By Max Mathews

  • Wales hold out despite comeback
  • Warren Gatland’s men on course to finish top
  • Scotland get much-needed bonus point win against Samoa
TOKYO, JAPAN – All the match ratings and discussion topics from Wales’ win over Australia and Scotland’s victory against Samoa.

 

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Wales 29-25 Australia – Match ratings

Liam Williams, 7/10: Not given the chance to prove his attacking credentials, but kept the gold tide at bay and won a crucial turnover at the end of the game. Nailed-on Lions starter.

George North, 6/10: All-too-brief moments when his powerful runs harked back to him tearing it up for the Lions against Australia. Some rip-snorting breaks but didn’t do enough across the whole game.

Jonathan Davies, 7/10: Not a classic game, at least by his high standards. Never let anyone down in attack and defence, and silky hands link the inside and outside backs well.

Hadleigh Parkes, 7/10: A defensive leader. Made the most tackles – though he missed a fair few as well – and leapt like a coiled salmon on a trampoline to outjump Marika Koroibete for the first try.

Josh Adams, 6/10: Had the better of opposite man Adam Ashley-Cooper, but was lucky not to be sin-binned for a borderline high tackle. Has a firm place in a competitive back three.

Dan Biggar, 8/10: Outstanding early on, with a lightning-quick drop-goal and cross-kick to create the 10-point lead. Brave but risky tackle on Samu Kerevi did the job of stopping him but saw him leave the field concussed.

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Gareth Davies, 9/10: Man-of-the-match. Has the kicking game, has the running game, even intercepted a pass from wily old fox Will Genia to score. Box-office, X-factor scrum-half.

Wyn Jones, 6/10: Picked for scrummaging but scrum was on the back foot across the 80. Some neat linking work in attack and strong in defence.

Ken Owens, 6/10: A few lineouts went astray, but never shied away in defence and made 15 tackles.

Tomas Francis, 7/10: In the double figures for tackles. Scrum was iffy but not his fault, unfussy and quietly effective in defence.

Jake Ball, 6/10: Gained momentum with some brash carries and grafted hard throughout, but faded towards the end.

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Alun Wyn Jones, 8/10: Captain, leader, legend. 23 tackles, absolutely omnipresent, and a cool head to rudder Wales amidst the chaos.

Aaron Wainwright, 8/10: Subbed off early – too early – in the second half but a stellar first half. Only 22 but is keeping out Aaron Shingler (and probably Josh Navidi too if Taulupe Faletau were fit to play at eight).

Justin Tipuric, 8/10: Doesn’t physically dominate Test opponents but subtly undoes them. Only the skipper made more tackles, and had the better of David Pocock and Michael Hooper, which takes some doing.

Josh Navidi, 7/10: Was pinged a couple of times, but battled valiantly in defence and carried a lot, although for not much meterage.

 

Talking points – Another super Wales-Wallabies showpiece

Given the high stakes and the enduring rivalry the two sides have developed in the last few years, this game was hotly-tipped to be one of the best of the group stages, and it certainly lived up to the billing, with both teams contributing to an engrossing, emotionally-draining spectacle.

Wales fans travelled in great numbers to the Japanese capital, but they were vastly outnumbered by gold shirts to the extent it felt like a home game for the Wallabies.

Warren Gatland’s men made a blistering start, back-row tyro Wainwright counter-rucking superbly to give Biggar the chance to put Wales ahead with a drop-goal with only seconds on the clock, and never let up.

Wales showed grit and guts as well as glamour and glitz, and look capable of turning top-class Tier One nations over on this form.

 

Wales defy history

This has been a match-up which has brought heartbreak for Wales recently, usually by tortuously narrow margins – between 2008 and 2018, they suffered 13 successive defeats against the Wallabies, with only two of those losses by more than nine points, but stopped that rot with a gritty 9-6 victory in Cardiff last November in a cathartic victory.

That was a cathartic moment for Wales, and in Tokyo they played with a freedom that suggested they had thrown away the shackles that seemed to weigh them down over the course of that decade-long losing run.

 

A tale of two tens

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Rhys Patchell wilted against England in the Six Nations last year, struggling under the high ball on the big occasion, but when defensive totem Biggar came off after a brave tackle on Samu Kerevi, the stage was his.

He nervelessly kicked a conversion, a drop goal and three crucial penalties to give Wales a narrow win, and – more importantly – showed he can handle the pressure-cooker of Test match rugby. If Biggar doesn’t play, you’d back Patchell to step up.

 

Scotland 34-0 Samoa – Match ratings

Stuart Hogg, 8/10: Clever and mature 80 minutes. Always looked to get involved in attack and proved his composure with a nerveless 45-metre drop-goal.

Darcy Graham, 7/10: Showed more in fifteen minutes than Tommy Seymour did in the whole first game. Sparky attacking presence and despite his lack of size stood up to bullocking runs and high balls from the Pacific Islanders.

Chris Harris, 7/10: Brought in ahead of Duncan Taylor for his physicality and showed it with some classically hard, straight running. Couldn’t quite get a few offloads away but rock solid in defence.

Sam Johnson, 6/10: Not a game to write home about but always looked fairly assured. A few key handling errors but very much the first-choice inside centre and developing a nice relationship with Finn Russell.

Sean Maitland, 8/10: Needed to respond after an iffy first game and did. Beat eight defenders, took a few great high catches but understandably made a few handling errors.

Finn Russell, 6/10: Such a quintessential Finn performance! A poor dropped ball and off-colour kicking, especially early on, but dropped a beautifully-weighted cross-kick to Maitland for the first try, then a half-break and offload set up Greig Laidlaw’s score.

Greig Laidlaw, 6/10: Hit all four kicks and bounced off full-back Tim Nanai-Williams for his try, but his radar was just slightly off with kicks from hand and his usually metronomic passing.

Allan Dell, 6/10: Solid in the scrum, but taken off after being smashed in the tackle by Chris Vui on eleven minutes.

Stuart McInally, 7/10: Showed why he’s the captain. Led from the front, hit his lineouts in tricky conditions and demonstrated good gas in the loose.

WP Nel, 7/10: Lasted an hour as the scrum became more and more of a weapon. Mostly won the collision zone and carried well, but was penalised early on.

Grant Gilchrist, 7/10: Did much of the dirty work. Took the responsibility for many of the lineouts and defensive tackles but was replaced on the hour after fading in the heat.

Jonny Gray, 7/10: Outlasted his lock partner with lots of tackles, rucks and one standout turnover. Set the tone with a few big shots at the start.

Magnus Bradbury, 7/10: The quietest of an excellent back three, but outshone former captain John Barclay, who he replaced at flanker after the Ireland drubbing. Put in a big shift and always offered himself in attack and defence.

Jamie Ritchie, 9/10: Hamish Watson who? Line breaks, turnovers, and aged only 23 looks to be a mainstay in the Scotland side for the foreseeable future.

Blade Thomson, 8/10: Athletic, dynamic, sharp, clever rugby player. Always put Samoa under pressure at the lineout and in defence, and deserves another start after coming in for Ryan Wilson.

 

Talking points – Handling the heat

Gregor Townsend at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Japan

Gregor Townsend at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Japan | (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

On the pitch, Gregor Townsend’s side struggled in the steamy, stifling sweatbox of the Misaki Stadium. The conditions were unlike almost any other Test arena but despite handling errors, the Scots adapted well.

More telling was the heat of pressure and expectation from off the pitch, following numerous recriminations after the belting by Ireland. They came out promising a reaction and delivered one, with controlled fury in both defence and attack early doors, which set out their stall. They had to sweat for the result, but got the job done.

 

Crucial try bonus point in attack

At 20-0, the game was over, but they still needed the crucial four-try bonus point. Russell overcooked a pass and a grubber to a waiting Graham, Reid knocked on in a promising position and it looked like their desperation would go without reward.

But in dramatic circumstances, when it looked like Maitland had been barged into touch as he hared for the corner, referee Pascal Gauzere correctly ruled wing Ed Fidow’s offending tackle was knees-first and preventing a probable try being scored. Penalty try, second yellow (and therefore red) for Fidow, and the crucial extra point in the bag.

 

Knockout hopes given boost

They needed a bonus-point win, and they got one. Japan’s victory over Ireland does help them get closer to Joe Schmidt’s men, but leaves them third behind those two teams after two games each, and sets up an intriguing clash against the hosts on the final day of the group stages.

Next up Wales face Fiji at the Oita Bank Dome at 10.45am on Wednesday, while Scotland will play Russia at the Shizuoka Stadium at 8.15am on the same day.

 

READ MORE | Rugby | Rugby World Cup 2019 | Everything you need to know about the Rugby World Cup

 

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