We take a look at the key talking points from this weekends international action as teams prepare to name their 31-man World Cup squads…
1. Warren Gatland has some difficult choices to make
The Wales coach has a number of tough decisions to make ahead of the World Cup with several players making a case for starts, whilst others continue to struggle. Justin Tipuric was Wales’ stand-out player once more, and has provided enough evidence to suggest he should be a serious consideration to start, the question however is would you replace Dan Lydiate or Sam Warburton. On the opposite side of things, there have to be some serious questions about whether Alex Cuthbert should remain in the starting XV for the World Cup.
2. Ireland have plenty of areas to work on
For the most part, Ireland were comprehensively outplayed up front in Dublin and will leave Joe Schmidt with more questions than answers. One positive was the performance of Iain Henderson, however beyond that there weren’t too many positives. This isn’t necessarily panic stations as there were still players missing, and several key players had off days, but there should certainly be some worries. The biggest concern is the fact that for the second time, Wales bossed the game, and stifled Ireland’s tactical kicking game giving them little go forward.
3. Samoa have some major issues
Even ignoring the early red card to Kane Thompson, Samoa were really poor for the most part against a distinctly average Barbarians side. Whilst they still showed flashes of their attacking brilliance, they were well beaten up front, and never really looked like claiming victory. They were disorganised at the set piece, and struggled to gain much of a foothold in the loose. Even though it wasn’t quite a full strength Samoa side, any team hoping to make their way to the quarter finals would have hoped to have beaten a Barbarians side that only had three days together.
4. There have to be some concerns about the stadiums
Whilst the water sprinklers coming on mid-game at the Olympic Stadium was hardly ideal, it was the least of organisers worries after the venue was shown up during the game between Samoa and the Barbarians. A number of fans mad complaints about the shocking views from a number of locations in the stands, whilst the failure to sort out the catering and wi-fi were other complaints. It once again raises questions about the suitability of some of the venues chosen to host World Cup games, especially given the outrageous ticket prices being demanded.
5. Scotland are looking strong
Whilst Samoa struggled to impress, Vern Cotter’s new look Scotland side absolutely hammered a poor Italian side suggesting they have more hope of making it out of their group than many would have expected. The forwards fronted up well against a strong Italian pack, whilst the backs looked devastating, particularly on the counter attack. There are still a few areas that need to be worked on, but if they can maintain this form into the World Cup then they could be set to cause a few upsets during the tournament, and make the quarters at least.
6. Italy are screwed without Parisse
Although not a full strength Italian side, they still had enough first choice players to suggest they should have given Scotland more of a challenge. It has become increasingly apparent that in the absence of on-field leader Sergio Parisse, Italy really struggle to get themselves motivated for games. Whilst it’s likely he will be back playing throughout the World Cup itself, should he pick up an injury it’s fair to say Italy will seriously struggle to even make much of a dent in their group, let alone any knockout rounds should they make it that far.