France 19-12 Ireland
France withstood a brave Irish fight back to record a deserved victory in Bordeaux with François Trinh-Duc, Maxime Mermoz, Sylvain Marconnet and Guilhem Guirado impressing for the hosts. The first-half belonged to the French who went ahead with an early penalty and then extended their advantage with a well worked try on 17 minutes. France then increased their lead with another penalty from out wide.
Ireland failed to produce the fast, aggressive, exciting rugby they are known for, and had just a Ronan O’Gara penalty to show for their efforts as they trailed 13-3 at the break. There were few positives for the visitors with only Luke Fitzgerald and Andrew Trimble emerging with any credit from a lacklustre 40 minutes.
The Irish looked a different team after the restart and hit back with nine points from the boot of O’Gara and were within touching distance of the French. Despite the Bordeaux heat and humidity, Ireland played with more fluency and had the hosts under sustained pressure in their own back yard. However, in a game littered with mistakes and poor discipline, the Irish conceded two more penalties that were duly converted by the French scrum-half. Despite extensive pressure from Ireland in the final 10 minutes, France emerged with the victory in what was the quintessential “game of two-halves”.
Italy 31-24 Japan
Italy showed great heart and determination to overturn a first-half deficit and record an entertaining victory over Japan with Lorenzo Cittadini, Luke McLean, Paul Derbyshire, Paolo Canavosio and Quintin Geldenhuys in inspired form for the Azzuri.
The Italians, playing some exciting stuff raced into a 14-0 lead within 20 minutes after an explosive start to the game. However, the visitors regrouped, kept their composure and managed to draw level courtesy of two tries in quick succession, and were then presented with an opportunity to take the lead after an infringement – which they duly converted to lead 17-14 at half-time.
After the break, the hosts wrestled back control of the match with the Italian hooker powering over a well worked try. Five minutes later, the Italians extended their lead when the prop forced his way over the try-line as the Italians once more took control of the game. With the hosts temporarily reduced to 14 men, Japan found their way back into the game thanks to a penalty try and were trailing by just four points, until Italy sealed a memorable win with yet another penalty.
There were plenty of positives to take away from the match, but both coaches will be hoping for more discipline from their charges in New Zealand.
South Africa 9-14 Australia
The Springboks continued their three match losing streak with a narrow loss to Australia, although Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez, Danie Rossouw, Gio Aplon, Guthro Steenkamp and Tendai Mtawarira turned in performances that are likely to see them nailed on for a seat on the plane to New Zealand.
The hosts fielded their most experienced line-up ever and came close to recording a try, but the Australian defence held firm on several occasions. The first-half was an even and closely fought 40 minutes, characterised by a combination of handling errors and bad luck, littered with penalties that saw South Africa lead 6-3 at the break, with James O’Connor landing a penalty for the Aussies.
The match came alive in the second period after Australia scored following nice build up play to grab a narrow 8-6 lead, but this was short-lived and the Boks regained the advantage with another penalty. The Aussies rallied in the last quarter and were rewarded for their endeavours with a further two penalties; that were cooly converted by rising star James O’Connor to seal a hard-fought Australian victory.
Wales 19-9 England
With defeat at Twickenham still fresh in the mind of the Welsh team, the reds were determined to turn in a much improved performance against their old foes and Shane Williams, Paul James and Aled Brew helped inspire their side to victory.
The home side were awarded an early penalty to take a 3-0 lead and this pattern continued as they traded penalties to go in 6-6 at the break with Lee Mears, Nick Easter and Shontayne Hape’s power and aggression causing problems for the hosts. Despite England dominating for large periods and creating several excellent opportunities, they couldn’t find a way past a resolute and well organised Welsh side - a reoccurring theme throughout the 80 minutes.
Shortly after the restart England went ahead from a penalty after another Welsh indiscretion at the break down. Just before the hour mark the game turned on its head as the Welsh back majestically danced past the sluggish English defence to put his side in the lead. The introduction of Alex Corbisiero and Steve Thompson made little impact and two further penalties made the game safe to ensure the Welsh have bragging rights over their near neighbours, which will no doubt send them to New Zealand with renewed confidence.
What did you think of the August warm-up matches? Is it the host nation’s tournament to lose??