New caps, old caps, top point scorers, injuries, suspensions, and loads of squad changes. Check inside for the odds and ends that you might not have noticed from the weekend.
As is commonplace during Lions tour years, several players made their senior international debuts during the past week, but this week the total number was an astonishing 40! The newcomers are as follows:
Kyle Eastmond, Matt Kvesic, Henry Thomas, Billy Vunipola, Christian Wade (England); Aporosa Kenatale, Sam Matavesi (Fiji); Alexandre Flanquart, Daniel Kotze, Camille Lopez, Adrien Plante (France); Jamie Hagan, Robbie Henshaw, Tommy O’Donnell, Stuart Olding, Mike Sherry (Ireland); Alberto Di Bernardo (Italy); Ben Afeaki (New Zealand); Jack Lam, Manu Leiataua, Alapati Leiua, Brando Va’aulu (Samoa); Alex Dunbar, Peter Horne, Steven Lawrie, Pat MacArthur, Duncan Taylor, Greig Tonks (Scotland); Arno Botha, Willie le Roux, Trevor Nyakane, Jan Serfontein, Jano Vermaak (South Africa); Dan Baker, Dafydd Howells, James King, Rhys Patchell, Emyr Phillips, Andries Pretorius, Owen Williams (Wales).
Jano Vermaak and Pat MacArthur both suffered unfortunate injuries, with the latter lasting barely 10 minutes before succumbing to a serious knock to the knee. Somewhat less memorable might be the solo run of Samoa’s Brando Va’aulu, who replaced Alapati Leiua in the 80th minute, just in time to watch Tusi Pisi kick the ball into touch and end the match!
The average age of the newbies is about 23 1/2, with the youngest being Welsh winger Dafydd Howells at barely 18, and the oldest being 32 year old Italian kicker Alberto Di Bernardo.
Felipe Contepomi’s third and surely final victory lap (minus the victory) saw him become the 4th Argentinean to reach 80 caps against England. By contrast, big prop Census Johnston is only the 6th Samoan to collect 40 caps. Slight difference in fixture availability! Jean de Villiers is the 5th South African to make 85, with Bryan Habana only one behind on 84.
Seven players scored their first international tries, namely: Harry Jones and Ray Barkwill (Canada); Ben Morgan and Billy Vunipola (England); J.J. Engelbrecht and Bjorn Basson (South Africa); and Emosi Kauhenga (Tonga);
Scoring their first international points of any kind were kickers Jiuta Lutumailagi (Fiji), Camille Lopez (France), Ian Madigan (Ireland), Alberto Di Bernardo (Italy), and Rhys Patchell (Wales).
Top scorers from the week were Leigh Halfpenny who scored 24 points in an 11 for 11 kicking performance for the Lions against the Force, and Canadian James Pritchard, who slotted 23 points bringing his career total to 485, only 6 behind record holder Gareth Rees on 491. Speaking of Rees, his spot as 19th highest points scorer in international rugby was overtaken by Morne Steyn, who passed the 500 points plateau with his 17 against Italy.
Two players scored a brace of tries, Brian O’Driscoll against the Force and Samoan juggernaut Alesana Tuilagi, back to his frightening best against Scotland. Bryan Habana’s solo effort against Italy was the 48th of his test career, pushing him past O’Driscoll into 7th place all-time, one behind former All Black Doug Howlett.
COOL DOWN FELLAS
All of this week’s culprits come from one game, with three Tongans receiving suspensions after foul play. Eddie Aholelei and Siale Piutau each got 3 weeks for punching, while Tevita Halaifonua sits out for 6 weeks for his reckless head-high tackle on Matt Evans.
Starting with the Lions, there are all kinds of injury updates. Gethin Jenkins and Cian Healy have already been sent home with calf and ankle injuries respectively, with Alex Corbisiero and Ryan Grant arriving to replace them. Tommy Bowe’s broken hand is expected to heal quicky, but Simon Zebo has been called up as a precaution. Rob Kearney has reportedly recovered from his hamstring injury and should play this weekend against the Waratahs, but Jonny Sexton’s hamstring is less positive. As Owen Farrell is also suffering from a corked thigh and Manu Tuilagi suffering from a stinger, Billy Twelvetrees has been summoned from Argentina.
Scotland are almost as banged up, having lost Pat MacArthur to a serious knee injury, Kelly Brown to a bad ankle, and Geoff Cross to a busted AC joint. Euan Murray is nursing a dodgy hamstrong, so two props, Jon Welsh and Gordon Reid, and hooker Fraser Brown have been flown out to shore up the squad. Better news is that Steven Lawrie’s back and Johnnie Beattie’s shoulder complaints appear to be healing rapidly. Tom Heathcote and Alex Dunbar have both passed concussion tests and are expect to be fit to face South Africa.
The Springboks have said goodbye to two scrumhalves, with Francois Hougaard’s knee cartilage problem proving too serious to take part in the tournament, and Jano Vermaak’s debut ending with a hamstring tear. Uncapped duo Piet van Zyl and Louis Schreuder have been called up as replacements. Star flanker Francois Louw has been given a week off to get married, while Willem Alberts remains sidelined this week with an abdominal strain. On the plus, a certain Bismarck du Plessis looks set to play a part this weekend as he returns from a long-term knee injury.
It seems Italy escaped their beating at the hands of South Africa with little more than their pride damaged, although Davide Giazzon will be rested this week as a precaution following a thigh injury.
Samoa have received a boost for the Italian test with veterans Kane Thompson and Ti’i Paulo fit again and named in the reserves, replacing Fa’atiga Lemalu and Manu Leiataua. Sizeable Castres back row Piula Fa’asalele is set to make his debut from the bench.
In Pacific Nations Cup news, Fiji have added professionals Masi Matadigo, Timoci Nagusa, Napolioni Nalaga, and veteran Seremaia Bai to their squad. With Sireli Bobo, Netani Talei, and Nikola Matawalu all expected to return following visa issues, all of a sudden they look far more powerful.
After a tough game against Ireland the Eagles have only one injury concern as Luke Hume damaged an ankle. James Paterson is expected to fill in if Hume doesn’t recover in time to face Tonga.
Aside from the three suspended players, Tonga have also lost key goal kicker Kurt Morath to a serious knee injury. Fangatapu Apikotoa is expected to be recalled in his place, with Suka Hufanga and another player still to be added to the backs.
Edit: Tonga have added Daniel Faleafa, Siale Fahiua, Fraser Anderson, and Samisoni Pone to their squad.