And so the Northern Hemisphere June tour comes to an end and with it some very interesting results going forward. Ireland were well beaten in the first test against New Zealand, then gave the All Blacks one of the frights of their lives when being seconds away from drawing with them until Dan Carter’s injury time winning drop goal in the second test, but on Saturday were humiliated in the third and final test in Hamilton, failing to score a single point and shedding sixty!
It just goes to prove what happens in test match rugby if you are even slightly off your game. The November internationals will seem a long way away for a country that can boast double Heineken Cup winners Leinster but produce a performance like that in New Zealand.
Wales lost all three test matches in Australia by a collective margin of 11 points. Although we should commend the Grand Slam winners’ competitiveness against extremely tough opposition away from home I know the Welsh players, to a man, will be far from happy with their 3-0 whitewash. They did not go down under to nearly win. They came to win and the biggest lesson from their tour is that they must learn how to turn narrow defeats into victories.
Scotland’s fortunes, so low after a Six Nations wooden spoon, are on the up after their summer of touring. The highlight was doubtlessly their 9-6 win in Australia in admittedly appalling conditions, but they followed this up with wins in Fiji and Samoa, thus creating the beginnings of a winning momentum and gaining many friends along the way for being a major rugby power happy to play the Pacific Islands in their own back yard. The other big nations should take note.
And what of England? No wins in three test matches in South Africa does not sound wonderfully positive but, strangely, the positives far outweigh the negatives as the 42-man squad returned home today. The first test in Durban saw England refuse to lie down and close the margin of defeat to a single score.
The second test in Johannesburg saw England staring at a thumping but come back to just four points before falling to a late try. The final test in Port Elizabeth went much better. Solid defence and impressive character resulted in a well-deserved draw to end South Africa’s winning streak of wins and set the Autumn tests up nicely for Stuart Lancaster’s men.
The head coach now has greater strength in depth now and young players who have tasted the intensity of test match rugby, Southern Hemisphere rugby. They are far from the finished article but I have seen England teams capitulate in the Southern Hemisphere many times over the years in June.
The next step is to win at least two, and preferably three out of the four autumn tests against Fiji, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. On the evidence of the past three weeks don’t bet against them.