An historic victory for Japan over Wales, a redeeming victory for Tonga, a return to form for the All Blacks, and impressive stuff from the Lions in New South Wales.
UNITED STATES 9 vs 18 TONGA
Saturday, June 15, 02:30 GMT, Los Angeles
It was a case of one step forward, one step back for the Eagles as they appeared terribly complacent against a disorganized but more passionate Tongan side. Sione Piukala scored two opportunistic tries and made ground almost every time he touched the ball, with the Americans falling off tackles and misaligning defensively. Todd Clever was visibly frustrated with his side, who just couldn’t seem to get anything going offensively.
It’s hard to believe that this was mostly the same team that played Ireland, such was their lacklustre effort. Tonga went through multiple kickers and never really put more than a few phases together, but put points on the board when it mattered and somehow emerged with the win. Mike Tolkin’s side will have to pick things up significantly as the move on to face Japan and Fiji in their remaining Pacific Nations Cup matches.
United States – C. Wyles 3p
Tonga – V. Hakalo 1c 1p, N. Latu 1p, S. Piukala 2t
Tonga – N. Latu yellow
C. Wyles; T. Ngwenya, S. Kelly, A. Suniula, J. Paterson; T. L’Estrange (A. Siddall 68), M. Petri (R. Shaw 53); S. Pittman, C. Biller (Z. Fenoglio 64), E. Fry (N. Wallace 60); B. Doyle, L. Stanfill; S. LaValla, P. Dahl (J. Quill 53), T. Clever (capt.).
V. Hakalo (S. Pone 36); V. Iongi, F. Anderson, S. Piukala, V. Helu; T. Moa, T. Palu (S. Fahiua 75); K. Sakalia (P. Fakalelu 64), E. Taione (I. Ma’asi 69), T. Vea (S. Puafisi 69); J. Afu (E. Kauhenga 68), L. Lokotui; H. T-Pole, N. Latu (capt.), P. Kaho (D. Faleafa 51).
JAPAN 23 vs 8 WALES
Saturday, June 8, 05:00 GMT, Tokyo
What was touted as an opportunity for young players to put their hands up for senior selection has instead panned out as a mild version of a “tour from hell” for Robin McBryde’s Welsh side. For the few opening minutes of each half it looked as though they would pull through as expected, but they as the Cherry Blossoms rose to the challenge, Wales wilted in the Tokyo heat. The discipline and structure that Eddie Jones has instilled in his team has made them a formidable unit, one evidently well suited to handling second rate opponents.
The leadership through the spine of the team set the standard for Japan. Shota Horie and Takashi Kikutani led the forwards, while will-o’-the-wisp halfback Fumiaki Tanaka kept the tempo high. Fullback Ayumu Goromaru was deadly accurate with the boot both from the tee and from hand.
It’s hard to see which, if any, of the new Welsh caps will graduate to further honours. The decision to take third and sometimes fourth string players while leaving able veterans at home looked dodgy to begin with and even more so now. Certainly players like Rhys Patchell, Harry Robinson and Dafydd Howells have time on their side, but would they perhaps have been better off competing for a title in the Junior World Championships?
Following their historic victory, Japan now hope to ride the wave of confidence into their remaining Pacific Nations Cup matches against Canada and the United States. Judging by their performances in the last two weeks, they should prove very tough going for either of the North American sides.
Japan – A. Goromaru 2c 3p, M. Broadhurst 1t, C. Wing 1t
Wales – D. Biggar 1p, T. Prydie 1t
A. Goromaru; T. Hirose (capt.), M. Sa’u, C. Wing (Y. Tamura 69), K. Fukuoka (Y. Fujita 79), H. Tatekawa, F. Tanaka (A. Hiwasa 67); M. Mikami (Y. Nagae 69), S. Horie, H. Yamashita (K. Hatakeyama 45); H. Ono (J. Ives 74), S. Ito (S. Makabe 45); H. Tui (T. Kizu 79), M. Broadhurst, T. Kikutani.
L. Williams (D. Howells 53); H. Robinson, O. Williams (R. Patchell 24), J. Spratt, T. Prydie; D. Biggar, L. Williams (T. Knoyle 50); R. Gill (R. Jones 56), E. Phillips (S. Baldwin 74), S. Andrews (C. Mitchell 56); B. Davies (capt.), L. Reed (A. Coombs 49); J. King, J. Navidi (D. Baker 72), A. Pretorius.
NEW ZEALAND 30 vs 0 FRANCE
Saturday, June 8, 07:30 GMT, Christchurch
A better game than a week ago on a brisk evening at the home of the Crusaders, the 50th All Blacks test played in Christchurch and the 50th test cap for hometown hero and captain Kieran Read. The scrum was somewhat more settled, and the breakdowns were less polluted. It’s hard to figure out where exactly France went wrong, but it happened somewhere between getting off the bus and walking on to the pitch, as they were completely overwhelmed in nearly every facet of the game.
New Zealand were behind the steering wheel from the get-go, holding a near monopoly over field position with the outstanding tactical awareness of Aaron’s Smith and Cruden, and man-of-the-match Israel Dagg. The defense, represented perfectly on the scoreboard, was impeccable. At one point France attached for nearly 30 phases without cracking the black wall.
When they did have possession, Freddie Michalak looked lost and his teammates bewildered. If it weren’t for one-man army Louis Picamoles and a couple late charges by Mathieu Bastareaud they might not have had any go-forward at all. Their lineout was embarrassingly bad and it seems clear that the long club season has sapped their strength. To make matters worse is appears as though Picamoles will miss the third test. It’s going to be a long week for the men in blue.
New Zealand – A. Cruden 3c 3p, J. Savea 1t, B. Smith 1t, B. Barrett 1t
I. Dagg; B. Smith (B. Barrett 75), C. Smith, M. Nonu, J. Savea (R. Ranger 59); A. Cruden, A. Smith (P. Weepu 59); W. Crockett (T. Woodcock 62), D. Coles (A. Hore 59), O. Franks (B. Franks 68); L. Romano, S. Whitelock (J. Thrush 68); L. Messam (V. Vito 62), S. Cane, K. Read (capt.).
M. Medard (B. Dulin HT); A. Plante, F. Fritz (M. Bastareaud 60), W. Fofana, Y. Huget; F. Michalak, M. Machenaud (R. Tales 65); T. Domingo (V. Debaty 67), D. Swarzewski (B. Kayser 50), N. Mas (L. Ducalcon 67); C. Samson (S. Vaha’amahina 65), Y. Maestri; T. Dusautoir (capt.), B. Le Roux, L. Picamoles (Y. Nyanga 53).
NEW SOUTH WALES WARATAHS 17 vs 47 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS
Saturday, June 8, 09:30 GMT, Sydney
The questions were answered, and a clear signal of intent was sounded. While the Waratahs were up for the match, they simply could not match the class of an impressive Lions side who are one win away from heading into the tests unbeaten. Jonny Sexton looked fit as a fiddle, Sam Warburton did enough to secure his test spot, and Simon Zebo looked very keen in his first Lions performance.
Tom Carter scored tries in what will be a memorable outing in his career, but it was star fullback Leigh Halfpenny who once again stole the show, scoring 30 points with two tries of his own to go with another world-class kicking performance. The Lions pack thoroughly outplayed their opposites and while the Wallabies will certainly be a step above, these must be ominous signs indeed.
The only negative from the match for Warren Gatland was a hamstring injury suffered by key Jamie Roberts which looks likely to keep him out of the first test. Comforting the blow somewhat was a classy display from Jonathan Davies, who has gotten better with each outing and now seems set to fill in for his Wales centre-mate. Onwards and upwards for the men in red.
Waratahs – B. McKibbin 2c 1p, T. Carter 2t
Lions – L. Halfpenny 4c 4p 2t, O. Farrell 1c, J. Sexton 1t, T. Croft 1t, J. Davies 1t
NEW SOUTH WALES WARATAHS
D. Mitchell; C. Crawford, R. Horne, T. Carter (T. Kingston 47), P. Betham (B. Volavola 72); B. Foley, B. McKibbin (M. Lucas 72); J. Tilse (R. Aho 72), J. Ulugia (L. Holmes 72), P. Ryan (S. Talakai 72); W. Skelton, O. Atkins; J. Holloway (L. Timani 49), P. McCutcheon (A.J. Gilbert 55), D. Dennis (capt.).
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS
L. Halfpenny (R. Kearney 59); S. Maitland, J. Davies, J. Roberts, S. Zebo; J. Sexton (O. Farrell 49), M. Phillips (B. Youngs 59); M. Vunipola (A. Corbisiero 59), T. Youngs (R. Hibbard 59), A. Jones (D. Cole 59); A.W. Jones, P. O’Connell (G. Parling 59); T. Croft (D. Lydiate 59), S. Warburton (capt.), J. Heaslip.