Summer Tests - What we learned from last weekend

Gregor Townsend
All six Guinness Men's Six Nations sides were in action over the weekend as they got their summer tours up and running.

While England had already got a win over Japan under their belts, it was a first outing for the other five.

Scotland and France triumphed over Canada and Argentina respectively, while elsewhere, there were narrow defeats for England and Ireland against World Cup finalists New Zealand, and champions, South Africa, respectively.

Elsewhere, Italy lost an entertaining encounter to Samoa and Wales were beaten by Australia.

What did we learn from these matches?

Scottish debutants hit the ground running

Gregor Townsend’s Scotland headed on a four-match tour of the Americas without a host of key contributors including Finn Russell, Blair Kinghorn and Zander Fagerson.

Despite conceding an early try against Canada, they quickly hit their stride in a 73-12 success, their biggest-ever win over their north American opponents.

In all, 10 players made their international debuts including Sale Sharks duo Gus Warr and Arron Reed, starting at scrum-half and on the wing respectively.

Both men scored two tries, and while there is plenty of competition in both positions, will have done their hopes of more international honours a lot of good.

Similarly, hooker Dylan Richardson crossed twice in the space of four first-half minutes. With George Turner, who was first choice during the Guinness Six Nations, having moved to Japan, Richardson’s timing could not be better.

French depth impresses

Fabien Galthié had made the decision to leave most of his front-line players at home for France’s tour of Argentina, with 22 uncapped players included.

Up against a strong Pumas side, Les Bleus faced a big challenge, but impressed with a 28-13 success in Mendoza.

The returning Baptiste Serin captained the side, and the scrum-half got the first try of the game with what is now becoming a trademark – dribbling the ball from around halfway, just as he had done against Italy back in the 2020 Championship.

In the second half, debutants Antoine Frisch, who is joining Toulon from Munster this summer, and Théo Attisogbé, who is still eligible for France U20s, got in on the act.

France’s scrum was particularly impressive, as Georges-Henri Colombe and Demba Bamba both made their mark at tighthead, while Posolo Tuilagi did damage off the bench after making his debut earlier this year.

New-look England can challenge All Blacks

In the final two matches of the 2024 Guinness Men's Six Nations, England showed just what they are capable of doing, with a last-gasp victory over Ireland at Twickenham followed by a heartbreaking loss to France in Lyon.

The challenge was to maintain that momentum, and judging by the start of their summer tour, they have done just that.

Following a thumping win over Japan, England were desperately close to a first win over the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2003, going down 16-15 in Dunedin.

Maro Itoje was at his absolute best, as he so often is against the All Blacks, while George Furbank continued the form that saw him star for Northampton Saints as they claimed the Gallagher Premiership title.

A word too for Fin Baxter, who came off the bench after just 18 minutes and held his own for more than an hour on debut.

Next up is a trip to Eden Park, where the All Blacks are unbeaten since 1994. But England will have confidence in what they are building.

Italy learn lessons from Samoa loss

Gonzalo Quesada’s Azzurri were hoping to build on the end of the Guinness Men's Six Nations, which saw them draw with France before wins over Scotland and Wales.

In their first match against Samoa, they held a 10-point lead in the second half, but eventually fell to a 33-25 defeat.

A late breakaway score made the final margin of victory bigger than it might have been, but there was some frustration at how the game slipped away from them.

If the fatigue of a long season appeared to affect the players in the final quarter of the game, it is something they will have to put behind them quickly, with a clash against Tonga next before a final game against Japan.

Welsh youngsters learn from Wallaby Test

Wales kicked off their two-Test series against Australia with a 25-16 loss in Sydney, but showed a lot of promise against the Wallabies.

Ben Thomas, in his first Test start, had given them an early lead, and while Australia got the first try through Taniela Tupou, Wales battled back with their rolling maul earning a penalty try.

Archie Griffin, who only made his debut in this year's Championship, was a standout performer at tighthead prop, playing 75 minutes and racking up the tackles while also going toe-to-toe with James Slipper at scrum-time.

In the end, one moment of brilliance from Tom Wright proved crucial, while Wales will rue the obstruction that saw a second maul try ruled out as they could have drawn level on the hour.

On the occasion of his 50th cap, Aaron Wainwright was particularly influential, although his potential absence for the second Test in Melbourne could be a big loss, such was his impact.

Tough test for Ireland following Springboks loss

Wales are not the only team feeling the effects of the weekend, with Ireland having suffered a number of injuries in their 27-20 loss to South Africa.

The clash with the Springboks was a strange game. The Guinness Men's Six Nations champions will look back at a couple of very tight margins – a disallowed try for James Lowe, quickly followed by a Cheslin Kolbe try for the world champions where Lowe had just avoided a lineout to his cost.

And yet for large periods, Ireland also found themselves under huge pressure in Pretoria.

In the second Test in Durban, they will at least avoid the added challenge of altitude, but injuries to Dan Sheehan, who has a serious knee injury, and Craig Casey, who suffered a concussion, will mean changes for that encounter.

Others who are doubts include Jamie Osborne, who made a try-scoring debut and looked at home at full-back. But against a formidable South Africa team, Andy Farrell will test his strength in depth for this second encounter.