Saturday, 22 November 2014

Ireland edge Wallabies in thriller

Ireland claimed their second Southern Hemisphere scalp of the month with a 26-23 victory over Australia in a thrilling clash in Dublin on Saturday.

The hosts were outscored three tries to two by the Wallabies but another incredible performance on defence — as was the case against the Springboks — was at the origin of a memorable win.

What a game!

One of the best first-halves of international rugby seen anywhere this year came to an end with the scores locked at 20-all.

It was breathtaking stuff as both sides impressed.  Australia's ability to offload in the tackle kept the ball alive while the hosts' tactical execution was out of the top drawer.

An amazing first half-hour that featured five tries saw Ireland race to a 17-0 lead inside 15 minutes only for Australia to fight back and draw level.

Irish wings Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe both touched down early on but the Wallabies replied via three tries from half-backs Nick Phipps — who scored twice — and Bernard Foley.

The paced never slowed in the second half — even if the tries stopped flowing — and the game went right down to the wire with the opposing fly-halve exchanging penalties.

Zebo got the hosts off to a perfect start as he raced down the touchline to latch onto Jonathan Sexton's equally perfect kick ahead to score.  It all came thanks to Rory Best ripping the ball away in a choke tackle.  Sexton added the conversion to go with an earlier penalty as Ireland led 10-0.

Two minutes later, with Australia looking dangerous, Bowe intercepted a Phipps pass and bolted 80 metres to score.  Sexton's extras made it 17-0 and the Dublin crowd was ready to party.

The mood changed very quickly however as Phipps made amends for his earlier gaff by beating four defenders on a wonderful run off turnover ball to score.  Foley converted and the comeback was in full swing.

Australia's second try come in controversial circumstances as Phipps sent what looked like a distinctly forward pass to Foley, who only just managed to get the tip of the ball onto the whitewash.  If Australia hadn't been given the try, a yellow card was likely after Henry Speight was stopped just short and Irish hands grappled for the ball on the deck.

Foley sent the conversion wide, but at 17-12 the game was alive again.

There was nothing wrong with the Wallabies' third try though — probably the best of the game — with Matt Toomua and Foley providing wonderful uploads to put Phipps away to level the scores.

Foley's missed the easy conversion but incredibly could put the visitors in front with penalty as halt-time loomed large.

Sexton replied in kind on the stroke of half-time and it was all-square and anyone game as the teams swapped ends.

Kurtley Beale came on for Tevita Kuridriani early in the second period but the try-scoring dried up to leave Foley and Sexton to exchange three-pointers.

Rob Kearney hit the upright from nearly 50 metres on the angle, but Ireland never really threatened to score another try.

Their work at the breakdown was outstanding though and the home fly-half landed two excellent kicks to put Ireland ahead at 26-23 with 15 minutes left on the clock.

The Wallabies were in full-attack mode in the dying minutes but the Irish defence was rock solid, not giving an inch as they matched their commitment with organisation.

Having lost back-to-back games after last week's defeat in Paris, Australia must now look to salvage their tour at Twickenham while Ireland finish their November series unbeaten.

Man of the Match:  Too many candidates to mention them all but Sexton was outstanding again.  Paul O'Connell was immense however, leading by example in a towering defensive display

Moment of the Match:  Plenty of highlights but Zebo's try in the opening minutes typified Ireland's performance.  It was a perfect example of grabbing a half-chance with clinical efficiency and set the tone for the rest of the Irish display

Villain of the Match:  If you're Irish, TMO Eric Gauzins's interpretation of what constitutes a forward pass is debatable.

The scorers:

For Ireland: 
Tries:  Zebo, Bowe
Cons:  Sexton 2
Pens:  Sexton 4

For Australia: 
Tries:  Phipps 2, Foley
Con:  Foley
Pens:  Foley 2

Ireland:  15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Rhys Ruddock, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements:  16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Dave Foley, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Felix Jones.

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridriani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Luke Jones, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 James Hanson, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Benn Robinson, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Will Genia, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Kurtley Beale.

Venue:  Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland
Referee:  Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees:  Nigel Owens (Wales), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Television match official:  Eric Gauzins (France)
Timekeeper:  Kevin Beggs (Ireland)

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Les Bleus hold on against Wallabies

Teddy Thomas' wonder try helped France to a thrilling 29-26 win over Australia in a bruising encounter at the Stade de France.

France were hanging on at the end but this was a deserved win for Les Bleus, and much-needed for under-fire Philippe Saint-André.

Camille Lopez controlled the game from fly-half, while in Thomas, France have a born finisher.  On another day Australia might have nicked it, but just when his team needed him most, Thierry Dusautoir produced two decisive tackles in the last five minutes to secure the win.

Saint-André had chosen to stick with the same starting lineup that beat Fiji in Marseille and was rewarded in the first 30 minutes as Les Bleus played with real intensity in both attack and defence.

Tries from Sébastien Tillous-Borde and Thomas saw France lead 17-6, but from there Australia fought back through Bernard Foley and an Adam Ashley-Cooper try and trailed by just a point at half-time.

As well as France had started, Michael Cheika's team looked much the stronger going into the break and it seemed as if they would power away in the second half.  Instead Les Bleus tightened things up, opened up a lead thanks to the boot of Lopez, and despite Rob Simmons' late try, held on for the win.

It was Australia who almost made the perfect start though when Scott Spedding's clearance kick was charged down and Simmons touched down inside a minute.  The second row had knocked on while picking up the ball, however, and France's blushes were spared.

In an entertaining opening Les Bleus came within inches of crossing themselves after some great work by Yoann Huget.  The winger collected Lopez's cross-kick before beating two men and feeding Spedding inside him only for the full-back to be nudged into touch at the last second by the covering Foley.

Australia then tried to play their way out of trouble from the resulting lineout, and when James Horwill knocked on, Alexandre Dumoulin's wide pass was just too high for Thomas.

France didn't have to wait long for their try though, from the scrum Lopez made a half-break, and with the Australian defence scrambling, Tillous-Borde spotted a gap and darted over from the back of a ruck.  Lopez was injured in the move but shrugged that off to convert and make it 7-0.

Just as they had done repeatedly last week against Wales, Australia hit back straightaway, earning a penalty when Tillous-Borde was isolated from the restart.  Foley made no mistake to cut the lead to four.

France were almost in again soon after, Lopez again ghosting through a gap before a grubber had Joe Tomane scrambling but the winger just managed to get back into time to palm the ball into touch with Huget lurking.

A Lopez penalty from the next lineout was immediately cancelled out by Foley, with the visitors doing just enough to stay in touch.

Lopez was playing well in general, but for the second time in a row his restart went straight out, giving Australia a scrum on halfway and handing them back possession.

France were nullifying the Australian attack, but the Wallabies had clearly singled out Thomas as a weakness under the high ball and he was twice caught out to give away lineouts in French territory.

But while the winger was struggling in defence, he showed just why he was selected with a sensational individual try.  He collected the ball out wide under pressure, before beating Christian Leali'ifano, Ashley-Cooper, Saia Fainga'a and Nick Phipps to go over for his fourth Test try in just his second appearance.  Lopez converted again to make it 17-6.

While France deservedly led, the one bright point for Australia was their scrum, which had the upper hand on their French counterparts and even earned a penalty just after the half-hour.  Unfortunately for the Wallabies the same could not be said for their misfiring lineout.

When they did manage to secure one though, they sucked in the French defence with a maul before spreading the ball to the right.  Foley slipped out of Tillous-Borde's tackle, before finding Ashley-Cooper, who was too strong for Spedding and notched up his 30th Test try.  Foley's conversion from out wide made it 17-13 with half-time approaching.

France looked to be running out of steam and when Pascal Papé was caught offside, Foley gratefully accepted three more points to make it a one-point game at the break.

With his team tiring, Saint-André made some changes at half-time, with Uini Atonio and Mathieu Bastareaud both entering the fray, and the centre showed all his power in the opening seconds breaking three tackles to force Australia back on to their own line.  When the Wallabies were caught offside a couple of phases later, Lopez stretched the lead back to four.

The momentum was back with the home side and Michael Hooper caught Guilhem Guirado high a couple of minutes later, but wasn't made to pay as Lopez's penalty didn't quite have the legs.

France didn't have to wait long to stretch the lead again though, with Sean McMahon penalised for lifting Bernard Le Roux after the whistle had gone, and this time Lopez made no mistake.

The seven-point lead was back to four almost immediately, a French kick-chase setting off a fraction early giving Foley an easy penalty.

The French scrum was still struggling, but the introduction of Xavier Chiocci for Menini had an instant impact, shunting the Australians back and earning penalty just before the hour.

The resulting lineout was lost but Rory Kockott, on for Tillous-Borde, charged down Foley and the Wallabies barely survived with Rob Horne's clearing kick giving France a lineout five metres out.

Unfortunately for Les Bleus they were then penalised for offside when trying to set up a maul, blowing a golden opportunity to open up a gap between the sides.

The tide had certainly turned in the scrum though, with Sekope Kepu, on his 50th appearance, given a torrid time by Chiocci and conceding another penalty which Lopez converted.

It was getting scrappy, but France were in control, and when Will Skelton was penalised in a lineout, Kockott stretched the lead to ten with eight minutes remaining.

The game looked up but Australia worked an overlap to send Ashley-Cooper away and after going straight through Spedding he was dragged down just short of the line.  Rémi Talès thought he'd secured a decisive turnover but he was deemed to have done so illegally and was sin-binned as a result.

Australia were right back in it, but a huge tackle and rip from Thierry Dusautoir on Skelton forced the Wallabies to start again.

It was only temporary respite however.  Israel Folau, having barely featured all game, made a searing break and while he couldn't finish, a couple of phases later, Quade Cooper slipped the ball out of a tackle for Simmons to go over.  This time there was no knock-on and Foley's conversion cut the lead back to three with three minutes remaining.The visitors were flying and Foley went straight through once more as Australia looked certain to score.  Yet again Dusautoir was in the right place and the right time, making a perfect tackle on Ben Alexander to force a knock-on five metres out.

That left France with a final scrum to negotiate and they did precisely that, earning some measure of revenge for June's 3-0 whitewash.  It wasn't easy, and they are far from the finished article, but it was an important step for their under-fire coach.

For Australia, there was disappointment, with the likes of Tevita Kuridrani and Folau, in particular, struggling to have a real impact in the game.  Foley was outstanding once more, but overall the Wallabies turned over too much ball in contact to emerge victorious.

Man of the match:  There were a number of candidates:  Teddy Thomas for his solo score alone, Thierry Dusautoir for his captain's performance at the death and Bernard Foley for keeping Australia in it.  In the end though, we're going to go for Camille Lopez.  He ran the show for France, showing great decision-making and helping them turn things around after a sticky end to the first half.  We'll even forgive him his two fluffed restarts.

Moment of the match:  How can we not go with Teddy Thomas' try?  Saint-André said in the build-up that Thomas has weaknesses in defence but makes up for them with his attacking threat.  This game was proof of that, but as a finisher he is something else.

Villain of the match:  It was fiery and the tackles came flying in, but overall it didn't quite boil over.

The scorers:

For France:
Tries:  Tillous-Borde, Thomas
Cons:  Lopez 2
Pens:  Lopez 4, Kockott
Yellow Card:  Talès

For Australia:
Tries:  Ashley-Cooper, Simmons
Cons:  Foley 2
Pens:  Foley 4

France:  15 Scott Spedding, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Alexandre Dumoulin, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Bernard Le Roux, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Alexandre Menini
Replacements:  16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Xavier Chiocci, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Yannick Nyanga, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 James Horwill, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper
Replacements:  16 James Hanson, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Matt Hodgson, 21 Will Genia, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Rob Horne

Referee:  Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees:  Wayne Barnes (England), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO:  Graham Hughes (England)

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Wales fall to Wallabies

Australia held off a spirited effort from Wales to condemn their hosts to yet another defeat against their visitors, going down 33-28 on Saturday.

If it wasn't before, it is now a worrying trend for Wales one year out from the World Cup as they went down to their upcoming Pool A rivals.

They had a chance to win but in the end first-half errors and late ill-disciplined saw Australia prevail.

There were no penalties on the board during the first-half as both teams enjoyed lots of space to unleash their dangerous runners in back play.

And it was a player who deserved his start at the base who got the ball rolling as the Osprey Rhys Webb capitalised on space around the ruck after captain Sam Warburton's break, running through untouched from 20 metres out before Leigh Halfpenny landed the successful conversion.

It set the tone for a try-happy half as then Wallaby captain Michael Hooper ran hard at Dan Biggar before offloading to Israel Folau to level.

20 minutes had been played when Folau doubled both his personal and team's account, intercepting a speculative pass from Webb as he set off to the try-line from his own 22.  Bernard Foley sent over the extras as it was a 14-7 ball game on the new hybrid surface.

Wales again displayed tenacity to bounce back and when George North broke on halfway before finding wing Alex Cuthbert for the run-in, we were level at the Millennium Stadium.

The pattern continued on the half-hour mark as in-form centre Tevita Kuridrani powered through the tackles of lock Alun-Wyn Jones and Cuthbert for a strong run to the uprights.  With Foley's two points the Wallabies had once more moved into a seven-point lead.

With Halfpenny having hobbled off, Wales though made some pressure count before half-time as Jones picked from one metre out to make it 21-21 at the break with Biggar's kick.  Fortunately for Wales, it didn't go to the TMO as it looked like double movement.

Upon the turnaround it was Australia who began the stronger as Foley made it 24-21.

Wales meanwhile could have levelled from distance but went for the corner with replacement Rhys Priestland's first touch due to Biggar hobbling off.  Webb soon followed.

Foley continued his great game with a further three points on 56 minutes that made it a 27-21 lead for the Wallabies but thus followed a purple patch for Wales in the visitors 22.  They turned the screw at scrum-time and eventually got their reward with a penalty try for the lead.

However, as so often has been the case for Wales against the southern hemisphere giants, they could not finish the job as a smartly taken Foley drop and then then his third penalty of the game saw the Wallabies to victory.  Wales, again, wonder what might have been.

Man of the match:  He directed Australia superbly well, with his points key to the victory.  Hats off to fly-half Bernard Foley, with mentions going to Sam Warburton and Israel Folau.

Moment of the match:  Poor Rhys Webb.  He started strongly with a try but his intercept pass to Israel Folau was a sucker punch to Wales in the first-half.  A gift seven points.

Villain of the match:  Nothing nasty to report.

The scorers:

For Wales:
Tries:  Webb, Cuthbert, AW Jones, Penalty
Con:  Halfpenny 2, Biggar, Priestland

For Australia:
Tries:  Folau 2, Kuridrani
Con:  Foley 3
Pen:  Foley 3
Drop:  Foley

Wales:  15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 George North, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.
Replacements:  16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Cory Allen.

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 James Hanson, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 James Horwill, 20 Will Skelton, 21 Matt Hodgson, 22 Will Genia, 23 Rob Horne.

Referee:  Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant Referees:  Jaco Peyper (South Africa), JP Doyle (England)
TMO:  Graham Hughes (England)

Saturday, 1 November 2014

All Blacks put 70 points on USA

Inevitably the event mattered more than the scoreline as New Zealand dispatched the USA with a 74-6 win in Chicago at Soldier Field.

Taking the sport to the United States is a necessity for the future of rugby and there’s no doubt with national TV coverage, strides will have been made with regards towards the development of the game in a country that truly loves its sport.  Denying that is foolish.

With the greatest respect to the USA though, the outcome of this one was already known before kickoff.  In the end the All Blacks finished with 12 tries.

Too strong, too clinical.  In a sense the All Blacks made a statement, not that they really need to.  Many new fans will have been won along the way, with at one stage a century of points feeling likely before the USA stemmed the tide.  Better to embrace the occasion than tune in expecting a nailbiter.

Everything initially was a little bit different for both your seasoned fan and New Zealand, starting with some questionable anthems, but after some initial jitters the All Blacks played as expected.

The USA have some quality players, exemplified by Samu Manoa, Chris Wyles and most of all Blaine Scully, whose tenacity with blood coming out of his face set the tone.  They just don’t have enough of those players yet.

The exposure of this match will go towards changing that, with the possibility of a Rugby World Cup in the USA in the future being something which holds great appeal.

A try on debut for Nathan Harris set the All Blacks on their way and lived up to the script.  The hosts could either wilt or rally.

A long attack with the USA retaining the ball well inside New Zealand’s 22 ended with a penalty and some points for young Adam Siddall after 11 minutes.

Israel Dagg’s offload out the back released Cory Jane to add New Zealand’s second try and silence a crowd that had been growing in confidence the longer the USA held onto the ball inside Kiwi territory.

Some brilliance from the restart by Scully led to Siddall’s second penalty to keep the USA in touch, but New Zealand simply counterpunched with another try, Patrick Tuipulotu going over next.

Now they were scoring at will.  Sonny Bill Williams dotted down after good work from Ryan Crotty to cap his return to Test rugby.

Charles Piutau, Williams again and Julian Savea, from a ridiculous offload by captain Kieran Read, all added further tries before the half was out as the USA’s tackling sadly wasn’t up to scratch.

SBW was denied a hat-trick at the beginning of the second half after a forward pass but Joe Moody’s short-range score kept the momentum going the way of the world champions.

If there was a pointer for the All Blacks, Aaron Cruden’s kicking wasn’t perfect (not that it mattered.) Four of nine conversions went over on his return to Test action after being stood down in the middle of the Rugby Championship.  Luckily they had a replacement by the name of Dan Carter to come on.

Dagg brought up try number ten, deserved after his assists earlier on, as Carter looked to lay down a marker before facing England next weekend at Twickenham.

Sam Cane got in on the act for try number 11 and you could have forgiven the fans for deciding to head for the exit, but no one did.  A beautiful second try for Savea wrapped things up with the crowd rising to their feet.

For all parties, mission accomplished.

Man of the Match:  Showing touches of class throughout, Kieran Read was exceptional in the absence of Richie McCaw.

Moment of the Match:  Rather than any of the action, the pre-match build-up was truly special as both teams were given a rousing reception.

Villain of the Match:  Nothing nasty to report.

The scorers:

For USA:
Pens:  Siddall 2

For New Zealand:
Tries:  Harris, Jane, Tuipulotu, Williams 2, Piutau, Savea 2, Moody, Cruden, Dagg, Cane
Cons:  Cruden 4, Carter 3

USA:  15 Chris Wyles, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Seamus Kelly, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 Brett Thompson, 10 Adam Siddall, 9 Mike Petri, 8 Danny Barrett, 7 Scott Lavalla, 6 Todd Clever (c), 5 Hayden Smith, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Olive Kilifi, 2 Phil Thiel, 1 Eric Fry.
Replacements: 16 Tom Coolican, 17 Nick Wallace, 18 Mate Moeakiola, 19 Tai Tuisamoa, 20 Louis Stanfill, 21 Benjamin Tarr, 22 Folau Niua, 23 Troy Hall.

New Zealand:  15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Daniel Carter, 23 Julian Savea.

Referee:  Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant Referee:  Chris Assmus (Canada)

Wallabies pip Barbarians in classic

Michael Cheika's reign as Australia coach got off to a winning start as the Wallabies edged to a 40-36 win over the Barbarians.

It was a thrilling encounter with both teams prepared to throw the ball around and the backlines looking dangerous throughout.

In Cheika's first game in charge he'd chosen to rest a number of players, while handing Reds half-backs Will Genia and Quade Cooper recalls at Twickenham.

And after the Barbarians threatened to cut them open for much of the first half, the Wallabies finally got the upper hand and eventually took control, holding on despite a late Baabaas comeback.

It was certainly a spectacle though, and the Barbarians were largely responsible for that, staying true to the famous black and white jersey's traditions.

They showed their intentions from the off, with an American football-style throw-in at the first lineout from Steven Luatua.

From their first penalty in kickable territory they set up a rolling maul and thought they had scored, but Jaco Peyper called it back for an infringement in the build-up.  Still, Australia had already been penalised and soon after the Baabaas had their first try, John Kirwan's team had their first try.

Using all the tricks in the book, it was Colin Slade's delightful pass out of the tackle that set Nick Cummins on his way.  The former Wallaby winger crashed into Quade Cooper but when the ball came back right, the Barbarians had an overlap and Frank Halai was able to step in and cross.

It took until just before the half-hour for Australia to hit back, but they were on the mark when Sam Carter crashed over but after Cooper converted, the Barbarians hit straight back.

Adam Thomson, part of a hugely impressive back row, finished off a move which started through the excellent Luatua, and again featured Halai in the build-up.  Slade's conversion made it 12-7 to the Baabaas but Australia were back in front before half-time.

It came thanks to some great work from Tevita Kuridrani, who caused the Barbarians trouble all game, with Benn Robinson eventually the man to go over.

Having helped his time to a 14-12 half-time lead, Kuridrani got on the scoresheet himself early in the second half, crashing through for a great individual try.

At 21-12, the Barbarians could have just collapsed, but they came back once more thanks to Francis Saili, who had enjoyed a fantastic day.  Slade converted before adding another penalty to put Kirwan's team back in front.

Australia reacted with a try from Rob Horne, who was served by Matt Toomua, and when Bernard Foley went over two minutes later it seemed over as a contest.

Sean McMahon, on his first Wallaby appearance, then went over and Bernard Foley, on for Cooper, converted to make it 40-22.

It looked all over but the Barbarians hit back with Cummins earning the biggest cheer of the afternoon when he ran on to Tim Nanai-Williams' exquisite delayed pop pass.

And two minutes later it was Marnitz Boshoff who went over to get the Barbarians back within a score.

Australia, to their credit, kept attacking, and even when the 80 minutes were up, they didn't initially kick it out.

But after both sides had given it a go in search of a final try, the Wallabies decided enough was enough and settled for an entertaining victory.

Man of the match:  There were so many people who impressed, particularly for the Barbarians, but there's no question that Tevita Kuridrani was the difference between the teams.  A menace with ball in hand, he scored one, set up another and was everywhere.

Moment of the match:  How to choose?  In the end we're going to go with Nick Cummins' try that got the Baabaas back into it.  The Honey Badger was the man everyone wanted to see, and he looked to enjoy that try.  It also sparked the dramatic late comeback!

Villain of the match:  No-one in a game like this.  Played as Baabaas matches should be.

The scorers:

For Australia:
Tries:  Carter, Robinson, Kuridrani, Horne, Foley, McMahon
Cons:  Cooper 3, Foley2

For Barbarians:
Tries:  Halai, Thomson, Saili, Cummins, Boshoff
Cons:  Slade 2, Boshoff 2
Pen:  Slade

The teams:

Barbarians:  15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Al Kellock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Matt Stevens.
Replacements:  16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Heinrich Brussow, 20 Matías Alemanno, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Joaquín Tuculet, 23 Marnitz Boshoff.

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements:  16 James Hanson, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Sean McMahon, 21 Nic White, 22 Bernard Foley, 23 Christian Leali'ifano

Referee:  Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees:  JP Doyle (England), Gregory Garner (England)
Television match official:  Rowan Kitt (England)

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Last-minute All Blacks edge Wallabies

Malakai Fekitoa scored a try in the last minute as the All Blacks overturned a 10-point deficit to beat the Wallabies 29-28 in Brisbane on Saturday.

Written off before kick-off following a tumultuous fortnight off the field, the Wallabies answered their critics in defiant fashion and looked on course to end a three-year losing streak against their rivals from across the 'ditch.'

But rugby is a game of 80 minutes.  And once again the All Blacks showed they are the masters of the fast finish.

Ewen McKenzie's side produced arguably their best performance of 2014 and willing be kicking themselves for not closing out from a winning position as they failed to match the Kiwis' intensity in the last quarter.

The result means New Zealand win the 2014 Bledisloe series at 2-0.

Australia led 15-12 at half time thanks to tries from half-backs Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley while New Zealand replied through scores from wing Cory Jane and hooker Dane Coles.

Centurian Adam Ashley-Cooper scored for the Wallabies in the second half but an Aaron Smith try for the All Blacks ensure the game went down to the wire.

The Wallabies drew first blood when Phipps scored in the 14th minute.  Christian Leali'ifano stepped inside Fekitoa to break clear and combine with Israel Folau to set up the attack.  Phipps dummied right and then sniped on the side of a ruck for the opening try.

Bernard Foley added the conversion but New Zealand replied immediately, scoring from the restart as Conrad Smith regathered the kick-off before Kieran Read's offload found Jane, who did well to evade two defenders and the touchline to dive into the corner.

Beauden Barrett's excellent conversion levelled the scores at 7-all at the end of the first quarter.

Wallaby skipper Michael Hooper turned down a couple of kickable penalties in favour of chasing a try but the hosts' set piece was not secure enough for the gamble to pay off.

When Richie McCaw was penalised for not rolling away the sensible thing to do was take the points and Foley duly put the Wallabies in front.

But once again the All Blacks hit back immediately as Coles sold Ashley-Cooper an audacious dummy before showing an impressive turn of pace to race home.  Barrett missed the conversion.

The Wallabies' were doing great work in keeping ball in hand and moving the point of attack.  Hooper was stopped just short but Foley was on hand to dive into the corner.

The fly-half couldn't convert his try though, meaning Australia led by just three points at the interval.

The hosts stretched their lead after the break though as Ashley-Cooper became the first Wallaby to score a try in his 100th Test, finishing off good work from Folau and Tevita Kuridrani.  Foley added the extras.

Barrett pulled three back following a ruck infringement but Foley could restore the 10-point margin when the All Black replacement front row buckled at scrum time approaching the hour mark.

Hopes of a Kiwi comeback were dealt a blow when Patrick Tuipulotu saw yellow for taking Rob Simmons out in the air but the visitors were next to score, despite the numerical disadvantage, as Aaron Smith took a penalty quickly and caught the Aussies napping to sneak over.

Barrett's conversion cut the deficit to three points and set up a grandstand finish.

McCaw was the guilty party once again at a ruck allowing Nic White to land a long-range penalty to give Australia some breathing room.

But six points were enough as Fekitoa found a gap after a period of sustained pressure and Colin Slade made no mistake from the tee to crush Wallaby hearts.

Man of the match:  Richie McCaw gave away a few penalties but was a tackle machine, as was Brodie Retallick.  A mention for Michael Hooper for pulling his side together and contributing massively as a ball carrier but we'll go for Bernard Foley, not only for his 15 points, but his tireless work in getting back in defence.

Moment of the match:  There can only be one candidate.  Malakai Fekitoa's try at the death broke Aussie hearts.

Villain of the match:  No real nasty stuff to report

The scorers:

For Australia: 
Tries:  Phipps, Foley, Ashley-Cooper
Cons:  Foley 2
Pens:  Foley 2, White

For New Zealand: 
Tries:  Jane, Coles, A. Smith, Fekitoa
Cons:  Barrett 2, Slade
Pen:  Barrett
Yellow card:  Tuipulotu

The teams:

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 James Horwill, 20 Matt Hodgson, 21 Nic White, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Rob Horne.

New Zealand:  15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements:  16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Charles Piutau

Venue:  Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee:  Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees:  Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Television match official:  Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Pumas fight back for historic win

Argentina came back from a 14-0 deficit to record their first-ever Rugby Championship victory, 21-17 over Australia in Mendoza.

Tevita Kuridrani and Scott Higginbotham went over early for Australia as they threatened a rout, but Argentina fought back with two tries of their own.

Leonardo Senatore and Juan Imhoff crossed either side of half-time, as the Wallabies paid the price for their indiscipline, losing Nick Phipps and Michael Hooper to yellow cards.

There was some controversy however as Bernard Foley missed an easy shot at goal late on that would have put Australia back in front as a result of a laser being shone in his eyes.

A year ago in Rosario it was the Israel Folau show with the full-back helping himself to a hat-trick as the Wallabies stamped all over Argentina.

Australia had made two changes for this game, with Higginbotham and James Horwill coming into the team, but the bigger news was the absence of Kurtley Beale, who is currently under investigation for an incident with a team manager on the plane trip to Argentina.

And with Juan Martin Fernandez-Lobbe absent for the birth of a child, and the odd decision to drop Marcelo Bosch and Ramiro Herrera to the bench, there were fears that it could be the same again when they conceded two tries in the first quarter of an hour.

But from there the Pumas dominated possession and territory, and were able to take advantage of Australian infringements to work their way back into the game, and they eventually came away with a famous win.

Under Daniel Hourcade, Argentina have shown a lot of ambition and a desire to play with ball in hand and they were rewarded for that enterprise in this game as they weathered an early Wallaby storm.

Argentina showed their intent from the off, running the ball out of their 22 but it was Australia who got the first try with their first possession of the game.

Hooper snaffled the ball in midfield from a forward pass and after making ground up to the 22 he fed Higginbotham who was in support.  When Australia recycled, the Pumas defence was stretched and with a huge overlap, Kuridrani was on hand to finish after being fed by Folau.  Foley, who had made his debut in this fixture a year ago, converted to make it 0-7 after just three minutes.

The game was being played a frenetic pace and while Argentina looked dangerous with ball in hand, they seemed to be at sixes and sevens in defence.

Every time Folau got the ball he made ground, and Phipps at scrum-half was getting such quick ball that Australia were constantly finding gaps.

The second try came after 12 minutes, with Phipps picking out Saia Fainga'a in the Pumas 22, and he popped it to Higginbotham outside him.  The returning number eight had far too much power and broke through some desperate tackles to dive over.  Foley was again on target from in front.

Argentina's already stretched back-row stocks were then dealt another blow with Benjamin Macome forced off and replaced by Javier Ortega Desio.

Australia were looking ominous, but on their first incursion into the visiting 22, Argentina earned a five-metre scrum.  The first set-piece saw an infringement from the Wallabies, but they got a let-off at the second when Higginbotham forced Martin Landajo into a knock-on.

Nicolas Sanchez had the chance to get Argentina on the board when Higginbotham was penalised at a ruck, but his effort from 45 metres out fell short.

And there was more frustration when Hooper produced a vital turnover on the Australian line after Sanchez had got the Pumas on the front foot in Australian territory.

Still, Argentina had clearly weathered the storm and they were able to set up in the Australian 22 once more when Rob Horne, who had come on for a groggy Matt Toomua, failed to roll away at a ruck.

The Pumas then produced 13 phases of ferocious charges, with bodies flying all over the place.  In the end the try came with Australia's players sucked in tight and Argentina spread it wide to Senatore for a simple finish in the corner.  Sanchez's conversion from the touchline was well wide.

Australia were struggling to cope with the intensity of their hosts, and after another penalty conceded by James Horwill, Sanchez slotted three points to make it 8-14 at the break, with the Wallabies facing the threat of a yellow card for persistent infringements.

It took just two minutes of the second half for that threat to come to fruition, with Phipps sin-binned for kicking the ball out of a ruck in an offside position.  Sanchez converted the simple penalty to bring the Pumas back to within three points.

But that didn't stop Australia getting back into Argentinian territory, with Sanchez dropping the ball under no pressure, and Kuridrani thought he'd scored his second try after an acrobatic pass from Folau.

The full-back flipped the ball back inside as he was being pushed into touch on the right, but with no clear evidence of Kuridrani touching down after he'd scooped up the ball, they came back for a penalty which Foley slotted to stretch the lead back to six.

The Pumas clearly had the upper hand in the scrum though and after a Horne drop in his 22, they used a powerful scrum to set up their second try.

With an extra man in the backline they played the overlap perfectly, with Horacio Agulla delivering the final pass for Imhoff on the right wing.  Sanchez converted from the touchline to give Argentina the lead for the first time.

The try came just before Phipps' return, but they were nearly back to 14 men immediately when Folau was shown a yellow card for taking out Joaquin Tuculet in the air.  Nigel Owens called him back, however, after it became clear that the contact came following a push from Agulla.

Still, the Australians were getting on the wrong side of Owens, and another penalty, conceded by Scott Fardy, gave Sanchez a shot at goal, but this time his effort drifted wide.

Three minutes later it was Foley who had the chance to put Australia back in front after a Pumas scrum infringement, but his effort from nearly halfway was well off.

With 12 minutes remaining Argentina were penalised for failing to roll away when Horne carried in midfield, but again Foley was off-target with a much easier shot with clear footage of a green laser on his eyes as he stepped up for the kick.

The ball came back off the posts but Argentina were alive to it and secured possession and got out of trouble.  And when Will Skelton was penalised for a high tackle, Bosch had the chance to extend the lead, but he was also off-target from halfway.

However it got worse for Australia with seven minutes left when Hooper was sin-binned for taking out Sanchez after an up-and-under, the Australian skipper perhaps a touch unfortunate having gone for the charge-down.  To add insult to injury, Sanchez added the three points from where the penalty landed to make it 21-17.

Australia tried to come back, but came up against a wall of Argentinian defence.  A scrum on halfway proved to be their last chance, but in a rather unsatisfactory finish a succession of reset scrums ended with a Pumas penalty and they were able to kick the ball into touch to seal the win.

It wasn't enough to lift Argentina off the bottom of the table but the result marks the Pumas' first success in the Rugby Championship at their eighteenth attempt, and comes after a number of promising displays this year.

And while Australia were not at their best in Mendoza, the Pumas did enough to deserve the win with a committed display.

Man of the match:  Israel Folau was very dangerous for Australia once more, and the Wallabies probably would have won if they'd brought him into the game more.  It was a real team effort from Argentina with a number of players chipping in.  But for his leadership and cool head, we're going to give the nod to Agustin Creevy.  Very active around the park, and as consistent as ever in the set-piece, Creevy kept his head when Australia took an early lead and captained his team to landmark victory.

Moment of the match:  Australia were under pressure at the end of the first half, but the loss of Nick Phipps early in the second really proved decisive.  The scrum-half thought he was within his rights to play a ball in a ruck as the tackler, but given the warning issued by Nigel Owens just before the break, it was a gamble that didn't need to be made.  Argentina scored ten points in his absence to take control of the game.

Villain of the match:  Whoever the idiot in the crowd was with the laser.  One suggestion offered was that the kicker should be allowed another shot at goal in those circumstances.  You could go one step further and just give the team the points, maybe that will convince these knuckleheads to stop this nonsense.

The scorers:

For Argentina:
Tries:  Senatore, Imhoff
Conversion:  Sanchez
Penalties:  Sanchez 3

For Australia:
Tries:  Kuridrani, Higginbotham
Conversions:  Foley 2
Penalties:  Foley 2
Yellow Cards:  Phipps, Hooper

The teams:

Argentina:  15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Juan Imhoff, 13 Horacio Agulla, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Benjamin Macome, 6 Rodrigo Baez, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements:  16 Matias Cortese, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Marcelo Bosch, 23 Jeronimo De la Fuente.

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Matt Hodgson, 22 Nic White, 23 Rob Horne.

Referee:  Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees:  Craig Joubert (South Africa), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO:  Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Springbok late show downs Wallabies

South Africa were forced to come from behind to seal a 28-10 Rugby Championship victory over Australia in Cape Town on Saturday.

Trailing by two points with ten minutes to play, the home side scored three tries and a drop-goal in the dying minutes to secure the bonus-point win.

Skipper Jean de Villiers touched down twice to add to tries from Marcel Coetzee and Pat Lambie as South Africa outscored Australia four tries to one.

The Springboks were unable to put a glut of possession and territory to good use in the first half, allowing Australia to take a 10-5 lead into the interval.

Poor kicking, basic handling errors and the failure to simply pass the ball when facing clear overlaps repeatedly cut the Boks momentum, wasting a plethora of front-foot ball.

What had been a frustrating evening for the Newlands faithful turned to pure joy however as the Boks' bench came to the rescue and the men in green finally executed in the closing stages.

The hosts dominated the early exchanges and were first to cross the whitewash via a rolling maul, but seldom threatened to break through the Wallaby defence through any other method.

Australia needed just four minutes to score their ten points, including a try from deep inside their own half scored by wing Adam Ashley-Cooper.

The hosts showed their intent to keep ball in hand right from the start, taking it through 17 phases in the opening salvo but the ease with which Australia were able to defend the predictable attacking lines would have been a concern for Bok coach Heyneke Meyer.

After Willie le Roux and Cornal Henrdricks combined to get the hosts into the Aussie 22, South Africa were rewarded for turning down a kickable penalty in favour of a line-out as they set up a textbook maul to crash over after 13 minutes, Coetzee the man with his hands on the ball.

Australia got on the board via a penalty against Adriaan Strauss for taking out a man without the ball as Bernard Foley made amends for an earlier miss.

The visitors took the lead with try against the run of play as Tevita Kuridrani — who looked dangerous whenever he touched the ball — bust through the double tackle of Byran Habana and Handre Pollard to race clear before offloading to Ashley-Cooper, who finished in the corner.

Foley added the extras from the touchline to put the Wallabies up 10-5 just before the half-hour mark.

That's how the scores would stay as the Boks again turned down an easy penalty in favour of an attacking line-out.  The gamble didn't pay off the second time as the ball was lost at the back of the maul.

Pollard score the first points of the second half for the Boks after a ruck offence from the visitors, cutting the deficit to two points.

Pat Lambie should have given the Boks the lead with a penalty from dead in front but sliced his kick to leave his team trailing with 15 minutes to play.

After his team-mates had twice wasted overlaps on the outside, Lambie finally put the hosts in front with a drop-goal in the 71st minute.

Hendricks looked to have fluffed another golden chance after Jan Serfontein's break but De Villiers collected Bismarck du Plessis's pop pass to score the corner and give South Africa some breathing room.  Lambie missed the conversion though, meaning at 16-10, Australia were still within striking distance.

But the the last nine minutes saw one-way traffic as the Wallaby defence fell apart.

First Lambie stepped his way over for try number three before De Villiers rubbed salt into the Wallaby wounds with the fourth in the final minute off Victor Matfield's pass after Cobus Reinach broke clear.

Man of the match:  Although on the losing side, Tevita Kuridrani deserves this gong for an impressive carrying performance at outside centre.  Jean de Villiers and Duane Vermeulen deserve mentions but the Wallaby back was a cut above at Newlands.

Moment of the match:  The Wallabies looked set to pinch another result until De Villiers' first try opened the flood gates.

Villain of the match:  No nasty stuff to report

The scorers:

For South Africa:
Tries:  Coetzee, De Villiers 2, Lambie
Conversion:  Lambie
Penalty:  Pollard
Drop Goals:  Lambie

For Australia:
Try:  Ashley-Cooper
Conversion:  Foley
Penalty:  Foley

The teams:

South Africa:  15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handrè Pollard, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Tebo Mohoje, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements:  16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Bakkies Botha, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 JP Pietersen

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 James Hanson, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 James Horwill, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Nic White, 22 Kurtley Beale, 23 Rob Horne.

Referee:  Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees:  Wayne Barnes (England), Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO:  Graham Hughes (England)

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Pumas pain on Gold Coast

Australia secured their second win of the Rugby Championship campaign on Saturday as they held out Argentina 32-25 at the Cbus Super Stadium.

It wasn't pretty as a slippery ball did not help the basics of the sides, with fumbles and stoppages a regular occurrence at the Gold Coast fixture.

However, the Wallabies got the job done against a side they also struggled against on home soil last year so they will be pleased to escape with a win.

Influential captain Michael Hooper scored two of their tries — coming either side of the break — while wing Peter Betham also crossed before a late Pumas onslaught left the home side sweating.

But they held on with a put-in delay from scrum-half Tomás Cubelli five metres out ultimately ending Argentina's hopes of their first victory.

The game started in ideal fashion for Australia when captain Hooper sliced through a hole in midfield before reaching out for an unconverted score.  That was his second try of the Rugby Championship as his speed in back play makes him a lethal running threat game after game.

Argentina hit back five minutes later though and in real style when Manuel Montero raced down the left touchline for a long-range score that saw him slip the attempted tackles of Betham, Hooper and Bernard Foley.  His stock consequently shot up in the Australians' eyes.

Unlike Foley before him, Sanchez landed his conversion to hand the Pumas a narrow lead.

Australia should have moved back in a poor first-half when Foley's break saw him dummy instead of passing to Rob Horne, who had a clean route to the line from five metres out.  From that breakdown, Nick Phipps had a score chalked off as Hooper held Juan Imhoff.

Foley though would build some bridges with his Wallaby team-mates before the break with two penalties that handed the home side a 14-7 advantage going into the interval.

Unfortunately for the watching public on the Gold Coast, the opening quarter of the second stanza did not improve in terms of entertainment, despite Hooper's second try being scored in the 43rd minute.  That score came from a Montero mistake as he failed to gather a chip.

Opposing fly-halves Sanchez and Foley would then trade penalties before the hour mark but when wing Betham slid over on 60 minutes to make it 29-13, the game seemed gone.

But then came a Pumas comeback as tries from Marcelo Bosch and Joaquín Tuculet in the 63rd and 70th minute respectively made it 29-25 with ten minutes left on the clock.  Had Sanchez landed the second touchline conversion, hopes of an upset would have increased.

As it was, three points from Foley soon after the restart gave the Wallabies a seven-point buffer before Argentina missed a gilt-edged chance with four minutes to go, with Sanchez doing a Foley earlier as he failed to pass to his wing, Imhoff, who was under the uprights.

The Pumas would have one more opportunity to claim a draw when they packed down for a scrum five metres out, but then came Cubelli's error as the Wallabies held on for the points

Man of the match:  Two tries from the captain make Michael Hooper our pick.  Another tireless performance from the openside as he continues to lead the Wallabies by example.

Moment of the match:  The try from Manuel Montero was something special as the Puma's finisher showed just what he can do, brushing off three tacklers en route to scoring.

Villain of the match:  Nothing nasty to report.

The scorers:

For Australia:
Tries:  Hooper 2, Betham
Con:  Foley
Pen:  Foley 5

For Argentina:
Tries:  Montero, Bosch, Tuculet
Con:  Sanchez 2
Pen:  Sanchez 2

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Peter Betham, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 James Hanson, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 James Horwill, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Matt Hodgson, 22 Nic White, 23 Kurtley Beale.

Argentina:  15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Juan Imhoff, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements:  16 Matías Cortese, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 Benjamin Macome, 20 Rodrigo Báez, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Jerónimo De la Fuente, 23 Lucas González Amorosino.

Referee:  Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees:  George Clancy (Ireland), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Television match official:  Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Assessor:  Donal Courtney

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Horne late show sinks Springboks

A late converted try from Rob Horne saw the Wallabies score their first win of the Rugby Championship as they came from behind to beat South Africa 24-23 at Patersons Stadium in Perth.

It went right down to the wire as the Boks, who had led for 38 minutes of the second-half were left to lick their wounds ahead of facing New Zealand.

Horne's try had to be converted by Bernard Foley however, and he made no mistake late on as the Wallabies bounce back from that Auckland loss.

The Wallabies came out of the blocks with real intent as they immediately reclaimed the kick-off via Folau's impressive leap, which ultimately led to Matt Toomua drawing a defender in a resulting play to send over the full-back for the opening try.  Recalled fly-half Foley missed the conversion.

South Africa had to wake up and fast and fortunately for them they did as number eight Duane Vermeulen pounced at the breakdown to earn Morne Steyn the chance to land three points.  Steyn, in for Handre Pollard, made no mistake as the Boks cut the deficit to two points on six minutes.

More encouragement for Heyneke Meyer came six minutes later when Cornal Hendricks finished off quick hands down the line to push South Africa into the lead.  But like Foley earlier, Steyn could not add the extra two as the visitors now had a 5-8 advantage.

Foley levelled matters soon after when centurion Bryan Habana was pinged at the breakdown as the absorbing Test match unfolded with a nip and tuck feel.

South Africa's physical presence was beginning to tell though and when two further Steyn penalties — the latter coming after good running from Habana — meant that with a Foley shot twelve minutes from the interval, the scoreline was 11-14 to the Boks as the teams went in.

The tight affair continued after the turnaround as Foley's three points a minute into the half for Willie le Roux's side entry was followed up by Steyn pushing his men back in front after a Wallaby scrum offence.  One sensed the pattern would continue right until the end in Perth.

14-17 would soon become 14-20 at Patersons Stadium on 49 minutes when the Springbok scrum continued to banish the horrible memories of Salta, with Steyn again on target.

For the next ten minutes the visitors were determined to win the territorial battle and they did just that as Folau twice sliced his responses with just five metres gained.  Ewen McKenzie would have been wary of the clock ticking down while his team was stuck in their own 22.

Further worries arrived when replacement James Horwill failed to roll away, thus handing Steyn a shot for a third straight three point effort.

Momentum would swing once again just after the hour mark, however, when Habana was shown a yellow card by George Clancy for an adjudged high tackle on Adam Ashley-Cooper.  And from that card, the Wallabies would go close to scoring as replacement Pek Cowan thought he had scored only for obstruction being called.

Fortunately for the Wallabies they would soon get the consolation of three points which made it a one-score game once again at 17-23 in Perth.

And with time running out and Habana now back on the field, it would take replacement Kurtley Beale, centre Tevita Kuridrani and that man Folau to combine before Horne did the rest, stepping Steyn to allow Foley the kick for victory.

Man of the match:  When he gets the ball things happen.  Israel Folau scored one and had a big hand in the match-winner for Horne.  Simply too good at times.

Moment of the match:  The yellow card for Bryan Habana gave the Wallabies extra momentum but it was their impressive bench that proved the difference, with Kurtley Beale, Scott Higginbotham, Pek Cowan and Matt Hodgson impressing.

Villain of the match:  Test match rugby is won on small margins and had Morne Steyn not missed touch late on, the Boks probably would have won this game.  He won't be happy on the flight to New Zealand.

The scorers:

For Australia:
Tries:  Folau, Horne
Con:  Foley
Pen:  Foley 4

For South Africa:
Try:  Hendricks
Pen:  Steyn 6

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 James Horwill, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Matt Hodgson, 22 Nic White, 23 Kurtley Beale.

South Africa:  15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (capt), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements:  16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Damian de Allende.

Venue:  Patersons Stadium, Perth
Referee:  George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees:  Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Television match official:  Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Assessor:  Andrew Cole

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Australia thrashed by otherworldly NZ

New Zealand produced rugby from another planet as they bounced back from the draw in Sydney with a blistering 51-20 win over Australia.

Played out at a ferocious pace and the odd handling error aside, this was New Zealand's best rugby of the year so far.

There was even time to break a record in the final minute, Steven Luatua ensuring that New Zealand put 50 points on Australia on home soil for the first time with his try under the sticks after the hooter.

Any nagging suggestion before kick-off that Steve Hansen's men were on the slide was instantly trashed.

They simply played at an unbreathable tempo for Australia, or indeed any other side on the planet.  Cataloguing all of the brilliant individual moments will take some time.

It's a game played on a different level, a persistent hunt for space with hands always open and passes so well timed that opponents are denied the chance to play and are constantly threatened.  Like a turbocharged game of Sevens with 15 men.  New Zealand are the kings of it, mesmerising when they find their groove.

So many All Blacks were outstanding, but it would be wrong not to single out Brodie Retallick.  His work at the ruck and around the park was staggering.

The world champions were awesome and angry, conceding the first points to a penalty from Kurltey Beale but then surging forward with all the intensity that was missed in attack in Sydney.

Running with plenty of vigour and feeding off the slight of hand from Ryan Crotty and Ben Smith, the high speed start eventually slowed as Cruden added two quick penalties to put the hosts ahead.

Tremendous defence from both teams prevented early tries, but Beale underlined why Ewen McKenzie had gone for his creative streak when sliding through two tacklers before releasing Israel Folau.

Hell then froze over when Richie McCaw received remarkably only his second ever yellow card in Test rugby, the hard line towards cynical defence from New Zealand rising to the fore as Romain Poite didn't hesitate to bin the All Blacks skipper.

After the controversy surrounding Jaco Peyper, the French referee had an excellent game.

Going down to 14 men didn't damper New Zealand's momentum, Cruden regaining the lead with his third strike for a 9-6 scoreline after the opening quarter — one coincidentally without any scrums.

Stopping the All Blacks maul was proving to be a problem for Australia and Rob Simmons paid the price for lifting the leg in the maul, taking his turn to see yellow as McCaw returned to action.

A juggernaut scrum from the All Blacks delivered the try they deserved, eight against a Simmons-less Wallaby pack.  James Slipper went to ground and Poite didn't hesitate to run under the posts to award the score.

Boy this was good;  everything that Sydney wasn't.  Folau cantered through the defence but squandered a pass to the man outside before being tackled high, though it crucially and wrongly went unpunished.

The Wallabies went right but when isolated were pounced upon, New Zealand turning over the ball and countering at a canter up the right touchline for Julian Savea to go over untouched.

23-6.  How could Australia, winless on this ground for 28 years, come back from that?

Sometimes there are no answers to pure brilliance.  A break starting by Beauden Barrett from behind his own posts had New Zealand cutting and gliding their way through tacklers.

Michael Hooper did his all to stop the assault with a breakdown penalty, but the home side were in punishing mode.

Dazzling hands and a well-weighted grubber from Savea infield ended with a try for Kieran Read, his face a picture after a frustrating few months.

McCaw ensured his yellow card was just an anomaly when he crashed over for the bonus point.  If a white flag had been available you'd have understood Australia raising it at 37-6.

A second score from an almost copycat situation for the New Zealand captain brought up the 40-point mark before Folau crossed for his consolation try.  In his impressive Test career so far, this was his lowest moment.

Hooper, tenacious as ever even in defeat, finished a remarkable solo effort off the back of the line-out to add more respectability to the scoreboard at 44-20.

That sign of defiance will be something to take forward, a smidgen of salvation really.  Australia are better this and will show that, but there's no denying they were blown away here.  No side though would have coped.

Barrett's try-saving tackle of Folau in many ways was the icing on the cake, the number ten using the angle to cut him down following an interception break.

If you thought New Zealand were a fading force, think again.

Man of the Match:  Hard to look past Brodie Retallick, the monster lock who played his best game yet for his country.

Moment of the Match:  McCaw's sin-binning was a rarity, but when Julian Savea raced away for the second try the tone of the match was settled.

Villain of the Match:  Lifting the leg in the maul was pretty dumb by Rob Simmons.

The scorers:

For New Zealand:
Tries:  Penalty Try, Savea, Read, McCaw 2, Luatua
Cons:  Cruden 5, Barrett
Pens:  Cruden 3
Yellow Cards:  McCaw, B.Franks

Tries:  Folau, Hooper
Cons:  Foley 2
Pens:  Beale 2
Yellow Card:  Simmons

New Zealand:  15 Ben Smith, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements:  16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 James Hanson, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Bernard Foley, 23 Tevita Kuridrani,

Date:  Saturday, August 23
Kick-off:  19:35 local (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Venue:  Eden Park, Auckland
Referee:  Romain Poite
Assistant Referees:  Jaco Peyper, Stuart Berry
TMO:  Shaun Veldsman

Saturday, 16 August 2014

All Blacks miss out on record, again

Australia and New Zealand couldn't be separated in a wet slugfest of a game in Sydney, battering each other into a 12-12 draw.

This was the second time in less than two years that these two sides have finished all square, after an 18-18 draw in Brisbane in October 2012.

Once again, in a cruel twist, the All Blacks missed out on the 18-game winning record thanks to a draw, only the seventh ever in 150 Bledisloe matches.  Six of those have come in Australia.

Kurtley Beale and Aaron Cruden both landed four penalties each, with New Zealand spending 20 minutes down to 14 men after yellow cards for Wyatt Crockett and Beauden Barrett.

The whistle of referee Jaco Peyper dominated proceedings in a manner that will have frustrated many, with some of his decisions up for debate on a tough night for officials.

Surprisingly given Australia's struggles in the first half the scores were level as full-time approached, in a frantic finish with the All Blacks down to 14 men.

Neither side truly touched their highest level;  disappointing given the build-up to the occasion but the weather was a monumental hinderance.

Pre-game showers aren't uncommon but this was more like a neverending bucket being tipped out of the sky onto the Olympic Stadium.

Conditions therefore were always going to be difficult, even for these two sides regarded as the best attacking outfits in world rugby who enjoyed the chance to perfect their sliding technique around the Sydney turf.

There was no shortage of blood spilled though, with Israel Folau and Brodie Retallick noticeably sporting plenty of claret.

The pace of the game though didn't suffer, nor did the physicality as Folau clattered his way through Jerome Kaino.  With a score to settle, Kaino's thumping tackle on Beale was a decent reprieve.

New Zealand seemed to execute all the small details that little bit better early on.  Winning the favour of the officials at the scrum, with their kicking, the defence, breakdown — they more or less emerged on top in every category on the scoring card in the opening half.

Their power defensively and intensity to keep the Wallabies out shown by the All Blacks was crucial.

So much had been made about Kurtley Beale's selection;  was it politics?  Or a double bluff involving Matt Toomua?  Whatever Ewen McKenzie's masterplan was, it failed to manifest itself clearly for all to see.

Basic penalties — running in front of the kicker, trying to play the ball after the tackle was made — undid any progress early on as New Zealand built up a lead.

Trying to play wide and force opportunities too early, with the Australian back three subdued, was another major error from the home side given the conditions.  Nic White's box kicks were charged down consecutively and with worrying ease, in a poor game from the Brumbies scrum-half.

Still, the Wallabies only trailed 9-3 counting down towards half-time.  A semblance of hope, perhaps a little lucky as the All Blacks failed to capitalise on all of their territory.

Hearing a sharp blast of Peyper's whistle after only 15 minutes is never a good sign, as Aaron Cruden converted two penalties left another out wide to the right.

Beale countered with a long-range penalty of his own and the Wallabies were left sat on three points for most of the first half until the final moments, when Crockett was sent to the bin.

Michael Hooper's high-risk gambles were madness, turning down kickable penalties for scrums in conditions where a more pragmatic approach was needed.  The fact that Beale missed from a harsher angle when Australia did go for the posts was fitting.

Australia's best passage of play after half-time did produce three points from a Beale penalty, cutting the score to 6-9, for some rare points as passes went loose.  One of White's best kicks, one that trickled towards the corner, had Julian Savea under pressure and ended with another three from Beale to tie things up.

Another poor kick from White handed the All Blacks a chance to counter-attack, Cruden curling in his fourth penalty to restore New Zealand's lead.

It took outstanding defence to keep out Pat McCabe in the corner, huge tackles stopping drives from Folau and Sam Carter before the ball went wide.

Barrett's sin-binning for cynical play helped Beale level things up again with his fourth penalty to set up the tense finish, and the very real possibility of a draw.

So it duly finished, the All Blacks missing out on the world record as these two couldn't be separated.  One to forget in the grand history of matches between these two, but a massive chance missed for the Wallabies in the end.

Man of the Match:  Lots of big innings, but the effort of Nathan Charles especially caught the eye.

Moment of the Match:  Forcing their attack wide a little early when straightening may have made more space, Pat McCabe was easily bundled into touch.  Crucial.

Villain of the Match:  Peyper's interpretation of the scrum was quizzable, but the atrocious conditions destroyed the spectacle.

The scorers:

For Australia:
Pens:  Beale 4

For New Zealand:
Pens:  Cruden 4
Yellow Cards:  Crockett, Barrett

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 James Hanson, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Bernard Foley, 23 Tevita Kuridrani.

New Zealand:  15 Ben Smith, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Malakai Fekitoa/Ryan Crotty, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements:  16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa/Ryan Crotty.

Referee:  Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees:  Romain Poite, Stuart Berry
TMO:  Shaun Veldsman

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Wallabies thrash woeful France

Australia completed a 3-0 series whitewash over France with a 39-13 drubbing at the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday.

After being shut out in a tight game in Melbourne last week, the impressive hosts outscored les Bleus five tries to one in a performance that bodes well for their chances in the Rugby Championship.

The Wallabies were 20-6 up at the interval and were good value for their lead.  Not once did France even come close to replying to the first-half tries from debutant Will Skelton and Israel Folau as their stale attack shot blanks at the well-organised Aussie defence.

By contrast, Australia were playing with real spark and vigour, dominating territory and possession and moving the ball across the park at pace.

Folau bagged his double early in the second half before skipper Michael Hooper's try on the hour mark left no doubt over the final result.

The tourists scored a consolation try via a driving maul but their dismal afternoon was capped by a late Nick Phipps touchdown as the Wallabies punished the lacklustre French defence.

To further emphasise the contrast with last-week's dour affair in front a record low crowd, the Sydney faithful set a new attendance benchmark of over 43 000 and their team didn't disappoint with a clinical display.

France were never in it.

Australia were first to score — after just two minutes — when Bernard Foley slotted a long-range penalty.

Maxime Machenaud — a late replacement for the injured Morgan Parra — should have levelled matters immediately after but his shot at goal hit the woodwork.

The Wallabies couldn't get over the whitewash last week but Skelton touched down for the first try after just eight minutes.  The hosts took it through 20 phases before the massive lock went straight through Fulgence Ouedraogo to power home from 5m out.

Foley added the extras to give Australia a 10-point lead after as many minutes — the perfect start.

Despite an 84kg disadvantage, the French scrum earned a penalty which full-back Brice Dulin sent over from halfway, in a rare highlight for the visitors' set piece.

But the good work was immediately undone as France coughed up a ruck penalty at the restart when Hooper wrapped up Dulin to allowed Foley to restore the 10-point gap as the first quarter came to an end.

With French prop Rabah Slimani in the sin bin (for an tackle without the ball), the Wallabies cashed in on their numerical advantage as Folau produced an excellent diving finish in the corner.

Foley's touchline conversion split the uprights and at 20-3, the writing was on the wall for les Bleus.

Machenaud landed a penalty for a collapsed maul shortly before the break to cut the deficit to 14 points when the half-time hooter sounded.

But a comeback wasn't to happen.  First-half try scorers Skelton and Folau combined to put another nail in the French coffin as the big lock's pop pass found a flying Folau, who raced home untouched.

Kurtley Beale impressed off the bench.  He sliced the French defence apart and combined with Foley to put Hooper away for the fourth Aussie try.

France hooker Guilhem Guirado crashed over at the back of a rolling maul with 15 minutes to play but Phipps could add the icing to the Wallaby cake, catching France unawares by taking a quick tap to sneak over.

The scorers:

For Australia: 
Tries:  Skelton, Folau 2, Hooper, Phipps
Cons:  Foley 4
Pens:  Foley 2

For France: 
Try:  Guirado
Con:  Machenaud
Pens:  Dulin, Machenaud
Yellow cards:  Slimani

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 Nathan Charles, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Laurie Weeks, 19 James Horwill, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Kurtley Beale, 23 Rob Horne.

France:  15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Hugo Bonneval, 10 Remi Tales, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (capt), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Alexandre Menini.
Replacements:  16 Christophe Tolofua, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Thomas Domingo, 19 Bernard Le Roux, 20 Louis Picamoles, 21 Yannick Nyanga, 22 Frederic Michalak , 23 Remi Lamerat.

Venue:  Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Referee:  Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees:  Wayne Barnes (England), George Clancy (Ireland)
Television match official:  Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Wallabies edge France in dire Test

Australia edged out France 6-0 in one of the worst Test matches in recent memory to clinch the Test series in Melbourne.

Bizarrely considering there were 73 points last Saturday, we didn't get any at all here until the 53rd minute.  Hardly a great advert for the rugby public in this part of Australia.

Both teams were overly cautious, kicked endlessly, dropped passes and conceded needless penalties when finally in a position to attack.  Boy it was dull to watch.

There were no excuses related to the weather or off-field politics, both teams were simply dire.  France might have shown more bite, but there was little class or control.  The Wallabies were worthy of their win.

Where was the Wallabies' sense of adventure from Brisbane?  It's a well-known fact that French flair under Philippe Saint-André is dead, but a sign of an effective gameplan might have been encouraging a week after being thrashed.

Brice Dulin and Nic White missed penalty opportunities but the Wallabies had come closest earlier in the first half when a decision went to the TMO.

Matt Toomua's chip over the top fooled everybody and in the scramble for the ball with Dulin he was adjudged to have obstructed the France full-back in the second before Ben McCalman grounded the loose ball.

France were made of much sterner stuff than the turnstile who rocked up at Suncorp.  A lot of that comes down to their selection, as the big guys returning to the starting XV made a big impact.

Thierry Dusautoir was arguably the most important returnee, coming into the side and characteristically hacking his way through a ton of work at the breakdown to give France a good share of possession.

Rémi Talès showed far greater control outside Morgan Parra and it kept France on the up in terms of territory, their pack bolstered by the addition of Yannick Nyanga along with a pair of hungry young props in Alexandre Menini and Rabah Slimani.  France's defence was solid, their set-piece clicking nicely.  There was little else to them.

There was no way this one would finish scoreless and the inevitable breakthrough came from a penalty by Foley to put the Wallabies into the lead.  The way it had gone, you suspected it might be the only score.

James Horwill's 50th cap came to a conclusion when he was replaced by a debutant in Luke Jones — a former ball boy for Australia over ten years ago.

White added a second penalty to at least give the Wallabies some comfort on the scoreboard with time winding down in the final quarter.

There were few chances, Adam Ashley-Cooper knocking on just short of the line in pursuit of a hacked through ball behind the French defence.

Bernard Le Roux's yellow card however seemed to condemn France to another defeat but White couldn't land the penalty with ten minutes to go.

Two front-rowers on debut for Australia made their bow as Nathan Charles and Laurie Weeks entered the fray, France still believing that the result was in reach.

A late break started by Dulin nearly rewarded that hope with what would have been a completely unfitting moment of brilliance from the visitors given the nature of the contest.  A lineout outside the 22 gave them a final chance.

Naturally it went up in smoke with a miscued pass from Yoann Huget after he burst through the defence.  The Wallabies found a way to win, gritty but nowhere near glorious.

One to forget.

The scorers:

For Australia:
Pens:  Foley, White

For France:
Yellow Card:  Le Roux

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 Nathan Charles, 17 Pek Cowan,) 18 Laurie Weeks, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Kurtley Beale, 23 Pat McCabe.

France:  15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 Rémi Talès, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Alexandre Menini.
Replacements:  16 Brice Mach, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Nicolas Mas, 19 Bernard le Roux, 20 Louis Picamoles, 21 Antoine Burban, 22 Frédéric Michalak, 23 Remi Lamerat.

Referee:  Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees:  Craig Joubert (South Africa), Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Television match official:  Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Seven-try Wallabies crush France

Australia went 1-0 up in their June Test series against France as they romped to a 50-23 victory at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.

France have not beaten the Wallabies in Australia since 1990 and, based on this performance, they are unlikely to change that record in this three-Test series.

Despite losing skipper Stephen Moore in the early stages, the home side touched down seven times before the French snatched two consolation tries in a benchmark rout that further tarnishes Philippe Saint-André's dismal track record.

The impressive Wallabies led 29-9 at the interval as four unanswered tries from Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Michael Hooper and Matt Toomua saw the hosts race ahead.

The French defence was woeful.  Australia were hardly playing sensational rugby but sloppy tackling and a few horrific errors from the visitors gifted the Wallabies a massive head start for the second half.

Unable — more like unwilling — to compete at the breakdown, les Bleus allowed the Aussie pack to give their backs quality ball far too cheaply.  Worse still, PSA's troops offered very little on attack.

After the break, the French got stuck into the rucks with far more venom and could stem the tide until just before the hour mark, when Nick Cummins added his name to the list of scorers, but the tourists never seriously threatened to cross the whitewash until Morgan Parra's late consolation score and penalty try in the final minute.

By that time the Wallabies had already reached the 50-point mark as Kurtley Beale and Pat McCabe came off the bench to rub salt into the French wounds with tries in the last quarter.

A neat drop-goal from Frédéric Michalak in reply to Bernard Foley's opening penalty levelled the scores early on, but is would be almost one-way thereafter.

Folua landed the first blow at the end of the first quarter, beating three defenders to cross.

Shortly afterwards Gaël Fickou came out of the French line looking for an intercept, allowing Ashley-Cooper to go in untouched off Toomua's offload.

Hooper added number three with a little help from the TMO who persuaded referee Craig Joubert that Tevita Kuridrani tap-on hadn't gone forward.

The fourth try, just before the break, was almost comical as debutant Felix le Bourhis fumbled on his line, then fumbled again in-goal as he tried to gather the loose ball, only to see Toomua pounce.

Foley added his third conversion to give Australia a 20-point lead, and the result was essentially sealed before the half-time hooter.

Australia could bide their time as France tried to get back into the game after the restart.  But Folau went clear out wide before finding Cummins on the switch for an excellent try to kill off any hopes of a comeback.

Beale cruised over for number six thanks to a break from Kuridrani before Folau beat Wesley Fofana and set McCabe free out wide for number seven.

Parra scored off the restart to salvage some pride for the XV de France, who finished on a positive point as their scrum earned a penalty try with the last play of the game.

But France will have to make a massive step up next week if they hope to keep the series alive.

The scorers:

For Australia: 
Tries:  Folau, Ashley-Cooper, Hooper, Toomua, Cummins, Beale, McCabe
Cons:  Foley 6
Pen:  Foley

For France: 
Tries:  Parra, Penalty try
Cons:  Michalak 2
Pens:  Michalak
Drops:  Michalak

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 James Horwill, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Kurtley Beale, 23 Pat McCabe.

France:  15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Felix le Bourhis, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Nicolas Mas (c), 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements:  16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Antoine Burban, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Remi Lamerat, 23 Brice Dulin.

Venue:  Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee:  Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant Referees:  Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
TMO:  Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Wales beaten again by Australia

Australia continued their dominant run over Wales with a sublime, exhausting 30-26 victory in the final Test of the year in Cardiff.

It could only ever be agonisingly close, such has been the nature of the battles between these two in recent times.

It came down to the simple matter of whether Wales were good enough to finally win.  With territory and possession five minutes from the finish and only four points down, the chance was there and then destroyed.

In the end Australia found that extra gear.  The acceleration in intensity after going 16-10 down was breathtaking — tries from Israel Folau and Joe Tomane flipping the match on it's head and leaving Wales to chase their way back in.

It was an absolute thriller;  no question.  Take your pick for a standout moment from a pre-Christmas treat littered with them served up under the roof of the Millennium Stadium.

Ireland's noble effort against New Zealand a week ago had seen them playing above their level, but this was a contest between two evenly-matched teams full of running and bruising force that surged and subsided one way and then the other.  There is no love lost between Wales and Australia, that is for sure.

Perhaps it was the lack of scrums in the first half that resulted in such a high level of magnificent entertainment.  It certainly meant that the absence of Adam Jones for Wales was not as dear as predicted.

The Wallabies were ruthless.  Last week against Scotland chances slipped away and the scoreboard failed to reflect the gulf between the two teams but here, against a rival, they endlessly tore up Shaun Edwards' defensive system.

It was Wales though who struck first.  North pounced on a rare lackadaisical mistake from Adam Ashley-Cooper to hack on and then finish in the left corner, sending the Millennium Stadium into raptures.  It was an omen.  It left you breathless.

Quade Cooper marked his 50th cap for Australia with a world-leading performance.

His reverse pass around the back will be his legacy, mimicked in backyards around the world on Sunday, and it came off twice — first for Christian Leali'ifano's equalising try and then creating a chance on a silver platter for Will Genia that the scrum-half left behind.

Leigh Halfpenny's boot faltered only once in the first half, a penalty pinging back off the post but his other two efforts were successful.  Added to an attempt from Dan Biggar, Wales were 16-10 ahead.

Israel Folau though had other plans.  First he was brilliantly denied in the far corner by Scott Williams with a try-saving tackle, with Biggar heading to the bin from the resulting ruck.

But despite monstrous tackles from first North and then Richard Hibbard, Folau cruelly bounced off Mike Phillips and powered through two more tacklers to snatch the try — standing over his victims with the air of a world champion boxer.  By scoring he levelled Lote Tuqiri's Wallaby record of ten tries in a single Test year.

It sling-shotted the Wallabies into the lead following Leali'ifano's conversion, Australia up 17-16 at half-time.

There was to be no second half let up in intensity.  Australia sniffed blood and pummeled the Welsh defensive front through breaks from Nick Cummins and Cooper to leave the home side scuttling backwards.

Leali'ifano added a penalty before Tomane added the Wallabies third try — following close consultation with the TMO over the final pass.  It created a chorus of boos but the more alarming aspect for Wales were the 20 unanswered points added by Australia to put them in the driving seat.

Wales grew desperate, the next score all but deciding the result at 30-16 down.  Liam Williams did his part by racing away down the left touchline, but the Wallabies prowess at the breakdown was too much as they scrambled to safety.

North though was not done.  The Northampton wing flew through Scott Fardy's tackle attempt and then had the power to outmuscle Folau to go in under the posts and drag Wales back within seven points.

Driven by hope and that burning fire to finally put one over the Wallabies, Wales turned to their bench and their pack to suck away the wide channels for Australia.

Three points came after Ben Mowen's indiscretion at the breakdown as the oxygen disappeared ahead of another typically tight finish in this fixture.

Cooper's yellow card then gave Wales the impetus, the fly-half binned for an early tackle as the clock ticked away.

It came down to a tapped penalty for Wales in their own half, the length of the pitch to run in order to finally break that losing streak.  It was a task too far, bringing a pulsating Test match to a close.

Man of the Match:  Quade Cooper's tribute was already written until he was harshly yellow carded.  But he was so good that he still takes this award.  Sensational throughout.  George North a close second.

Moment of the Match:  With a line-out in the Australian 22, Wales sought to deploy their famous 12-man maul but the execution was off and a huge chance wasted.

Villain of the Match:  Despite the sin-binnings of Cooper and Biggar, there was nothing nasty here.

The scorers:

For Wales:
Tries:  North 2
Cons:  Halfpenny, Biggar
Pens:  Halfpenny 2, Biggar, Priestland
Yellow Card:  Biggar

For Australia:
Tries:  Leali'ifano, Folau, Tomane
Cons:  Leali'ifano 3
Pens:  Leali'ifano 3

Wales:  15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Owen Williams, 12 Scott Williams, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (capt), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Alun-Wyn Jones, 3 Rhodri Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements:  16 Ken Owens, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Ryan Jones, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Liam Williams.

Australia:  15 Israel Folau, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Dave Dennis, 21 Nic White, 22 Mike Harris, 23 Bernard Foley.

Referee:  Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees:  Alain Rolland, John Lacey (both Ireland)