It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
THEY’RE ON FIRE!!
British and Irish Lions: Commanding win over the Maori All Blacks on Saturday, with the kick-chase game and forward power upfront proving to be the difference in a 32-10 win that should have been bigger had the Lions taken more chances. The core of the Test team is now set for Saturday and while aesthetically the Lions might not be easy on the eye, you cannot deny how effective they were in Rotorua.
All Blacks: Made it all look so easy against Samoa. The reigning world champions ran in 12 tries for a 78-0 lead, but what was extra special was the quality of their handling and finishing as Samoa failed to live with them in the second half. Any sense of rust can now be forgotten, with the trio of Barretts all impressing.
Gregor Townsend: An excellent start to life as Scotland coach for the PRO12 title winner, with Saturday’s victory over the Wallabies in Sydney despite missing a big number of top players – Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Greig Laidlaw, Richie Gray – indicating that Scotland are set for a good run with Townsend in charge.
New Zealand U20: Utterly wiped the floor with England in the final of the World Rugby U20 Championship, winning 64-17 to win their sixth title at this level. Asafo Aumua was another level, with the hooker grabbing a hat-trick, as New Zealand emphatically ended England’s bid for back-to-back titles. The dominance of New Zealand in the 2017 tournament has made their limp exit the year before all the more of an oddity.
Siya Kolisi: Outstanding for the Springboks against France, not entirely surprisingly given his good form for the Stormers in 2017. The interception for his try was an exceptional bit of skill, with his rip, burst and assist for Elton Jantjies one of the best bits of attacking rugby from South Africa in many a year. This is a side dominated by Golden Lions players, rightly so too, but Kolisi was a real standout in Durban.
England Women: Number one in the world after defeating New Zealand in Rotorua, with captain Sarah Hunter leading the charge in the 29-21 victory. Having not won in New Zealand since 2001, or defeated the Black Ferns at all since 2012, this was a massive achievement, especially with England scoring five tries.
Mike Brown: One of his best games for England for some time, as Brown produced two assists in the second win in a week for England over Argentina. Fine timing to snatch a cross-kick (more on that later) and looked quick even at the end of the season, leading England well as vice-captain as England clinched a 2-0 series win.
Ben Volavola: Calm and collected as the fly-half’s drop goal in the 82nd minute helped Fiji knock off Italy 22-19 in Suva. Volavola’s stock has dipped since he lost out in the battle for number ten to Richie Mo’unga at the Crusaders last year, but this was a reminder that he is a special player.
David Halaifonua’s tackle: Not high, not a swinging arm, just a superb tackle from the Tongan full-back on Friday at Eden Park in the game against Wales. Cory Allen’s response was excellent too.
David Halaifonua on Corey Allen earlier today 💥🚗 pic.twitter.com/by4Q4FWHcw
— Rugby Lives (@RugbyLives) June 16, 2017
It was at this moment, I knew, I fucked up 💥🚗 pic.twitter.com/DQ2UmzHIN4
— Cory Allen (@CoryAllen93) June 16, 2017
COLD AS ICE
Wallabies: No hiding the frustration in Australia after those “umimaginative” Scots, according to some, overturned the Wallabies on their home turf for the second time in five years. How much should be read into these Tests remains to be seen, with Michael Cheika giving new players a run. But the most damning criticism? That the Wallabies do not care any more.
France: The series has gone but don’t confuse this entry with placing the blame on France’s players. Damian Penaud was encouraging on debut while others clearly need reevaluating. But with one more Test to go, the Top 14 players will then be back in pre-season training in August ahead of the new campaign. Not taking anything away from the quality of South Africa’s play – this French squad, again, look out on their feet. Bernard Laporte’s proposed changes to rest France’s best players during the season cannot come soon enough.
The kick-pass: Rugby’s new favourite bit of skill – when they’re good, they are very good – has not had the easiest of weeks. First Tommy Seymour leapt like a salmon to poach Lima Sopoaga’s effort before scoring against the Highlanders. Then Mike Brown did the same to Argentina, building up to a try for Piers Francis. This might well be the start of a counter-trend.
Argentina: Make that five defeats in a row for los Pumas, who welcome Georgia next week to Jujuy. As we stressed before the second Test, the players have noticeably stepped up wearing blue and white in the last two weeks. But this was nowhere near England’s best side in Santa Fe, prompting questions of how far off the pace Argentina find themselves building up to the Rugby Championship. Second time Argentina have played well and come up short in a week. Defeats like those will hit morale hard.
James Lowe: Admittedly the Lions forced errors out of the Maori in Rotorua, but the future Leinster back in particular hardly covered himself in glory at full-back under the high ball. The Lions kept kicking and Lowe’s handling errors followed, denying his side field position. A bonus? He’ll be well set for his next stint in Dublin’s tropical climate.