1. A Hurricane wing causes a storm
For us mere mortals scoring a hat-trick on your international debut is something we will only experience in our wildest dreams. Not for Julian Savea, as the 21 year old Hurricane wing marked his first cap for the All Blacks with three superbly taken tries against Ireland. Savea has been running in the scores for fun during this Super Rugby season, and now looks set to continue that form on the international stage.
Savea continues a long tradition of powerful wingers, following in the footsteps of legendary All Blacks such as Jonah Lomu, Doug Howlett and Joe Rokocoko. And comparisons have already been drawn between Lomu and the former IRB junior player of the year. High praise for the youngster when you consider the impact Lomu had in transforming the modern game.
With an explosive turn of pace and an ability to pick a clean line through opposition defences Savea looks at home on the wing already. Nor will he shy away from the physical side of the game. Before any try scoring heroics he had already set the tone with a massive hit on Rob Kearney, widely regarded as Irelands form player and currently one of the best fullbacks in the northern hemisphere. The young Hurricane certainly wasn’t in awe of his opposition.
One of three debutants on the day, there was little disruption to normal services as the All Blacks ran in five tries to one Ireland score leaving their opponents wondering how on earth they are to put an end their miserable record in this fixture. It will take a monumental turnaround and plenty of Irish luck if that’s going to happen in either of the next two tests, and with talent such as Savea breaking on to the scene it doesn’t look as though their task will get any easier in the foreseeable future.
2. Wounded Wallabies have a killer instinct
Rarely, if ever before, has a Welsh squad travelled with such high hopes of a series victory down under. They were confident, almost expecting to get the better of their Australian hosts. And it’s that expectancy which means their defeat in the opening test will have stung all the more. A familiar feeling for a squad whose semi-final exit from the World Cup was equally as disappointing.
Not that the performance was terrible. Wales showed glimpses of the form which impressed many at the World Cup, and brought them a Grand Slam in the spring. They fought valiantly to come back in the second half, closing to within a single point of the Wallabies in the final quarter. In fact, but for a slow start and a moment of Will Genia genius at the beginning of the second half, Wales could conceivably have recorded a famous victory.
So where did it go wrong? Wales found themselves facing an early deficit after letting Scott Higginbotham cross for a seven pointer in the opening exchanges. Costly at the best of times, if any team is going to win a test down under they need to be more solid than that. Gifting Australia an advantage meant that victory was always going to be unlikely.
To their credit Wales avoided conceding any further setbacks until Genia sliced through the Welsh defence and with a quick change of direction bamboozled James Hook at fullback. The Wallaby halfback was an outstanding performer on the day as Australia went some way to banishing thoughts of a pretty poor display earlier in the week Scotland.
Scotland’s shock victory did the Welsh no favours at all. The Wallabies were clearly determined to avoid a second defeat and were clinical when given the opportunity. This was never more evident than when Pat McCabe sealed victory in the closing stages. In contrast Wales squandered their clearest opportunity when Priestland fumbled a sloppy pass from Sam Warburton with a try almost certain. That was the deciding factor in the end.
3. Winning ugly counts the same as winning in style
There was nothing attractive about the rugby on display during South Africa’s encounter with England. Expect a number of sore bodies in both camps after a physical match which the Springboks won comfortably in the end. Consider it even more demanding coming at the end of a long hard season for the Englishmen selected. They will deserve a well earned break by the end of this series.
It was ugly, but fascinating all the same. The first half was cagey. Neither side really brought their ‘A’ game, as so often happens when two heavyweights come together. The physicality on show was embodied by Willem Alberts, a bruiser from Natal Shark in the South African pack. Alberts used every bit of his considerable 18 stone frame in contact and you can bet the English forwards are feeling it now.
The second half was an improvement of sorts. With Morne Steyn and then De Villiers crossing for the Boks, before Ben Foden scored a late consolation try. Brian Habana threatened to spark something special and Ruan Pienaar was typically assured as a replacement but in truth it will hardly be remembered as a classic. Not that Heyneke Meyer will be remotely bothered by that when he remembers his first game as head coach. It’s always about winning.
4. The bad weather won’t suit Scotland. Wait, it actually did.
Be honest now, how many of you predicted Scotland would be the only touring nation to record a victory in the first week of the summer series? Not many, I’d imagine. Yet that is how the opening fixtures unfolded with Scotland turning over the Wallabies in a rain sodden wind battered test in Newcastle. The conditions were the dominant force in this fixture but Scotland fought both the weather and Australia right to the end, eventually securing the narrowest of victories 9-6 with Greig Laidlaw slotting over a penalty with the last kick of the match.
Prior to kickoff it was suggested the conditions wouldn’t suit Scotland. Andy Robinson wants his Scotland team to move the ball, use the width of the pitch and get the talented Stuart Hogg involved from fullback as often as possible. In the playing conditions however, that was out of the question. Both teams would be forced to slug it out on a deteriorating surface.
Scotland led at half-time but a three point margin appeared insufficient having had the wind at their backs in the opening period. Australia applied considerable pressure forcing Scotland to defend their line on more than one occasion. But their defence was not to be breached, with their pack forcing the most unlikely turnovers at key moments. Alasdair Strokosch and Ross Rennie can be singled out for their outstanding defensive contributions but it was a collective effort altogether.
It was grit and determination which got them through periods of intense pressure, and absolute composure from Greig Laidlaw as he split the posts at the death. Under normal circumstances this was a straightforward shot at goal, complicated by a gusting wind and pouring rain, not to mention the enormity of the situation. To slot that penalty took a huge amount of courage. Somehow, however, it was never in doubt.