Hawkeye Sidekick

Autumn International Series: November 25th Reflections

The final Autumn International series fixture for the majority of teams. Wales and South Africa conclude the series with a fixture at the Principality Stadium next weekend but trends have emerged after this weekend’s results and performances. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.

Hail Hail Scotland!

The standout performance of the weekend. The rout of Australia particularly in the second half sent a massive statement of intent and backed up the performance that Gregor Townsend’s charges produced against New Zealand in the previous game.

To score fifty-three points against a Michael Cheika coached team is a massive accomplishment. The expansive style of play, the tempo and the support running options for the ball carrier were immense throughout.

Kepu’s red card was a key moment in the game but Australia can have little complaint on the sanction. Out of control, off feet and impact to the head is a red card sanction. Disappointing for Australia given that they had scored two quick tries to get back into the contest before the red card.

Scotland did not have to be asked twice to take full advantage of the numerical advantage. If you have read my blog, a general talking point on Scotland has being the issues in the front five; prone to be pushed around on set piece and maul but there has being none of that this series.

The likes of McNally, Fagerson, Bhatti have emerged and made the transition from promising Pro 14 club player to solid international test match performers seamlessly. The front five produced a superb performance; the sight of Scotland mauling thirty meters down the pitch setting up platform ball was sublime to watch.

Price and Russell at half-back are a standout world unit. Price has impressed me massively in this series. Tempo on point with quick ball from the ruck area and his ability to identify gaps in opposition defenses was seen to good effect with his key try just before the interval.

Russell with ball in hand is a player who poses massive questions to opposition defenses. His ability to create and launch attacks on the gain line is immense and Jones, Maitland and McGuigan yesterday reaped the benefit from a superbly managed display from the ten.

The second half performance was as complete a performance I have seen from a Scotland team in years. All units delivered; the back row unit were imperious in their work rate. Barclay, Watson and Wilson did untold damage in ball carrying as well as stifle Australian ball at breakdown.

A defining performance from Scotland, they continue their upward progression from last season. The RBS 6N tournament has a legit team who can challenge for championship honors along with the usual suspects. Murrayfield has become a fortress. Take a bow Scotland!

Wales huff and puff to little effect

An arduous task for Wales yesterday; there was optimism heading into the game but for me personally, it was more hope than expectation. It is tough enough facing New Zealand any time of the year but when you have to do so without the immense talents of Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, then the possibility of upsetting the odds is remote at best.

Take nothing away from the Welsh yesterday, the squad on show gave as good as they got for sixty plus minutes. New Zealand were forced to sit and defend deep in their own half for long periods but a lack of quality on the outside was exposed with the hosts attacking play. If Williams or Davies were on the park, surely Wales would have taken the lead given the possession and territorial gains in the first half.

New Zealand without the likes of Kieran Read still managed to score 33 points. Their ruthless efficiency with ball in hand when presented with space was sublime at times. Every New Zealand player is so comfortable with ball in hand, their composure to either present the ball at ruck time as well as looking for offloading options was seen to full effect.

Four tries scored during the eighty minutes. Naholo and Ioane with a brace of tries each, setup work from their colleagues on point and the players who came into the side for more established stars seamlessly fitted into the system. Wales condemned to their thirty straight loss to the All Blacks, it never looked like happening yesterday. Next weekend’s game against South Africa should accurately indicate where Gatland’s men are.

A special note for Josh Navidi. The Cardiff Blues player had a tremendous game yesterday; his mobility in breakdown and ball carrying duties was on point throughout. Navidi has had to bide his time for international game minutes but the player has being the standout performer for Wales in this series. A player which this blog has constantly highlighted, good to see the player get his opportunity.

Ireland win but food for thought

28-19. If you believed the D4 media print preview that Ireland had revenge (2015 RWC loss) on their mind, then I suppose it was mission accomplished. As Joe Schmidt correctly pointed out, the team needs to go forward and another win over a determined Argentina side will provide Ireland management with plenty to review and reflect upon.

The good news is that the new players in the squad stepped up to the plate yesterday. Jacob Stockdale continues to produce standout performances on the wing. Excellent performance, superb brace of tries and his work rate was to the fore. His man of the match accolade was truly merited.

The emergence of Aki and Farrell in midfield was a pleasing aspect to yesterday’s test match win. Aki was typically abrasive, super ball carries and high tackle count, good defensive structure throughout. Aki looks the incumbent twelve on the basis of this series. Farrell had a superb performance. Early ball carries set the tone and his quick hands to setup Stockdale’s opening try was superb.

Adam Byrne on his debut had a decent outing, unlucky not to score a try in the opening half after Murray’s diagonal kick to the corner. Byrne was solid on defensive duties and improved in the aerial battle as the game wore on. One for the future, a player for the future much like Darren Sweetnam. The talent is there, playing experience at provincial level and ERC will develop the player further.

The opening period was an impressive one for Ireland. The pack dominated the early exchanges. Emphatic scrum win at the start of the contest which setup the first score of the evening. Furlong, Best and Healy all had excellent games. Furlong and Healy in particular have elevated their games this season to new levels.

The second row partnership looked to work well. Henderson was his industrious best, excellent command in the lineout and his ball carries were efficient. James Ryan on debut did not put a step wrong for me personally. He is the future of the second row position along with Henderson. Confident on set piece and line out catches were sharp and provided Murray with quality line out ball to work with. A promising debut.

The back row was much improved from the debacle of last weekend. O’Mahoney, O’Brien and Stander nullifying the Argentina threat with good breakdown work. Stander’s try was just desserts for an industrious performance; never going to be stopped five meters out. All rosy in the garden one would think but there are areas of improvement.

Like last weekend, the tempo dropped in the second half and allowed Argentina to build momentum as a result. Argentina did improve their breakdown work after the break but Ireland did struggle to gain any parity in territory in the second half. 80% territory for Argentina in the second half (seventy minute statistic) spoke volumes; the last ten minutes improved but Ireland realize that they cannot afford to concede territorial advantage like this to other prolific sides.

Argentina scored some lovely tries in the second half, increased tempo and fast ruck ball allowing Sanchez to expose Ireland defensively with some deft drubber kicks. Tuclet, Leguizamon  and Moyano crossing down after the Argentinian pack started to gain a foothold in the pack exchanges.

Rob Kearney’s performance at full back was noteworthy; a stellar display from the Leinster player. His aerial ability is unquestioned and his line breaks provided Ireland with quality field position.

Ireland have had a good series of internationals; emerging talent have raised their hands for future selection, squad depth is improved but the ability to produce a consistent performance in the last two games is something that needs to be rectified by Joe Schmidt given the emergence of Scotland and Japan’s draw to France in Paris.

England show squad depth and potential to beat Samoa

Eddie Jones and England enter the RBS 6N tournament next year in buoyant form. Their 48-14 win over a gallant Samoa yesterday provided clues to the emerging players who could conceivably feature for the national team next year and beyond.

The second half performance again a key discussion point as England scored four late tries to break the resistance of Samoa who produced their typical hard running and tackle approach.

Mike Brown, Alex Lozowski who looks to have massive potential along with Charlie Ewels and Henry Slade all crossed over. Daly had a superb game, constant threat with ball in hand and his kicking game was on point throughout. Rokoduguni also crossed over.

Noteworthy series of games in which England passed with flying colors. The pack looks solidified with the emergence to form of Lawes and Launchbury to complement the talent of Itoje. The hooker position debate will continue to run and run but it is a nice problem for Jones to have.

Tougher assignments await next year and it will be interesting when New Zealand and England meet to verify RWC 2019 credentials. England are favorites for the RBS 6N next season without question and the emergence of several promising prospects from the Saxons bodes well for the future.

Italy struggles continue

Grim afternoon weather wise and for the locals in attendance, the performance of Italy matched the climatic conditions. South Africa eased to a 35-6 victory; were patient in the red zone and scored five tries in the process.

Francois Louw, Bongi Mbonambi and Francois Venter all scored tries in the first half, with Handre Pollard converting them all to establish a daunting 15-point lead at the break.

Steven Kitshoff pushed the visitors further clear following the restart, Pollard converting yet again, while Franco Mostert ended any Italian dreams of a late recovery by dotting down at the death.

Italy had promising moments; territorial prominent at times but lack of back line variety made them one dimensional. South Africa were able to defend at times with ease. McKinley had being a positive for Italy but still massive work required for Italy on both sides of the ball.