England, Samoa, Australia, Italy…
The tour by the Southern Hemisphere Rugby sides of the cooler Northern climes continued this week. England started disappointingly against Samoa, after their world beating performance against Australia last week. The first half was try-less, finishing 6-3 in England‘s favour. Although it must be said that England turned down numerous kickable penalties in favour of going for the 5 points. The second half convinced me I had underestimated Samoa‘s contribution to that low scoring half, when they scored the first try of the game in the first minute of the second half. It is almost a cliché to talk about the tackling of the Samoans and the TV commentators often do. But they do tackle hard and tackle often. For a small country with a small population they are relative giants in the Rugby world. They first came to notice in the 1991 World Cup when they beat Wales. At that stage they were known as Western Samoa and the English joked that Wales were beaten by half a country. But they have remained prominent in world Rugby, even through some lean times. Most of their players play in the Northern Hemisphere, or New Zealand. They have suffered because of that, with some of their clubs not releasing players to play for their country.
But there was no disgrace in this game, in many ways they gave England a harder test than Australia. After the try against them England did start to show some of the flair of the previous week. They hit back with two tries from Matt Banahan and Tom Croft and there was some Harlem Globetrotter style ball handling between those tries from England. Toby Flood‘s boot was safe, kicking four penalties and two conversions in total. Not to be outdone Samoa scored the final try, in the last minute of the match, after sustained pressure on England‘s line, to finish with the credible score line of 26-13.
England will have to step up a gear when they face current world champions South Africa next week, even though they looked a shadow of themselves in their defeat by Scotland.
Now, I must level a few complaints about England Rugby and the Twickenham crowd. The first is a simple thing, I was not happy to see England turn out against Australia in that weird grey kit. It is traditional in Rugby for the home side to change colours, if there is a clash, but since when did white clash with gold and green? Never, in any of their previous encounters, that I am aware of. No, this is a lead taken from English Football in an effort to sell more replica kits. I don’t like to see these traditions forsaken for commercialism.
Talking of Rugby traditions, the Twickenham crowd have now decided to forsake the tradition of honouring the Haka and what ever the Samoan equivalent is called. They chose to drown out both traditional displays by the opposition in recent weeks. Now I know the Haka is a challenge and everyone has to decide how to respond to that. But I believe it should be faced in silence and if you then choose to respond with a battle cry of your own that is all well and good. The Haka and its Samoan equivalent, add to the colour and spectacle of International Rugby. But I can see them being phased out if the crowd decide to disrespect them and drown them out.
The Samoan and Kiwi Hakas dishonoured at Twickenham
The Scotland victory over the Springboks was the shock of the week, after their awful performance against the All Blacks. I honestly thought Scotland could put a side out against no opposition and still lose. But they fought hard and secured the win off the boot of Dan Parks, who scored 6 penalties and a drop goal. South Africa scored the only try of the match from Willem Alberts and Morne Steyn kicked four penalties. The final score, 21 – 17 to Scotland.
Australia like South Africa looked a weary side in their 32-14 victory over Italy. The score line actually looks flattering to the Wallabies as it was much closer throughout the game. It’s been a long season for the Tri-nations sides, but that is no excuse for professional full time athletes. And New Zealand are showing no signs tiring with their emphatic win over Ireland. Australia‘s recent kicking problems seem to have been resolved with Berrick Barnes kicking 6 penalties and 2 conversions and missing only one, very long range, attempt. Unfortunately I still can not see a place for Barnes in the full strength run on side when Quade Cooper and Matt Giteau play to their full abilities.
The All Blacks remain the side to beat, dominating Ireland 38-18. Wales maintained their run of very ordinary form, drawing 16-16 with Fiji. I have yet to see those two games so I reserve comment.
More fun with the tour games next week.
By Max Power