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.
It is rare to cover a June Test match win for one of the Home Unions in the Southern Hemisphere in Expert Witness, and it’s unprecedented to report on two. However, on Saturday we saw normal All Black service resumed, Eddie’s homecoming and Ireland’s awakening, all in the space of 240 minutes of thrilling rugby.
Lewis Moody considers the weekend to be significant, as England showed their huge progress, Ireland their potential and New Zealand set the standard.
Eating My Words
“Firstly, I want to apologise for all of my friends in Ireland. I’ve been around the sport long enough to know nothing is impossible but the win was improbable enough to make me pinch myself several times during the match!” he chuckled.
“The win was remarkable enough in itself, but to do it with 14 men for a large period of the game beggars belief.
“I think we’ve discussed Joe Schmidt’s level of detailed thinking many times before but this was a masterplot befitting a Bond movie. If you think about the three areas of concern when you play the Springboks, you think gainline, scrum and lineout.
“You know that the massive power runners will create havoc in the contact area and you accept that they have a world class set-piece, cornerstones of the South African game.
Reaching the heights
“Schmidt and Ireland targeted all three areas magnificently. For Devin Toner to dominate world class locks in Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth is an incredible achievement, especially when one of Ireland’s other jumpers and also a primary lifter, CJ Stander, was off the field.
“I honestly can’t recall the last time a Springbok lineout was bossed so comprehensively by the opposition; you expect them to be perfect, yet Schmidt saw a weakness and used Toner, supported often by his fellow jumpers in the lift, to gain huge height.
“A lightish man of over 208cm being lifted by two others of around 196cm is almost impossible to compete with if the timing is right, and, on opposition throws, the height needed to get over Toner to throw long ball is huge, so it takes away almost half of the opponents’ throw options.
“Crucial to that plan was the accuracy of Rory Best and the Ulsterman delivered big time. It was a consummate display by the Irish lineout,” observed the former England skipper.
“The other significant plan was to absorb the running into contact of the South Africans and turn that clash into a turnover opportunity by using the choke tackle to good effect, and turning planned rucks into impromptu and unexpected mauls.
“Again, Best was a key man here and was often the man clamped on the ball, ripping, whilst his teammates used power to keep the ball off the floor.
“It was an unbelievable performance, an incredible result and an upset of monumental proportions,” noted Moody.
Black is the New Black
In Auckland, a gallant and creative Wales showed ambition in defeat but even when a supercar is misfiring it’s quicker than most things on the road, and in the final analysis, New Zealand simply had too much horsepower for the visitors.
“We often hear the phrase rugby IQ these days and I cannot stress hard enough how much of this the All Blacks have,” admired Moody.
“As with South Africa, the Welsh game plan is built upon some very simple and obvious things; a fantastic team ethic, pace into contact and above all, a suffocating blitz defence.
“New Zealand saw exactly this in front of them and simply used runners to crash and commit and then, using the footballing skills of the two Aarons, Smith and Cruden, to employ chips and grubbers when the Welsh defence had numbers committed to the previous phase.
“Cruden’s kick-pass led to the first try, aided by Kieran Read’s double miss pass to negate the blitzing Welsh. It was a brilliant counter to a proven tactic.
“I saw a statistic that New Zealand had carried almost 800 metres which is phenomenal. Waisake Naholo carried almost 200 metres, which is more than I think I managed in my entire career,” he quipped.
“But Wales have a lot to be proud of. Taulupe Falatau, one of the most consistent performers in world rugby at the moment, benefitted from the angles and space created by Liam Williams and the distribution of Rhys Webb. With George North threatening in open field, the ambition of those four players will be a key factor in keeping New Zealand honest next week.
“But the lesson is written large for all to see. Despite the personal changes, despite the cobwebs of a six-month lay off, New Zealand are the standard we all aspire to, and frankly, they are a league above anything else in the world right now.
Keeping Up With The Jones
In Brisbane, England continued their unbeaten run with an impressive and wholly deserved win against the Wallabies, their World Cup nemesis.
In some ways, Jones’ tenure has been so impressive that Moody expected this win, a good sign for the Rose.
“It’s rare to feel you go into a game Down Under as favourites, but that’s how a lot of pundits saw this match,” Moody explained.
“That’s a testimony not to the results under Eddie Jones, but to the style of rugby and level of performance. It’s one thing to be winning but it’s another altogether to be doing it with such intent and style.
“I think if one thing summed Eddie’s understanding of the game up, it was his decision to yank Luther Burrell off after 20 minutes and revert to his lightweight but fleetfooted Six Nations midfield of George Ford, Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph.
“Burrell is a fine player but he’s not a passer or distributor, as we saw against Wales in May. He loves a bosh and will seek contact but when you’ve the gas of Watson, JJ and Yarde around the key aim is to get the ball to them as soon as practical, in as much space as you can, as close to the gainline as is possible, especially on the hard grounds of Australia.
“A lot of people criticized George Ford harshly for his display against Wales in the warm up Test, but the truth was he had a fine game in open play but a stinker of a goalkicking display. We have to contextualize this and realize that, when all are fit, Ford is running the show and Farrell is kicking the goals.
“As soon as George came on, those outside him had passes they could run onto in space, and then used fast feet to attack holes,” explained the openside.
“I have to also single out the whole pack. My old mate James Haskell had a game of monumental proportions.
“Underneath his bluster, Haskell is always a little insecure and I think he realizes that. The hit on David Pocock was such a turning point. James literally stood up and filled his own shirt at that point, with any self-doubt instantly gone. It was like watching a huge Sea Lion winning the annual mating contest with his rival. Massive hit, massive effect on the game psychologically.
“Dan Cole negated the Australia’s niggling tactics at the scrum with consummate excellence. The Wallabies are always looking for a passive and disruptive engagement, looking the wheel, de-stabilise and step on the hit. The last thing they want is a legal and stable engagement and Dan used his huge upper body strength to wrap Scott Sio time and time again,” said Moody.
This weekend has produced a contiguous set of fixtures, the only significant change being Ireland moving to altitude to face the Boks.
Moody believes that this weekend will be a sterner test for all of the sides:
“The Home Unions have shown their hand last week and their opponents will be better prepared this time around. I really believe the All Blacks will go up another gear and Wales may be in for a chastening experience and I cannot see anything but a big win for the Blacks.
“Ireland are playing at Ellis Park, in rarified atmosphere against a wounded and proud nation. I wrote them off last week and although I should have learned my lesson, I believe the Springboks will come back hard at them and win comfortably.
“England; well what can you say? I still think it’ll be very close though and you never underestimate a side with Israel Folau in it.
“I think Eddie may tweak the side and Jack Nowell may come in to offer a defensive counter on the wing for Folau’s breaks. It really is tough to call and it would be wonderful for the neutral if they travelled to the third test with the series level.
“However, I’m not a neutral and I make no apologies for that, so I’m going to go with my team and just pray that they pull off the unthinkable, a series win by the end of the second Test.”
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 was speaking to James While