After this weekend’s round of games, most of the 31-man squads for Japan will be finalised. Ireland will not announce theirs for another week but Joe Schmidt and his team will have determined the selections. These games, then were a last chance for fringe players and bolters to play their way onto the plane.
Winner: Attacking fly-half play
Rhys Patchell and Jack Carty probably played themselves into seats on their respective plane while Finn Russell showed some of his best tricks against a Georgian defence that couldn’t handle him. Creative kicks, flat passing,and some lovely running were all on display at times across the two games and while there were also errors at times, it generally made for enjoyable viewing.
Loser: Jarrod Evans and Ross Byrne
Before the match, Warren Gatland had said it was a straight shootout between Evans and Patchell to go to Japan alongside experienced fly-half Dan Biggar. Evans got the first chance and he fumbled his lines, struggling to make an impact against a physically dominant Irish side, missing some easy kicks at goal and to touch. Ireland’s dominance didn’t stop Patchell when he came on so Evans will probably have to wait for his time. The hammering Ireland took at the hands of England last weekend wasn’t Byrne’s fault but it seems unlikely he will be Schmidt’s third No. 10 now, after Carty’s performance.
Winner: Georgian rugby
Neither the attendance nor the scoreline were what they would have wanted but this was the first visit to Georgia from a Tier 1 side. Other Tier 2 teams have regularly spoken about how important regular competition from better sides is for the development and their finances so this game was more important than the result. Hopefully, there will be more games like it – maybe even with different results
There’s no getting around it, Georgia were poor. They were too keen at the breakdown, too one-dimensional in attack, and too limited in defence. Their famed forwards didn’t have the impact expected in the scrums or mauls and this was generally a game where brain very much had the upper hand over brawn. Karlen Asieshvili gave the home fans a try in the 58th minute but that was really the only comfort in an underwhelming showing.
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Winner: Andrew Porter
The tighthead has been showing his ability on the other side of the scrum in these warm-up games, guaranteeing he will play in Japan unless injury strikes. He gave Leon Brown a rough time from the loosehead when he came on in the second half, causing his opposite number to concede two penalties and a yellow card, before continuing to bother the more experienced Samson Lee. Porter may find himself starting in the No. 1 jersey if he keeps this up.
Loser: Fairytale send-offs
It’s rare that players and coaches get the perfect send-off in their final home games and Gatland has proved to be no exception. The arch-pragmatist won’t care about the result or the send-off, as Wales came through the match with no injury concerns and their back-up fly-half dilemma seemingly solved. Given everything he has achieved with Wales, however, it seemed a shame. Perhaps he will get a fairytale return in the autumn instead, as he coaches the Barbarians against Wales.
Winner: Fringe players
There were a number of players who knew this was their chance to make an impression before squad selections and many stepped up. Rory Hutchinson bagged a brace and may have played well enough to no longer be considered a fringe player, despite Scotland’s growing depth at centre. Owen Lane and Hallam Amos were bright spots in a generally poor performance from Wales, with the former scoring a try on his debut. Gatland will probably only take one of the two, however. Will Addison was excellent for Ireland before going off and his creativity may see him make the squad.
Loser: Fringe players
On the other hand, some fringe players will have done their chances of a world cup place serious harm, especially in the Wales side. Steff Evans had a very poor season but Gatland gave him a chance to show his attacking potential and he didn’t take it. Owen Watkin gave possibly his worst performance for Wales and it may be that Scott Williams will now go to his third world cup. Brown’s difficulties against a loosehead playing out of position will probably see him out. For Ireland, Dave Kearney didn’t show enough to justify being selected over the other options.
Winner: The starting Scottish forwards
The game against Georgia was billed as a huge test for Scotland’s forwards against the renowned Georgian scrummagers. The scrums were generally frustrating but Scotland would probably have taken that. Elsewhere, their maul was excellent in attack and defence, while both Ben Toolis and Scott Cummings picked up tries from the second row. A bulked-up Matt Fagerson did some solid work at the back of the pack, carrying well and showing his ball-handling ability too. In a game where a lot of the focus was on the Scottish backs, the forwards proved they could stand up against a big side. Their replacements had far less of an impact, however, with the exception of Cummings.
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