Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Report card: Weekend test exams

November 20, 2006

Another exciting weekend of international rugby just concluded...

On Friday Wales convincingly defeated Canada 61 points to 26 at Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. The capacity 74,022 spectators was easily the largest crowd Canada's national rugby team has ever appeared before. Canada showed enough improvement over their hammering by Wales a year earlier to warrant optimism of their chances at next years World Cup. Canada finished the game strongly, scoring a pair of well-earned tries, and their confidence will not have taken a bash from the scoreline. They run a pre-RWC training camp in NZ next year, and with a full squad of best players will have their tails in the air. Canada's next test is Italy. On the other hand, Wales were simply a class apart. They benefitted from some weak Canadian tackling, but for the most part were easily the more polished and organized side. But conceding 26 points to a team like Canada that did not have ideal preparations, had only 32% possession and territoty, and no offense to speak, might not be the best sign going into next weekends' test match against the All Blacks. Nevertheless, this is one of the strongest Welsh sides seen in many, many years.

On Saturday South Africa started well but collapsed and allowed England to snatch victory from the jaws of their 8th consecutive loss. England trailed 18-6, but prevailed 23-21 on a late Phil Vickery try after Springbok coach Jake White emptied his bench and made replacements. England coach Andy Robinson can probably afford a quick sigh of relief, but the thin victory didn't stop England's RWC-winning captain Martin Johnson from calling for the axe to fall on Robinson's neck. Nevertheless, that's somewhat mild criticism compared to the knives for White's head at "the Home of South African rugby fans". The two teams face each other again next weekend.

That same Saturday afternoon Scotland ran up a huge early score and allowed Rupeni Caucaunibuca and the Pacific Islanders to claw back and give them a fright. Scotland led 31-5 and were on cruise-control, but the Islanders scored three tries to close the gap, with the final score 34-22 in favour of the home side Scots, who nevertheless lost a few players to injury and may not be fit for next weekends' test match against the Wallabies.

On Saturday evening the New Zealand All Blacks travelled to Paris for the 2nd of their two-test series against Six Nations champs France. The score was nowhere near the hammering of the previous week in Lyon, but the result was still the same -- a convincing 23-11 win for the tourists. But France will take heart from the way they played the game. They defended as if their lives depended upon it and forced New Zealand into making a lot of errors. But France never looked likely of winning, despite an early lead. Tactically they kept kicking high up-and-unders, just like last week, but they may have been excused here a bit for repeating the strategy. Their first bomb caught a cement-handed Leon MacDonald dropsie and France strolled in for the easiest of gift 5-pointers. But that was about as creative as it got for them and French critics aren't placated by the slimmer margin. New Zealand (whom Inky says "The A team is a myth") travels to Wales next weekend to wrap up their tour, while France hosts Argentina.

That same afternoon in Rome, Argentina fought back to win a tight 23-16 win over Italy. Almost immediately, UAR (the Argentina RFU) racheted up their rhetoric whinging about wanting to be a part of the Tri-Nations or Six Nations. One plan floated is for Argentina to base themselves in South Africa (for the 3N) or Spain (for 6N). Sheer lunacy! I don't see how this will help the Argentine rugby fan, nor grow and develop the sport in the Americas. Here we see Argentina turning their back and ignoring USA Rugby CEO Kevin Roberts proposal for an international tournament and professional league for the Americas. Why? Because we're not good enough. We're beneath them. The Argentine noses are in rarefied air now, and they don't care about us. Pot. Kettle. Black. Argentina travels to France next week in what should be a great contest, while Italy host Canada in another good match-up.

On Sunday Ireland destroyed Australia 21 points to 6. Ireland are no longer afraid of southern hemisphere powers and probably wish they had New Zealand on this tour. Ireland moves up to #3 on the IRB world ranking list. All-in-all, this is the best Irish side we've seen in decades, and possibly the worst Wallaby team since the pre-Ella brothers years. Ireland host the Pacific Islanders next weekend, while Australia travels to Scotland.


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