Saints and Sinners: The weekend’s talking points
England made it 11 Test wins in a row by beating the Springboks, Wales got back on the horse after last weekend's loss, Scotland were pipped at the post and Ireland beat Canada. Who played a starring role and who fluffed their lines?
Ben Youngs and Co
Joe Launchbury won the Man of the Match award but Ben Youngs made the most eye-catching contribution to England’s 37-21 win over South Africa. The scrum-half set up two tries in the second half which took England from 20-9 to 37-14 ahead. Both scores came from breaks round the side of rucks, with the hapless Pieter-Steph du Toit – who is usually a lock but was playing out of position at flanker – buying a pair of dummies from Youngs.
The first time, with 43 minutes on the clock, Youngs raced through a gap, dummied to pass to Mike Brown and when du Toit moved to tackle the full-back, Youngs ran on and passed to George Ford who sprinted up on his right shoulder and scored the try.
Youngs repeated the trick 23 minutes later, this time darting round a ruck on the South Africa 22 and dummying to pass to Marland Yarde. Du Toit was left waving his arms in frustration as Owen Farrell appeared to take the scoring pass from Youngs.
The scrum-half wouldn’t have had the space in which to operate so effectively around the rucks if it hadn’t been for great work from the England forwards, but Youngs made a telling contribution for his team as they beat South Africa for the first time since 2006 and ended a run of 11 defeats and a draw against the Springboks.
I beg your forgiveness if the fact I am a Gloucester supporter has coloured my judgement here, but I am making Jonny May a Saint this week after his try-scoring comeback for England.
The super-fast wing got England on the scoresheet against South Africa after ten minutes when he finished a training-ground move from a lineout. Every one of the seven backs and half-backs was involved either as a passer or a decoy runner and when the ball came to May in space on the left, he finished the move perfectly, diving under the cover tackle of Rudy Paige to touch down in the corner.
May did much more than that in this match. His excellent chase of an Elliot Daly kick forced Ruan Combrinck to drop the ball in his own 22 and from there Mike Brown kicked it to the line and Courtney Lawes dived on it for his first England try on the occasion of his 50th cap.
In all May made seven runs with the ball in hand, making 55 metres of ground, he did plenty of other work off the ball and made seven tackles. Not a bad return for a player who had been out with a knee injury since the start of 2016 and had made just one Premiership appearance before joining up with England.
Liam Williams and Gethin Jenkins
Wales needed to get their show back on the road after last week’s dismal loss to Australia and they managed to, with a 24-20 win over Argentina.
One of the stars for the home side was win Liam Williams, who scored a decisive try early in the second half and carried the ball 14 times in all in a lively performance on his return from injury.
Dan Biggar must take some credit for Williams’s try as his strong break from the ten-metre line into the 22 created the pressure, but Williams had several men to beat when he received the ball out on the left a phase or two later and he managed to power through the tackles and ground the ball under a pile of bodies.
Gethin Jenkins provided another golden moment for Wales and set up their second try. The veteran loosehead forget which number was on his jersey and lofted a lovely chip over the Argentine back line and into the 22. Santiago Cordero just put a foot in touch as he fielded the kick and from the ensuing attacking lineout Wales created a scoring chance for scrum-half Gareth Davies. That put them 18-10 ahead and they hung on to win.
The Ireland full-back scored two tries as a largely reserve-strength Ireland beat Canada 52-21 at the Aviva Stadium.
Tiernan O’Halloran’s first score was really impressive, as he cut a great line to collect an offload from prop Finlay Bealham and change the direction of attack, then ran 50 metres to touch down. The scores had been tied at 14-14 at the time so his try allowed Ireland to take a 21-14 lead into half-time.
He scored again with just two minutes of the match to go, this time going over from about three metres out, but he did have to spin around neatly to take the pass from Garry Ringrose, which had gone behind him.
O’Halloran also came within a whisker of pulling off a great try-saving tackle on his opposite number after 16 minutes of the second half, but Matt Evans just managed to ground the ball for a fraction of a second as the Connacht man rolled him onto his back over the line.
The Australia centre broke Scotland’s hearts five minutes from time at Murrayfield by scoring they try which enabled the Wallabies to snatch a win after trailing for almost the entire match.
Tevita Kuridrani bulldozed to the line and reached out through a despairing tackle from Stuart Hogg to just ground the ball over the whitewash close to the posts. From there Bernard Foley was able to slot the conversion which took Australia to a 23-22 win.
Australia coach Michael Cheika said Kuridrani was especially pleased to score the decisive try as he had missed a tackle which led to one of Huw Jones’s two first-half tries.
Kuridrani himself said: “I was pretty down when I missed the tackle. It was one on one and I missed it. I really wanted to make up for it and luckily enough I got the try.”
To score two tries on your first Test start takes some doing but Huw Jones showed his class for Scotland against Australia with a double strike in the first half.
Jones had won his first cap off the bench on Scotland’s June tour to Japan. He was handed the No 13 jersey for the clash with the Wallabies at Murrayfield and repaid Vern Cotter’s faith by scoring twice. He collected a chip over the defence from Finn Russell for his first try after seven minutes and finished off a period of pressure from Scotland to claim his second try with 26 minutes on the clock.
“He has been playing well in the Currie Cup and carried that through,” said Cotter. “There was energy from everybody in the week and he fed off it. He has got the quality.”
It was a record-breaking weekend for England and Worcester Valkyries prop Rochelle Clark as she won her 115th Test cap, making her the most capped England player of either gender as she overtook Jason Leonard’s 114.
To put icing on the cake, Clark scored England’s first try in their match against Ireland and the Red Roses went on to win 12-10 in Dublin.
Nora Stapleton scored all Ireland’s points with a try, conversion and penalty while Izzy Noel-Smith scored England’s other try and Kay Mclean kicked the match-winning conversion.
Beauden Barrett and Sarah Hunter
This duo won the World Rugby Men’s and Women’s Players of the Year respectively, at the World Rugby Awards in London on Sunday.
Fly-half Barrett becomes the fifth All Black in a row to receive the prestigious award, while England captain Sarah Hunter beat two other skippers to win her trophy, New Zealand’s Fiao’o Fa’amausili and France’s Gaëlle Mignot.
Finally, at the ninth time of asking, Bristol got their first win of the season, beating Sale Sharks 26-11 at Ashton Gate.
Tries from debutant Jason Woodward, Rhodri Williams and Jack Tovey, plus eight points from the boot of Billy Searle, were enough to give Bristol that winning feeling and although it was in the Anglo-Welsh Cup rather than the Aviva Premiership, it will still give them a boost as they get ready to return to league action with a trip to The Rec to face Bath on Friday evening.
Woodward, 26, has just arrived in Bristol from his native New Zealand where he played for the Hurricanes. Playing at centre, he scored his try after just nine minutes and added to his heroics with a cheeky after-match interview. When asked “how was that for you?” by the Sky Sports reporter, Woodward quipped: “Pretty cold!”
The French referee is a Sinner this week as he was surely the only person at Twickenham who did not think Francois Venter’s pass to Warren Whiteley went forward in the build-up to Johan Goosen’s try.
Jerome Garces looked at some replays on the big screen but not even the fact that No 8 Whiteley had to reach well in front of himself to take the pass convinced Garces to disallow the try.
The officials missed another clear forward pass later in the game, by JP Pietersen inside his own 22. It didn’t lead to a score this time, but if the offence had been spotted England would have had a good position to attack from.
Sean O’Brien and Luke Marshall
Ireland were made to battle for their win over Canada, even though the final 52-21 scoreline was convincing enough, and their cause wasn’t help by some sloppy first-half play.
Sean O’Brien was one of the culprits as he knocked on with the line at his mercy after Jack O’Donohue had made a strong break from the back of a close-range scrum.
Luke Marshall scored Ireland’s second try, to put them 14-0 up after 22 minutes but then gifted one to Canada straight from the restart. Canada had kicked long and Ireland were attempting to run the ball from their own 22 when Marshall’s pass which was intended for Tiernan O’Halloran was instead snaffled by DTW van der Merwe and he strode over the line for a try.
Ireland took the opportunity to blood eight new Test players in this match against weaker opponents and so there were bound to be teething problems, but O’Brien and Marshall would both hope to have done better.
Australia replacement Will Skelton incurred the wrath of coach Michael Cheika when he got himself sin-binned just seven minutes after coming onto the pitch during the match against Scotland. He was penalised for hitting Jonny Gray shoulder first after the referee had already blown for an Australia penalty. When Skelton headed for the cooler his team were 22-16 down with 12 minutes to go, and so really needed all hands on deck.
As it was, they managed to score the match-winning try while they were down to 14 men but Cheika still had some harsh words for Skelton after the match.
“He has got to put his arms around that guy and he knows that. It was ill-discipline from him. We had our own penalty, it was after the whistle and it wasn’t clever. He knows that.”
South Africa’s tactics
South Africa were well beaten by England at Twickenham and while they clearly have some complex problems to pick their way through, they didn’t help themselves with a baffling lineout strategy.
Coach Allister Coetzee picked lock Pieter-Steph du Toit out of position on the flank, giving his side an extra lineout option to exploit, but the Boks opted not to challenge for England’s ball there and so allowed the hosts to win all 15 of their lineouts. Former South Africa hooker Schalk Brits, who was working as a Sky Sports pundit at the match, couldn’t see a reason for that tactic. “Your guess is as good as mine,” he said, when he was asked about it mid-match. “I don’t know.”