Sunday, November 18, 2012

November 2012 Internationals - Week Two Wrap

This weekend featured ten international matches with IRB World Rankings on the line. The race to finish as high as possible to get a favorable draw has given a new meaning to the importance of this month´s international matches. Last weekends matches contributed to the rankings with France entering the top Band in place of England and in doing so, also threatening Australia of falling out of the Top Band. Should Australia drop then there would be an equal split of Southern and Northern Hemisphere nations throughout the Three Bands of automatic qualifiers for Rugby World Cup 2015. The weekend also featured a non-international match of note with the Irish B team, the Ireland Wolfhounds facing Fiji. Due to it not being a sanctioned international match between the recognized test sides of each country it did not count to IRB World Rankings.

Bands and IRB World Rankings before the weekend
1 New Zealand 92,91
2 South Africa 85,50
3 Australia 84,82
4 France 84,58
5 England 83,09
6 Wales 80,60
7 Argentina 80,29
8 Ireland 79,04
9 Scotland 77,97
10 Samoa 77,14
11 Italy 76,61
12 Tonga 74,22

* Band 1
* Band 2
* Band 3

Yet to Qualify for RWC 2015
13 Canada 71,39
14 Fiji 70,60
15 Japan 68,89
16 Georgia 67,95
17 USA 67,15
18 Romania 63,58
19  Spain 61,63
20 Russia 61,51
21 Namibia 59,49
21 Uruguay 59,37
23 Belgium 59,17
24 Portugal 58,33
25 Chile 58.52

Wales 19-26 Samoa
The weekend started at the Millenium Stadium with the underrated Samoa taking on the Six Nations Champions. Samoa was impressive against Canada the previous weekend while Wales had little to be happy about in losing by fourteen points against Los Pumas. Samoa is a team in great need to attention. The country´s tiny population means it is not a viable option, in economic terms, for Tier One nations to play regular rugby there. Earlier in 2012 Scotland visited giving Samoa a much needed home international against a top side. Scotland won, but only at the death. While Argentina has won its battle for recognition Samoa could well be the next in line. It is arguably a better side right now than Italy. Its lineup to face Wales was packed with professional players based in Europe, Japan, New Zealand or South Africa. Wales played a team that, injuries aside, was close to being at full strength. Samoa´s physical approach nonetheless was highly effective in gaining metres and forcing Wales backwards. Samoa put in countless big hits, some were illegal but the referee did not feel yellow cards were necessary. As against Argentina it was the boot of Leigh Halfpenny that scored the points. The home side was outscored by three tries to one and Wales´s only try came from an intercept. Consequently, Wales could drop out of Band 2, but for now the team is safe albeit in 8th position. Wales will now need to either beat New Zealand or Australia or hope Scotland lose against Tonga.

Georgia 22-25 Japan
A stunning result in Tblissi as the hosts of Rugby World Cup 2019 made it two from two in Eastern Europe. The Brave Blossoms three point victory came in overtime as the Asian side landed a dropgoal to seal an important victory. It will add rankings points to the Japanese but overall it will not have a significant impact because Japan entered the match ranked 15th, and Georgia 16th. It will also mean that future tours of Europe will become much more regular as Japan has been reluctant to travel west in recent years. Japan will host Wales in June 2013 which could be interesting given that it will occur at the same time as the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia. Japan will thus face a weakened Welsh side. The match was arguably the best of the weekend and like last weekend Japan was up against a superior pack but had the advantage of playing more attacking rugby. Indeed, Japan had some impressive backs that, in the end, secure the win. Georgia started well with Merab Kvirikashvili kicking the Lelos to a 9-0 lead after 12 minutes. Ayumu Goromaru landed two to cut the lead to three points before Japan took the lead at half time with a 95 metre try scored by Hirotoko Onozawa following a Georgian error as the Europeans looked to score a try of their own. Goromaru landed the sideline conversion to give the Japanese the lead at the interval. Kvirikashvili´s boot put Georgia ahead 15-13 in the 50th minute and Georgia then scored to hold a 22-13 lead as the Lelos were well on top. Japan, nonetheless, fought back with a Goromaru penalty and the game then went down to the wire after an 80 metre attack set up Hirotoko Onozawa to level the scores and Japan then won with an oportunistic dropgoal.

Italy 10-42 New Zealand
This was a match to underline the growth of rugby, in global terms, over the past decade. The All Blacks continue to be the superior side but the gap has certainly decreased. More importantly, the match provided a clear example of the need for Rugby World Cup´s to be staged in new places. Rome´s Olympic Stadium was full for the occassion and the same venue is appropriate to host a Rugby World Cup Final. Italy bid for Rugby World Cup 2015 but was not successful. It could host in 2027 following Argentina in 2023 which remains the strongest contender given the Americas has never hosted a Rugby World Cup, Argentina has made the Semi Final´s previously and that the team attracts strong crowds nation wide. Italy played a good brand of rugby against New Zealand. Italy was very competitive at the breakdown and controlled the ball well. At halftime it was one try per team with Italy looking far from the side which New Zealand dominated at Rugby World Cup 1999, 2003 and 2007. There was a clear signal of respect from the visitors with Aaron Cruden kicking penalties within the Italian 22 rather than opting to kick for the corner. The All Blacks superiority was evident in the final quarter, however, as the Kiwi´s scored three tries to add to one in the 49th minute to underline why New Zealand is the best team in the world. Italy had players from the Americas including backrower Sergio Parisse, tighthead prop Martín Castrogiovanni and flyhalf Luciano Orquera from Argentina who all started. Orquera kicked a dropgoal and converted his team´s try as he scored five points. Canada´s Robert Barbieri also played, as a backrow replacement.

Namibia 37-38 Spain
Earlier in the week Spain and Zimbabwe played in Windhoek with the Europeans completing a comfortable victory. While Namibia had the least favorable match schedule of all twenty nations at Rugby World Cup 2011 it had a clear advantage over Spain for this match given the three day turn around. The match was played in 40ºC conditions and ir was back and forward match with the lead swapping hands before Spain claimed victory with a Jaime Nava landing an 80th minute goal. The European had done very well to come back from a 26-17 halftime deficit to take the lead only for Namibia to reclaim it before Spain went ahead in the final minute. Spain will rise up the IRB World Rankings and Namibia fall, further questioning the right of Africa to have an automatic qualifying position over Europe and South America. Spain now returns home having won both its matches and having enhanced its chances of qualification for England 2015.

England 14-20 Australia
Leading 14-11 at halftime England looked set to confirm itself in Band 1 and send Australia to Band 2. the injury depleted Wallabies, however completed an upset and did well to ease the pressure on coach Robbie Deans. Having been humiliated in Paris seven days prior this was not looking like being the best of afternoons for Australia. But this time around Australia held firm and actually got the better of its opposition at scrum time. England´s performance was far from impressive and the home side was lucky to be leading at the interval. Not only had Australia been the better side but England´s try scored by Samoan born Manu Tuilagi was controversial. Australia took control of the match both on and off the scoreboard thanks to a return to form from the recalled Berrick Barnes who played fullback. He kicked 15 points, compared to Toby Flood who kicked 9 for England and that was, in the end, what separated the two nations. England played the match in a new strip, resembling that of Australian state, Queensland.  

Scotland 10-21 South Africa
Welsh rugby followers were extremely frustrated on Friday evening but by Saturday afternoon they could relax knowing that Scotland had not been able to improve its IRB World Ranking position and, as such, not overtake Wales. It means that Scotland are now likely to recieve a tougher World Cup draw for 2015 similar to what occured in the draw for 2011 when the Scot´s as a Band 3 side were drawn with Argentina from band 1 and England from Band 2. South Africa, in contrast, are safe as a Band 1 side. The African´s victory was comfortable but not overly impressive. Springboks hooker Adriaan Strauss scored two tries while Scotland´s Henry Pygros came on as a replacement scrumhalf to score the home teams only try. Scotland now has a great chance of a home win as it will host Tonga in Aberdeen but has an anxious wait ahead of the draw for Rugby World Cup 2015. South Africa will face England at Twickenham. 

Chile 28-22 Portugal

Such a match looms as a possibility in 2014. Both teams will be contenders to advance in Rugby World Cup Qualifying matches but are not likely to qualify directly. They could, therefore face off in repercharge. There is reason to believe that both teams have improved in recent times with Portugal´s participation in Rugby Sevens paying off and Chile having a strong age grade set up that could see Los Condores have a team superior to that of Uruguay in time for the South American set of Rugby World Cup Qualification matches in May 2013. Halfway through the match Chile would have thought it was on track for a victory. Los Condores were leading the contest 16-9 but the Lobos were able to turn the game by winning the secondhalf 19-5. It was a rare home fixture for Chile with no European team having played a test match there since before Rugby World Cup 2007. The last time a European nation played a test in Chile was in August 2007 with Chile defeating Spain. Other than that Portugal and Georgia played in 2004 in the only other home tests against European sides since the turn of the millenium. Portugal entered the match as favorites after causing an upset against Uruguay last Sunday and winning well in the end. Chile, in contrast, had not played since the South American Championship in May. The six point win was deserved and Portugal will return home now confident ahead of its matches in early 2013 which count towards Rugby World Cup Qualification. Portugal´s first match is a tough assignment against Romania in Lisbon on February 02.

Tonga 22-13 USA
Tonga started and ended the game well while the USA was the better side in the middle stages. The Pacific Islanders scored an early unconverted try to go 5-0 ahead but the side would not score again until the secondhalf. The USA also scored one first half try with scrumhalf Robbie Shaw backing up from his double against Russia last weekend by scoring alongside the posts. It was converted and fullback Dan Pangelinan who was making his test debut. After the interval the Tongans took firm control scoring two secondhalf tries to wrap up the match. Todd Clever captained the USA for the 24th time matching the record held by USA legend Dan Lyle. It was his 45th cap overall and of those only two have been as a replacement.

France 39-22 Argentina
The South Americans started the match with a spectacular try scored by Marcelo Bosch under the posts. It was followed up by two penalties to Nicolás Sánchez and at 13-3 up Argentina looked on track for a solid first half. France turned the tables however and hit back with three tries to close out the first half leading 24-13. France was looking like a Les Bleus side from the 1990´s, playing an expansive brand of attacking, high risk rugby and doing so at speed. The Europeans were able to gain significant ground and create try scoring opportunities and they were taken as three superb French tries were scored. The rugby continued to be high in quality in the second half but there were more mistakes as players were certainly fatigued. No tries were scored after the interval as all the points came from the flyhalves with Frederic Michalak having a sublime match in scoring 24 points. One player who did  not play well was Horacio Agulla who was caught out of position twice with Vincent Clerc capitalizing on both occassions by scoring tries. Agulla was stretchered off the field in the secondhalf after suffering a frightening head clash with Maxime Mermoz. Agulla had moved to outside centre, a position where he may hava  test future. He is unlikely to play again this month though. The result secures France´s place in Band 1 with Argentina virtually assured of joining England, Ireland and Wales in Band 2. While the IRB World Rankings have France as the fourth best team in the world there is little to suggest that France is not the second best. Its form against Australia and Argentina put Les Bleus second today to only the All Blacks. France host Samoa next weekend while Argentina face Ireland in Dublin.  

Canada 35-3 Russia
Both sides were below full strength and Canada more so than Russia. It was still, nonetheless advantage to the North Americas and they proved to be too strong. Canada played a good match and was in control of the match from beginning to end. While the Canadian defense was much improved after Samoa had scored five tries last weekend the attack was also much better as Canada scored four tries this time around. All four tries were scored by backs with three of them going to players who were not selected  to face the stronger Samoa. Right winger Jeff Hassler scored a double, one in the 19th minute of each half. The Scottish based Taylor Paris scored the first try of the first half while inside centre Nick Blevins scored three minutes after Paris. Neither side will play a test next weekend but Canada will be playing against the New Zealand Maori at Oxford University.

The Updated IRB World Rankings will be as follows
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

Wales v Samoa

Georgia v Japan 

Italy v New Zealand

England v Australia

Scotland v South Africa

Tonga v USA

France v Argentina

Chile v Portugal

Canada v Russia


  1. Russia were not below full strength.

    1. Very worrying times for Russia then. Both Portugal and Spain look to have improved significantly since the RWC 2011 qualification series.