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Rugby Union Spring Tours 2021 Review

Final results from the Rugby Union Spring Tours 2021:

Scotland 29 v 20 Japan
Italy 17 v 10 Uruguay
England 27 v 26 South Africa
Wales 29 v 28 Australia
France 40 v 25 New Zealand
Ireland 53 v 7 Argentina

Below I set out a brief analysis of each nation’s result as well some general observations from the Spring Tour results, which can be applied to both the international and the amateur game.

One key learning is that in the modern game you must keep the referee and TMO out of the contest. Television producers can fuel the crowd by re-showing clips on the giant screen, the crowd howl in derision and that invites the officials in.

Some recurring themes:

  • Blocking a kick chaser is dumb!
  • Poor tackle technique is unacceptable!
  • Flying into a ruck like a scud missile is stupid!
  • Pretending to wrap your arms in the tackle when you are trying to stop the ball in flight is silly!
  • Thinking you can talk the referee into changing his decision is arrogant!
  • “Smart rugby players use their skills effectively.”

At the start of the Spring tour, I suggested the Southern Hemisphere, (OZ/NZ) might be happy with 4 wins from 7 games. If that was the case, then 2 from 7 should be totally unacceptable!

New Zealand

New Zealand will have much to contemplate. Successive losses to Ireland and France have raised serious questions about their toughness up front. France dismantled them up front and made repeated progress close to the breakdown.


Australia showed pockets of individual and unit quality against Wales, but ill-discipline and poor technique re-surfaced and the final penalty was as certain as winter arriving. That said, do not write Australia off. The blend is not there yet, but the new young players are playing with increased confidence and demonstrating their skills. Beale remains an enigma, capable of brilliance, a spark that changes a game and a multi positional player. Banks at full back gives you at least 30 meters extra on every touch finder!


Ireland and France both gave New Zealand a lesson in intense continuous play and always going forward. In the 34 minute in Paris the French loose head, Baille, was the second player to arrive to a kick chase deep into the New Zealand 22. He wanted to be there! No need to wait for the young French players to emerge…they have surfaced! (Note: France v New Zealand is the opening game of the World cup in 2023)


England conceded over 20 penalties against South Africa and must consider putting Curry back to 7, where he is most effective at the tackle contest. The commentators waxed lyrical about Underhill at one breakdown. Sadly for them, when the producers showed the clip on the big screen, he wasn’t even there!

South Africa

The second half South African juggernaut almost got home. Missed penalties cost them, but they remain a huge obstacle in knockout rugby. If you are a betting man, put some money on Freddie Steward being player of the tournament at the next World Cup. He is a threat with or without the ball. His timing into the line is such that he can be used as an effective foil as well as a penetrative runner.


Wales looked very much like a team without leadership. At times they play too deep. Stephen Jones (the backs coach) had them playing at and through the line, but recently they have slipped back a few meters. Is a key player carrying an injury?


At Murrayfield Scotland failed to put Japan to the sword. More was expected of this performance. Hogg remains the star attraction, but he needs Finn Russell to show more appetite than he did against Japan.


Japan are very well organised and structured under Kiwi coaches Joseph and Brown. Unfortunately, the penetrative pass is not made to a player accelerating onto the ball wide out. Close quarter support showed understanding and the off-load was expected and made. Japan remain a team desperately in need of a couple of superstars.


Ireland recorded a 53-7 win over Argentina and the saying used to be, “the forwards will win you the game, the backs will decide by how many.”
Not so with Ireland. All 7 tries coming from the forwards!

This is an Ireland squad of some depth. Farrell was forced into late changes with no change to the technical and physical competency of the forwards. Argentina battled hard and met the physicality with their own brand of commitment but losing a man to a red card, plus a yellow limited their effectiveness. Irish supporters can look forward to the 6 Nations with plenty of optimism.


Italy ended a 16-game losing streak with a win over second tier side Uruguay, who have qualified for the World cup in 2023.
Italy is a newly constructed team, with many young forwards. There is good structure in their forward drive and a willingness to re-align with urgency, not forgetting that you must have enough players at the tackle contest to retain possession!


Uruguay played with enthusiasm and with a rugged set of forwards will contest most games. Over exuberance may cost them points and limit their attacking potential but it is great to see them performing at international level.

Mike Penistone
Check out Mike’s website –
Coaching thought. “Players who look for shortcuts, often start to go downhill.”

About Mike Penistone

Mike has coached at all levels of the game, from under-7's through to elite international players at the highest level, in both the northern and southern hemispheres. A few notable positions include serving as Head Coach for Great Britain Students (Rugby League), Head Coach at Nottingham RUFC and Head of Elite Player Development at Leicester Tigers Academy. Mike also served as the U21's Coach at the NSW Warratahs and Director of Coaching at Eastern Suburbs Sydney. He continues to coach across the globe running his consultancy. Check out his website: here. View all posts by Mike Penistone

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