Three matches were played over this weekend, to open the November Internationals calendar. Not inside the ‘World Rugby window’ which particularly limited the availability of all players, but they were all entertaining games to signal that the Autumn Tours are about to invade the Northern Hemisphere.
An important stage of the year, with the Southern powers of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the Pacific Islands all heading towards Europe. Their target will be the home nations, plus many other fixtures to both test, and develop players. The key to a successful tour–the development of new names who experience the International level.
And that was a feature in the main match this weekend – the Barbarians v All Blacks. In a game where 32 players were from New Zealand, some had complained of the influence of the Kiwis. Coached by former All Blacks head coach Robbie Deans; availability limited many International selections, so players chosen who had just completed their domestic rugby were flown over to the United Kingdom, to compete for the Killik Cup.
And the second match was played in North America. Canada invited the New Zealand Maori team up, in a regular fixture for the talented Kiwi team. That game was both a development step for the Maple Leafs, who are always wishing to test themselves. It was also another way to help celebrate 125 years of New Zealand Rugby.
— Rugby Canada (@RugbyCanada) November 3, 2017
Ambassador for Maori Rugby, Wayne Shelford was involved, in respect of the strong bonds the nations hold. And so it was, in a packed stadium in Vancouver, where Canada were entertained by the free-running Maori All Blacks.
And then the final fixture would be an ‘RWC venue test’ for the Yokohama Stadium, as Japan hosted the Wallabies. Like New Zealand, having finished their domestic campaigns, the Australians are en route to the UK, so chose a World Cup-warm up that merged with the announcement of the Japan 2019 RWC Schedule.
What did the organisers learn in that fixture? Do not run out of beer – an important factor, in any venues preparations for a Southern hemisphere test match.
Mercurial All Blacks Escape With First November Internationals Win
The blushes were saved from Beauden Barrett and his ‘A team’. Missing regular skipper Kieran Read [water boy] it was left to debut captain Barrett to scramble, after the Baabaas led at halftime; 17-10.
Head coach Steve Hansen was expecting a ‘test’ but he was also aware that the Barbarians style of game does not always suit his teams structure. “Once we started playing our own game after halftime and sticking to the structures we got reward,” he said.
“People have stepped up for us and now we look forward to the three Test matches.”
He injected his substitutions early, indicating a reshuffle of Sam Cane and Lima Sopoaga who would add more control. It did not immediately take effect–but as the rain started to fall, the earlier loose nature of the game that had favoured the Baabaas, went a little more in the visitors favour.
— Sky Sports Rugby 🏉 (@SkySportsRugby) November 4, 2017
Kwagga Smith (see main picture), the stand out flanker of Super Rugby, was in this match ‘a man possessed’. His role was just about almost in every facet of the game. Certainly a constant threat, he along with a resurgent Steven Luatua (see above) enjoyed themselves thoroughly. They bettered everyone, Luatua running himself to a standstill. Besting most–except for one who matched him; Vaea Fifita.
New Zealand Experiment With ‘Next Best’ Player Combinations
The Hurricanes combination was not entirely successful, but TJ Perenara, Barrett and Ngani Laumape had some success, with Laumape’s try was shear strength. Add in Fifita and the future of the All Blacks may have been on show.
But opposing them was Richie Mo’unga and George Bridge could too be the future. The Baabaas are famous for showing the rugby world new talent, and the Twickenham crowd appreciated the adventure of Mo’unga. Bridge was rewarded with two tries, but that would not be enough.
A try from Nathan Harris then demonstrated the All Blacks ‘killer instinct’ and as much as the early stages favoured the Baabaas, the result was assured. With all the excitement that men like Julian Savea [facing his brother Ardie], Richard Buckman and Vince Aso hold; with the hard work that Dominic Bird, Adrian Strauss and captain Andy Ellis have, they could not hold down the force that is, the New Zealand All Blacks.
The end result was a 22-31 win for the All Blacks. The occasion was also held in recognition of the 125th Anniversary of New Zealand Rugby. The long history and relationship with Europe will be celebrated this month, beginning with a classic match that showed the Barbarians spirit is proud and well appreciated.
Barbarians 22 – Tries: Richie Mo’unga, George Bridge (2), Sam Carter; Conversion: Mo’unga
New Zealand 31 – Tries: TJ Perenara, Vaea Fifita, Ngani Laumape, Sam Cane, Nathan Harris; Cons: Beauden Barrett (3).
Note: the All Blacks next face France on November 11, in Paris.
Across in North America, the match-up was less balanced. Canada, who have never entirely been able to transfer their potential into results, wanted competition. With the Māori side full of talent that are just on the edge of All Blacks selection, that skill-level transferred into both competition….and the final scoreline.
The Kiwi talent on show were coming off of the most demanding domestic rugby competition, outside of the Aviva Premiership. That would see men like Ihaia West, Ambrose Curtis and Dan Pryor all impress. Aside from poor discipline that saw two yellow cards issued, the Kiwi men had a skills advantage.
Something that incoming head coach Kingsley Jones wants to address, before critical Rugby World Cup qualification against Uruguay. Yesterdays match will have been beneficial, but in not being able to pressure the New Zealand line, he will feel there is more improvement needed.
When analyzed, the huge imbalance in scores must demonstrate the territorial and possession advantage, but Canada did hold for periods of the game. What they could not do was transfer possession into field position. Unable to break defense means that your motivation is not sufficient.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) November 4, 2017
While the attendance was impressive, the fact it was one-sided is of concern. If Canada want to be at Japan 2019 RWC, then they need to find their attack.
Canada 9 – Penalties: Brock Staller (3)
NZ Māori 51 Tries: Ambrose Curtis, Akira Ioane, Tom Franklin, Charlie Ngatai, Shaun Stevenson, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Sean Wainui; Conversions: Ihaia West (4) Jackson Garden-Bachop; Pens: West (2).
Note: the Maori team next face the French Barbarians side, in Bordeaux o November 11.
The Wallabies have come off of a high; beating the All Blacks recently will have been an immense confidence boost. This first match on the Australian Northern tour was another positive step.
Michael Cheika respects Japan, but in the afternoon fixture against Japan, the Australian team had little trouble. And while the outcome seemed an obvious warm-up, it was still an opportunity for the host nation to demonstrate their natural ability.
Tier-two nations must always wish to improve, so Michael Leitch will have seen benefit in challenging the Wallabies. They attempted this, with plenty of enthusiasm–like all Japanese teams show.
If not troubled at times, the Australian team will use this outing as a good practice before they arrive in Europe. Interrupted by illness, Reece Hodge was deputized at first five–not a perfect debut, but a satisfactory replacement.
This had pre-empted calls to cover Bernard Foley, so the Wallabies may now correct their tour focus on succession, rather than any advances in World Rugby rankings. That might be of benefit, but after the Japan result it showed that the Asian side still have improvements to make, before they can challenge.
Leading 35-3 at halftime, the Australian team doubled their score and did not seem troubled. If anything, Japan will need to work hard on defence. Similar to past experiences, they must learn soon before 2019 arrives–and they are still not able to limit scoring less than 60 points.
Japan 30 – Tries: Van der Walt, Mafi, Himeno; Conversions: Matsuda, Tamura (2); Penalties Matsuda (3)
Australia 63 – Tries: Kuridrani (3), Kerevi (2), Speight, Polota-Nau, Phipps, Simmons; Cons: Hodge (9)
Note: Australia next face Wales on November 12, in Cardiff.
An overall view might be that Japan are a poor opposition. But, many will know, if you take an opposition lightly, they may ‘bite back’… Canada included.
Obviously November Internationals are about building and developing talent. Sides travel north, wishing to gain in strength.
However, focus is key. Take advantage yes, always go for the win, but be wary as even an Barbarian side can match the worlds best.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images