International summer rugby is almost upon us, 3 enthralling test series’ that promise rugby of the highest quality – I for one, am excited.
As I thought of the upcoming tours I tried to throw myself into the shoes of Gatland, Kidney and Lancaster and imagine what all 3 teams will be hoping to get out of their respective tours.
England – Building Process
After a promising 6 Nations Championship, during which they proved a lot of doubters (including yours truly) wrong the England squad and their newly appointed head coach will be on high. This buzz will have only been enhanced by the way they dismantled the Barbarians 2 weeks ago to win 57 – 26 at rugby HQ. During the record-breaking victory there were tries from youngsters Christian Wade and Jonathon Joseph which will please the England coaching staff as well as Chris Ashton regaining form to score a hat-trick of tries.
Lancaster’s first tour as national head coach takes him to South Africa, arguably the toughest place to win in world rugby. England will be looking to use the momentum from the win against Ireland and the rout against the Barbarians and throw themselves into the lion’s den with no fears. I think this is a stage in the rebuilding process since a calamitous world cup. Lancaster has named 13 un-capped players in the squad, and I believe he is trying to give a younger generation a feel for what it’s like in the ‘deep end’ of international rugby, he’s looking to the future.
Lancaster will tell the press that England want to win every game etc. and as an international coach that is how it should be. However, I think England fans should be satisfied with victory in any of the three tests which I’m confident England can achieve, however it isn’t likely; I believe winning the series is out of the question.
I think an acceptable outcome from this tour is the team performs well, doesn’t get embarrassed, shows signs that they can take on SA physically and young players in key positions handle the pressure well, such as Owen Farrell because if he can do it in SA then he’ll have proved himself in my eyes. If England can achieve that, then steps are being taken in the right direction.
Ireland – Any Win Will Do
After Ireland got through their group well in the RWC I predicted the winner of the quarter final between themselves and Wales would become serious contenders, however it wasn’t to be and they were outplayed on the day. This disappointment became inspiration to exact revenge on their Celtic counterparts at the start of the 2012 6 Nations, but a nation was left disappointed again. This set the tone for an eventually disappointing tournament, climaxing in an embarrassing defeat to the English. Ireland went down 29 – 28 to the Barbarians at Kingsholm during the week however much like Wales had already sent the majority of their squad to their summer destination. So I don’t expect them to be too disheartened by this result.
Kidney takes his team to the home of the world champions, New Zealand. I think the Irish fans may be getting slightly cagey in light of their lack of recent international success, especially considering that Leinster are European Champions and domestic play-off finalists. This cageyness may turn ugly should the All Blacks brush Ireland aside. This is why any win will do for Kidney and his men, whether it be pretty, ugly, by 1 point or 50 points they just need to get a win on this tour. Failure to do so will increase the pressure on Declan Kidney and I think he could be made a scapegoat for Ireland’s poor displays, as is the fickle nature of sport at the top level.
As well as a win, Ireland may be looking for younger players to find their feet by including 7 newcomers to international rugby in their squad. In the centre Gordon D’arcy and Brian O’Driscoll have been stalwarts for many years but they are coming to the end of their careers; so now is the time for the likes of Ulsterman Darren Cave to step up and show that he is the real deal.
The Irish should expect no less than at least a win against New Zealand. With some experienced heads in their team and class throughout the backline they have the firepower to contend with the AB’s. A series whitewash could leave Kidney’s future in doubt.
Wales – It’s Time To Prove It
What an outstanding year it has been for the Welsh team. After crashing out of the RWC in 2007 to Fiji in the quarter finals the nation has become one of the major forces in world rugby. On their way to winning the 2012 6 Nations, Triple Crown and Grand Slam the Wales team proved they could win ugly and dog out victories when they needed to. This was a sign that the 2011 RWC wasn’t just a one off; they had evolved into the complete team. Wales eased past the Barbarians last weekend with a 30 – 21 victory at the Millenium Stadium fielding a very much second choice team. They’ll be looking to use this momentum and go in to the series with Australia looking to make history as the tourists have not taken a major southern hemisphere scalp since the 1987 RWC when they beat Australia.
Wales are being talked up by a lot of people as one of the best teams in the world and now it’s time to prove it. You can’t be considered a great team until you prove yourself in the southern hemisphere, even though they are the form team in the northern hemisphere it counts for nothing until you can win a test series in the backyard of ‘the big three’.
The coaching staff and players have made their intentions on this tour very clear and failure is not an option. In a recent interview full back Leigh Halfpenny claimed that if Wales did not win the series then the tour would be a failure, and that is the view of the Welsh public.
For too long the Welsh have continually underperformed when they have taken the field against the tri nations and have failed to close out leads against all three in recent years; the supporters are tired of being good losers or the nearly men.
If Wales don’t win the series against the Wallabies then it isn’t quite a disaster but it would be extremely disappointing for the fans, players and everyone involved with Wales.
This is Wales’ best chance in my lifetime to get the ‘W’ and I firmly believe they have a better squad than their opponents this summer, many of which will still be angry with the way their ‘nearly’ RWC cup finished, losing to Australia. The potential is there, a nation expects, It’s now time for Wales to finally deliver.