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.
After another frantic weekend of Test Matches, where England secured an unassailable 2-0 lead in their series against Australia, Ireland played brilliant rugby and came up short to a rejuvenated Springbok side in the second half, and with Wales’ hywl evident in a defeat to the best side in the world, New Zealand, the June tours have never been more significant.
“Ireland and South Africa was truly a game of two halves,” noted Moody.
A lot of South Africans have been pretty critical of the Springboks after the first weekend.
“There’s always disquiet about various selection policies there but Allister Coetzee’s use of the bench, combined with the toll of playing in the rarified atmosphere of the Highveld, conspired to eclipse a spirited first half performance from Ireland. And I’m relishing the re-match,” he explained.
“The significance of the physicality of these two teams is very notable; both sides are striving to dominate the gain line so much that holes would always open up.
“Coetzee’s changes, Warren Whiteley, Ruan Combrinck, Franco Mostert and Julian Redelinghuys, allowed Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Willie le Roux to find that space caused by committing numbers to that gainline collision and, with Redelinghuys to the fore, South Africa came back in astonishing fashion in the rarified atmosphere of Ellis Park.”
Altitude not Attitude
“Nothing prepares you for playing at that altitude. The burning pain of your throat, the way fatigue hits you like a blanket full of water cannot be underestimated. Ireland maybe suffered from their relative lack of acclimatization and playing that test will tell them a lot about the need to play for 80 minutes in those conditions,” explained Moody.
“But let’s just remember, this is one-all with a decider to play. This series has been immensely physical and Ireland have been magnificent for three out of the four halves of rugby.
“I cannot wait until the final Test; it’s a real shame Ireland’s emerging star Robbie Henshaw isn’t available as he really commits back rows and defenders in numbers with his power and pace.
“The lineout, with Devin Toner in rare form, will be crucial. As noted last week, his presence removes any speculative throws to the tail and keeps the opposition very honest.
“I think it’ll be an epic encounter with nothing asked and nothing given. It’s at sea level and it’ll be such a classic and so close to call, but I think that the Boks will change their side, with Combrinck, who is an absolute machine of a player, starting, and I believe they’ll just have the edge to secure a hard fought series win.”
Same Old Zealand
Down in Dunedin, Wales poor accuracy combined to rob them of a ten-point lead in the first half, but the hope was momentary as the home side just showed all of the skills we’ve seen in years gone by to pull clear by the end of the game.
Moody is quick to applaud Welsh ambition and pressure but is pragmatic about the gap between New Zealand and the rest.
“It was a fantastic game of rugby in so many aspects,” he mused.
“The turning moment, when Sam Warburton intercepted and passed to the superb Taulupe Falatau, will really irk all involved, as chances like that against New Zealand come few and far between and you simply have to make them count.
“Faletau is amongst the moist consistent performers in world rugby and I put his error down to a long, hard season.
“However, as with the Springboks, the replacements made the difference and the enforced introduction of Beauden Barrett, who orchestrated a 24-minute period in which the team rattled up 26 unanswered points, shows just how you take your chances. He was absolutely magnificent,” applauded the former England skipper.
Give Me A Break
“New Zealand made six clean line breaks during the match, five of which came during those 24 minutes and three of those led to tries. It was an utterly devastating display from Barrett.
“The All Blacks turned a Welsh strength into a weakness and found ways to combat the rushing Wales midfield defence, running hard lines to target the channel Jonathan Davies inside shoulder and running an angle towards Jamie Roberts. They achieved something like 70 percent gain-line success, which is amazing against a defence as solid as Wales.
“In the final analysis, you’ve got to accept you’re playing the best in their own backyard, and whilst Wales will rue the early chances they missed, New Zealand are something very, very special and Wales can hold their heads very high indeed,” concluded Moody.
England Happy and Glorious
In Melbourne, England put up a defensive effort that almost re-wrote the record books. 202 tackles, and a possession count of 71 percent to 29 percent in favour of Australia just underlines how astonishing this win was.
Lewis Moody believes England’s clinical finishing was as key as the defensive effort.
“That was a performance that will define this young side for many years to come,” he admired.
“The possession stats are almost incredible and a complete reversal of everything we expect tradition to deliver when England play Australia.
“The key, however, was England’s ability to get points on the board when in the red zone. Every time we went there, we came back with points, some of them at crucial times.
“Australia will rue not taking the points on offer. On a couple of occasions they had the chance to hurt England with three points but the clear thinking that we expect from the Wallabies wasn’t there.
“They wanted to dominate with tries and didn’t see how close the game was likely to be. The turning down of kickable penalties on three occasions cost them dearly and I’m sure they’ll learn from that.
“But let’s just look at that defensive effort. It came from everywhere. Haskell, Robshaw, Itoje, Cole, Farrell, Brown and more; time and time again they cut Australia down and won the collision.
“James Haskell’s rejuvenation is quite mercurial. He’s risen like Lazarus and, fearing for his place under Eddie Jones, both he and Chris Robshaw have played with freedom and impact, something that was missing from their game in previous seasons.
“Haskell’s ability to win six inches of territory in the defensive hit is quite significant. He hits so hard with all of 120kgs and he creates a momentary stop in the attack that prevents continuity in attack. Those ten centimeters he wins in those areas kill the ambition of the opposition and makes them reshape everything they’re doing.
“At the moment he’s quite devastating and he and Robshaw, who was always going to step up for his 50th cap, were quite sublime in defence and attack.
Hook, Line and Sinker
“I can’t ignore the little cameo played by Jamie George either. Here’s a player with the shape of a brick and the skills of master bricklayer!
“I thought Courtney Lawes had made a pig’s ear of his break until George’s footballing skills took over and sealed the game. George will keep Dylan Hartley honest and it’s great to see so many squad players pushing their peers for their places.
“In fact scrum dominance was also a key factor. Sure, both sides will be disappointed by the inexcusable surface that was provided, but you have to play the hand you’re dealt and both of England’s units, the starters and the bench, monstered their opponents. It was very significant in the overall match position,” said Moody.
Push to the Summit
“This side will want to come home with an unheralded three from three, that’s a fact. Eddie Jones may be tempted to tinker, perhaps a change at lock with Haskell’s suspect calf, with Itoje moving to six as I’ve been advocating for some time.
“But there’s also something about this team that makes you know that the shirt is earned and not given away. I expect a change or two, nothing major, and a real push for a pinnacle of achievement, a three-nil away win down under.
“I honestly think they are capable, but you never ever write off the Wallabies!”
Once again we thank Lewis for his time and look forward to his summing up of a wonderful June of Test Match Rugby.
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