Saturday, November 24, 2012

November 2012 Internationals - Week Three Wrap

This weekend featured eight international matches with IRB World Rankings on the line. For most it was the final chance to improve its position in the IRB World Rankings ahead of the upcoming draw for England 2015 which will be conducted in the first week of December. Last weekends matches contributed significantly to the rankings with France all but ensuring its position alongside New Zealand, South Africa and Australia in the top Band while England´s poor performance against Australia meant it now needs something special and other results to go its way if it is to get back into Band 1. However the real fight is over the 8th spot with no team wanting to drop from Band 2 to Band 3 due to the significantly tougher schedule that a team is likely to recieve. Five teams played on Saturday all with one goal: make Band 2. Finishing the November Internationals in 8th place is the same as finishing in 5th place while finishing in 9th is the same as finishing in 12th. Of the Band 2 teams at before Saturday´s matches only England could not fall to Band 3. In 5th position it was safe while all of Argentina, Wales, Ireland, Samoa and Scotland ranked from 6th-10th faced the prospect of either qualifying as a Band 2 or Band 3 team for the Rugby World Cup draw which is to be made on Monday December 03. 

The weekend also featured two non-international matches of note with the Canada facing the Maori All Blacks at Oxford University and Japan taking on a Basque combined team at Biarritz. Due to neither not being sanctioned international matches they did not count to IRB World Rankings. Neither match should probably have even happened as Canada and Japan could have easily have played a test match instead to continue their great rivalry which saw a draw at Rugby World Cup 2007 and again at 2011. Perhaps the Canadian city of St. John´s would have been an appropriate setting for this match. 

Bands and IRB World Rankings before the weekend
1 New Zealand 92.91
2 South Africa 86.05
3 Australia 85.94
4 France 84.99
5 England 81.96
6 Argentina 79.89
7 Ireland 79.04
8 Wales 78.95
9 Samoa 78.79
10 Scotland 77.42
11 Italy 76.61
12 Tonga 74.51

* Band 1
* Band 2
* Band 3

Georgia 19-24 Fiji
Fiji has been playing this month without many of its best players. For one reason or another they have not been playing for their country. In some instances the players have been rested by their European clubs while in others they are simply not a part of the squad. Fiji took on Georgia in Tblissi expecting to win despite there being no history of international matches between the nations. Future matches such as this need to occur which great regularity both in Europe and in the Pacific Islands. Fiji started the match with a roar as it led 8-0 in the opening minutes. Georgia, though, fought back well with penalties and took control of the possession. The two contrasting styles made for a very interesting match and to Georgia´s credit, the Lelos played a lot with the backs. Fiji were outplayed up front but very strong in the backs and Georgia took them on here but lacked the technical moves to finish off opportunities. Georgia did score tries but seemed to need a few more matches such as this one to be better prepared to face more expansive teams.  

Romania 34-3 USA
A stand out performance from the USA Eagles sees the North Americans return home happy having defeated both Russia and Romania in international matches this month. Romania, in contrast lost to both the USA and Japan. The tests were fantastic opportunities for the Tier Two nations and were much needed. Overall they showed that despite Europe having the most Tier Two (and fringe Tier Two) rugby nations the stongest continue to be from elsewhere with Canada,  Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the USA being stronger than Georgia, Romania and Russia. Interestingly, however, both Portugal and Spain impressed in their intercontinental tours with Spain winning against Namibia and Zimbabwe and Portugal knocking over Chile and Uruguay. The USA´s win was quite possibly the best team performance and result for the USA Eagles ever. It was an away match against a similarly ranked team and saw the team score 34 straight points. The match was over at half time as the United States of America held a commanding 22-3 lead after tries to Chris Wyles, Paul Emerick and Andrew Suniula. Wyles also had a good match with the boot. 

Ireland 46-24 Argentina
The best Irish performance of 2012 coincided with the worst from Los Pumas. Ireland played a near perfect match to win by a record margin and utterly embarrass Argentina.  Ireland was clinical across the board and its team which, on paper, was even to that of the South Americans gave them a lesson. Argentina was simply taken to school with coach Declan Kidney having prepared his players well on how to face Argentina and his counterpart not doing the same thing. The seven tries to two result means Argentina is now steering into the barrell of a fourth consecutive appearance in the Pool of Death at a Rugby World Cup. While the 2007 draw could be blamed on an unjust qualification system used at the time and 2011 being the (un)luck of the draw, the upcoming draw for Rugby World Cup 2015 will be based a lot on today´s poor Pumas performance. Could Santiago Phelan be replaced. This question is already being asked on social media with Pumas fans saying he is a club coach not a test coach. He certainly had the tactics entirely wrong in Dublin. He had to play without a number of palyers such as the injured Patricio Albecete who was badly missed but Argentina has players ready now unlike previously due to the PladAR system and having played together in The Rugby Championship from July to October. There will now be questions asked from a number of players such as Marcos Ayerza, Santiago Fernández, Eusebio Guiñazú, Martín Landajo and Leonardo Senatore with all not likely to retain their places based on today´s performance. The loss see´s Argentina´s IRB World Ranking drop to 78.71 points while Ireland rise to 79.11 meaning Argentina need other results to go its way or it will be in Band 3. 

Italy 19-22 Australia
Argentina´s Luciano Orquera had the chance to make history with a penalty kick in the 79th minute but it sailed to the right of the posts. The Córdoba flyhalf was the man of the match as he played a great match of rugby and was joined by fellow Argentine born players Sergio Parisse and Martín Castrogiovanni in the starting lineup. The two teams scored one try each with the Wallabies getting the win due to kicking one penalty more than Italy. The Italians try was scored by Canadian Robert Barbieri. The result was a loss but Italy, unlike a host of others, can be very happy with its performances this month. It will not be likely to recieve a friendly draw for Rugby World Cup 2015 but would appear to have a good chance of making a debut appearance in the Quarter Finals as the coaching regime of Jacques Brunel seems to be working well with Italy able to play better better in the backs now than during the years of Nick Mallet. Italy next play in the Six Nations while Australia will face Wales next weekend at the Millenium Stadium with IRB World Rankigns on the line. 

England 15-16 South Africa
The higher ranked South Africa won again by a small margin after also not impressing against either Ireland or Scotland in its first two test matches this month. South Africa is safe in Band 1 while England will drop further now but has one last chance of earning points, albeit unlikely as England hosts New Zealand next weekend. The Springbok win was a one try to zero showing with England only able to score points through the boot. As the Rugby World Cup 2015 host nation England will need to improve its attacking game over the coming years to match what the likes of France, Ireland and New Zealand have been producing this month. Together with Australia and South Africa these nations appear to be the strongest contenders right now for glory come England 2015. 

Scotland 15-21 Tonga
A shock result in the Northern Scottish city of Aberdeen see´s Scotland end its three match November series winless. Both teams are in Band 3 and are going to have a tough draw regardless. The result, however is more interesting for those in Band 1 and 2 due to Scotland´s superiority being brought into question and Tonga now joining the three other Band 3 sides are teams to be considered strong opponents. The Tier 2 tag can be questioned and it shuold be. Tonga did well against Italy in Brescia and defeated France in Wellington during last years Rugby World Cup. Scotland now drop in the IRB World Ranking´s to 12th place, below Tonga meaning that Scotland is the lowest ranked of all the automatic qualifiers and sits behind two nations who are officially Second Tier - Samoa and Tonga. Scotland offered little in attack and failed to score a try. Tonga, on the other hand, scored twice to underline it´s potential and suggest that it´s victory over France fourteen months ago was not a fluke. 

France 22-14 Samoa
Samoa were leading France and will be unhappy to not have won. The IRB, however will be quite angry with the result as it brings into question the entire system of using the IRB World Rankings as a basis for seeding teams for the Rugby World Cup draw. In losing to France by less than fourteen points Samoa now has a new World Ranking of 78.71, i.e. the same exact ranking as Argentina. The IRB must now hope that Australia can defeat Wales next week so that Wales drops below both Argentina and Samoa or it will not be able to stage the draw on December 03. Should Wales win then it will remain in Band 2 but a loss will see it fall below both Argentina and Samoa. In the event that Wales loses then the IRB will need to justify having the draw when two sides share the same position. According to the history of previous Rugby World Cup draw´s the IRB will need to rank Argentina as 8th and Samoa as 9th given that Argentina was a Quarter Finalist in Rugby World Cup 2011 and Samoa was not. The same system put Argentina in the Pool of Death for Rugby World Cup 2007 with France and Ireland while it handed the lower ranked Scotland an easier assignment of facing Italy and New Zealand. Whatever the IRB decide it will be controversial as the unthinkable could very well happen, depending on Wales v Australia. France´s eight point win was enough for it to stay in Band 1 but it was not easy with Samoa playing very well. The Polynesians physical game got the better of Les Blues and it took the boot of Frederick Michalak to win as Samoa scored two tries to one. The match also underlined the need for a genuine global shake up as Samoa struggle to get the test matches it deserves. It took Argentina winning the Bronze Medal in 2007 to get it into The Rugby Championship. There is no plan for Samoa to be added and not plans for Tier One nations to play in Apia. 

Wales 10-33 New Zealand
Wales started the game with great promise with Rhys Priestland kicking twice for the corner from penalties rather than going for the posts. Neither occassion turned out successful for Wales but this was a match that went all wrong for the European Champions. The referee and his colleagues made a significant error by not seeing foul play from All Black hooker Andrew Hore which ended the match for Bradley Davies in just the second minute. Hore is likely to recieve a very lenghly ban and the incident combined with that of Adam Thomson´s stamping against Scotland two weeks earlier could harm the image of the most dominat team in global rugby. Both acts were against the law but neither were red carded. New Zealand dominated to go 33-0 ahead before Wales showed great spirit to fight back in the final quarter. Winger Alex Cuthbert did his reputation no harm in scoring two tries with one of them being a great inovation - a 15 man lineout. Neither team will change it´s World Ranking due to the vast superiority of New Zealand with well over ten more points. Wales host Australia in seven days time. 

Georgia v Fiji

Romania v USA

Ireland v Argentina

Italy v Australia

England v South Africa

Scotland v Tonga

France v Samoa

Wales v New Zealand

Updated IRB World Rankings

1 New Zealand 92,91
2 South Africa 86,94
3 Australia 86,31
4 France 85,07
5 England 81.07
6 Ireland 80,22
7 Wales 78,95
8 Argentina 78,71
 9 Samoa 78,71
10 Italy 76.24
11 Tonga 76,10
12 Scotland 75,83

* Band 1
* Band 2
* Band 3

* Tied for Eighth 

1 comment:

  1. I think it is too early too call Georgia not as strong as Canada, USA and Fiji. This year has not been Georgia's finest, and in the short term the November losses have been a blow. Georgia should have still won both the matches, but I actually think it was better for them not to as they played poorly, and these failures tend to get ignored if you play poorly and still win like what happened in the ENC.

    Despite some very bad results, I still think Georgia are a better side than Japan and Fiji. Why? Because the performances over the three years prior to this one showed that Georgia is on a level with the sides you mention, just now they have lost form. The Georgian side that defeated a very good Jaguars side in 2009, the North Americans in 2010 and gave 3 Tier 1 teams good challenges in the World Cup would have won both these games comfortably. No drastic changes are needed, but getting rid of the pathetic defenders in the backs which handed Fiji an early 15-0 lead, secondly sorting out the half backs with Abuseridze now old and crap and should have moved on after the RWC 2011, which brings me onto thirdly and most difficult there has been strong rumours of meddling in coaching affairs from the top, with the Union's favourite Abuseridze apparently getting in the team due being a pal of theirs rather than merit. Still I have high hopes that the lessons will be learnt from this blip, and Georgia will be back strong for RWC qualifying in 2013. I also think, that despite their poor form and loss to Fiji, they would not lose by 53-0 to Ireland XV. Hence why I think it is unfair to say they are not as strong so soon when they have proved to be a much better side previously. It is like saying Wales aren't as strong as Argentina or Samoa based on one period of poor form, when they certainly are normally.

    Also Chris Wyles certainly didn't have a good day with the boot for the USA, he did get a hard conversion from the corner, but he also missed a penalty from straight in front of the posts and some other gettable kicks. The USA need a better kicker.

    Whilst Romania were missing a few players, the USA were still mighty impressive and dominant, definitely a side who has taken a step forward this year. I think after Tonga's win over Scotland, USA's effort against Tonga is put in context as a very good performance where they dominated a period of that match. Luke Hume is a revelation by the way, great work rate, great sidestep, and grat offload. He's much better than Ngwenya in my opinion who is overrated, who is only of any use when provided opportunities for or when the game breaks up. I know he scored a good try, but that was only when the game had broken up, he was probably the USA's least attacking thrat in the backs before that and also dropped the ball over the line at one point.

    Curiously, despite the heavy defeat, Romania are in a much more positive place than they were 2 years ago. In 2010, they basically had a pack that were all in their thirties and no youngsters coming through and finished as Europe 3 in RWC qualifying behind Russia and many believed that was the start of a slow decline behind the Russians and perhaps out of the RWC. But they have proved this year and also against Scottland last year, that Romania aren't in terminal decline, and have discovered some new talents, and have some promise to suggest that they may improve and not just gradually decline further and further. To their credit, they also have the most credible professional domestic league from all of Tier 2, their Bucharest Wolves side a development side similar to the Pampas XV, defeated the Italian champions in the Amlin Challenge Cup and scored 40 odd points doing so.