The second week of internationals for England and the first for the other home nations brought a mixed bag of performances.
Scotland and Ireland duly put away their opposition as expected and both will face much harder tasks over the next few weeks when they take on the Southern Hemisphere giants.
Scotland will be the less pleased of the two – there was a time in the second half when the sun did indeed look to be rising in the east as Japan were suddenly within one point of the jocks.
Scotland started to pull away when Ryu Kolniasi was shown a yellow and they ended up crossing for 6 tries to run out winners by 42 – 17. They did not look that convincing however and they will need to step up big time if they are to get anywhere near the Springboks when they arrive at Murrayfield next Sunday
Ireland will be more relaxed as they gave Joe Schmidt a welcome first win by putting Samoa away by 40 – 9. It was mostly dull stuff but Ireland managed to keep the Islanders at bay – although it was the visitors who mostly looked a lot more comfortable on the ball with some slick handling.
Samoa lost three players to injury and then early in the second half lost a crucial score when a wayward bounce went the way of the Irish. This led eventually (via an unorthodox but highly effective O’Driscoll pass) to Sean O’Brien barging over for a decisive score.
Ireland finished up crossing for 5 tries with British Lion Rob Kearney getting a brace.
They will face a much tougher task next Saturday when the Wallabies arrive.
Talking of the Wallabies – they predictably put Italy to the sword with a convincing 7 try demolition that saw them go past 50 points to run out winners by a final score of 50 – 20.
Shaking off the defeat at Twickenham they easily ran rings around the Azzuri despite going behind early on to a Mclean try. The Wallabies were ahead by 19 -10 at the break before surging away in the second half
Helped by some poor Italian defence Australia helped themselves to 6 tries from their exciting backline – courtesy of Nick Cummins 2, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Joseph Tomane and the mercurial Israel Folau.
The forwards added one via Ben Mowen, who latched on to Quade Cooper’s nicely delayed pass to cross the whitewash.
Whist it may not have been the best preparation for next week’s encounter in Dublin against the attritional Irish it was good to see the Australian backs in full flow.
The big three games were still to come.
The Springboks shrugged off some of their usual focus on forward power and domination to run in three tries against the Welsh.
Wales had started strongly with Jonathan Davies showing to everyone why Gatland had preferred him to the legendary BOD in the Lions shirt. Two searing breaks could easily have led to early scores but it was South Africa who scorched away for a 75 yard try as early as the 10th minute.
Unexpectedly opening up from deep in their own half Bryan Habana spotted Richard Hibberd in front of him and set off on a long run past the scrambling George North. He off loaded to the abrasive Bismarck du Plessis who ran over Liam Williams and then passed to Jan de Villiers who collected a difficult ball to cross by the posts.
Not only did South Africa score a well worked try – they disposed of two Welsh players on the way – Liam Williams and the unfortunate Jonathan Davies who damaged his shoulder trying to stop de Villiers. Both left the field before the inevitable conversion from Steyn.
The Springboks then reverted to type and bulldozed their way over Bradley Davies and the line for Du Plessis to touch down.
The metronomic Leigh Halfpenny kept the Welsh just about in touch with his penalty count and moving towards the last quarter the home side found themselves only two points adrift.
The game was in the balance when yellow cards for Gethin Jenkins and Frans Maherbe, after yet another collapse, led to a 10 minute period of uncontested scrums. The game was put beyond Wales when du Preez and Fourie combined brilliantly for du Preez to touch down by the posts.
The Springboks saw off some late Welsh pressure to run out winners by 24 – 15.
And so to Twickenham where England took on the Pumas.
The game was a reverse image of the previous week’s match. England were good in the first half and looked bewildered in the second.
They raced into a 24 – 6 lead at the break thanks to tries from Joe Launchbury, Billy Twelvetrees and Chris Ashton – the latter two having been under pressure for their places following their performances against the Wallabies.
I remain unconvinced – Twelvetrees ignored the overlap outside him to barge over through a weak midfield defence – he will not find the All Blacks so obliging next Saturday. It is not the first time he has forsaken the easier route to giving someone else the glory and it is likely to prove costly against better organised sides.
Ashton had earlier crossed the line but been held up – this time he dived over in the corner and, as replays showed, might not have actually touched down before sliding out. England were lucky that it was not referred to the TMO.
On the positive side the front 5 held up well against the powerful Pumas and Mike Brown again looked the part at full back.
England were dire in the second 40 – but at least they defended well against a revitalised Argentina who dominated possession.
The Pumas were the only team on the scoreboard in the second half until sub Ben Morgan ran through a weak defence to put a gloss on the final 31 – 12 score that the home side barely deserved.
There was very little at Twickenham to give Steve Hansen any pause for thought as he heads to their last two games and a probable undefeated year.
The final match on Saturday evening did see someone give the All Blacks something to think about. France turned up in Paris and might even have brought off a shock win.
France had the better of exchanges in the first half which ended level at 9 – 9 – the All Black defence had to work hard to keep their line safe.
At 12 – 12 the deadlock was finally broken when Israel Dagg and Ben Smith combined before Smith kicked through for Charles Piutau to hack on and win the race for the touch- down.
Piutau was also on hand soon after to off load brilliantly to Kieran Read for the score that looked to have made the game safe at 26 -12.
But Brice Dulin had other thoughts and brought the French back to within a score of the All Blacks.
They continued to press and went close before a penalty at a late scrum left them short.
If England are to repeat their shock win of last season against New Zealand they will need to play very differently from the last two weeks – and with several different players from the starting line –up against the Pumas.
Next week sees a round of very big games with only Wales of the home nations having second tier opposition. A preview will follow later in the week.