With England, Ireland and Wales enjoying significant June tours against the Rugby Championship giants, England skipper and World Cup winner Lewis Moody MBE is our resident Expert Witness during June to cast a critical eye upon the international proceedings.
With another June series of Test Matches done and dusted, it is rare to be talking positively about the Northern Hemisphere sides against the big three of the South.
Yet for once, honours are reasonably even with England producing an unheralded 3-0 win against Australia, Ireland pushing South Africa all the way and Wales showing pluck and skill despite losing by some big scorelines to New Zealand.
Lewis Moody considers some interesting themes have emerged during the three series:
“Ireland have been utterly magnificent in defeat,” admired Moody.
“The most telling thing to me is we’re no longer hearing anything about the old guard like O’Connell and O’Driscoll. Instead the chat is about the new stars; Robbie Henshaw, Luke Marshall, Iain Henderson, CJ Stander and a lot more.
“Their game plan, meeting power with power on the gainline, holding the man up, spoiling possession and using direct running with offloads to attack is still evident but now it’s the new guys stepping up into Joe Schmidt’s systems and they’ve done so with some aplomb.
“I have to also single out Schmidt; his attention to detail around the simple things of rugby like the restarts and set-piece is quite superb.
“The methods Ireland used to negate one of the best lineouts in the world by getting Devin Toner high in ever situation to ensure that the opposition can only throw to front or middle is a demonstration of that,” noted Moody.
“And let’s not forget, Ireland are still missing something like five key players, all world class performers like Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy. They can only get better.
“I would just like to touch upon a real turning point on Saturday; the mid-air collision when Willie Le Roux received a yellow card. Referees must be consistent on issues like this.
“CJ Stander’s challenge in the first Test was no worse than Le Roux’s, yet one gets a red card and the other a yellow. That’s farcical. I’m not saying Le Roux should have seen red, I am saying that the offences were pretty much identical and if that’s the case, so should be the punishment.
“I note Le Roux has been suspended which does underline the severity of the incident but a retrospective suspension is scant consolation when the onfield adjudication is inconsistent,” concluded Moody.
“In summary, whilst South Africa with be delighted with the results, Ireland have made huge steps with their new incumbents. Add in the missing players and I’m sure you’d agree that they’ll be very competitive during the Six Nations.”
Wales’ Short Straw
Every team relishes a chance to calibrate themselves against the very best and, judged on scoreline alone, Wales appeared to come a very distant second best to the peerless All Blacks. However, Moody considers that there’s a little more to the results than meets the eye.
“As always, New Zealand are all about efficiency. Everything they do is 10, maybe 20 percent more efficient than any other side. Their ability to get points in the red zone, their tackle completion, their distribution, all of it screams efficiency,” he explained.
“The way new players come into that side seamlessly and immediately become an integral part of the All Black machine is astonishing.
“No other side could lose players like Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Tony Woodcock and a host of others and still continue precisely as they left off last October,” admired Moody.
“But Wales acquitted themselves admirably. They are a side of two generations; the old guard with Lions tours and caps aplenty. Then you have the new exciting talents – players such as Liam Williams, Rhys Webb, Rob Evans and Ross Moriaty.
“There’s still a fair bit of work to do to integrate the new players into the Warren Gatland way, but already we’re seeing a little more ambition than the days of exclusive Warrenball which features offloading and speed from the base.
“Wales, throughout the series, made crucial little errors, such as the Warburton/Falatau incident which effectively cost them 14 points, since New Zealand scored almost immediately at the other end following the dropped pass.
“Every side makes errors but against New Zealand, their ability to switch from defence to attack in a drop of a hat is clinical and that cost Wales on a number of occasions.
“I’m sure that the Welsh fans will be mortified at the scorelines but if you drill down below the surface there’s a lot to be positive about and Wales again will be a force in the coming season.”
Before the June tour commenced, the common wisdom was that one win down under would be par for this improved side, two would be a real step forward and three victories would be so unlikely that most didn’t even consider it possible.
Moody is delighted with England’s showing and sees a lot more to come from this talented side.
“Being topical, Eddie Jones’ stock has risen so fast one might wonder if, when he arrives home, he’ll be anointed as the successor to both David Cameron and Roy Hodgson. And knowing Eddie’s work ethic he could probably do both in addition to his role with England!” he quipped.
“Let’s just start with Eddie. It’s so obvious to me here’s a side having fun. They’re loving every minute of the environment and they’re playing sublime, accurate and precise rugby and Eddie is the man propagating this growth.
“Traditionally, when England played Australia we always used to discuss their finishing and we knew that if there was parity of possession and territory, that we’d be in for a tough time as they are so efficient at scoring when in the red zone.
“But in this series, the overall possession stats are something like 33 percent to England versus 67 percent to Australia. The fact that England won by a margin in each tells you a number of things.
“Firstly discipline: we are competing legally in defence and we’re maintaining shape. Secondly, accuracy of finish; we’re using time in the red zone to get points on the board every time. Thirdly, trust; that amount of defending time tells you the players are trusting the system and each other.
“That defensive system is the key. It’s so effective and if you watch the matches again, note the number of times Australia became cramped on the touchlines, with the defensive winger free to tackle and the inside defender making the initial tackle. That shows just how quick that push defence is getting in the faces of the opposition and just how quickly they’re reforming to make the second and third tackles.
“Some of the youngsters have been quite magnificent. I’ve run out of words for Maro Itoje and I welcomed watching him on the blindside flank for an hour in the third test, the position where I believe he is best suited to. Owen Farrell and George Ford have controlled the game patterns like seasoned veterans and elsewhere, Jamie George has shown he’s a much better footballer than his shape and frame might first suggest!
“All in all, I’ve never been more upbeat about English rugby since maybe 2001 or around that time. There’s a real game plan, quality in every position and a coach that understands the game.
“I simply cannot wait for the next round of Tests in November and I’m sure we’ll see progress from all of the three teams we’ve discussed over the last four weeks,” concluded Moody.
Once again, we thank Lewis for his time and thoughts. Expert Witness will return shortly to discuss the Rugby Championship and we look forward to you joining us once again.
Lewis Moody MBE, a tearaway flanker, played 71 times for England and appeared in 3 tests for the British and Irish Lions. The last England captain to win a test in Australia in 2010 before this tour, he was a key member of the England’s World Cup winning side in 2003 and skippered England in the 2011 RWC. He will forever be remembered for winning the lineout that led to ‘that drop goal’.
He now spends his free time promoting his children’s charity, http://www.thelewismoodyfoundation.org/
Lewis spoke to James While