England triumph but Wales falter against Japan
Hugh Godwin details promising wins for England and Ireland but finds Welsh worries in a summer of much-changed national sides
Depleted England can be proud of series triumph ...
Argentina is the land where brutal scrummaging vies with the tango and great steaks as a national motif, so the opening 25 minutes of the first Test in Salta, during which England put three tries past a back-pedalling pack, was an embarrassment for the hosts, and food for thought for the fixture-makers who have forced the top Pumas to choose between gaining release for a June incoming tour or for the now higher-profile Rugby Championship with New Zealand, South Africa and Australia from August to October. The absence of umpteen Europe-based stalwarts left Argentina on the end of a first double Test defeat at home to England, and the tourists' first series win in the country since 1981.
England can nevertheless be proud both of their more expansive play, guided by Gloucester fly-half Freddie Burns, and the emphatic nature of the clean sweep under the captaincy of Tom Wood in the absence at the outset of eight current internationals away with the Lions plus Alex Goode, Dylan Hartley, Chris Robshaw, Brad Barritt, Toby Flood and Chris Ashton either injured, suspended or rested.
There was more disruption between the Tests when Billy Twelvetrees and Christian Wade left for the Lions, allowing the Gloucester wing Jonny May his first cap in Saturday's second Test in Buenos Aires as England fielded their youngest back division since the loss to Wales at Wembley in 1999.
The lively atmosphere at Velez Sarsfield was picked up by the Pumas with a return to tighter, pick-and-go tactics, but May's fellow wing debutant Marland Yarde of London Irish helped himself to two tries to add to a pair of penalty tries for England's dominant forwards in a 51-26 victory.
Yarde received an expert final pass for his second try from Kyle Eastmond, who scored one himself with a jinking run and was another new cap on tour alongside Wade, flanker Matt Kvesic, tighthead prop Henry Thomas, fly-half Steve Myler (from the bench in Buenos Aires) and the hefty Saracens-bound No 8 Billy Vunipola, who claimed a hat-trick in the slightly stuttering, non-cap win over a Consur XV that began the tour in Uruguay, and trundled to another try in Salta.
Face of the future: Matt Kvesic (Gloucester, flanker)
If England are to make good on head coach Stuart Lancaster's promise to play a fast game with a footballing inside centre, a tearaway open-side flanker would be part of the plan. Gloucester's new signing Kvesic, 21, advanced his case with his first two full caps in Argentina, his stunning statistics in Salta including 29 tackles, 17 breakdowns hit and seven carries.
... while Wales are Japan's first top-rank victims
Japan was not so much the Land of the Rising Sun as a total eclipse for the Six Nations champions when they lost the second of their two Tests in Tokyo on Saturday – a first win for the Japanese over one of rugby's traditional powers, albeit in compromised circumstances for the Welsh. In the absence of 15 players with the Lions and six others injured, Wales made a questionable lurch towards full-on development rather than call on the likes of James Hook, Paul James, Matthew Rees, Ryan Jones, Dwayne Peel, Duncan Jones, Jonathan Thomas or Lee Byrne. If there was a sense they had got away with it by winning the first match in Osaka 22-18, nine days ago, they could not back it up in hot and humid Tokyo, Japan prevailing 23-8.
"One to 23 we have to be on the money," was how one of the few available front-line players, Dan Biggar, described the second Test task, but the Japanese know a devalued currency when they see one and they seized a first full international win over Wales at the ninth attempt. On Wales's tour to Japan in 2001, which also coincided with the Lions in Australia, they won both Tests comfortably, scoring 117 points. This time in Osaka, the caretaker coaches Robin McBryde and Shaun Edwards fielded seven new caps, and the deciding score was a penalty by the replacement fly-half Rhys Patchell in the 79th minute. But Wales were outscored two tries to one, ending their run of no tries conceded in the previous four internationals.
The try count was the same in Tokyo, where Wales included two more debutants in flanker Josh Navidi and replacement hooker Scott Baldwin, while Saracens' Rhys Gill was recalled to boost the scrum, but Japan had 312 caps to Wales's meagre 102, and led 6-3 at half-time. Wales's pocket rocket Harry Robinson put himself about, and his fellow wing Tom Prydie scored for an 8-6 lead. Japan, guided by the former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones, responded with quick recycling, breaking first-up tackles, for their tries by Craig Wing and Michael Broadhurst, an Australian-born centre and New Zealander flanker respectively.
Face of the future: Liam Williams (Scarlets, full-back)
Losing his shaggy locks for the Japanese summer, the exciting understudy to Leigh Halfpenny was unchanged in full-on commitment, solidity under the high ball and wide range of defensive and attacking skills. A prime weapon with turnover ball, the 22-year-old has the awareness to bring team-mates into play.
Scotland give South Africa a good run for their money
International competitions are appearing like pop-up coffee shops, with a Tbilisi Cup here, a Nations Cup there, and Scotland headed to South Africa to take part in the new Quad Series, which sounds like one for the muscle men.
This mini-tournament comprising two of Scotland's 2015 World Cup pool opponents – the Springboks and Samoa – plus Six Nations rivals Italy began badly with the Scots' first ever loss to the Samoans, 27-17 in Durban. Handing out six new caps, Scotland fell to a blast from the Premiership's past in the mountainous form of Alesana Tuilagi, once of Leicester, now playing alongside Shane Williams in the Japanese league. Tuilagi scored two tries while Scotland felt "bullied", according to the scorer of their solitary try, Sean Lamont.
Moving to new Test venue Nelspruit on the high veldt on Saturday, the aim for Scotland without their four Lions, and a handful of others injured, including the captain Kelly Brown and fly-half Tom Heathcote, was to find some continuity and structure. They introduced three more debutants – Tim Swinson in the second row and Tommy Seymour and Peter Murchie in the back three – under the new captaincy of scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, and gave the world's second-ranked team, South Africa, a magnificent run for their rands despite another defeat, 30-17.
Fly-half Ruaridh Jackson went off before half-time when Jannie du Plessis smashed his shoulder, but Alasdair Strokosch did good work at the breakdown and nicely constructed tries by the centres Matt Scott and Alex Dunbar had Scotland an amazing 17-6 ahead after 45 minutes before the inevitable Bok resurgence.
It may be unsettling for the Scots to have had Dean Ryan as forwards coach temporarily for this year's Six Nations Championship, and to now wait for their new head coach Vern Cotter to arrive from Clermont Auvergne. But this tournament will be viewed positively if interim head coach Scott Johnson can engineer a win over Italy in the third/fourth place match in Pretoria this Saturday.
Face of the future: Ian Madigan (Leinster, fly-half)
Jonny Sexton won't quite be out of sight, out of mind when he makes his big-money move to Racing Métro in France next season, but the vacancy he leaves as Leinster fly-half is a great opportunity for the 24-year-old Madigan to press for further honours. Combines solid basic skills with a dash of daring.
Ireland have a ball in the United States and Canada
With wins in both Tests against the United States in Houston and Canada in Toronto, watched by record rugby crowds for each country, and encouraging performances by Emerging Ireland in the IRB Tbilisi Cup and the Under-20s, who ran mighty New Zealand close in the World Junior Championship in France, the summer vibes are positive for the Irish.
Incoming head coach Joe Schmidt maintained a watching brief as Les Kiss – normally the defence specialist – picked a team to face the US including maybe only Peter O'Mahony, Simon Zebo and Mike Ross who would be considered likely starters if all the Lions and other absentees had been available. And Zebo was whisked away to Australia too before the Canada match.
Munster back-rower O'Mahony took on the captaincy in the absence of Jamie Heaslip, Brian O'Driscoll and Rory Best, while Leinster's wizardly Ian Madigan started in his favourite fly-half role after two previous internationals as a replacement centre. Devin Toner, at lock, was another to look comfortable with greater responsibility, overcoming some initial wobbles in the line-out during the 15-12 first-Test win over the Eagles, when Ireland's starting XV had a total of 119 caps, the lowest since the match against England in 1962 when the great Willie John McBride made his debut.
The two starting debutants in Houston – Connacht full-back Robbie Henshaw and Ulster's inside centre Stuart Olding – gained purring reviews from Schmidt, who is working to recruit a forwards coach and kicking coach and will take over in his own right for the opening November Test against Samoa, while flanker Tommy O'Donnell and front-rowers Mike Sherry and Jamie Hagan won first caps off the bench.
Madigan's five penalties held the edge over four for the US by Saracens' Chris Wyles, but Saturday was much more clear-cut as Canada were beaten 40-14 with Leinster's Fergus McFadden scoring three tries to go with those by Darren Cave, Andrew Trimble and O'Donnell.
Face of the future: Matt Scott (Edinburgh, centre)
After just over a year in the Scotland team, Scott looks to have provided the answer to the long search for a quality centre. The 22-year-old plays with his head up and used his good footwork to make his try against South Africa on Saturday, while his fast hands fed Alex Dunbar for Scotland's second score.
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