One step forward, two steps back for Wallabies
Australian coach Ewen McKenzie and his emerging side are drawing as many positives as possible from their dour, scrappy 6-0 win over France in Melbourne, but the performance was a stark reminder of the gap between themselves and heavyweight foes, New Zealand and South Africa. The Wallabies faced a French side with 10 changes from the 50-23 first Test result – and an outfit that showed a vastly improved commitment to defence.
A clean sheet defensively is an encouraging sign for the Wallabies – particularly after conceding at least 13 points in every Test of their mixed 2013 campaign – but in reality, France threw little cohesive attack at the hosts. Like the tourists, Australia was guilty of a plethora of handling mistakes and poor execution, rarely putting a threatening backline move together or appearing likely to breach the try-line. The lowest winning total in a Wallabies Test since 1958 was befitting of the atmosphere of a disappointing half-filled Etihad Stadium.
The Wallaby forwards matched their physical French counterparts in tight play, especially at scrum time, but far more will be needed from the green and golds as a 15-man unit if they are any chance of competing in the Rugby Championship and ending 12 years of Bledisloe Cup misery.
Improved All Blacks pushed in Test classic
After a scratchy and fortunate 20-15 win over a depleted English side in the first Test, New Zealand clicked into gear in the second clash in Dunedin – but the tourists also lifted several notches and lost little in comparison to the world champions in a 28-27 thriller. England had the better of the first half, heading to the sheds 10-6 in front. But the advantage could have been greater as a number of try-scoring opportunities slipped agonisingly out of reach.
The class of the All Blacks’ backline stars proved the difference during the second half, with Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Ben Smith and Julian Savea causing havoc. An incredibly harsh yellow card against point-scoring machine Owen Farrell saw the match wrenched from England’s grasp, with the score pushing out from 18-13 to 28-13 with the No.10 off the paddock. But England fought valiantly in the latter stages, posting two tries to cut the deficit to just one point. While New Zealand’s all-round performance improved drastically from a week earlier, England gained something of a moral victory with their gallant display and uncharacteristic enthusiasm for using the ball.
Welsh whipped by Springboks
South Africa enjoyed a comparatively cruisy build-up to the Rugby Championship, easily accounting for Wales 38-16 after a dominant first half display. The Springboks chalked up four tries in the opening 40 minutes – two of them to veteran winger Bryan Habana – to lead 28-9 at the break at Kings Park, Durban. Wales stemmed the flow of points after the break however, with the second stanza finishing at one try apiece.
Scotland and Ireland grab narrow wins abroad
Scotland edged out Canada 19-17 in Toronto, requiring a Greig Laidlaw penalty goal eight minutes from fulltime to avoid an upset loss in a match that saw each side score just one try. Meanwhile, Six Nations champs Ireland secured their maiden Test series win in Argentina with a hard-fought 23-17 victory in Tucuman, after trailing 10-9 at halftime. Italy’s disappointing tour of the Pacific continued with a 15-0 shutout at the hands of Samoa in Apia.
Pacific Cup heats up
Japan remained unbeaten after two rounds of the Pacific Nations Cup, scoring a 37-29 away victory over the United States. Fiji announced their intentions to win the six-team competition, trouncing island rivals Tonga 45-17. The Fijians led 24-3 at halftime, while Sereli Bobo and Watisoni Votu notched two tries each, and giant Canterbury Crusaders winger Nemani Nadolo finished with a 20-point haul.
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