Cup exit courtesy of the Japanese almost two years ago.
In a game where the scoreline bounced back and forth between the two sides in an eighty minute 9 try extravaganza, Ireland emerged the victors knowing they had been made to work for every second of it. Japan’s offloading game is still as extraordinary as it was in the last World Cup, making them one of the most exciting teams on the planet to watch regardless of their position in the World rankings. There is some genuine skill in this squad and their offloading game is just as good amongst their forwards as it is in their backs. In short Japan are a joy to watch and we loved every minute of an exceptionally hard fought contest in Dublin. What struck us the most though was how good the Japanese are now at the physical aspect of the game. For long periods of the game they were matching Ireland’s ferocity in the set piece battles and at the breakdowns. Japan is working and come the next World Cup expect them to be a potent force that England and Argentina must take very seriously indeed.
As for Ireland, they clearly missed some of their big guns on tour with the Lions in South Africa, but there is so much depth in Ireland these days that it’s not the cause for alarm it once was. It was great to see fly half Joey Carberry return to international duty and he had a good shift in the green jersey. Fullback Hugo Keenan was once more a player we simply cannot say enough good things about, along with Hooker Ronan Kelleher in the front row who also rather handy in the loose. Flanker Peter O’Mahony had one of those games where he simply silences all his critics within the first five minutes, while colleague Josh van der Flier more than earned his Man of the Match award.
But it was the newer players that really caught the eye. Second rower Ryan Baird came on for the final quarter and immediately made his presence known. Utility back Shane Daly came on for the injured Jordan Larmour on the wing after 30 minutes and had a very impressive debut for the Men in Green, despite some defensive lapses which can be put down to lack of experience, especially when up against the quality of Japan’s Siosaia Fifita who was on fire.
Ireland have chosen to give all their young bucks a starting crack this weekend against an American outfit that put on an impressive and rather heroic show versus an English side touting its supposed stars of the future. Ireland should expect a stern challenge from the Americans on Saturday, and we have a hunch that it could well be another edge of your seat ride for these slightly greener Irish shoots.
Wales teach the Canadians a painful lesson in how it’s done which seems to indicate that Canada hasn’t been able to reap the benefits of the MLR in the same way the Americans have.
There was all the usual vim and vigor and fighting to the end from Canada last Saturday which is always commendable, but sadly it led to very few points on the board. Let’s be brutally honest they got put to the sword by Wales in the 68-12 defeat. There were some big Canadian performances in there make no mistake, and for us flanker and Captain Lucas Rumball continues to merit the Order of Canada, for his never say die attitude and willingness to put his body on the line for the full eighty minutes. Centre Ben LeSage impressed yet again in the way he has at the Toronto Arrows this season, and any time Canada looked like getting some points on the board he was invariably the spark behind it. We also felt fullback Cooper Coats has for the most part an outstanding game, despite some defensive frailties, but his counterattacking and ability under the high ball caught the eye on more than one occasion.
However, the rest of it simply wasn’t pretty viewing even though Canada looked like things were starting to click better for them in the second half. Nevertheless defensively we were a shambles and somebody or someone in the management team needs to stand up and take responsibility for it and quickly, if we are to avoid another slaughter at the hands of England’s young guns this Saturday. Wales missed 10 tackles compared to Canada’s 33. Wales made 723 metres compared to a paltry 189 for Canada. In short the Welsh were having a field day chucking the ball around unopposed, while Canada had few if any answers to counter it.
For the Welsh it was a stroll in the park, and like Ireland they were able to show how much strength they have in depth given that the vast majority of their first string side is on tour with the Lions in South Africa. Their front row bossed Canada in the set pieces, their second and back rows made life a misery for Canada in the lineouts and at the breakdowns, and in loose play exposed a myriad of Canadian defensive weaknesses. Wales showed that their halfback partnerships are oozing with confidence as scrum halves Tomos Williams and Kieran Hardy dominated proceedings while Callum Sheedy provided his Canadian opposite Peter Nelson with a rather harsh lesson in game management. The only real downer for the Welsh was the loss of fullback Leigh Halfpenny to a nasty looking injury in the game’s opening minute and which could put paid to his career.
While Canada may take some solace from being the first to score through winger Kainoa Lloyd’s opening try, they will be cringing at his complete lack of defensive skills in the video review and be wondering why the advent of the MLR seems to have had such a positive effect on American fortunes in the Test arena, but little to none for Canada on the evidence of Saturday’s performance. Apart from the standout performances of Rumball and LeSage who impress week in week out with the Toronto Arrows, there wasn’t too much to get excited about. For the rest of the squad, who all ply their trade in the MLR many with US franchises, it was a day to forget for the most part. Interestingly of our three standout performers, one of them fullback Cooper Coats doesn’t even play in the MLR and is without a professional contract – probably not for much longer.
At a national level rugby in Canada has been managed very poorly for years now, and there seems little evidence that anything is being done to reverse the rot and get rid of a club of incompetent old boy amateurs. Until that’s done our brave lads will continue to fight the valiant fight but without the support they so desperately need to reverse Canada’s seemingly inevitable slide to the very bottom rungs of Tier Two status.
England’s young bucks are put to the test by an impressive and solid USA effort
If you were an England supporter you must have popped the champagne corks when you saw Eddie Jones’ selections for this match. He did something he should have done ages ago – embrace the future. Sure some of his young guns found their introduction to Test rugby at the hands of an exceptionally feisty and determined American outfit a bit of an eye opener. But as experience, hopefully with a view to the November Internationals and the next Six Nations, the quality of the opposition provided by a spirited American side was invaluable. While the Americans didn’t win, they made life exceptionally difficult for England and can be proud of their efforts. The 43-29 scoreline in favor of the English is more than respectable, especially when you consider that the bulk of the American squad had only been together for four days prior to the match.
England’s front row was ably led by Ellis Genge, who seemed to relish the leadership role in the tight five. Sam Underhill was his usual immense self in the back row, while Callum Chick had a solid debut at number eight and his replacement Lewis Ludlam continued to impess us, with the USA’s Cam Dolan providing some solid opposition for both of them. We thought barring one or two schooboy errors Harry Randall was outstanding at scrum half and if Coach Eddie Jones has any sense he will fast track the youngster into England’s squad come November. Although much was made of him prior to the match we thought fly half Marcus Smith didn’t quite live up to the hype surrounding him. While he may shine at Club level at the Test level we feel he’s not quite there yet. Max Malins continued to impress on the wing before being taken off early through injury, and Joe Cokanasiga is just a try scoring machine. We also thought that Freddie Steward had an exceptionally promising debut at fullback, and while he may be green, he’s absolutely fearless. He is definitely another possibility that Jones will want to consider given his troubles with finding the right fit for the 15 jersey.
As for the Americans, they must surely feel genuinely pleased with their efforts as they were competitive throughout and arguably won the second half. As the game wore on their confidence grew and had they played with the same kind of assertiveness and belief they showed in the second half for the full eighty minutes, we might have been writing a very different story. Much like the Japanese in Ireland they gave us a proper Test match and must surely feel confident about their future. MLR has clearly had a positive effect on US rugby with players being well coached and managed into the national team.
Canada must be looking on with envy especially as they will have to face this pumped up American squad twice in September for two World Cup qualifiers. If the Americans bring the same kind of commitment and intensity to their match with Ireland this weekend and can manage a similar result, then it will be Canada with all the homework to do this summer, especially if things don’t go well for them against England this Saturday. America may not be on the same upward trajectory as say Japan, but the future certainly looks bright enough to be wearing shades!
We’ll have more to say on this weekend’s upcoming festivities in the British Isles as well as France’s eagerly anticipated second Test with the Wallabies this coming Tuesday. Till then take care everyone and continue to stay safe.