All the stats and notes you need from this past weekend, and all of the many squad updates.
Willie Ripia’s 22 point haul for the Maori was the best individual effort from the weekend, but if we’re only counting full international caps then it’s a three-way draw between Jonny Sexton, Chris Wyles, and Frederic Michalak, who claimed 19 points apiece. Michalak leads the way in total scoring over the November period with 56 points over three games.
Sexton and Wyles each had two tries among their tally, tying with Tommy Bowe for most individual tries. Three players equalled that in the try-fest at Le Havre with Jean-Marc Mazzonetto, Benjamin Lapeyre, and Akihito Yamada all enjoying their non-cap run out.
Luckiest try certainly goes to Willem Alberts after a fluke bounce at Twickenham. For side stepping-skill, Craig Gilroy’s first international try was a gem. In terms of significance, Fetu’u Vainikolo’s run away effort at Pittodrie is the clear choice. If pure magic is what we’re after, Samoa wins again for David Lemi’s fantastic finish.
If we want it all, though, then look to further than New Zealand’s first try against Wales, which featured individual brilliance, great hands, and superb team work culminating in Liam Messam’s clear run in. A leading contender for try of the year.
A few big collisions stood out on the weekend, but two that come immediately to mind are Andrea Masi’s sturdy challenge on a stunned Wycliff Palu, and Halani Aulika’s brick wall approach against Matt Scott. He was penalised for not wrapping, but it’s not clear how he was supposed to get his arms around in opponent who bounced backwards so quickly. Honorable mention to Adam Ashley-Cooper for his driving tackle on opposite number Tommaso Benvenuti.
For the aforementioned Gilroy things couldn’t have gone any better in his international debut, but for the other four new caps it was a bit of a rough weekend. Fijian wing Aisea Natoga was pulled after 53 minutes in Tbilisi; prop Maximiliano Bustos took a beating in the scrum and was binned in his maiden voyage for Argentina; American lock Graham Harriman got all of two minutes in against Romania; and poor Tom Heathcote must have felt like he was thrown to the wolves after his forgettable cameo against Tonga. Better luck next time fellas.
There were some landmark team firsts from the weekend, the first being Fiji’s first ever test against the Lelos, in which they emerged victorious. Tonga travelled to Aberdeen for the first time, earned their first win over Scotland, and held them try-less for the first time. Italy achieved a similar feat against Australia, as they held the Wallabies scoreless in a half of rugby for the first time in their fifteen test match history.
The first red cards of this month’s tests appeared at the same time in Bucharest, as opposite no6’s John Quill and Vasile Rus received their marching orders from Leighton Hodges after a bit of biff behind the play. In days past it might have been a case of ‘calm down fellas’, but the cards were probably justified given the amount of niggle creeping into the game and the patience of Hodges wearing very thin.
UP TO NO GOOD
Speaking of swinging arms, two fellas will be in the dock this week for varying levels offences. Sitaleki Timani had a shocker in Florence, and has been pinged for a little love tap on the chin of Andrea Lo Cicero during some early posturing. A warning should suffice for what would have probably amounted in a penalty had it been seen.
Andrew Hore, on the other hand, will certainly not be playing against England on Saturday, as his ridiculous opening minute forearm smash from behind on Bradley Davies left the big man in a heap and out with a serious concussion. Given that Hore would have been on break anyway after this weekend, it will be interesting to see how the judiciary doles out their penalty under the watchful eyes of the IRB.
Moments of madness are always going to occur in such a physical sport, but we were blessed with an unusually high number this past weekend. The indiscretions of the above were certainly petulant at best, and spare a thought for Chris Robshaw, who will be having nightmares over his mind-boggling decision against the Springboks.
Three absolute head scratchers come to mind. Maximiliano Bustos did himself no favors in his first match for the Pumas. Clearly frustrated by being bested in the scrum, Bustos inexplicably bounced the ball off his opposite Cian Healy’s face right in front of the referee to earn his first yellow card.
Tongan flank Steve Mafi took it a step further. With his team up 6 points, and awarded a penalty with only two minutes on the clock, he casually upended Rory Lawson after the whistle in an inconceivable act of stupidity to join his already-carded captain on the sidelines and leave Tonga with only 13 men on the pitch.
Not to be outdone, the last word in this week’s book of dumb goes to Mafi’s country mate Sione Piukala. The clock was well into stoppage time as Scotland packed down in a last gasp attempt for a try, but a stray boot from Alasdair Strokosch knocked the ball free from Kelly Brown’s control and Taniela Moa picked it up and passed to Piukala, who galloped free to halfway. Instead of just kicking the ball dead, or at worst passing the ball to the two open men on his right, the centre unbelievably flung an underhanded behind-the-back pass to nobody that was re-gathered by Scotland to give them another chance to win. Thankfully for him they knocked it on, but it’s anyone’s guess what was going through his head at that moment.
Wallaby scrumhalf Brett Sheehan’s test career might have come to an abrupt end as he came off injured against Italy and will miss the Wales test with a damaged ankle. Brendan McKibbin of the Waratahs has been called up to replace him.
With Andrew Hore’s impending suspension and hurting Keven Mealamu doubtful, Hika Elliot has been brought into the All Black squad to provide cover at hooker. Canterbury’s Tom Taylor will join him to cover for Dan Carter and Beauden Barrett, both questionable for the match against England.
England will be without injured Toby Flood against New Zealand, with Owen Farrell likely to start in his place and uncapped Freddie Burns providing cover from the bench.
Aaron Jarvis is out for Wales with a knee injury, and Bradley Davies is unlikely to recover from concussion in time to face Australia. James Hook and Paul James have also returned to their clubs as the official test window closes. In better news, George North could make a welcome return, and Warren Gatland is hopeful to have Jamie Roberts, Ryan Jones, Ian Evans, and Dan Biggar fit in time as well. Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins, and Luke Charteris have all been cleared by their French clubs to take part after earlier worries that they wouldn’t be.