November Internationals 2014 Round 4 Review

Another weekend of scintillating international rugby, whilst most of the endings we expected, the journey there was not predictable. Here’s my review of the weekend’s international games.

So how did the predictions go?

First up here’s the link to my predictions.

6 out of 9, is OK. Argentina used the drop goal to good effect and I got of the second tier games wrong.

Fiji 20 v 14 USA

Fjij went out to a good lead in the first half racking up 15 points and stopping the USA from getting anything. In the second half the USA produced a fight back aided by two yellow cards. Even so Fiji managed their third try during the first yellow and that proved enough.

Fiji ended the international window with just one win but came close to beating Wales. So about par for course still work to do before the World Cup if they can get together.

For the USA it was also just one win against Romania and losses to the All Blacks, Tonga and Fiji. Even thought they didn’t have their Premiership players after the All Blacks encounter it was still a reminder of where they stand in the world order. There is lots of work to do if they are to have any chance of winning a game at the world cup.

England 28 v 9 Samoa

England got the much-needed win but with an unreassuring performance. Samoa had the better of the possession and territory but the England defence held firm. Samoa did take the lead with a penalty but that was as good as it got. May showed his pace again to grab the first try and is one of the positives of the games so far. Early in the second half England managed to take control with a cross field kick, that was a theme of the weekend, and closed it out from there.

This international window had been bad Samoa and that’s just off the field. Threats of strikes and then counter threats of what it will do to Samoan rugby do not paint rugby in a good light. The administrators need to get on top of this quickly but I’m not confident.

Key Stat: Tackling Success Rate England 93% Samoa 78%

That low tackling success rate for Samoa also led to 24 defenders beaten for England. You’re not going to win many games missing that many tackles and it’s an area they are going to need to tighten up before the world cup next year. Well that’s assuming any of the same players are selected again after they talked out about the mess of the Samoan administration.

Scotland 37 v 12 Tonga

Tonga were in this game for the first half and were leading until Hogg scored a long-range try against the run of play. From there on in Scotland took control and in the second half just camped in Tonga territory. With that territorial advantage they stopped Tonga from scoring any points whilst racking up a further 3 tries.

Scotland have been impressive over their three games and their last try from a cross field kick showed good awareness of where his team-mates were. Very much like one of the All Blacks tries, I’m not saying that they are that good but they are much improved. and it will be interesting to se if they can carry this over into the 6 nations.

Tonga won their first two games and so even with this loss it’s been a positive series. At first they would have been looking at doing well in this game but Scotland have been much improved and there is no shame in losing this one.

Key Stat: Territory Second Half Scotland 81% Tonga 19%

Taking a stranglehold like that is going to lead to a victory more times than not.

Romania 18 v 9 Canada

All the points came from the boot in this grind it out win. Perhaps it’s because these two teams are playing each other at the world cup next year that this turned into a tight kick fest. Both sides have had a disappointing November campaign, after two losses Romania really needed this win. It will give them a psychological advantage going it this fixture next year but it was hardly a dominating performance.

Canada only managed one win and that was over Namibia, who are the lowest ranking side to make the world cup. There is lots of work for the Canadians to do if they are to get anything out of the world cup next year. Also being paired with Italy, they might have thought they could get an upset win, not on these performances.

Italy 6 v 22 South Africa

Italy were under the cosh for the whole of the game but they managed to keep in touch for the first half. In the second they couldn’t get a score as South Africa took control. The scoreline though makes it look more comfortable than it really was as with a try at the death. But South Africa were in control and more than a score a head from the hour mark.

After a good start against Samoa, Italy lost to both Argentina and South Africa and this has to be considered a failed window. Scotland beat Argentina so it’s looking being a tough six nations for Italy.

Key Stat: Defenders Beaten Italy 4 South Africa 17

South Africa were much more penetrating and whilst they might not have had a large lead all the way through they were in control. They finish off against Wales next weekend which will decide if it’s been a good end of season or not for them.

Ireland 26 v 23 Australia

A win is a win no matter how close the final result. Ireland raced out to a 17 point lead including one of those cross field kicks. Ireland’s second try was an interception run away and Australia’s possession soon told. Australia came back to lead with three tries of their own but they went in at the interval all even. The second half didn’t live up to the first with only three penalties. But Ireland were tightened things up and held on to a narrow win.

Three wins including two over southern hemisphere giants is a great autumn for Ireland and is reflected in them rising up to 3rd in the world rankings. I have not looked at how the six nations fixtures fall but this must install them as one of the favourites. Australia still l have England to play to save their end of season tour.

Key Stat: Penalties Conceded Ireland 5 Australia 10

At the end of the day those penalties given up in range were what enabled Ireland to sneak a tight win.

Wales 16 v 34 New Zealand

Wales were in this until the 69th minute where the All Blacks ran away with it. I counted three clean breaks for Wales that they failed to convert. Against the All Blacks you are going to pay for that. The reason that Wales managed to keep with the All Blacks was blistering line speed in their defence. You can now see why Gatland concentrated on fitness in the run up to this international window to the extent of not doing any tackle practice. There were serious questions about this after the first game but it all makes sense now.

New Zealand were clearly flustered at times by the rush defence but there always seamed to be someone available to pick up the loose ball. The cross field kick was used a lot to try and negate this and in the end it worked with 2 tries coming from this tactic. In the end everybody is going to talk about playing the full 80 minuets against the All Blacks. That’s true it only took a slight slowing in the rush defence to free up the All Blacks to devastating effect.

One of the things that I have talked about is the mental toll on the Welsh losing to the southern hemisphere teams. They could so easily have folded when New Zealand scored at the beginning of the second half but to their credit they came back and scored a try straight away.

Key Stat: Meters run with ball Wales 178 New Zealand 495

Warburton led Wales with 38 meters, New Zealand had 4 players with more and a further 2 with 37 meters. That’s a lot of ball carrying to defend and in the end they couldn’t quite live with it.

France 13 v 18 Argentina

This was a reminder of a World Cup semi final a few years ago that South Africa won with drop goals. You do see the odd drop goal here and there but to see this many and for it to be the winning formula is rare.

Argentina kept the score board ticking over with drop goals in the first half making full use of the territory they got. In the second half France managed to control the territory restricting Argentina to just 3 points but by then the damage had been done and they couldn’t break down the Argentinian defence.

After losing Scotland Argentina have turned things round and with two wins it has been a successful end of season for them.

France started off well but their new try sensation getting dropped for not turning up to a team meeting leaves questions. Here is a country known for having squad issues and it temporarily looked like things were on the mend, with several new faces. Are they going to descend back into in fighting or will they learn their lessons from this?

Key Stat: Drop Goals France 0 Argentina 4 (1 missed)

Yup those drop goals in the first half that kept the scoreboard ticking over along with keeping France out was the key to this game.

Georgia 35 v 24 Japan

Georgia took control of this game in the first half with a couple of tries and after that managed to pull away again whenever the Japanese looked like staging a fight back. Jaan didn’t help themselves with two yellow cards even if they did outscore Georgia 7-10 during the first one. At the end of that hello card Japan got within two but that’s as close as it got as Georgia responded with their third try and went on to add two more.

For Georgia this saved their campaign after losses to Tonga and Ireland. They should go into the World Cup expecting to beat Namibia and knowing what they need to work on for the Tonga game.

Japan on the other hand have had a bad international window, with back to back losses to the New Zealand Maori and the only highlight being the win over Romania. A lot of work to be done over the next year.

Uruguay 26 v 6 Brazil

One I didn’t know about until I saw the score and I have not seen any write-ups anywhere so all I can give you is the score.

Portugal 29 v 20 Namibia

Another one that flew under the radar. Haven’t read anything about the game but must be worrying for Namibia to lose again. This time to a team that hasn’t qualified for the World Cup. I think it’s clear Namibia is going to struggle next year.

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