The Rugby World Cup so far

Rugby World Cup 2011

Pool Matches : The Davids v The Goliaths

by J J Leahy

Only four nations have won the six Rugby World Cups held to date – South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia. A fifth country, France, have played in two Grand Finals. These are “The Goliaths”. The remaining 14 countries are “The Davids”. Some of these are bigger “Davids” (Ireland, Wales, Argentina) and some are very small “Davids” (Namibia, Russia, Romania, Georgia). The rest are middle-sized “Davids”.

Since Rugby became officially professional in 1995, the game has grown considerably. There are professional competitions in the UK, Ireland, France, Italy, Japan and the Southern Hemisphere Super Rugby nations – New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. The Northern Hemisphere competitions have been opened up to players from Pacific Island nations, other European countries, the USA, Canada, and Africa. The French Top 14 competition is the most cosmopolitan featuring players from Argentina, Georgia, Poland, Norway, Algeria, Morroco, Cameroon, Cote de Ivoire as well as older players and lesser lights from the heavyweight Southern hemisphere “Goliaths”. France also has a second tier professional competition, the Pro 2, as well as three semi-professional grades. This has provided opportunities for players from the middle-sized and smaller “Davids” to not only earn a living playing Rugby, but to greatly improve their strength, fitness, and technical skills.

The Pool Matches of this World Cup reflected this improvement. No team suffered a 100 point loss this time. The little “Davids” gave the middle sized ones some close contests, and even displayed moments of skill and determination against the big boys. In the first few weeks of the Pool Matches, most games went as predicted by the pundits. Ireland surprised some with a very committed and hard-driving display to topple Australia. Wales almost knocked off South Africa but could not quite get there. The remaining games followed the script, but with some results closer than anticipated.

However, the last round of the Pool games gladdened the heart. Russia managed three tries against a disinterested Australia who really took their collective feet off the accelerator. England plodded home against a determined but limited Scotland. Samoa really took it to South Africa to go down 13-5. Referees, in particular Northern Hemisphere ones, tend to be very hard on teams who are not from their part of the world, and play a different style of game to what they are used to back home. They try to manage the pace and  structure of game. Samoa can feel hard done by , and South Africa looked  rather ordinary. Then came the match that will be remembered in the years to come. Tonga (population circa 104,000) ranked 13th took on France (population circa 62,600,000) ranked 5th in World Rugby rankings. France have produced many fine athletes in a wide variety of sports, but have not enjoyed  concomitant success in team sports, and have been distinctly unsuccessful away from the homeland. They did win the 1998 Association Football (Soccer) World Cup held in France, but disintegrated in last years event held in South Africa. There were reports that all was not well between the coach Marc Livremont and the players , and of conflicts between players prior to this game. Tonga really took it to the French. They played a controlled game with touches of flair. France were often on the back foot for much of the match and were unable to rally and regain the ascendency. A great win for Tonga, and joyously celebrated at home and among the large Tongan diaspora in New Zealand and Australia. The nations eliminated go home battered and bruised but generally satisfied with their efforts and the improvement in their performances.

 

Quarter Final Preview

 

New Zealand V Argentina

 

Argentina finished third at the 2007 RWC when they were inspired by Augustin Pichot, now retired, but who will be remembered as one of the great halfbacks. They are an aging team who lack creativity and pace in the backline apart from Gonzalez Amorosino. Their world class No 8, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe is out injured. New Zealand strolled through the Pool matches. They have lost Dan Carter, the preeminent fly half in world Rugby. Inspirational captain Richie McCaw’s aging body is carrying chronic injuries. He may not quite be what he was, but he remains a formidable adversary. They have a good balance of youth and experience, and can adapt the game plan to the circumstances.

 

Tip : New Zealand to run over the top of Argentina

 

England V France

 

England will rely on their powerful forwards to crush France both physically and mentally. They are very effective at playing the game in the oppositions half, and slowing the pace by lying all over the tackled player. Referees have penalised them for it in the tournament, but will be pressured not to over penalise teams in the finals. This French team does not have the heart to play to its potential.

 

Tip – England in an uninspiring game

 

Wales V Ireland

 

This should be a beauty. Ireland have many aging warriors, but have performed well so far. They snuffed out Australia to get themselves on the easier side of the finals draw. Their scrum has been strong. Their lineout is well organised. Their loose forwards led by the outstanding Sean O’Brien hunt as a pack. The backs have shown enterprise and a willingness to back themselves with ball in hand. Wales are a side on the rise with a similarly strong forward pack led by their young captain, Sam Warburton. Their backline is looking slicker each game, led in contact by bustling centre Jamie Roberts who has proven so far this tournement to be the rock on which the Welsh attack is built. Keep an eye out for the roaming back 3 of Williams, Half-Penny and 19 year old giant Georgie North.

 

Tip – hard to call, but maybe, Wales just prevailing

 

South Africa V Australia

 

South Africa have many players in their squad who won the 2007 competition. No nation has won successive Rugby World Cups. They have lost inside centre Frans Steyn to injury. At 6’3″ and more than 100kg , he has been powerful and creative. He is capable of reliably kicking penalties from 60 metres plus. In a club match in France last year, he drop kicked a field goal  about 10 metres in from the sideline and about 60 metres from the opponents try-line. It went straight through the posts and into the crowd. Fortunately for South Africa, regular kicker Morne Steyn has a range of 55 metres. South Africa like to use their powerful forwards and an accurate kicking game to keep the scoreboard ticking with penalty kicks and field goals. They do have pace out wide with centre Jacques Fourie and wingers JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana. Australia have not really fired so far and have missed the impact of open side flanker David Pocock. The Australian scrum has been ineffective, and they have lacked penetration in the centres. The referee for this match, Bryce Lawrence of New Zealand is someone with whom Australia have had some unhappy encounters in the past. He will penalise them every time a scrum collapses. Australia like playing in dry weather on a firm track. Australia have a reasonable record against South Africa in recent times, especially when they can run the big Saffer forwards around the paddock and fracture the defensive line.

 

Tip – Australia narrowly – this tip comes more form the heart than the head.

 

 

JJ Leahy

 

 

Comments

  1. Mulcaster says:

    Very good analysis, I was amazed that the Wallabies could win ugly like that.
    The semis will be interesting.

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