In case you missed it, British touring teams ruled the Southern Hemisphere over the weekend.
How’s this for Northern Hemisphere dominance? The supposedly mighty Maori All Blacks were slain in the Rotorua mist by the Lions, Tonga were taken out by a Welsh B side at Eden Park, England topped a high-scoring second test against Argentina, the English women defeated the Black Ferns and Scotland enacted a measure of revenge for their World Cup quarter final with a win over the Wallabies.
No one would’ve predicted this run of results in the space of 24 hours – or at least the ones on New Zealand and Australian soil. The Scots are good these days, despite what the Lions selectors would have you believe. But they were still playing in Sydney. Their only test victory over the Wallabies in Australia before this one was on a horrible night in Newcastle five years ago, a game which didn’t include any tries but featured a painful but hilarious celebration mishap to close out proceedings.
The Scots got home on Saturday by continuing their bold strategy of relying on intercepts and chargedowns to bat the Wallabies that almost worked so well for them at the World Cup. However they did manage on terrific team they and managed to keep the ball away from Israel Folau just long enough for him to not do a couple more amazing plays that would’ve won the game.
Meanwhile, over on the Lions tour, barely anyone rated the tourists a chance against a Maori All Blacks. The home side were stacked with full All Blacks, with the likes of Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Damian McKenzie, Charlie Ngatai and Elliot Dixon enough to make the Maori potentially the second best team in the world on paper.
Unfortunately for the packed Rotorua crowd, none of them played well – Kerr-Barlow’s yellow card basically costing his team the game. Even more unfortunately, none of the other Maori players did either.
The Lions, on the other hand, certainly did. Johnny Sexton benefitted immensely from having his Irish mate Conor Murray inside him shouldering a lot of the workload, and had his best performance of the tour. The forwards worked extremely hard to hang onto the ball, but the centre pairing of Te’o and Davies were the most impressive. Especially considering it took the All Black midfield defence a couple of gashes to wake them up against Manu Samoa at Eden Park on Friday night.
Earlier, at the same venue, a heavily under strength Wales took apart a Tongan team playing virtually a home game. Despite a couple of big hits, the Welsh did what they had to do to win a potential banana skin match.
So which was the most impressive?
Given that the Lions have the amount of players at their disposal and have been playing together for a month, it’s not that out of the question to expect a commanding performance by now. It’s also worth noting that the lack of preparation excuse that the Lions blamed for their stodgy earlier efforts could also be applied to the Maori All Blacks, who had only been in camp for a week.
The Welsh admittedly were playing against a Tongan side that had had even less preparation than the Maori and, despite playing in front of thousands of Auckland-based fans, did still have to travel. However, the Welsh had to come even further and for many their motivation for being in NZ was being close enough to get a call up to the Lions squad.
I think it’s only fair to crown the Scots as the most impressive performance of a weekend. Missing Stuart Hogg and Greig Laidlaw, their two best players, they shocked a full strength Aussie side in front of a big Sydney crowd. Yes, Australian rugby is in turmoil right now. But the Wallabies were still at full strength, so that’s nothing to be sniffed at.
So there it is, a weekend where the top sides in the region couldn’t get a win. Oh, except these guys…