LionsWatch: Gray’s defensive edge lifts Scotland to new heights

Skipper Greig Laidlaw stole the headlines against Argentina on Saturday with his nerveless late goal-kicking but Jonny Gray's defensive efforts have been pivotal to Scotland's impressive autumn so far. [more]

LionsWatch: Gray’s defensive edge lifts Scotland to new heights

Skipper Greig Laidlaw stole the headlines against Argentina on Saturday with his nerveless late goal-kicking but Jonny Gray’s defensive efforts have been pivotal to Scotland’s impressive autumn so far.

The second row – who is right at the top of the tackle charts in the Guinness PRO12 this season – has been tireless for his country in their first two games this autumn…

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In their heartbreaking loss to Australia Gray made a staggering 24 tackles without a single miss and he backed that up against the Pumas on Saturday.

The second row – partnering Grant Gilchrist rather than his brother Richie who missed out through injury – made 14 more tackles without a miss.

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Across the four home nations this weekend, only Wales No 8 James King made more with 15 against Japan.

Gray’s tally of 38 tackles is more than any other Lions contender so far this autumn – an impressive statistic that only gets better when you consider that Wales and Ireland have played a game more.

Throw in the Glasgow Warrior’s 12 carries against the Pumas and the 22-year-old is putting together an impressive statistical package with The British & Irish Lions 2017 Tour to New Zealand on the horizon.
Top tacklers this weekend across the four home nations
1. James King (Wales) – 15
2=. Jonny Gray (Scotland) – 14
2=. Joe Launchbury (England) – 14
4. Teimana Harrison (England) – 11
5. Garry Ringrose (Ireland) – 10
While Scotland were grinding out a win over Rugby World Cup semi-finalists Argentina at BT Murrayfield, England were cutting loose against Fiji in south west London.

The Red Rose ran in nine tries in all, including doubles for Semesa Rokoduguni, Jonathan Joseph, and Joe Launchbury, the latter becoming the first lock to cross twice for England since Simon Shaw back in 2001.

But it was Fijian-born flyer Rokoduguni that caught the eye the most, the winger racking up an impressive tally of 139m with ball in hand, making six clean breaks and beating six defenders in total.

On the opposite wing Elliot Daly, shifted from outside centre, also impressed with 93m with ball in hand while also beating four defenders and scoring his first try for his country.

No 8 Billy Vunipola shook off the injury doubts that had plagued the week-long build-up to the clash and was back to his bulldozing best with 14 carries and four defenders beaten and England now prepare to face the Pumas at Twickenham this Saturday and extend their 11-match winning streak under Eddie Jones.

500 – @owen_faz is the second player after @JonnyWilkinson (1,179) to score 500 points for @EnglandRugby. Landmark.

— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) November 19, 2016

There was another statistical milestone reached in the game as Owen Farrell became only the second Englishman ever to break the 500-point barrier in international rugby, following in the footsteps of Jonny Wilkinson.
Top metre makers this weekend across the four home nations
1. Semesa Rokoduguni (England) – 139
2. Liam Williams (Wales) – 105
3. Elliot Daly (England) – 93 
4. Jonathan Davies (Wales) – 81
5. Stuart Hogg (Scotland) – 80
On a cold and crisp evening in Dublin, those lucky enough to be at the Aviva Stadium witnessed a Test match of thrilling intensity as the All Blacks gained revenge over Ireland.

Joe Schmidt’s side might not have had any metre makers to rival the three other home nations but this was a match to roll up your sleeves and put in the hard yards.

And no-one epitomised that work-rate more than Sean O’Brien, restored to the openside flank, who got through an eye popping 20 carries for his country.


The 2013 Lion’s tally was higher than any other player across the four home nations this weekend but he had plenty of help from his teammates.

Garry Ringrose – who only made his debut the week before against Canada – was called upon early to replace the injured Robbie Henshaw and he wasted no time in making his impression felt.

The Leinster youngster, playing at his less familiar position of inside centre, made 18 carries and also topped the Ireland tackle count with ten.

Two more Lions in Jamie Heaslip (14) and Rob Kearney (13) also tested the All Black defence to the maximum with their carrying but in the end the clinical Kiwis held on for victory.
Davies' dramatic drop downs Japan
Meanwhile in Cardiff, Wales left it late before Sam Davies’ drop goal held off a spirited Japan fightback at Principality Stadium.

The Ospreys’ young playmaker, making only his second appearance for his country, stepped back into the pocket to slot the match-winning kick.

And with composure like that, those three points look set to be the first of many in the red of Wales.

Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny switched roles last weekend and it paid dividends as the former, wearing No 15, made over 100m with ball in hand.


And Halfpenny, switched to the wing for the first time since 2011 for his country, made three clean breaks while also adding 15 points from the kicking tee.

Up front King got through a mountain of defensive work as mentioned previously while in the front row Scott Baldwin made 18 carries and beat five defenders in the narrow win.

One last milestone saw 2013 Lion Dan Lydiate cross for his first try for his country, the flanker will be hoping he doesn’t have to wait another 62 caps for his second. 


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