All Blacks, England, Scotland, Italy, Australia pick up rugby wins
DUBLIN — New Zealand held off a fierce Ireland fightback to win 21-9 on Saturday two weeks after the Irish ended the All Blacks’ record 18-match win streak.
The rugby test in front of 51,000 roaring fans at sold-out Lansdowne Road was played at a ferocious pace as collisions forced out Irish starters Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Sexton, and CJ Stander with first-half injuries. Henshaw had to be immobilized and stretchered off.
The visitors — determined to exact revenge for Ireland’s 40-29 triumph on Nov. 5 in Chicago, its first victory over the All Blacks in 111 years — stifled Irish scoring opportunities with bruising defense, last-ditch turnovers, and frequent disruptive fouls.
“Whilst it wasn’t always pretty, we’ve got to be pretty happy with the result,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said. “In Chicago, we turned up five percent off mentally and they punished us for it. Today, we answered some questions about our team’s character.”
Ireland scored five tries in Chicago, but none at home.
The All Blacks overwhelmed Ireland at the start, taking a 7-0 lead after just three minutes as flyhalf Beauden Barrett’s cross-field kick found an open Malakai Fekitoa on the left wing just outside Ireland’s five-meter line. The center sidestepped scrumhalf Conor Murray and lunged across for the opening try.
Barrett, named this week as world player of the year, kicked the conversion and doubled New Zealand’s lead in the 14th by running straight through a gap in the Irish defense for an easy try. His delay in touching down the ball nearly cost New Zealand as Sexton caught him from behind and came within an inch of holding up the ball.
“That was nearly embarrassing,” Barrett said. “I was trying to get the ball right under the posts, but first things first, I’ve got to get that ball down.”
The Irish in reply could muster only two first-half penalties, one each by Sexton and his replacement Paddy Jackson, despite forcing New Zealand down to 14 men after scrumhalf Aaron Smith was sin-binned. New Zealand committed seven first-half penalties to Ireland’s one but led 14-6.
Ireland attacked with renewed aggression in the second half and kept New Zealand pinned within its own half for lengthy stretches, but repeatedly spilled the ball as it neared the All Blacks’ tryline.
“We couldn’t score that try,” Irish captain Rory Best said. “If you want to beat the All Blacks, you’ve got to score more than nine points.”
Reflecting the imbalance in possession, Ireland completed 243 passes to New Zealand’s 134, and won 18 lineouts to New Zealand’s seven, while the All Blacks made 166 tackles to Ireland’s 76.
“That was a helluva tough match, a real test,” All Blacks captain Kieran Read said. “The Irish play a great brand of footie. They hold the ball well. I’m pretty sore.”
After halftime, Fekitoa was sin-binned for a high tackle on Simon Zebo, but Ireland could parlay that advantage only into another Jackson penalty that narrowed the score to 14-9.
The All Blacks struck the killer blow soon after Fekitoa returned from the bin, completing a counterattack of brilliant inter-passing with his second converted try in the 66th.
Hansen questioned why referee Jaco Peyper called 14 penalties against his team and just four against Ireland.
“I can’t say all the penalties were right or wrong, but the refs said they were,” Hansen said. “I’d like to see some consistency throughout the game. I saw the same things happening to us.”
As for Fekitoa’s yellow card, when he swung his arm into Zebo’s neck as the Irish winger sprinted down the left touchline, Hansen called that “sloppy play, not malicious.”
New Zealand completes its tour next Saturday versus France in Paris, while Ireland tries to end Australia’s grand slam bid in Dublin.
Irish coach Joe Schmidt said he feared Stander, Henshaw, and Sexton all might be unavailable against the Wallabies.
“We’ve got a lot of head injuries to deal with … and see how those guys come through the week,” he said. “Some of those guys may not get the opportunity to play next week and that would be very disappointing.”
England 58, Fiji 15
England ended up taking care of Fiji on and off the field at Twickenham in a record 58-15 rugby win on Saturday.
The result and England’s 12th successive win were in the bag within the first half hour, as the host side rocketed to 31-0 with five tries against a flimsy defense.
Then the England players showed how charitable they can be by gifting Fiji three consecutive tries bridging halftime. None of them were converted, and nobody believed that a comeback win was possible by Fiji.
England just needed to get serious again. Three minutes after Fiji’s third and last score, England kicked to the right corner, drove the lineout, and captain Dylan Hartley scored. It was the perfect “bore-them-to-death” play demanded by coach Eddie Jones. Only the try was ruled out by obstruction.
England reset. Flyhalf George Ford, the star of England’s show with his deft short and long passes, sent winger Semesa Rokoduguni spearing across field to the left corner. Back the ball came, and fullback Alex Goode scored England’s sixth try from an overlap.
In quick succession, center Jonathan Joseph, Rokoduguni and lock Joe Launchbury all scored their second tries of the game, England matched its highest score against Fiji, and set a new mark by margin.
“If we want greatness in our team we have to maintain that intensity after racing into an early lead,” Jones said.
“There were some great individual performances but there are obviously areas we have to improve on against Argentina (next weekend), which is going to be a tricky game.
“We played really good English rugby. Some of George Ford’s alignment on some of the phase ball was absolutely outstanding, the best I have seen for a long time.”
Before the match, England officials also showed the depth of their generosity. From expected gate takings of 10 million pounds on Saturday, the English agreed to pay the Fiji Rugby Union 75,000 pounds, half of what was requested, as a gesture of goodwill, because England hasn’t visited Fiji since 1991.
Each England player was receiving 22,000 pounds for the match, compared to 400 pounds for each Fijian. The disparity was very much evident from the opening kickoff.
Scotland 19, Argentina 16
Captain Greig Laidlaw kicked over a 30-meter penalty in injury time for Scotland to beat Argentina 19-16 in a rugby test at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Laidlaw missed a winning chance in the 78th minute when his penalty shot hit the near right post, his only miss of a tense, feisty match. But Scotland regathered the ball, and flyhalf Finn Russell’s second dropped goal attempt was charged down.
Still, Scotland kept attacking, moved out of its half and into Argentina’s, until it received a penalty from New Zealand referee Ben O’Keeffe for a defender not using his hands in a tackle. Given a second chance, Laidlaw didn’t miss and broke the tie.
“Thank goodness for the second chance,” Laidlaw said. “I was disappointed with the first one, that right-hand post doesn’t like me at the minute – I missed one there last week (against Australia) as well.
“I thought we stuck in extremely well in a tight game, and we got to the right end of the field.”
The result meant Scotland, from No. 9 in the World Rugby rankings, will rise above No. 8 Argentina. The rankings become significant in May, when top-eight teams are seeded for the draw for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. A seeding helps a team avoid facing two major teams in the pools. Argentina has one more tour match to affect its ranking, against England next weekend, while Scotland will play Georgia and have to navigate a Six Nations.
Perhaps because of what was at stake, and how even the teams were, their match didn’t really get going on a dry evening until the 50th, with the first try.
Until then, Laidlaw and Pumas flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez kicked two penalties each, but both sides sprinkled their effort with errors. Intent was there, as they waived off kickable penalties to go for tries, but struggled to get going.
Then, in the 50th, came some brilliance and luck. Pumas inside center Juan Martin Hernandez weighted his cross-field kick to the left wing, where Matias Orlando got outside Scotland’s Sean Maitland, picked up the ball off the first bounce and ran over Stuart Hogg to score.
Scotland scored its only try four minutes later. Attacking from a scrum, center Huw Jones broke past Orlando and offloaded in a double tackle to an unmarked Maitland.
It was 13-13, and Jones limped off, followed by Pumas livewire scrumhalf Martin Landajo.
Sanchez and Laidlaw traded more penalties to leave it tied going into the last 12 minutes. Scotland played them in the right half, and a kick determined the outcome for the third time in the last four of these matchups.
Italy 20, South Africa 18
Italy heaped more misery on South Africa by beating the Springboks 20-18 for the first time on Saturday.
South Africa led 12-10 at halftime but a mixture of sloppy mistakes and Italian resilience in front of a roused home crowd at Stadio Franchi earned the Azzurri their greatest victory, just a week after they were blown away by New Zealand 68-10.
“Today, we rode the roller coaster and we survived by sheer heart and courage,” Italy coach Conor O’Shea said after his fifth match in charge. “They weren’t just brave, they were heroic.”
In the last six weeks, the embattled South Africans have suffered their heaviest home loss at the hands of New Zealand, drawn with the Barbarians, and lost to England last weekend for the first time in 10 years.
The Springboks won all 12 previous encounters against Italy since their first in 1995, all by 16 points or more. This result plumbed new depths.
“It is definitely the darkest moment of my coaching career, the toughest,” Boks coach Allister Coetzee said. “But I don’t want to look at it emotionally now because emotions are high. It’s really difficult, it’s a difficult position to be in. I can only congratulate Italy on an outstanding performance from a very young team.”
Australia 25, France 23
Flyhalf Bernard Foley stepped up at the last minute and delivered, scoring 15 points to lead Australia past France 25-23 on Saturday.
Foley replaced an injured Quade Cooper at the last minute, and scored one try, two penalties, and converted the Wallabies’ two other tries in a thrilling encounter at the Stade de France.
With the test not part of Australia’s attempt at a grand slam of the home unions, a host of regulars were rested. But the odds improved when Cooper’s ankle injury in training didn’t pass muster, forcing a start on the in-form Foley.
France was in a buoyant mood after a convincing win over Samoa last week, and unveiled some showy moves. But it was made to pay for poor goalkicking, and it was no surprise when Camille Lopez’s attempted dropped goal winner in injury time drifted wide left.
Playmaker Wesley Fofana and winger Virimi Vakatawa offered some dash, but they were largely contained by Australia.
The French kicked one early penalty and missed another before Vakatawa scored a superb try at the end of a move ignited by winger Noa Nakaitaci. Machenaud missed the conversion and Australia hit back.
Luke Morahan burst through the defense and earned a penalty that Foley converted. The visitors then went in front following a powerful scrum push, forcing Charles Ollivon to collapse the maul on the line. The French flanker was sin-binned and Australia was awarded a penalty try converted by Foley for a 10-8 lead.
Following a Foley penalty from 40 meters out, the French replied before halftime through Maxime Machenaud’s boot, after Australia collapsed a scrum inside its 22.
France’s defense cracked under a series of powerful drives near their line. Foley received the final pass and managed to sneak into a hole to make it 18-11, then converted his try.
Vakatawa dazzled in a second-half run to the tryline, where he offloaded for flyhalf Jean-Marc Doussain to touch down.
Wallabies center Tevita Kuridrani immediately restored his team’s lead with an acrobatic finish in the corner after France defense failed to close him down.
Back came France, as Nakaitaci surged through the midfield and Fofana touched down following excellent passes. Machenaud converted and France was within two points. The French pushed hard to 10 meters out from the tryline, but Lopez couldn’t cap the effort.