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Disappointing weekend as England, Scotland and Wales all lose

The weekend of the 16/17th November 2012 will not be one that is looked back on with much pleasure by the Home Unions.

It was destined to be a problem right from when the fixtures were confirmed and Ireland decided to insult Fiji by not awarding caps against them. That they beat the Pacific Islanders 53-0 with 8 try’s may have justified the decision to some, but to many of us it felt uneasy.

It is a truth though that when the Home Unions play Pacific Island sides, we except them to win, and that was what everyone expected of Wales on Friday night against Samoa.

What were treated to instead though was a real ding dong battle of a Test match with Samoa eventually running out 26-19 winners over a sorry Welsh side.

Let us take nothing away from Samoa, they were magnificent, and in truth they dominated the game from the moment the crossed the whitewash in the first minute, but Wales were truly awful.

This time last year it would have been simply unimaginable to write a piece where the lack of creativity in the Welsh backline was a major theme, but here we are today and that is exactly the case. Wales simply looked devoid of ideas in the backline.

Surely off the back of that performance it is only a matter of time before James Hook is restored to the Welsh backline? With Shane Williams gone, they desperately require some subtlety and Hook is the man with the most creativity on offer.

England were suffering from the same problem over at Twickenham on Saturday, the burgeoning creativity seen against Fiji was expertly nullified by the Wallaby backline. The Aussies threw up Adam Ashley Cooper in the 13 channel, forced Toby Flood to either take the ball on himself or ship it back inside.

The breakdown was a disaster area, with the Wallabies Michael Hooper looking every bit the equal of the injured David Pocock. What will have hurt England particularly deeply though was the scrum, Australia won several penalties there in a dominant display. Andrew Sheridan must have been smiling ruefully in his Toulon apartment.

The one positive for England was the performance of their replacements, with Joe Launchbury, Mako Vunipola and Mike Brown making a real difference to England’s performance in the final quarter.

A final score of 20-14 was probably actually flatteringly close, though had England’s decision making been better they may have kicked at goal rather than for touch or taking quick taps and may well have sneaked a win. Such are the margins of Test match rugby.

Scotland were probably the best of the Home Unions playing a Test, however they still lost 21-10 to South Africa. A win though was never likely despite confident noises emanating from the Scots camp.

A shaky first half performance gave South Africa a platform they were never likely to give up but a spirited second half performance, from substitute scrum half Henry Pyrgos in particular, saw Scotland close the gap. With some more clinical execution they might well have sneaked this one.

From a Lions perspective it was a poor week, one that Warren Gatland will not well, and Leigh Halfpenny and Toby Flood looked assured from the tee.

We try to pick our Lions team again, once more based purely on performances at the weekend (excluding Ireland who didn’t play a Test), a tricky task this week:

1. Mako Vunipola, England – Made a difference when he came on, solid.

2. Tom Youngs, England – Another good performance, hit his lineout jumpers well too.

3. Euan Murray, Scotland – Always dependable, not many can get one over the South African scrum but this man has made a habit of it.

4. Joe Launchbury, England – Excellent from the bench, demanding a starting spot next week.

5. Luke Charteris, Wales – Made a difference coming on for Evans, will surely start next week.

6. Dan Lydiate, Wales – Currently injured, Wales’ performances in his absence are proving just how big a player he is for them.

7. Justin Tipuric, Wales – Did ok.

8. David Denton, Scotland – So abrasive with the ball in hand, looking back to his old self.

9. Henry Pyrgos, Scotland – Made a real difference when he came on, lively, spirited, and great work for his try.

10. Toby Flood, England – Best of a bad bunch. Kicked his goals.

11. Mike Brown, England – Came off the bench to the unfamiliar wing position, did well ran hard and straight. Might seem simple but nobody else was.

12. Jamie Roberts, Wales – At least matched the Samoans for physicality with a couple of monster hits.

13. Nick De Luca, Scotland – One of his better performances, can be maddeningly inconsistent but when it all clicks he looks a good player.

14. Chris Ashton, England – Looked dangerous on the rare occasions he got the ball. Looks just abut at the end of his tether with Tuilagi inside him though.

15. Leigh Halfpenny, Wales – Kept his side in the game with his goal kicking, dangerous with the ball in hand, Wales’ best player this week.

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