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Bring On England!

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Bring On England!

Bring On England!

AllBlacks_Japan_Nov2018_primary
EVEN with the top shelf watching on from London, New Zealand rugby managed to flex its muscles, show off its extraordinary depth and give us a glimpse of the future.
 
Meantime England were let off the hook against South Africa, in a feisty prequel to this week’s big game.
 
Here are a dozen takeaways from the weekend:
 
1) The Japan test was always going to be a lot about how Dane Coles looked, about how well the fringe All Blacks performed, how well Richie Mo’unga went as a starter, and how well the new boys coped. Apart from another injury to the luckless Nehe Milner-Skudder, the answers were mostly positive.
 
Coles is still working his way back, and if he’s going to rekindle his brilliant best it will be worth the wait. Mo’unga was All “Blacksolute” class, and some of the new boys shone.
 
2) George Bridge was the pick of the new crop. Apart from one missed tackle, everything he did was extraordinary, and while it is tempting fate, and maybe piling unnecessary pressure on the young man to start tagging him as the next Ben Smith, the comparison is understandable. Dalton Papali’i was solid, Matt Proctor looked good.  
 
3) Jordie Barrett has been lined up for some negativity. He’s a real talent, but at the moment appears a bit stuck between his natural game and trying to eliminate mistakes, and not quite managing to do either. He’ll come right, but this is what the Americans would call his sophomore year, and those are often tricky.
 
4) The Brave Blossoms lived up to their name and while two of their five tries owed a little to benevolent reffereeing, they did enough to suggest they can give the locals some thrills next year. They do need to increase their breakdown intensity and stop kicking good ball away, but there’s plenty for their canny coaching team to work on.
 
5) Two weeks in Yokohama-Tokyo, and crowds totaling just under 90,000 also augers well for RWC 2019. The locals were all wearing the colours, there was a nice atmosphere in the Ajinomoto Stadium and Tokyo is a great place to visit, although I’m not quite sure how well the narrow lined bar/restaurant precincts are going to suit packs of beer swilling fans from up north.
 
6) Talking of which, Aussie ref Angus Gardiner, having been very good for 70 minutes at Twickenham, fair bottled it at the death, and denied South Africa a chance to win the test. He gave England a go ahead penalty after they’d illegally wheeled the scrum, while Owen Farrell was clearly shoulder only in the tackle, and you can only imagine the outcry if such a decision had gone against England. 
 
7) Having said that, South Africa had blown it long before then. Their lineout was a disaster and they failed to capitalize when serial fringer Maro Itoje went to the sin bin.
 
8) It was a tight test at HQ, and in the end a thrilling finish, but there was a lot of static play, wayward kicking, and a comparatively low skill level. Still, it amps thing up for this week no end, and Eddie Jones has rediscovered his smiling assassin face.
 
9) Excellent outcomes for the Maori All Blacks and Black Ferns in Chicago. It speaks volumes for the traditions they represent, but also the outstanding development and coaching players in New Zealand are getting. The US Eagles played some good enough footy, but need to get a lot better across the park if they’re to do anything more than make up the numbers in Japan.
 
10) On the subject of numbers, the crowds were thin for the women’s game, OK for the Ireland Italy match and then thinned out disappointingly for the Maori US fixture, as the Irish fans went off in search of a good time. The Chicago thing has waned after reaching its peak two years ago, and if they can’t get the All Blacks back, may disappear, which would be a shame.
 
11) It didn’t help that both Italy and Ireland fielded a lot of second stringers, but the Irish were still way to good, and showed off their bright new star in fullback Jordan Armour.
 
12) Finally, the Guardian sent a reporter half way around to the world to accuse the All Blacks of giving away test caps like “confetti”. If they wanted to highlight the erosion of test rugby they could have saved a lot of money by keeping him at home to do a story on why England fielded an understrength team because their players are overworked to the point of exhaustion by clubs who also refused to release Springbok players for the match.