A bonus point win in an away fixture was the ideal antidote to the disappointing home loss last weekend. It came about due to a purple patch in the ten minutes either side of half time, when Rhys Webb showed that whilst his legs are not what they once were, his rugby brain can still operate at this level, putting the likes of Watkin and Roots into positions where they could break the defensive line and bagging a brace himself.
The twenty-minute purple patch was, however, surrounded by long periods in the first and second half where Benetton ran the show, dominating the ball and breaking our defence at will, scoring four tries and threatening more. Our problems were compounded by two careless and unnecessary yellow cards awarded to both wingers, although a brilliant covering tackle at the corner by debutant Cuthbert stopped a certain try at a point in the game where Benetton were exposing our lack of open field speed and threatening to run riot.
Max Nagy gave an assured and highly influential performance. It is difficult to see how any selection made on playing merit and current performance could realistically not now include him as first choice.
The overall performance was again some way short of a good one, but against the odds, a great outcome was achieved, and the strength of the bench was evident in a really professional and well drilled final 10 minutes. We finally worked out that when your thrower can hit the tail of the lineout, and you put a proper line out forward, rather than a makeshift one there, the options for a decent powerful driving maul increase considerably. This led to the winning penalty and also enabled a well drilled final two minutes of ball retention to close the game down.
Next week sees the conclusion of the first block of fixtures, with a home fixture against the best team we will have played in this block. The odds against us will not be helped by the almost certain pulling by Team Wales of our five Welsh squad players and the fact Ireland's proposed visit to the US has become a Covid cancellation. We will have a huge underdog tag, and hopefully our three key back five forwards Morgan, Griffiths, and Rhys Davies will be available to prevent us being overwhelmed at the breakdown. It may be the right time, given the underdog status, for Booth to shed the conservative game plan, and show the home fans that they do have the potential to attack teams in channels they may not be expecting.
It would be wrong not to offer a final comment on the standard of officiating. The referee at the weekend was excellent and put to shame some of the woeful Irish, Scottish, Italian, and Welsh referees that have blighted the quality of the on-field product in recent years. The South Africans have not only brought quality players, but quality officials to the party. Unfortunately, there are still some sub-standard assistant officials, but there has been a marked improvement in the quality of the men and women in the middle in most matches, and we are seeing better and more entertaining games as a result.