It’s time for Planet Rugby’s wrap of who has their name in lights at the moment… and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
They’re on fire!
Ben Youngs: One of his finest games ever in an England shirt, which will long be remembered for those two brilliant dummies that left Pieter-Steph du Toit not wanting to look up. Deserved the Man of the Match award and has had an excellent year for his country.
New Zealand: How about that for a response. The All Blacks had their first try after just four minutes and finished with an impressive ten away to Italy, despite resting Dane Coles and Beauden Barrett and with Kieran Read in a rare role as water boy. The perfect response after their loss to Ireland. Also named Team of the Year at Sunday’s awards in London.
Virimi Vakatawa: Incredibly, Vakatawa last played for France in the XV-man code all the way back in March. In fact that was his last 15-a-side game whatsoever, and the phenomenal wing marked his return with a hat-trick as les Bleus thrashed Samoa in Toulouse. A potentially key figure against the Wallabies this weekend.
Munster, and the Maori All Blacks tribute to Anthony Foley: Another performances for the ages from the men in red on Friday, whose youngsters were excellent in a well-earned win over the New Zealand side. Fine touch too from Ash Dixon and his side, presenting a shirt with Anthony Foley’s initials on the back before the haka. Simple and very moving.
Alun Wyn Jones: Huge for Wales on his return, just two days on from his father’s funeral having missed the week’s previous loss against Australia. Jones reminded us why he is so important for his country with a Man of the Match performance, overcoming his emotions to impress again. He truly is world class.
Huw Jones: The omission of Matt Scott from Scotland’s squad for November suddenly makes a bit more sense. Jones is a fascinating story, born in Scotland with Welsh heritage but raised first in England and then South Africa, where he has been playing for the Stormers. Sharp speed for both his tries but it was his ability to get on the outside for his second score against the Wallabies which caught the eye.
Japan: Not easy by any means to go to Tbilisi and win, especially when you are the second-best team on the field for so long in the contest. The Brave Blossoms however came away with the win, a first for new boss Jamie Joseph, thanks to fly-half Yu Tamura’s late penalty seeing them home.
Bayonne: Don’t book Bayonne’s ticket back to the ProD2 just yet. Saturday’s meeting with league leaders Clermont produced a shock upset, just Bayonne’s second win of the season, as they make up crucial ground on the rest of the field.
Cold as ice!!
South Africa: A sixth loss in ten games this year for the Springboks and this might have been the worst of the bunch. The start was bright enough, but once England blew out the cobwebs having not played since June, the hosts never looked like losing once their 20-9 half-time lead was established. Big issues on defence and with the kicking game for Allister Coetzee’s side.
Argentina: Much more was expected from los Pumas after the way Wales struggled the week before against Australia and given how smoothly Argentina’s backline clicked against Japan in Tokyo. Far too many mistakes to win at this level and more consistency will be required to defeat Scotland next weekend.
Fiji: Lots of work for John McKee and his coaching staff to do in very little time. The Barbarians exposed Fiji’s set-piece and defence in the first half under the rain in Belfast, in conditions that needed more of a measured approach from Fiji’s explosive runners and their struggling fly-half Ben Volavola. Next up? England…
Samoa: Another tough start to November, this time after shipping over 50 points to France. Bounce-back games are certainly easier than next week’s against Georgia, whose power will offer a much different challenge compared to expansive France.