If anything, the results from this weekend’s matchups goes to show us that the All Blacks are still a tier above most of the other teams in the Rugby Universe. This will be a recurring theme throughout this post, every Northern Hemisphere team will have to measure their successes when they face New Zealand, regardless of how they do against the other touring sides.
New Zealand 49, Scotland 3
We can add one more to Scotland’s 0-for-eternity record against the All Blacks. Scotland stuck early in the game, taking the lead off of a Dan Parks penalty goal. Unfortunately for the Scots, it turns out that Connor MacLeod and the team from “Highlander” were right. “There can be only one,” and this year Scotland ain’t it. After the quick 3-0 lead, Scotland only gave up 49 straight points to New Zealand. The Kiwi’s were a textbook case in speed and power on the pitch, but need to work on giving up penalties if at all possible.
Given the closeness of the Welsh loss to South Africa and England’s win over Australia this week, and the ease of many of New Zealand’s tries – you have to admit that the All Blacks are still in a class of their own this season.
South Africa 29, Wales 25
I don’t know if Wales is this good, or if South Africa was playing down to the perceived level of competition in this game. If it’s the former, then we might see Wales contend for a Six Nations championship leading into next year’s World Cup, and the resulting positive momentum might carry the Welshmen through the quarterfinals at the RWC.
Wales blew a 20-9 lead early in the second half as the visitors powered back, led off of the boot of fly-half Morne Steyn’s 19 points (5 penalty kicks and two conversions). Wales was hit with the injury bug as winger Shane Williams suffered a shoulder injury keeping him out of the second half, while Wales’ other wing George North tried to make up the difference, scoring a brace of tries in his Welsh debut.
England 35, Australia 18
Now despite what Graham Jenkins is saying over at Scrum, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Is England poised to steal a World Cup win in 2011? That’s yet to be seen. We’ll know more once the Roses play New Zealand in a few weeks. It was pointed out that England really ran at the Wallabies, mixing it up with forwards and backs a lot like successful Southern Hemisphere teams have done.
England played a fairly commanding gave over the visiting Wallabies, and if they are able to keep this form up throughout the Southern Hemisphere tour of the Isles and carry it on into 2011, they might develop into a threat to the All Blacks, but let’s not jump the gun.
I expect to see Australia and South Africa switch rankings once again after the current tour ends. (Update: the most recent IRB rankings showed this switch)
Ireland 20, Samoa 10
Once again, Ireland crafted a game plan to slog along in what were reported to be less than “perfect” weather conditions to beat Samoa by 10. (Don’t ask the Irish why they have to toddle along whenever the ground is a little damp, it might hurt Luke Fitzgerald’s feelings. Also it had to upset the fans who were expecting more expansive rugby against the Samoans)
At least Ireland could scratch this up in the “W” column, which won’t be so easy for them next week when they play New Zealand. Samoa have to feel pretty good, despite not winning this match. They were able to recover from giving Ireland a 10-point head start, and hung tough after pulling close, 10-7, in the first half. Note: Samoa has only won one match in Europe since 2000, when they beat Italy 13-9.
And a special match: USA 22, Portugal 17
The USA Eagles started off their fall European tour with a close win against #22 ranked Portugal. For those fans expecting the US to repeat their 61-5 battering of Portugal, well they were disappointed. But for the Eagles, trying to bounce back from their showing in the Churchill Cup this was a welcome start to their tour.
The Eagles started off with a try from wing Takudzwa Ngwenya in the 28th minute. Known for his speed, if not his power, Ngwenya surprised Portugal by steamrolling the final defender between him and the end zone.
Penalties were the bane once again for the United States, as Portugal slotted four penalty kicks throughout the match to keep the score respectable before a late try by Vasco Uva pulled Portugal within 5 points.
The US next plays Scotland “A” before wrapping up their fall tour on Nov. 27 on Tblisi, Georgia to face the #17 ranked Georgians.