Former Manu Samoa No 10 and freelance rugby scribe Campbell Burnes explores the form of some of Britain’s best talent, soon heading our way.
The truncated Six Nations gave us some idea of what to expect when Wales and Scotland (hopefully) hit these shores in July.
Notwithstanding the coronavirus, we should prepare for a Celtic rugby invasion in July.
Wales and Scotland are due to tour, so roll out the welcome mat for ex-pats Hadleigh Parkes and Johnny McNicholl, plus coach Wayne Pivac (Wales), and Sean Maitland and perhaps Simon Berghan (Scotland).
Let’s start with the Red Dragons, as they are due for a two-Test series to kick off the Ian Foster era.
Wales had a pockmarked Six Nations, as the team struggled to bring consistency in the face of tweaking a new attacking style. Pivac wants his charges playing with more width and expansiveness, but their skills did not match the ambition. The 1-3 record does not inspire huge confidence, but these are early days in the new reign.
Not that the All Blacks will give them much leeway in Auckland and Wellington.
Wales can present a bruising forward pack, which was exemplified in the thrashing of Italy, but it flunked the Test in Dublin, couldn’t handle the high ball or the pressure against France and was second best by some margin to England.
Most of the key players from the Gatland era are there, and the loose trio shows four quality players seeking game time – Ross Moriarty, Taulupe Faletau, Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric. Provided Alun Wyn Jones has got over Joe Marler’s grubby act, he should pass Richie McCaw’s tally of internationals on tour, and remains a talismanic figure.
There is no clear reason the backline shouldn’t fire in New Zealand, though midfielder Parkes remains a curious figure, mostly solid for Wales but never up to much in New Zealand rugby. George North and Josh Adams can bring a cutting edge out wide, while halves Gareth Davies/Tomos Williams and Dan Biggar have promise as a combination.
Biggar is a quality footballer at pivot – Chris Boyd speaks highly of him at Northampton – but is prone to over-exuberance.
Scotland arrives after Wales for a solitary Test, its first tour of New Zealand to face the All Blacks since, incredibly, 2000.
Gregor Townsend’s men had a useful
Six Nations. They might have beaten Ireland in the opener if Sean Maitland
had not butchered a try, while Stuart Hogg, still one of the best attacking fullbacks in the game, bombed another over the line. The weather hampered the Calcutta Cup match, a narrow defeat at Murrayfield. They blanked Italy in Rome and decisively outplayed France in their final match.
In Hamish Watson, they have a tigerish openside flanker, while Adam Hastings, son of Gavin, showed some classy touches at No 10, stepping into the controversial shoes of Finn Russell. Forwards such as Jamie Ritchie and Fraser Brown will be combative in the tight.
Still, Scotland will struggle, on the Six Nations evidence, to contain the All Blacks in Dunedin, but it might have helped if it faced the All Blacks first up on July 4. Alas, Wales will hone the All Blacks’ focus, so do not bet on an historic first Test victory for the kilted tourists.