Talking Points: What we learned from the summer Tests this weekend

Ireland v NewZealand inpho_02050962 (1)
All six of the Guinness Six Nations sides made their eagerly-awaited return to the international stage at the weekend as the summer Test series kicked off with a bang.

All six of the Guinness Six Nations sides made their eagerly-awaited return to the international stage at the weekend as the summer Test series kicked off with a bang.

Italy faced Romania on Friday night before 2022 Grand Slam champions France opened up their series in Japan, while Ireland were looking to record a historic success in New Zealand.

Elsewhere, England and Wales both played out thrillers with Australia and South Africa respectively before Scotland locked horns with Argentina in the final international of the weekend.

Here are some of the key talking points from across the rugby landscape as the summer action began.

Italy continue to build under Crowley

Having defeated Wales in sensational fashion to get back to winning ways in the Championship earlier this year, Italy created more history under Kieran Crowley in Bucharest on Friday night.

The Azzurri beat Romania for the first time in 31 years with a comprehensive 45-13 success at Arcul de Triumf.

Romania started well and led 6-5 early on before Italy scored two tries before the break to move 19-6 ahead.

Four more tries, including a second score for centre Tommaso Menoncello, gave Italy their first win since 1991 in Romania and only their third victory away there.

The victory is further evidence of the progress being made under Crowley but an even bigger test awaits his men next weekend when they will take on Georgia in a much-anticipated match-up.

France overcome tough first half as debutants impress

France eventually did enough to pull away from Japan after a strong second half at the Toyota Stadium in a 42-23 victory.

Although the visitors hit the ground running with Damian Penaud’s try after three minutes, they then spent much of the first half on the back foot.

The extreme heat and humidity favoured a feisty Japan team who looked a constant threat, scoring when Tevita Tatafu finished off a flowing attack by barging over for a try between the posts.

In truth, the 2022 Guinness Six Nations champions were slightly fortunate to go in 13-13 at the break. But the big plus point of an improved second half came from two debutants.

Les Bleus’ No.8 Yoan Tanga and lock Thomas Jolmès both made strong starts to their Test careers. Tanga had one crucial turnover early in the second half, while Jolmès was at the heart of everything his team did in the first half hour before fading a little.

England with work to do after series opener

Discipline cost England who suffered a narrow 30-28 defeat in Australia in the first of their three matches Down Under.

The Wallabies put in an impressive performance after losing Darcy Swain to a red card after 35 minutes, playing the majority of the game with 14 men.

Six young players from U20s making the step up to senior level this summer

In their first appearance since finishing third in the 2022 Guinness Six Nations, Eddie Jones’ team can take some positives from their performance, particularly the first hour.

Tries from Ellis Genge and debutants Henry Arundell and Jack van Poortvliet weren’t enough for England, who will now have to win back-to-back games to take the series.

The question now is whether Jones will keep faith with his new, more experimental line-up for the second Test.

England’s game plan featured a lot of attacking intent, but a disadvantaged Wallabies side managed to stretch their defence with ease at times during the second half.

The head coach is now in a stick or twist scenario. Whatever he decides, England won’t have any second chances come next week in Brisbane.

History weighs heavy as Ireland fail to capitalise on early advantage

Ireland, who were only beaten by France in the 2022 Guinness Six Nations, suffered defeat on their first appearance since the Championship as they went down 42-19 to New Zealand.

Keith Earls gave them a dream start with a wonderful score in the sixth minute only for the All Blacks to run in six tries to take a series lead.

The big talking point going into the opener was whether Ireland boss Andy Farrell’s belief that his team had “poked the bear” when beating New Zealand last year would ring true.

The last encounter between the two in Dublin last November finished 29-20 to Ireland, their third success in five against the 2015 world champions.

But none of those victories came on New Zealand soil and their historically poor record over there continues to be a barrier they have yet to overcome.

Remarkably, the All Blacks are unbeaten in 28 years at Eden Park and once they got in front on the scoreboard today, that record never looked in any serious danger.

Ireland remain one of the strongest sides in world rugby, but beating New Zealand on their own turf continues to be too big a hurdle.

If they are to end that particular hoodoo in the second Test of the series, they may have to do so without captain Johnny Sexton, who they lost to a concussion in the first half.

Wales manage to quiet the critics despite heart-breaking defeat

Wales have taken their share of criticism since a fifth place finish in the 2022 Guinness Six Nations.

The surprise defeat to Italy in their final match of the Championship had led them to be written off before flying out to South Africa for their summer series.

Doubts were even raised over whether they would be able to compete, let alone win, against the 2019 world champions, despite Adam Beard stating in the build-up that Wales often perform at their best when labelled underdogs.

But a dogged performance on Saturday will have given boss Wayne Pivac plenty of encouragement ahead of the rest of the series, Wales going down after a narrow 32-29 defeat.

The Springboks only took a thrilling Test match with the last kick, a Damian Willemse penalty, after the hooter had sounded in Pretoria.

Wales fought gallantly and scored three tries through a Louis Rees-Zammit brace and Dewi Lake, who crossed to level the scores with just three minutes to play.

They also had to deal with sin-bins for Dan Biggar, Alun Wyn Jones, Rees-Zammit and Rhys Carre.

The tourists are still yet to beat South Africa on their own patch, but if Pivac’s team can match that performance in the remaining two matches of the series, that could easily change.

Decision-making costs Scotland against Argentina

Scotland were beaten 26-18 in the opening match of their three-Test series with Argentina.

Gregor Townsend’s side found themselves trailing 18-6 at the interval with just a couple of Blair Kinghorn penalties to show for their efforts but bounced back with tries from Mark Bennett and Rory Hutchinson.

Yet having drawn themselves level, the tourists made a mess of the restart and were punished as they slipped to a fourth defeat from six Tests played this year – and Townsend was not happy with what he saw.

“I’m disappointed,” Townsend said. “We didn’t get going until the second half, and then we got into a position from which we should have kicked on, and didn’t.

“We didn’t have much ball [in the first-half], and we had to defend for a number of phases. It was a stop-start game throughout. Sometimes you have to create your own momentum, and you do that through accuracy.

On Kinghorn’s performance at No.10, Townsend added: “I don’t think it was as good as Blair would’ve wanted, but at times he did well. We’re all here to learn. It’s the first game for us in a while. We’ve got to be better next week.

“You have to make the most of the opportunities you get. Away from home you will get decisions go against you. We need to show more intensity, and counter what Argentina do better next week.”