Rugby World Cup 2015 – Quarter Finals: Run the cutter

@hamishneal
Dynamic tournament favourites the All Blacks mauled France in Cardiff on Saturday before Argentina got a big win in the Welsh capital as well on Sunday. Whilst in London margins of four and one point gave English fans (and the hordes of travelling supporters) plenty to get excited about as the tournament now turns it’s attention to the final four with three big games to come in the next fortnight, and a third place playoff.

 

 

 

KICK IN TOUCH

 

 

 

Throughout the pool stages in the World Cup in England, and Wales, our wrap touched on each team per their place on the pool ladder. In the knockout phase we will go match by match in review and look ahead to, in this case, the semi-finals.

 

 

 

South Africa v Wales – Twickenham

 

It was a close contest to the conclusion but the spectacle of the first quarter-final was spoilt with 22 penalties in the match won by South Africa. Wales looked to be in the box seat with a lead late in the game and with Springbok fly-half Handre Pollard having earlier missed two penalties it appeared that maybe this could be the day for Warren Gatland’s side. The concern came as well into the second half South Africa had more possession and were outgaining the Welsh. Heyneke Meyer’s side finished up with 543 metres gained to 294 for Wales and in the end that was probably why the Welsh forwards and then defenders were fatigued late in the game. Then the scrum happened. The South African pack got Wales at an angle before Duane Vermeulen, among the winners’ best, grabbed the ball having opened the space for Fourie du Preez to zip in and score to give them a 23-19 win.

 

Of the winners

 

South Africa haven’t really impressed in this tournament and whether the 2007 winners have enough firepower to see them past New Zealand is doubtful, especially given the improvement of the All Blacks, which we will get to, and if South Africa need 59% possession to beat Wales they are little hope of getting that much against the Kiwis.

 

What next for the beaten?

 

Wales can feel unlucky given they have suffered wretched luck before and during the tournament with injuries but when you get to this stage, the fifth match, of a tournament everyone has injuries to a degree so that is what it is. The men in red can look forward to the Six Nations with some positivity, they have won two of the last four editions of the European showpiece and only missed claiming this year’s title on points difference. They, with fellow beaten quarter finalists Ireland and Scotland, should fight it out in early 2016.

 

 

 

New Zealand v France – Cardiff

 

France was the bogey team. The All Blacks hadn’t beaten anyone of note in the tournament to date. Nine tries later those that tipped France had egg on their face and the fact knockout rugby union is win or go home was crystallised by the marauding men in black who won 62-13. France got themselves back in the game after the All Blacks had raced to a 24-6 lead when back-rower Louis Picamoles scored. But after the Toulouse player was sin-binned in the second half the 2011 winners cranked up a gear to hand France a humiliating defeat which saw them concede the most amount of points in their test history.

 

Of the winners

 

Aside from Julian Savea’s hat-trick, which saw the winger pass the great Jonah Lomu on the All Blacks try-scoring list, other key players like Jerome Kaino and Brodie Retallick who had not been at their best so far in pool play cranked it up. Aside from the return to form of that trio when try-scorer Nehe Milner-Skudder went off injured the transition of fullback Ben Smith to the wing with substitute Beauden Barrett going to 15 appeared seamless. Indeed everything about this game was seamless. The All Blacks returned to a more kick-based game at times with 38 kicks compared to the no more than 28 kicks they had made in each of their last two pool games. After challenging themselves in pool games to run at defences some deft kicks caused trouble for the French and it’s hard to see them falling to a South African side which lacks the sort of attacking nous Steve Hansen’s side has developed.

 

What next for the beaten?

 

Former All Blacks coach Graham Henry has slammed the French Top 14 competition as paying players too much within poorly-coached sides. This has led to compromising their national team and despite the fact they made the 2011 World Cup final Henry’s comments have merit as France hasn’t finished better than fourth in the intervening Six Nations tournament’s since 2011. With Frederic Michalak retiring and other key players surely out the door, via their own making or via sacking, France has a lot to do to improve.

 

 

 

Ireland v Argentina – Cardiff

 

 

 

What a year it has been for Argentina. The side that has wins over Australia and South Africa respectively in the last edition’s of the Rugby Championship saw off an Irish side seemingly bereft of ideas when the pressure came on in the second half. 17 points for Argentina in the final 11 minutes saw Daniel Hourcade’s side kick clear to win 40-23 on the back of a superior kicking game in general play after Ireland had outgained them with ball in hand. Joe Schmidt will be left wondering about whether his squad outside his top 23 can match it at this level. Given their bans and injuries heading into the game Schmidt has to dig into his squad of 31 and they ultimately came up short. He second half subs were ineffectual but the early loss of Tommy Bowe to injury didn’t help either.

 

Of the winners

 

Argentina using the opportunity to rest players like captain Augustin Creevy in their last pool game has paid handsome dividends. Back-rowers Pablo Matera and Juan Fernandez Lobbe were again influential and their ability at the breakdown will be key if Hourcade looks to play Australia at their own game and spread the ball to their in-form backs.

 

What next for the beaten?

 

Paul O’Connell’s retirement leaves the winners of the last two Six Nations with a leadership void however the experience the fringe players have gotten in their final two games of the tournament will help immensely going forward.

 

 

 

 

 

Australia v Scotland – Twickenham

 

After Wayne Barnes blew the pee out of the whistle when South Africa won in London on Saturday Twickenham again saw a referee, this time Craig Joubert, heavily influence the last side into the semi-finals as Australia squeaked home 35-34 over Scotland in the English capital. The South African sin-binned Scotland’s Sean Maitland in what appeared unlucky on the former NZ Maori representative before Australia scored through Drew Mitchell to hit the lead they only relinquished via Mark Bennett’s late try. Bennett, one of Scotland’s best all tournament, scored to hand Scotland a 34-32 lead after Greig Laidlaw’s conversion five minutes from time. Then all hell broke loose. In a risky play Scotland threw to David Denton at back of their line-out when close to the line only for the forward to tap the ball back in a messy situation before it flew forward from Jon Hardie and came into contact with Wallaby Nick Phipps. Eventually Scotland’s Jon Welsh ended up with the ball, in an off-side position. Joubert, not able to refer to the Television Match Official, blew the penalty and fly-half Bernard Foley got Australia home. Joubert having seen the big screen replay afterwards subsequent to the incident legged it off the field at the end of the game which wasn’t a great look, however he did everything correctly leading up to that point. Procedurally he shouldn’t have left the field as he did but he couldn’t refer to the TMO and made the decision (essentially that Phipps was attempting to make the tackle and not get the ball) which at pace and real-time he saw as correct. What Phipps says afterward about whether he as making an attempt is irrelevant. Whether decisions like that are added to the TMO’s remit seems a stretch too far.

 

Of the winners

 

Like South Africa, Australia took an age to wear down their opponent despite having a greater amount of possession, Scotland had to make 117 tackles to Australia’s 86. But Australia’s lack of penetration in attack, despite the fact they ended up scoring five tries, will probably be negated by the return of David Pocock and Israel Folau. The duo will play a big part in getting the Wallabies over the line against Argentina, especially given Pocock’s work at the breakdown.

 

What next for the beaten?

 

Scotland, with players like Bennett, the inspirational Gloucester scrum-half Laidlaw and fly-half Finn Russell in-form could be a big chance in the Six Nations given England’s slide and the fact Italy appears to have stagnated. Anything is better than their zero wins earlier this year
Our look at the early stages of the tournament is on the blog https://hamishneal.wordpress.com/

 

About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

Comments

  1. E.regnans says:

    Love the pointy end of any tournament, Hamish, but luck certainly plays a role.

    Saw some highlights of the All Blacks.
    Impressive.
    But have they peaked too early?
    Maybe they are still getting better?
    What odds Argentina to win the World Cup of Rugby Union?

  2. Hamish Neal says:

    E.regnans I don’t think the ABs have peaked to early . Just a matter of playing to what was a poor opponent on the day. Argentina will rightly be outsiders v Wallabies but will be some hope should Pocock not play. They have breakdown speed

  3. E.regnans says:

    Guardian story of this morning’s NZ v South Africa semi final.
    http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/oct/24/south-africa-new-zealand-rugby-world-cup-match-report

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