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NORTH CLOSES THE GAP ON SOUTH

It is a bit hard to know quite what to make of England’s game against Fiji.  With non existence resources and virtually no time together the Fiji team had the feel of a Barbarians side - loaded with talent but not a lot of structure or playing time.  I would dearly love to see Fiji get some more support from World Rugby to allow these wonderful players to really compete against the top sides. 

With a plan floating around to create a professional team in the Pacific islands to play in the Super 15 that sounds to me like a sensible and practical way to keep all that talent at home so they can play for the country of their birth. 

There were still some cracking performances from the England lads and our forwards really set a platform for some pretty slick backs play.  Joe Launchbury stood out for me and I think he is right back to his best which should mean when everyone is fit and available next year Eddie will be burning the midnight oil when it comes to selecting his locks. Paper, scissor, rock may be the way forward.

It was good to see Scotland get that narrow win against Argentina – for once being on the right side of a close score.  With the normal trusty boot of Greg Laidlaw missing a penalty in the dying minutes it looked all over for the Scots.  However Scotland showed almost New Zealand like levels of tenacity to keep playing and somehow well after 80 minutes finally won another penalty that this time Greg nailed.  Whew. 

It is well known that I like a nice piece of beef and the Argentineans are known for theirs on both the Pampas and the rugby pitch.    I have played against some absolute monsters in the front row who whilst not the most mobile around the pitch loved their day job of grinding their opposition prop into the dirt.  Historically known for their bruising scrimmaging and giant forward pack the Pumas have however really developed their playing style.

Argentina has morphed into a running, ball playing total rugby side that is a joy to watch.  They are a team that has a willingness to have a go so will make  a dangerous opposition for England on Saturday at Twickenham.  England are also developing and I am loving the way the team keeps improving with Eddie Jones beginning to build up strength in every position and providing clear game plans and structures for the guys.

We are now seeing a lot more agreement on who should be in the England team.  I am afraid for quite a while there was very little consensus from fans or pundits on who should make the match day 23 with sometimes almost two completely different starting XV’s suggested.  Now the team almost picks itself.  We all might quibble  about a couple of positions but very similar to the 2003 team it is becoming a consistent squad with any changes made gradually and the players able to build up an understanding with each other.

Eddie has however caused some eye brow raising in that fine city of Bath by dropping last week’s Man of the Match Rokoduguni.  The Fijian flyer had a fine game and looked quite at home at that level.  Not that I am an expert on back play but maybe Eddie feels Jonny May adds more balance to the team and Elliot Daly gives him cover for centre and full back.

After Ireland’s heroic tussle with an All Black beast hell bent on revenge there must be some very bruised bodies in Dublin.  Not much comfort to the gutted Irish players after the final whistle but they have been the only team to have really put the All Blacks under pressure this year.  Although Ireland lost  it was an even contest without the customary ‘hope crushing’  try flourish we normally get from New Zealand in the final quarter of the game. 

Some splendid performances from the boys in green including a rampaging run from young prop Tadhg Furlong who was knocking All Blacks over like skittles.  Watch out for this young man!  Ireland face Australia this weekend and that is going to be a hard one for them.  I would have said if they were playing Australia fresh they would beat them but so much would have been taken out of them emotionally and physically last week there may not be much left. 

As for Wales they just have to find another gear somewhere.  A massive crowd turned up last week to see them take on Japan and were expecting a fairly comfortable victory.  Instead a spirited Japan showing no little skill caused Wales all sorts of problems and so nearly took a well deserved draw.  With a very weak South Africa  the visitors this weekend Wales have another chance to put on a performance.  Faletau, one of their talismanic players, is back which will give them a boost and surely a team as talented as Wales can find a way to bring the Millennium stadium to its feet.

The report reads quite well for the Northern Hemisphere so far with only Wales underperforming.  For me I see the gap beginning to close with the Southern hemisphere.  There is now a growing glimmer of hope that the British & Irish Lions next year could – just whisper it – sneak a win against the mighty All Blacks.