Four lessons learnt from the weekend’s World Cup warm-ups
One week after New Zealand laid down a marker by defeating Australia, Ireland squeezed past Scotland and England overcame France, this weekend saw yet more World Cup warm-ups as sides looked to gather some momentum ahead of the Twickenham opener on September 18th.
With four more teams in action, here’s what we learnt…
1) England’s discipline problems risk undermining their campaign
If England’s win over France at Twickenham a week earlier masked their disciplinary problems, then their 25-20 reverse in Paris this weekend brought the issue fully to the fore.
This is exactly what the warm-up games are for and Stuart Lancaster will know that, with one game left against Ireland, he still has time to remedy it. Nonetheless England looked far from their billing as 7/2 second favourites and clearly have much to do in less than a month in order to improve in the scrum, rectify sloppy line-outs and stop giving away costly penalties.
2) Cipriani made his case for selection
Of course it was not all bad news for the World Cup hosts and Lancaster’s tinkering also unearthed some selection headaches ahead of the August 31st deadline for naming the final 31-man squad.
Most notably, the introduction of Danny Cipriani at full-back sparked England into life in the last twenty minutes, with the Sale player among the late try scorers that gave the scoreline some semblance of respectability that England perhaps didn’t deserve.
3) Michalak can add some gloss to Saint-Andre’s lagging legacy
Many might count French coach Philippe Saint-Andre as a touch fortunate to still be leading this French side into the World Cup following their second consecutive fourth-place finish in this year’s Six Nations. Nonetheless, with Guy Noves not replacing him until after the tournament, Saint-Andre still has a chance to improve his legacy and in leaving Francois Trinh-Duc out of the squad in favour of the veteran Frederic Michalak, he’s shown that he’s not afraid to make the big calls to aid that cause.
Michalak starred at fly-half in France’s win, kicking 17 points to become their highest ever points scorer, and with Mathieu Bastareaud and Louis Picamoles also finding form, the French (18/1) may be clicking at just the right time.
4) Scotland finally have some hope to cling to
The Scots may not be at the forefront of many pundits’ thinking ahead of the World Cup, with Vern Cotter’s side 250/1 rank outsiders, but last week their experimental line-up pushed a much-fancied Ireland side (7/1 to win the World Cup) all the way in their narrow 28-22 loss in Dublin, and Cotter will be delighted to see his side built on that renewed confidence with a win over Italy this time round.
In truth, the match was far from inspiring for either side, but given that Henry Pyrgos’ late try secured the Scots’ first win this year, it will at least give Scottish fans some hope that they can make it out of Pool B, where Samoa, USA and Japan will join them in the race to finish second behind South Africa.
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