Rugby…bloody hell. I’m pretty sure that’s what Sir Alex was trying to say anyway. What a weekend of matches that was in week 2, with one big bogey team finally picked out of Welsh nostrils and England yet again riding the Self-Destruct Express all the way to Heartbreak Hotel.
The fun doesn’t stop there though, with another round of potential humdingers coming up fast on the outside. Let’s look back and forward with our 6 key pub talking points for this week:
England Botch It (Again)
Let’s face it - England should have beaten the All Blacks on Saturday but shot themselves in the foot at the critical moments as they let slip a big lead to lose by a single, agonizing point.
The harsh reality is that once again they have nobody to blame but themselves for the loss: at 15-0 up, the game was there for the taking. Opportunities to take points were naively snubbed in lieu of glory-hunting, rule Britannia kicks to the corner and some schoolboy set-piece play.
The much-debated TMO decision was in fact the correct one - whether or not you agree with the protocol is another matter - and let’s not forget that England were fortunate to clatter victory away from the jaws of defeat by mere millimetres against South Africa the week before. The excellent Sam Underhill may have only been a Courtney Lawes-size 13 shoe length away from scoring what would have been one of Twickenham’s most memorable tries, but the men in white could and should have been out of sight by then.
The fact they let slip a significant lead against an underperforming All Blacks side is a testament as much to New Zealand’s defiant, never-say-die mentality as it is to the naivety of England’s leaders in the crucial moments.
This defeat will hurt Jones like hell – and rightly so – but should also give rise to cautious optimism ahead of next year’s World Cup. Having said that, Saturday’s opposition are unlikely to be as charitable again should the two sides face off in the final in Japan on 2 November 2019.
Friendly Fire And Brimstone
In an absolutely textbook case of shifting the news agenda to protect players under the microscope, Jones has come out swinging in the aftermath of his side’s thrilling loss to the All Blacks. Pulling off his finest José Mourinho impression, the tubthumping Aussie has been urging his former Japanese charges to ‘go to the temple to pray’ because England are going to ‘smash them, physically smash them’ this weekend.
Jamie George, you owe your boss a bottle of wine. Just to be safe, why not ask Dylan to deliver it to him?
If there was any suspicion of sentimentality before Saturday's game – Jones was the Cherry Blossoms head coach from 2012 to 2015 and hasn’t faced them since – then the Aussie’s latest comments have surely put that to bed.
‘We’re going to be absolutely ruthless’ he insisted, as England face Japan for only the second time in their history at Twickenham on Saturday. The last meeting between the sides was in 1987 and ended in a 60-7 triumph for the men in white. England are unlikely to get such a cushty armchair ride this time out against a much-improved Japanese side, but they will surely have the bit between their teeth after the one that got away on Saturday.
Wales End Wallaby Hoodoo In Time For Tonga
Wales finally broke their duck against Australia after 10 long years and 13 miserable consecutive defeats with a cagey 9-6 victory. In doing so, Gatland’s men have also scored a significant psychological victory ahead of their World Cup group opponents next year: Wales and Australia meet in Tokyo just 10 months down the line.
This certainly wasn’t a pretty victory but Gatland, Edwards and co won’t give two stuffs, as an immense defensive display claimed a try ‘clean sheet’ against one of world rugby’s most expansive and skillful teams.
Next up for the men in red is Tonga in a match where fringe players will be paying for their World Cup places, according to forwards coach Robin McBryde.
With Wales now unbeaten in 7 games, up to third in the world rankings and building decent momentum, it’s hard to see any other result than a convincing home victory at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.
Slick Scots v Bulldozing Boks
South Africa were unfortunate to come away from Twickenham with nothing two weeks ago but showed their class and pedigree in Paris this weekend, coming from behind to inflict a painful defeat on their beret wielding hosts.
Scotland and Murrayfield will pose a different kind of test: Townsend’s men like to with pace and width, a stark contrast to the more direct style of the powerful Boks. With both teams in good form and buoyant mood after victories last weekend, this has the potential to be a real spectacle.
A quick reminder of how sumptuous Scotland look when in fifth gear these days.
Winner Takes All In Dublin
It’s World Number 1 v 2 at the Aviva, as Ireland host New Zealand in an eagerly-anticipated clash of the most in-form and consistent teams over the past 18 months.
AB’s boss Steve Hansen has declared that the winner on Saturday will have the right to claim the title ‘World’s Best’, and should the match pan out anything like the previous Ireland v NZ encounters then we are in for a belter.
If Schmidt’s men are to record only their second ever win against the Kiwis, they are going to have to do it the hard way, however, with the talismanic Conor Murray and midfield Adonis Robbie Henshaw joining Sean O’Brien in the treatment room this week.
New Zealand, who are without Sonny Bill Williams after he dislocated his shoulder in the great escape against England, will surely not fail to turn up twice in consecutive weeks. There is no love lost between these two with sparks set to fly in Dublin on Saturday – it should be an absolute belter.
For an example of how tight things have been between these two in recent years, check out this truly staggering final minute from the Aviva in 2013.
Check in last weekend? You've got until 10pm on Friday to redeem your free Guinness do so. Fancy getting a pint next week? Don't forget to check in on Saturday, you won't regret it.