The end-of-year Tests kicked off with a bang this weekend — Twickenham excepted — as Ireland overwhelmed South Africa, Scotland edged Samoa and Australia beat Wales, again.
But who caught the eye and who had a weekend to forget?
Player of the weekend
Adam Coleman (Australia). If proof were needed that stats do not always tell the whole story of a player’s involvement in a match, it arrived at the Principality Stadium where Coleman’s attacking numbers read: metres run – one, clean breaks – one, defenders beaten – one. The most important stat of course, though, is that those single digits combined to produce a crucial try just after Wales had found a way back into the contest. Kurtley Beale’s second-half steal proved the game-clinching score but Coleman’s came at a vital juncture in the game. Outside of his try-scoring exploits, the lock put in a high-energy performance that set the tone for victory.
Flop of the weekend
South Africa. No wins in four turned into no wins in five for the Springboks in Dublin as the pressure mounted on coach Allister Coetzee. Ireland put a gloss on their victory with three tries in the last 10 minutes at the Aviva Stadium but while that, as Sean O’Brien admitted afterwards, flattered the hosts it in no way excuses a flat Springbok performance. The visitors played with a certain degree of industry but they just didn’t possess the quality to breach the Irish line. As South Africa prepare for games against France, Italy and Wales Coetzee has plenty of work to do.
Coaching call of the weekend
Joe Schmidt’s decision to include Bundee Aki in his starting XV for the visit of South Africa had attracted column inches in Ireland, but ultimately proved the correct call as his side negated the Springboks’ midfield threat. Aki put in 15 tackles on debut as he fronted up against the physicality of Damian de Allande and Jesse Kriel. It was a good day for Schmidt, as his picks on the wings Andrew Conway and Jacob Stockdale both scored while Darren Sweetnam impressed off the bench.
Biggest refereeing/TMO call
Sonny Bill Williams’ brain fade led to one of the more peculiar decisions in recent memory. The All Blacks midfielder was in the in-goal area when he illegally batted the ball over the dead ball line to prevent France winger Yoann Huget from contesting a cross field kick. While that is allowed in Williams’ former sport — rugby league — it’s considered foul play in rugby union. He was yellow carded by referee Angus Gardner, and after a discussion from the TMO, France were awarded a penalty try. The latter decision sent social media into a frenzy, but to the letter of the law it was the right call as a player is ultimately ‘invisible’ once foul play has taken place. — Nick Bewley
Storyline to keep an eye on
Eddie Jones became a social media sensation Saturday afternoon when he sent a pen into orbit as he lambasted his England players with a few choice words for their indiscipline against Argentina. Jones has pinpointed this November as a chance to test the depth of his squad, but while he rested Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje against the Pumas, he clearly expects their replacements to play at the same intensity as those they are replacing. With Australia due to visit Twickenham this weekend, his players are well aware that they will have to raise their game if they are to secure another win. They definitely aren’t that stupid.