Debutant Julian Savea gave Ireland the run-around all game long on his way to a stunning hat-trick (Image | Getty)

The first year of the new ‘traditional’ tour schedule has begun with disappointment for the big three teams from the British Isles. Ireland, Wales and England have gone one-nil down in three test series and, while it’s still possible for their summer to be rescued, there’s a lot of work to be done.

In fairness to Ireland, they were never expected to do more than put up a fight against world champions New Zealand. There was pre-match talk from within the Irish camp about going there to win, but the All Blacks are the best team in the world by a significant distance and they outclassed the tourists in a 42-10 victory.

Ireland showed competitiveness in flashes, with the first 15 minutes being a relatively even match. However, there was always a sense that they were playing out of their skins to maintain parity and that it couldn’t possibly be maintained for 80 minutes. Keith Earls and Sean O’Brien made good carries and debutant Simon Zebo showed up well, but as soon as Julian Savea walked over for his first try, the result was settled. The only question was going to be the margin of victory.

Even with three debutants and a curtailed preparation, New Zealand looked too good and they will be odds-on favourites to win this tour 3-0 and go on to blitz the Rugby Championship against Argentina, Australia and South Africa. Ireland will do well to get near them in the two remaining tests.

The second match of the weekend saw Wales looking for a first away victory in Australia in 43 years. With a nearly fully-fit squad of excellent, young and experienced players, and coming off the back of a Six Nations Grand Slam, Wales went into the match confident of turning an injury-hit Australian side over.

Try-scorer Will Genia was instrumental in Australia’s triumph over Wales on Saturday (Image | Reuters)

A quick-fire penalty and try put gave Australia an early 10-0 lead that put a dent in Welsh hopes and Wales struggled to bring their attacking quality to bear in drizzly conditions. Immediately after the half-time break, Will Genia scored a superb individual try and Wales were 17-3 down and facing an Australian side on the rampage. A mid-match flurry brought Welsh fans hope of a come-back, but fifth-choice fly-half Berrick Barnes finished the game off by sending Pat McCabe over for the try that confirmed the victory.

Wales will be hugely disappointed with the result because they know that they could, and probably should, have won if they’d played to their full potential. The problem was, as always, belief. Apart from a short period in the second half, they never looked like they expected to win.

Australia, on the other hand, always looked confident and it was the difference between the teams. The tourists still have a great chance next week to break their losing streak against Tri-Nations teams, but next week will be tougher still. If Australia get another early lead, then will this Welsh team be able to believe or will they remember the first test and resign themselves to defeat?

South Africa versus England was the third match of the day and England will be furious that they did not get more from this game. The expected barrage of Springbok high balls arrived on schedule, but England played to their opponents’ gameplan by kicking poorly and gifting the South Africans territory from which to launch attacks. The first half was evenly competed, but the opening twenty minutes of the second half was played almost entirely in England territory with South African possession. The unrelenting pressure told and was rewarded by two tries to take the game away.

Toby Flood’s solid performance off the bench is one reason for England to be positive ahead of the second test (Image | Getty)

England have reasons to feel confident – they looked a far better team when they kept ball in hand and their offloading game was genuinely threatening to the South African defence. However, too much of the game was dominated by poor decision-making and very average kicking from the half-backs. Substitutes Lee Dickson, Toby Flood and Jonathan Joseph all impressed when they came on and coach Lancaster will need to make changes for the next test.

If the next test were in Durban, then the series would still be rescuable for England. This is far from a vintage Bok side and England are building, slowly but surely, into a team that can compete with the best. However, the next test is in Johannesburg. The altitude of 1750m above sea-level will always test touring teams and thinner air will mean Morne Steyn’s already steepling high-balls will go ever farther.

All three teams will be frustrated at failing to make a better showing on the first weekend. Redemption is available very quickly, but the advantage will be to the home teams and the teams from the British Isles will have to work very hard to avoid losing the series before the third test.

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