There were other matches at the weekend but let’s start with the final one. The ABs duly enter the record books as the first top international side to go through a calendar year with a 100% record – it would have simply read unbeaten if Aaron Cruden hadn’t got a second shot at the last kick of the match!
New Zealand were behind for just about every minute of the first 80. After 19 minutes they were 19 – 0 down. Ireland really looked the part and were unrecognisable from the team that surrendered to the Wallabies last week.
As we hit the red zone and full time was up, the men in black were still trailing 22 – 17 having clawed their way back into the game. They kept the ball in play as Ireland desperately tried to get possession and leather it off the park for a famous victory. But the black wave kept coming and eventually Ryan Crotty crossed to make it 22 – 22 with the conversion to come. He’d tripped as he crossed the line and wasn’t able to get closer in to ensure an easy winning kick.
There was still even more drama to come – as Cruden paused in trying to seal (steal) victory the Irish charged before he offered – he missed but Nigel Owens ordered a no charge and Cruden had a second chance. You know the rest!
It was almost a mirror image of the previous day’s final minute in the Rugby League World Cup semi-final when the Kiwis scored with 19 seconds left to draw level and then convert to take them into next week’s final against the Kangeroos.
You couldn’t make this stuff up – but there was even a third great comeback this week to add to the two New Zealand triumphs – Monty Python are reforming!
The parrot may be dead but the NZ teams are merely resting and pining for the fjords of Milford Sound!
As for the rest – on Friday night a much changed Welsh team ground out a win in a dull game against a typically abrasive Tonga side. Gatland won’t have learned a great deal about his back up players but he will be pleased to have that potential banana skin out of the way as they await the arrival of the re-generated (and re-enforced) Wallaby team.
As for Australia – the self- imposed depleted team made rather hard work of putting away a hardworking but toothless Scotland side. Scott Johnson may protest that they are learning and will be competitive in the 6 Nations but anyone who has watched them this autumn will not be fooled.
The Wallabies scored the only tries of the game – courtesy of Feauai–Sautia and the dynamic Israel Folau.
Scotland were only kept in touch by Laidlaw’s 5 penalties – if Christian Leali’lfano had been similarly on target Australia would have been out of sight long before the final whistle.
Ewen McKenzie will be able to select from a bigger squad next week, which is good news as they take to the Cardiff pitch for their last game of 2013. Wales have a poor record in recent autumn series but they are not a soft touch and it will be a full blooded encounter next Saturday.
Italy versus the Pumas was a dull affair and it was largely settled by the kickers with just one try apiece as the away side ran out winners by 14 – 19.
Argentina will be glad to have ended their long run of defeats and to have picked themselves up from the battering they received at Cardiff last week.
But neither side have had much to cheer in the autumn and Italy will not be looking forward with any confidence to the start of the 6 Nations in February.
France completed an equally unhappy time by losing at Stade de France. It didn’t look good for the home side when as early as the second minute J P Pietersen charged down Morgan Parra’s attempted clearance kick to put the Springboks into a 7 – 0 lead.
South Africa were always in charge and they ended the year with a record of 10 out of 12 – losing only to the All Blacks and underlining their status as the second best team in the world.
So – thanks to a (very) late All Black try and conversion my predictions for all the international games were right on the money.
Unfortunately I was not so smart in picking the winners in the Aviva Premiership – as you will see in my other weekend review!