Oval Talk

Gruelling summer tours come to an end

Oval Talk

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After the conclusion of the summer series for each of the four home nations, there will be a full spectrum of analysis on the horizon for the displays of each team.

England's final Test against South Africa signed Stuart Lancaster's side off from their tour with a 14-14 draw that offered plenty of encouragement and more than a dose of salvaged pride after succumbing in the two previous tests.

A much closer contest than the two defeats that preceded it produced a display of courage, determination and a good helping of physical strength which saw England register a deserved draw.

Lancaster's review of the tour after the final game summed up perfectly the objective of the exercise: "It's been a fantastic opportunity for us to take a wider group of players and work with them and, for me, that has been the real benefit of the tour. I was able to get a real good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses and the areas we need to work on going forward.

"We have now got a team of young players and experienced players coming through together in an environment that they enjoy, where the culture is strong. I think it augurs well for the future".

A drop goal attempt away from victory, Lancaster was able to witness some of his players forced to cover one another by playing spells of the game out of position and do so ably, adding to the prospect that this could be a turning point as preparations for the 2015 World Cup start in earnest.

Wales may have suffered a 3-0 series whitewash in Australia but that scoreline gave a far from fair reflection of how their tour Down Under went, as they again lost out by the closest of margins.

A 20-19 defeat to follow on from their 25-23 loss the previous week in a final test which was, it is fair to say, largely dictated by the referee's whistle was scant reward for another strong performance masterminded by interim coach Rob Howley.

"The experience the players have had in Australia will help us to improve," said the former scrum half, who brought as much influence to the Welsh side from the touchlines as he had done during his playing days.

"Our attitude and effort got us so close to beating the Wallabies and we have left a mark here that we are quite proud of."

Few would be able to find grounds to disagree with Howley's comments, and things bode well for Warren Gatland's side who will have an eye on avenging those defeats when Australia visit Cardiff in December as part of the autumn internationals series.

Scotland were the only home nation to complete a clean sweep on their southern hemisphere tour, albeit by virtue of a last-minute try from Rob Harley against Samoa to edge a 17-16 win.

The nature of the victory did little to satisfy coach Andy Robinson, understandably, but the fact that Scotland did win went to show how confidence in a winning side can provide the belief until the final minute that a victory is there for the taking.

"For a lot of that game, they looked the better side. They kept hold of the ball better than us," said an honest Robinson after the game, but he did not miss the bigger picture when he added: "Sometimes you have got to find something and I think that when Mike Blair charged down a kick just before the try, that showed the energy that there was among the team, they weren't prepared to give up."

Ireland's record 60-0 defeat to New Zealand came in stark contrast to their battling loss the week before, when only a Dan Carter drop goal denied them a result, and it was left to Brian O'Driscoll to sum up the taste of that defeat.

"We started terribly and they came at us. We just made too many errors. We had a lot of tackles to make and that scoreline tells its own story. They were clinical at the breakdown and we were terrible," he said. Plenty to consider there for coach Declan Kidney.

Bearing in mind that all results came at the end of demanding tours and a sapping season, some well-earned rest before a breakdown of what happened in the southern hemisphere will give each set of coaching staff some real food for thought.

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