England, Wales and Ireland all shot themselves in the foot this weekend all making the same mistake. Their collecive failure? Forgetting that rugby is a game played over 80 minutes. D'oh!
"Ireland and Wales both suffered agonising last minute losses, to New Zealand and Australia respectively. Again, though, those losses were due to the collective somnambulism which seemed to affect the northern hemisphere sides this weekend."
A frequent and inaccurate complaint made by British rugby teams is that playing in the southern hemisphere is, due to differences in the way that referees interpret the laws, like playing a different game altogether.
While it would certainly be preferable to have consistent interpretation of the rules around the world, one rule remains beyond dispute: rugby is a game played over 80 minutes. Over the course of the weekend, England, Ireland and Wales all forgot this to their cost.
The English simply failed to wake up in time for their game against South Africa and found themselves 12-0 down inside eight minutes. Tom Johnson will have nightmares for the rest of his career about the moment he let the ball slide out of the scrum and into the arms of Willem Alberts for the Springboks' first score, but the fact is that that scrum came on the back of England allowing South Africa to put together a 17 phase move after they failed to clear the opening kick-off. It was a horrible start and it cost England the game.
England competed well for the remaining 72 minutes of the game and dominated the second half. Despite this, they were still horribly static in attack and until they start getting runners hitting the gain line at speed instead of from a stationary position they stand little hope of beating opposition of this quality.
Moreover, that England came as close as 36-27 owed everything to the predatory talents of scrum half Ben Youngs. He set up Toby Flood for the first try with a sharply taken tap penalty (and the able assistance of Chris Ashton), poached the second from a wayward Springbok lineout and stole the third from a rolling maul when the South Africans clearly thought that a forward had the ball.
Bafflingly, he and hooker Dylan Hartley were taken off with nine minutes left. It was like throwing out all of your Wedgwood china and replacing it with paper plates, as replacements Lee Dickson and Lee Mears each butchered a chance to put England in a winning position. With Youngs now out of the final game in the series on Saturday with a shoulder injury, Dickson will have to play a thousand times better if they are to get close to a win.
Historically, the Springboks are not at their best in a 'dead' rubber and with a new coach in place there must be a temptation to look at newer players after two bruising matches and therefore an England victory in Port Elizabeth still looks a good bet at odds of 4.77/2.
Ireland and Wales both suffered agonising last minute losses, to New Zealand and Australia respectively. Again, though, those losses were due to the collective somnambulism which seemed to affect the northern hemisphere sides this weekend.
In Ireland's case, they took a surprise 7-0 lead, blew it with indiscipline at the breakdown and then completely failed to switch on for the start of the second half, allowing Aaron Smith to score the try which let the All Blacks back into the game. However, this was a massively improved performance on the week before and although they have injury problems going into Saturday's final game (both Gordon D'Arcy and Jamie Heaslip are definitely out) they showed that they can finally beat the All Blacks at home and could offer some back-to-lay value at odds of 12.011/1.
Wales somehow took the Australians to the final kick of the game despite simply failing to compete for large chunks of the match, including the second quarter of the game, during which they turned a 7-0 lead into a 13-7 deficit. Although Jonathan Davies' try put them into the lead shortly after the resumption, they simply cannot allow Australia so much possession and territory on Saturday if they want to take a consolation victory. The Aussies look the better bet, at odds of 1.584/7.