The northern hemisphere’s struggles continued in the second weekend of the international fixtures but despite the disappointing results there was still plenty of early Christmas cheer from a RaboDirect PRO12 point of view.
Declan Kidney’s new-look Ireland XV took Fiji to the cleaners in their 53-0 romp and it was two young wingers who really caught the eye, Ulster’s Craig Gilroy running in a hat-trick and Leinster’s Fergus McFadden adding two of his own.
And despite being shorn of the likes of Gilroy, Paddy Wallace and Luke Marshall Ulster still had enough about them to maintain their 100 percent start to the RaboDirect PRO12 season, a late penalty try helping them to a 27-25 victory over Zebre in their rearranged fixture on Sunday.
Scotland’s chances of breaking into the top eight in the IRB world rankings are now over after they went down to South Africa at Murrayfield but Glasgow Warriors’ Henry Pyrgos impressed with a try-scoring cameo in the second half.
Wales’ international struggles continued with defeat to Samoa but Scarlets beat the Blues in their LV=Cup encounter at Parc y Scarlets while Tonderai Chavhanga ran in a hat-trick for Dragons and the Ospreys lost to Exeter.
TRY OF THE WEEKEND
Ulster winger Craig Gilroy could not have dreamt of a much more perfect start to his international career when he ran in two early tries in his side’s mauling of Fiji. But the 21-year-old was not done there and he capped his first start for Ireland with a magnificent 80-metre try late on that completed his treble and left teammates Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble fearing for their international futures.
BREAK OF THE WEEKEND
Former Springbok Tonderai Chavhanga may not have ended up on the winning team but there was little doubt about who was the most potent attacking threat at Franklins Gardens in his side’s 30-20 LV= Cup defeat to Northampton.
Chavhanga finished up with three tries but it was his first that stood out the most, the speedster coming off his wing to collect an inside ball from Ashley Smith and burst clear for the score.
PLAY OF THE WEEKEND
Scotland’s promising summer tour appears to have been consigned to the history books as Andy Robinson’s men have fallen to successive defeats to the All Blacks and South Africa this autumn. But any RaboDirect PRO12 fans will tell you that in Henry Pyrgos they have a young scrum-half of real quality. The 23-year-old picked up his second international cap after replacing Mike Blair in the second half at Murrayfield and scored the try of the game shortly after his introduction, rounding off a superbly worked line-out move that saw Kelly Brown’s tap off the top find him in full flow to dive over.
PLAYER OF THE WEEKEND
Zebre came within a whisker of their first win of the RaboDirect PRO12 season on Sunday when they took on a depleted Ulster side at the Stadio XXV Aprile.
But No.8 Dries van Schalkwyk was outstanding throughout, scoring two of his side’s four tries on the night and if it were not for the unerring boot of Niall O’Connor the Italians would have been celebrating their first ever win.
Declan Kidney gave youth a chance to shine in their non-cap clash with Fiji and while Gilroy will have grabbed all the headlines for his hat-trick there were a number of other players who impressed.
In the backline Gilroy’s Ulster teammates of Paddy Wallace and Luke Marshall were impressive and up front Leinster’s Sean Cronin and Ulster’s Iain Henderson in the back row also caught the eye.
Wales slumped to their fifth successive defeat since completing the Grand Slam earlier this year but in Leigh Halfpenny they appear to have the in-form full-back in Europe.
The Welsh tyro was one of the few bright sparks in a Welsh backline that struggled for inspiration and he remained accurate from the kicking tee to keep his side in touch against Samoa.
Scotland’s flat performance against South Africa will have disappointed the Murrayfield faithful but the discovery of Pyrgos will have pleased some and the Edinburgh duo of Matt Scott in the centres and David Denton in the back-row continue to advance their growing reputations.
The Italians meanwhile fell to a 42-10 defeat to the All Blacks but that scoreline does not fairly reflect the balance of an encounter that the Azzurri impressed in for large parts, Treviso centre Alberto Sgarbi grabbing a first-half try to go with a strong all-round performance.