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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Warburton’

Not surprisingly, Wales went down to another defeat against New Zealand in the 2nd Test of their summer tour. This time the score was 36-22. Not only have Wales not beaten New Zealand since 1953, but we have never won against them in New Zealand. This defeat by 14 points is actually our best result against them in New Zealand!

Unfortunately I did not see or hear the match. I travelled overnight from Dakar (Senegal) to Istanbul, and although I was in my hotel before kick-off time, I was not able to find the match on any of the many cable channels on the TV in my hotel room. The BBC Radio coverage via the internet was blocked (which sporting events often are abroad), so the most I could do was follow the score on the BBC webpage. But, having not slept on the aeroplane from Dakar, in fact I fell asleep!

Unlike the 1st Test, when Wales were ahead with 15-minutes to go, it seems that New Zealand opened up a good lead in the 2nd half of this match. But, Wales finished the stronger, running in two tries to bring the score back to one which implies that we were not thrashed. Whether these two late tries were because New Zealand had taken their foot off the gas, or because Wales finished the stronger, I do not know.

All I do know is that Wales will go to Dunedin next Saturday for the 3rd Test, and it is difficult to see anything but a third defeat. Do Wales gain anything from going to New Zealand and losing 3-0 in a test series? I believe that we do; it is important to play the best and to see where we are deficient.

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Wales lost the 2nd Test against New Zealand 36-22. The points difference was less than in the first Test, which we lost 39-21. Is this progress?

I was still asleep when the 2nd Test between Australia and England kicked off, but I caught the end of that match. England won 23-7, and so claim their first ever series win in Australia, with one match to spare. England are 8 from 8 since Eddie Jones took over, and have now moved to second in the world rankings. 

I heard Eddie Jones being interviewed on the BBC this morning, he said they were not satisfied with second and want to overhaul New Zealand. It’s certainly a challenge, but not impossible. England rugby has more resources than any other country, by a long way. If they get the right structures in place there is no reason why they can’t dominate world rugby. I believe that, in Eddie Jones, their first ever foreign coach, they may have found the person to do just that. 

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On Saturday (11 June), Wales played New Zealand in the first test of their 3-test tour. Later the same morning, England played Australia in the first test of of their 3-test tour. Wales lost, England won. And therein lies the different trajectories the two teams seem to be on this last 6 months.

Wales were 18-15 up at half time, and even 21-18 ahead with 15 minutes to go. But, New Zealand overpowered Wales in the last 15 minutes, racking up 21 unanswered points in the last quarter of an hour. Wales were left thinking what could have been.

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Wales were 21-18 up with 15 minutes to go, but were then overpowered by New Zealand, who won 39-21.

Later the same morning, England took on Australia in the first test of their 3-test tour. The match was in Brisbane, a place where England have never beaten Australia. Australia got off to the better start, quickly scoring two tries, but England stayed calm and won a pulsating match 39-28. It sets them up to be on course for their first ever series win in Australia, something their Australian coach Eddie Jones would relish.

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England beat Australia to not only win the first test of their 3-test series, but it was also their first win ever in Brisbane.

The second tests are next Saturday (18 June). England could clinch the series, and Wales will try to narrow the gap between themselves and the All Blacks. But, to me, Saturday’s results just illustrate the different paths Wales and England have been on since that memorable game in the World Cup in October. Wales narrowly beat England in that match; partly by being fitter, partly by maybe wanting it more, and partly because of poor decision making by England in the last 15 minutes.

Since then, England have been transformed. Eddie Jones has been brought in as head coach, and they are now playing a style of rugby which is difficult to beat. They have won 7 from 7 under Jones, whereas Wales have gone backwards since their win over England in the World Cup. It was good to see Wales try to play some expansive rugby on Saturday, and maybe playing such rugby against almost anyone but New Zealand would have led to a victory. Two more tests, which i expect us to lose, at least gives the Welsh team and management a chance to play agains the best and to work on improving their game so that we can have a successful 6 Nations in 2017, and a successful Autumn test series in November.

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Tomorrow morning (Saturday 11 June), Wales have the rather daunting task of taking on World Champions New Zeland in the first of three test matches. Warburton was injured for the warm-up match against England a few weeks ago, a match in Wales looked very poor and jaded. It is never easy going on tour to New Zealand, be it the Lions or Wales, and nobody in their right minds expects anything but a 3-0 series win to the All Blacks. Realistically, the most that Welsh fans can hope for is to keep the scores respectable, and to show some progress compared to the form that Wales have shown the last few seasons.

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Wales’ captain Sam Warburton has been declared fit to face New Zealand in the 1st Test tomorrow in Eden Park, Auckland. Wales have not beaten New Zealand since 1953.

As I have said in other blogposts, since the thrashing of England 30-3 in Cardiff in March 2013, Wales have gone backwards. Yes we have won some important games, beating South Africa in the Autumn Tests in 2014 was a significant win, but Wales have not looked dangerous and creative in several seasons. Rugby moves on, and it seems to me that the Welsh management team need to develop the game plan. Warren-ball works well at times, but against good teams it often comes unstuck and Wales do not seem to have a Plan B.

England are a good example of a team which has made massive strides in just 6 months under new coach Eddie Jones. He is using essentially the same players as his predecessor, but they are playing with an inventiveness which Wales can only envy. I am not suggesting that Wales should ditch head coach Warren Gatland, but I do think it is high time that he and his team got their heads together and started thinking of ways for the Welsh team to play more creative rugby. We have just become far too predictable.

Even with New Zealand missing some nine players from the team that won the World Cup in October, due to retirement, they will still be far too good for Wales. I am not sure, without looking it up, how Wales got on during their last tour of New Zealand, but if we can improve on that then progress will at least appear to being made.

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Tomorrow (Sunday 29 May), Wales take on England at Twickenham in a warm-up match before the two countries’ tours of New Zealand and Australia respectively. Quite what the value of this match will be remains to be seen. Many of the England first choice team are not available as Saracens are involved in the play-off to determine the winner of the English Premier League, and Wales are missing their talismanic captain Sam Warburton through injury.

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Sam Warburton is injured for Wales’ warm-up match against England at Twickenham tomorrow (Sunday 29 May).

 

It is true that Wales seem to start every series of matches very poorly, be it the 6 Nations or a tour series, or the Autumn tests series. So, knowing this, Warren Gatland felt his team should  play a warm-up match before embarking on their daunting 3-test tour of New Zealand. As none of the Welsh regions qualified for the Pro-12 playoffs, some of the Welsh players have not played any competitive rugby in the best part of a month; certainly not ideal preparation for touring New Zealand.

It is strange to think of winning a Wales v England match as not being the main concern of Welsh rugby fans; but it is true that for this game we just want to see the Welsh team avoid any injuries and blow off a few cobwebs before we head to take on the All Blacks. If we manage to sneak a win we won’t be complaining, but for once that is not the main goal.

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It was a bruising encounter, and one in which Wales came off second best. Although Wales could have won this match, I think most Welsh supporters think had we done so it would not have been deserved. South Africa battered Wales into submission. There was a 20 minute period in the first half, from about 10 minutes to 30 minutes into the game, when Wales were being smashed in every collision, and were losing the ball just about every time.



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South Africa ran in three tries, Wales didn’t score a try. Although we did have chances, possibly more try scoring chances than South Africa. But, we did not take them, and South Africa took their three chances. That is the difference between the best in the World (South Africa are currently ranked 2nd best in the World) and Wales, currently the best in Europe. South Africa were just more clinical, more precise, and incredibly physical. When South Africa scored their first try, two of Wales’ backs went off with injuries. Jonathan Davies, Wales’ increasingly impressive centre, went off with an injury which could keep him out for 5 months. Before half time, Wales had lost 3 players to injury, such was the physicality of the Springboks.

However, I do feel Wales had the ascendancy in the first 20 minutes of the 2nd half. Whatever was said at half time, Wales came out all guns blazing and dominated the South Africans up until the 64th minute. We brought the score back from 6-17 to 15-17, and with twenty minutes to go the game could have been Wales’ for the taking. But, unfortunately, South Africa scored a try in the 64th minute which sealed Wales’ fate. Replays showed that it probably should not have been a try, Jaque Fourie was in front of the kicker when the ball was kicked up field. But the try was given, and as I say there are not too many Welsh supporters who think that South Africa’s victory was undeserved.

Wales now face a tough match against Argentina this coming Saturday (16th), and really it is a must-win game if Wales are to come out of the Autumn Test series with a feeling that they have progressed since the 6 Nations earlier this year. Meanwhile, up in Twickenham, England looked impressive in demolishing Argentina for a convincing victory. Yes, they allowed Argentina back into the match in the 2nd half, but by then they had won the game. England face New Zealand next Saturday, and for a Welshman I am sorry to say they look disturbingly impressive at the moment. Even though we annihilated them in Cardiff back in March (30-3), I think we are going to have our work cut out to beat them in Twickenham in the upcoming 6 Nations match on the 9th of March.

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This coming Saturday, the 9th of November, Wales will play the first of their four Autumn internationals. This has become an annual event in the rugby calendar, stretching back to at least 2002 or 2003, if not earlier. This year, Wales have three tough matches, plus hopefully an easier one, but for the first time since these Autumn internationals began we are not playing New Zealand (if I am wrong in saying this is the first time that we don’t play New Zealand then please someone correct me!).

The schedule of games we have are as follows

  • Saturday 9th of November – South Africa
  • Saturday 16th of November – Argentina
  • Friday the 22nd of November – Tonga
  • Saturday the 30th of November – Australia



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Last year, Wales had a disasterous Autumn campaign, losing all four matches. But, then we went on to win the 6 Nations for the second year in a row, only missing out on a second successive Grand Slam by a poor first half performance against Ireland in our opening 6 Nations match. Since March, Wales formed the bulk of a victorious Lions team on the Lions’ tour of Australia, with ten of the starting fifteen in the third and deciding Test being from Wales. So, the big question is, can Wales build on the successes in 2013 and beat some Southern Hemisphere opposition this month?

It seems that every year, about this time, Welsh rugby fans hope for a good Autumn campaign. And yet, apart from the 2005 one, we are almost always disappointed. In 2005 we came close to beating both South Africa and New Zealand, but every other year we not only fail to beat the Southern Hemisphere’s “big three”, but we nearly always fail by quite a margin. Of course, in the last few years, Argentina have joined the Southern Hemisphere’s “big three” in “The Rugby Championship”, and so have themselves become an increasingly difficult opposition, a team to whom we lost last year.

Some people have been saying in the last few days on radio and TV that Warren Gatland’s focus is the 6 Nations, and then the 2015 World Cup, and that he does not really mind how well or not Wales play in the Autumn Internationals. I doubt this is true, Warren Gatland knows more than anyone that, for Wales to move on from being the best rugby side in Europe for most years of the last ten (3 Grand Slams, in 2005, 2008 and 2012 and one additional 6 Nations title in 2013) to being a side that can realistically challenge for the 2015 World Cup, Wales need to start beating the Southern Hemisphere sides. There is no better time to do that than this coming month. The Welsh boys should be full of confidence, having shown that they can beat Australia in Australia. Wales needs to now move up that one extra level and start beating South Africa, Australia and yes, even New Zealand (whom we haven’t beaten since 1953!), when we have them at home in front of our passionate supporters.

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After two failrly easy games, the first against The Barbarians in Hong Kong, and last Wednesday’s game in Perth against Western Force, the 2013 Lions faced their first true test of their tour of Australia. On Saturday (8th of June) they faced the Queensland Reds in a match in Brisbane. They eventually came out winners, by a margin of 22-12.


A 22-12 victory for the 2013 Lions against the Queensland Reds.

A 22-12 victory for the 2013 Lions against the Queensland Reds.


The Reds, being led by their mercurial outside half Quade Cooper, certainly tested the Lions in a way that they had not been so far on this tour. True to Gatland’s stated intentions, with 3 games played (including the warm-up match against The Barbarians), all players in the tour party able to play have now had a chance to start a match. With two weeks to go before the first Test, which will also be in the same stadium in Brisbane, Gatland and his coaching staff now need to start deciding who is likely to make his starting 15 for that first Test.

I wouldn’t like to try and even guess what that 15 will look like. At least, not yet. Maybe after the next two games I will take a stab at it. Of course, this was the first match of the tour that Captain Sam Warburton has been able to play, due to a knee injury which kept him out of the first two matches. He played well in my opinion. Not outstanding, but well. I think Gatland will need to start him in next weekend’s game against the New South Wales Warratahs so he can get more match practice.

I am not sure if any of the squad have their position in the opening test guaranteed, with the possible exception of Brian O’Driscoll. What do people think?

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This coming Saturday (1st of June) the British and Irish Lions will play a warm-up match against the invitational Barbarians team in Hong Kong, before they head to Australia for their 2013 tour. The Lions, who tour every 4 years, have not won a tour since their tour of South Africa in 1997, which they won 2-1. Their 2001 tour of Australia resulted in a 2-1 loss, with the final test deciding the series. In 2005 the Lions suffered a “black wash” in New Zealand, losing the series 3-0. And, most recently, in 2009 they lost their tour in South Africa 2-1, only winning the final game of an already lost series.


Warren Gatland has chosen Sam Warburton to captain the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.

Warren Gatland has chosen Sam Warburton of Wales to captain the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.


A brief history of the British and Irish Lions

The first rugby tour of the Southern Hemisphere by a team from Great Britain was in 1888. A 21-man squad from England, Scotland and Wales went on a 35-match (yes, thirty five!) tour of Australia and New Zealand. No matches were played against any “national” sides, but the tour established the idea of a touring party going to play against Southern Hemisphere opposition.

A complete list of all Lions’ tours can be found here. As you can see from this table, the current format of a tour every 4 years, alternating between New Zealand, South Africa and Australia did not begin until 1993. Prior to that the tours tended to be every 3 years, and because of the sporting boycott against the apartheid South Africa, no Lions tours of South Africa took place between the tour of 1980 and the one of 1997.

In total, the Lions have toured South Africa 13 times, winning 4 series, losing 8 and drawing 1. They have toured Australia 8 times, winning 6 series and losing 2. Finally, they have toured New Zealand 11 times, winning only 1 series (in 1971), and losing the other 10.

The 2013 tour of Australia

Since the advent of the professional era in 1995, Lions tours have become shorter. Also, the number of test matches was cut from 4 to 3 on each tour back in 1980. This obviously reduces the likely hood of a drawn series, as a drawn match in rugby is much less likely than in e.g. football.

The 2013 tour is longer than some recent ones, with several games against “provincial” and Super-15 sides. The full list of matches, including this Saturday’s warm-up match against the Barbarians, is shown below.


The schedule of matches for the 2013 Lions tour of Australia.

The schedule of matches for the 2013 Lions tour of Australia.


As I mentioned above, the last time the Lions toured Australia was 12 years ago, in 2001. On that occasion, the Lions easily won the opening test in Brisbane, 29-13. However, they lost the second test in Melbourne by 35-14. The outcome of the series came down to the third and final test. With minutes to go and the score at 29-23 to Australia, the Lions had a line-out near the Australian line, providing a superb scoring opportunity to win the Test and the series. But, the ball was famously won by the Australian second-row Justin Harrison, denying the Lions the victory.

The 37-man squad for the 2013 tour is dominated by players from Wales. The coach is Warren Gatland, who is on sabbatical from his position as Wales’ coach. This, combined with Wales having won the 6 Nations for the last two seasons, means the Welsh contingent was always likely to be the largest. There are 15 players from Wales, 10 from England, 9 from Ireland and 3 from Scotland. The squad captain is also Welsh, Sam Warburton, who becomes the first Welsh captain of the Lions since the 1977 tour of New Zealand when Phil Bennet was captain.

The only member of the Wales starting line-up in the 30-3 annihilation of England back in March who has been left out of the Lions squad is the outside half Dan Biggar. Speculation is rife as to how many of the players picked to play the Barbarians in Saturday’s warm up match will be Welsh. We will find out soon enough, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is as many as 12 or 13! This is partly because many of the English and Irish players have been involved in club-level matches right up to this last weekend (hardly any of the Welsh and Scottish players have been); but also because Warren Gatland has shown before that he likes to initially select from an already established group of players. In his first match as Wales coach (the opening match of the 2008 6 Nations), fully 13 (thirteen) of the starting line up were from the same club side, the Ospreys!

The biggest challenge facing Gatland is the challenge faced by any Lions coach, to bring players from four separate countries together into a cohesive squad of players. He may be helped in this by having coached in Wales (he has been Wales’ national coach since December 2008), England (he coached the London Wasps club side for 3 seasons, 2002-2005) and Ireland (he was Ireland’s national coach from 1998-2001). So he can justifiably say that he is familiar with the rugby culture in three of the four countries which make up the Lions. We should know long before the first test on the 22nd of June how well he is succeeding in this task.

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On Saturday (17th of March), Wales won the 2012 6 Nations Grand Slam, beating France 16-9 in a tense match in Cardiff. Although it was not billed as such, it was sweet revenge for France beating Wales 8-7 in the semi finals of the recent 2011 World Cup in October.

This is the 3rd Grand Slam Wales have won in 7 years (8 seasons), having also won Northern Hemisphere rugby’s most coveted prize in 2005 and 2008. A lot of comparisons have been made to the incredibly successful Wales side of the 1970s, whom I grew up watching.

In the 1970s, Wales also won the Grand Slam 3 times in 8 seasons, in 1971, 1976 and 1978. But, what makes that period of success so different to the current one is that Wales have failed to perform between these recent successes. Outside of the 2005, 2008 and 2012 seasons, Wales have failed to win either the Triple Crown or 6 Nations title.

In contrast, in the 1969-1979 period, Wales not only won the Grand Slam 3 times, but won the 5 Nations Championships (it became 6 Nations in 2000) a staggering 8 times (and the 1972 Championships was not completed because of the troubles in Northern Ireland), and won the Triple Crown an impressive 5 times. Wales completely dominated Northern Hemisphere rugby during this period. JPR Williams, the full back who transformed the position, played against England 11 times and never lost! Wales have not had this level of dominance in the last 7-8 years.

What Welsh rugby fans are hoping is that this current Grand Slam is not the end of a series of 3, but rather the beginning of a new “Golden Era” of Welsh rugby. The two previous “Golden Eras” were 1900-1919 (during which Wales also won the Grand Slam 3 times, and the Triple Crown 6 times) and the 1969-1979 periods.

The side who won this 2012 Grand Slam have an average age of under 25, so it is reasonable to expect them to improve over the next 3-4 years. Unlike 2005 and 2008, Wales need to build on this success, and try to ensure they dominate the 6 Nations between now and the next rugby World Cup in 2015.

Wales also face a daunting tour of Australia in June, with 3 Tests against the Wallabies in Brisbane, Melbourne and, finally, Sydney. If Wales can win one of these tests, then it will consolidate our recent success in the 2011 World Cup and this year’s Grand Slam. But, if we lose all 3 tests, I fear we may be seeing yet another “false dawn” in Welsh rugby. Of course, optimists (and there are plenty of them a few days after Saturday’s incredible victory) are daring to dream of winning the series in Australia. That would be a wonderful achievement, and I dare venture really would mark the beginning of a new “Golden Era” of Welsh rugby.

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