Rugby Union: Talking Points From The Weekend’s World Cup Warm-up Action

1) England’s wing men show the way

Get the ball to Anthony Watson and Jonny May. England wings down the years, from David Duckham to the Underwood brothers, have tended to be left hungry for the ball. No doubt a strict diet was deemed good for them. But the two that played against France made a compelling case for full inclusion in all attacking movements. Henry Slade and Sam Burgess did their best in general to keep the supply chain functioning, but strangely enough, it was the primary source that kept the wingers a little short of ball. The forwards were not at their most solid, which is useful to discover in August. By September the problems will have been sorted. To have an England pack underperforming and wingers playing out of their skin is much better than the other way round. Eddie Butler

Related: Chris Robshaw: ‘A big challenge for the team is how to relax’

• Lancaster rues pressure from sin-bins and penalties • How England’s players rated against France 2) France fire warm-up warning shots

Louis Picamoles passed more in this game than he has in his career to date. And very good at it the No8 was too. France in general were keen to keep the ball alive. It is the state of the French rugby mind that keeps opponents worried. They are less worried when France play up-the-jumper Anglo-Saxon rugby. Sofiane Guitoune and Brice Dulin were not particularly menacing out wide – not nearly as easy on the eye as May and Watson – but if France start churning and rolling and slipping their passes away everywhere else on the field, they will be right in the frame at the business end of the World Cup. They admit that the Six Nations of the Saint-Andre era has not totally engaged them, but swore that they would be ready for the 2015 World Cup. There were glimpses that they might be true to their word. Eddie Butler

• Match report: England 19-14 France • Eddie Butler: England alright on opening night but room to improve 3) Ireland nearly learned a lesson

If coaches really do learn more from defeat than victory, Joe Schmidt came close to getting the biggest lesson of his career as Ireland’s head coach when Scotland led three times in the second half in Dublin on Saturday evening. The side ranked 12th in the world leading the side recently elevated to second – it would have been quite a reverse. The last time they met Ireland won by 30 points. Mike Averis

• Match report: Ireland 28-22 Scotland

4) Scotland’s open experiment pays off

Scotland are the latest country to flirt with the idea of using two open-side flankers before the World Cup. The coach, Vern Cotter, has teamed two Kiwis, Hugh Blake and Blair Cowan, with a Zimbabwean, David Denton, and with some success, notably when Denton dumped Ireland prop Mike Ross on his backside on the way to setting up the Cowan try to tie the scores at half-time, having spent the first 20 minutes tackling anything and everything to keeps the Scots in the game. Mike Averis

• Rugby World Cup 2015: day-by-day fixture schedule 5) Australia have staying power despite All Blacks defeat Israel Folau celebrates his try against New Zealand. Israel Folau celebrates his try against New Zealand. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

One of the few consolations for Australia as they followed their feat of winning the Rugby Championship by defeating New Zealand with a Bledisloe Cup defeat to the All Blacks was Israel Folau’s try, the last score of the game. What the Wallabies have shown this year is staying power. They took their first championship title for four years thanks to their performances in the second-half of matches: an average score of 6-8 before the break turned into one of 22-6 after it as they came from behind to defeat South Africa and New Zealand. They scored 47 points to five in the final quarter of the three games, proof of their greater strength in depth that has given head coach Michael Cheika more options from the bench, including a scrum that does not go on vacation 50 minutes in. Having been in charge for less than a year and only eight Test matches, he used Saturday’s match to look at new combinations and was criticised for breaking up a winning side. As Australia know from experience, a World Cup campaign is as much about what you have in reserve as your first choice players and from a point where they were being tipped to finish third in their pool below England and Wales, they are back among the contenders to go all the way. Paul Rees

• Cooper unjustly cast as Wallabies’ Bledisloe Cup villain 6) New Zealand: a country for old men

Mugs one week, heroes the next, reflected the New Zealand head coach, Steve Hansen, after the All Blacks turned defeat in Sydney into victory over Australia in Auckland. Mugs is not a word often directed at the No1 ranked team in the world who, like 2011, have not taken the fast lane on the road to the World Cup, preferring to ease their way through the gears. They fielded seven of the side which started the World Cup final four years ago with two more on the bench. The defeat to the Wallabies seven days before, especially the manner of it, overrun at forward and short of ideas behind, had led to Corporal Jones panicking about Dad’s Army not being fit to battle. Up stepped Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Tony Woodcock to reinforce the argument about class being permanent while Richie McCaw marked his record 142nd cap with a masterclass at the breakdown. Hansen will name his 31 for the World Cup at the end of the month, and while there will be a touch of youth in the form of Nehe Milner-Skudder, at the possible expense of Israel Dagg, the bulk of the squad will be the tried,tested and true. The speed at the way they turn defence into attack,reacting instantly to opportunities, is what has marked them apart for most of this decade and it continues to do so. At the end of a week when Wales had dropped their most dangerous runner in broken play, James Hook, Carter showed the profit of having someone who steps out of challenges. Paul Rees

• All Blacks’ centre partnership leaves Rugby World Cup rivals green with envy 7) Lambie establishes himself as first choice

At long last, a 2015 Test win for South Africa. They were ponderous and disorganised in last week’s shock defeat at home to Argentina, but looked a far more settled, efficient side with Patrick Lambie restored to the No10 shirt in place of Handré Pollard.

No one could blame Pollard for the Springboks’ bottom-placed finish in the Rugby Championship, but Lambie made a huge difference here. Save one missed touch from a penalty, his kicking was flawless both from hand and tee and his drop goal shortly after the break effectively sealed the game. His link-up play too was outstanding – one cut out pass to put Bryan Habana into space in the second half was a highlight – and there can surely be no doubt now that South Africa will be a more dangerous prospect at the World Cup with Lambie dictating play. Dan Lucas

Related: England v France: Rugby World Cup warm-up – in pictures

• Lack of black players in South Africa team puts race under spotlight 8) Are Argentina overly reliant on Marcos Ayerza?

First a caveat: taking Marcos Ayerza, one of the world’s best props and a player who, remarkably, makes Premiership scrums something crowds actually want to see, out of this Argentina line-up is like removing Lionel Messi from their football teams: sure, they’re still an outstanding bunch of forwards, but you’re losing someone who is going to get the better of their opposite number nine times out of 10.

So it proved on Saturday, when South Africa’s pack, while not 100% dominant, at least did not suffer the same kind of pummelling they took in Durban a week previously. Ayerza withdrew from the Pumas side shortly before kick-off, so interest in the first scrum, already guaranteed to be high, was at a level that can rarely have been seen in a pre-season friendly. After a couple of resets, the referee, Glen Jackson, awarded a penalty to South Africa. Lambie nervelessly slotted it from 40m and the tone was set for the Springboks to edge another bruising, forward-dominated clash. Dan Lucas

  
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