20 Sep

RWC – Stats at the midway point
by Tracey Nelson
20 Sep 2011

Who has the best attack, best defence, has conceded the most penalties? Some quick stats from the tournament at the halfway stage of pool play.

Please note that these stats include the game played between Italy and Russia on Tuesday 20 September, so that all four pools have had five games played to make up the first 20 of the overall 40 games of pool play.

Team Points For Tries Points Against
New Zealand 124 19 17
France 93 10 40
South Africa 66 8 19
Italy 59 9 49
Samoa 59 7 29
England 54 7 19
Fiji 52 6 74
Argentina 52 6 21
Scotland 49 4 30
Canada 44 4 66
Australia 38 4 21
Ireland 37 3 16
Namibia 37 3 98
Wales 33 2 27
Tonga 30 3 66
Romania 29 3 77
Japan 28 3 130
Russia 23 3 66
USA 23 2 28
Georgia 16 1 56

Pool Total points Tries
A 319 39
B 203 21
C 180 21
D 247 27

Pool Penalties Cards
A 115 0
B 115 3
C 102 0
D 106 2

Team Penalties con Cards
Romania 28 1
England 27 2
Australia 27 0
Canada 26 0
Argentina 26 0
New Zealand 25 0
Japan 25 0
Samoa 25 1
Namibia 22 1
Russia 21 0
Fiji 21 0
Tonga 20 0
USA 20 0
France 10 0
Ireland 19 0
South Africa 19 0
Wales 19 0
Georgia 18 0
Scotland 16 0
Itlay 15 1

Referee Penalties awarded Match Av
Alain Rolland 53 26.5
Steve Walsh 51 25.5
Bryce Lawrence 39 24.5
Jonathan Kaplan 47 23.5
Craig Joubert 42 21.0
Nigel Owens 41 20.5
Alan Pearson 41 20.5
George Clancy 36 18.0
Wayne Barnes 33 16.5

20 Sep

Cup Balls: Kev & Nev’s View
by Paul Waite
20 Sep 2011

Kev and NevFollowing the surprise announcement of their robot ref, Kev Dagg and Neville Shepherd have been invited back by Haka to share some of their views on the coming week of exciting Rugby World Cup action.

Nev: We’re betting that, if you’re an Aussie fan, you’d be as sick as a dog that fell in the sheep-dip after seeing your team tipped up by Ireland like that.

Kev: Humbled.

Nev: Steady Kev. You ever seen a humble Aussie?

Kev: Good point. Anyway Genia and Cooper got done up like a dinner and a lot of folks this side of the ditch are saying ‘about time’. Looks like our Aussie cousins are going to meet South Africa in the quarters and to be honest I don’t fancy their chances there.

Nev: Could be dog tucker.

Kev: But never write those underarm bowlers off. If they get Pocock back, get the Doc to extract Digby’s thumb from his backside, teach O’Connor to kick, and really put it together they could win that and no mistake. Trouble is, a pack which couldn’t out-scrum Ireland has to get the wood on the Bokke tighties.

Nev: About as much chance of that as England players understanding The Laws. Did you see that rubbish with Georgia – what was that Kaplan joker on, valium? How many ruck penelties did he need before fishing the yellow plastic out?

Kev: Yeah that was slack. You had to admire those Georgia lads though. Hard yakka turning out to play the Poms four days after the Jocks eh? But they got stuck in alright. Some sore Pommie bodies after that one even if they did win.

Nev: So we reckon that, as usual, the Poms will play like the brown stuff on my milking shed floor but win their pool. I see in the papers they’ve already had their traditional crisis meeting where they ask each other what the bloody hell is the go with all the penalties, and then remember it’s because of the intentional cheating.

Kev: And having cleared that up they’ll come out and cheat at international standard instead of club standard and get through to the quarters and then the semis.

Nev: But that’s looking a bit too far ahead. The match of the round this week is going to be Scotland v Argentina without a doubt.

Kev: Yes it’s a do or die game this one. We fancy the Jocks to shade the Argies and put themselves in line for the pool runners up spot there.

Nev: Yeah they’ve banned bagpipes and lumped them in with those.. what’re they called Kev.. vulvazeelas?

Kev: Something like that. That’s like waving a tartan kilt at a jock that is. We think that’ll fire them up enough to get them through, whilst at the same time we do appreciate the absence of strangulated cat noises on the terraces.

Nev: England are facing off against Romania which should knock a few more dents into them. Those Romanian forwards are big units and that’s a fact. A tight first half and a Pom win by 3-4 tries by the end on that one we reckon.

Kev: The boys are playing France but we’re picking the Frogs to play it coy as usual. They’ll keep their powder dry, field a weak team, lose handsomely and not care a jot because they were always aiming to go through second so why get their perms in a tangle.

Nev: What about our lad Zac? Hung out to dry for having a few too many after the win in Auckland and the loss in Brisbane.

Kev: Would never have happened in Pinetree’s day.

Nev: Though I think most of the others might have got dropped for not drinking enough.

Kev: There is that.

Nev: Just to wrap it up, the rest of the games are pretty much business as usual stuff as far as results go, but we’ll be expecting more good footy to be played in all of them.

Kev: Yep, that’s one thing we’ve been served up plenty of this World Cup!

Thanks to Kev and Nev for that interview, and we’ll be back to hear more of their thoughts next week.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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20 Sep

RWC Summary and Predictions
by Paul Waite
20 Sep 2011

Let’s have a look at the story so far in the pools at RWC2011, and then have a quick look at what might (or might not) lie ahead as we zero in on the knock-out phase.

The 2011 edition of the Rugby World Cup continues to deliver more cracking games as compared with 2007. The first weeks of pool games are normally a succession of thrashings delivered with appropriate hauteur by the ‘tier 1′ teams to the ‘minnows, with the occasional evenly contested minnow-vs-minnow encounter. Not this time around!

In fact the term ‘minnow’ is now officially defunct. Inappropriate. There are no teams at RWC2011 which deserve that condescending label, and the people who, after 2007, were suggesting we revert to the 16-team format are thankfully being shown up for the short-sighted idiots they are.

Even the All Blacks’ 83-7 rout of an under-strength Japan falls into the same perspective, given the 145-17 stomping in 1995. The Brave Blossoms competed for the full 80 minutes and were not daunted, just over-matched.

There were other examples of the massive increase in global playing standards by the tier 2 teams. England vs Georgia was a classic. Georgia were playing a team which has won the Rugby World Cup once, and been finalists twice. To say they competed is an epic understatement. Georgian forwards, most of them looking like Popeye’s nemesis, Bluto, fired themselves into the English defensive line like missiles, and their heroic efforts earned them a close 10-17 deficit at halftime. They eventually went down 10-41 as they tired and leaked points in the second half, but given they were being forced to play only FOUR DAYS after their previous pool game against Scotland (a hard-fought 15-6 defeat), that was unsurprising. England left the field looking battered by the encounter, and still utterly confused by the Laws of the game.

The game of the round was undoubtedly Australia vs. Ireland played at a rainy Eden Park. Leading up to this Ireland had suffered through a forgettable August of World Cup build-up games losing to Scotland, England and twice to France. But it was a fired-up team of Emerald-isle men who really took it to the jaunty Aussies in Auckland. Though the damp conditions probably helped, it was mainly the shutting down of play-makers Genia and Cooper which delivered the surprise 15-6 result. That and a ton of Irish passion.

To say that the Aussie World Cup plans are now derailed is over-stating it, but they have undoubtedly been severely dented. Ireland still have to make good on their leg-up, but victories over Russia and Italy would seem to be well within their scope. If that happens then Australia will come second in the pool, and probably meet South Africa in the Quarter-final. An early exit therefore looms for one of the Southern Hemisphere giants. The Wallabies need to be very worried about this as the Boks, historically, have been well suited to beating them in this kind of pressure-cooker encounter.

All the other pools seem to be on course for the following probable quarter-finals in the knock-out phase of the cup:

QF1: Ireland vs. Wales
QF2: England vs. France
QF3: South Africa vs. Australia
QF4: New Zealand vs. Argentina or Scotland

QF1 does offer Samoa an outside chance of getting there ahead of Wales, but Wales have Namibia and Fiji to play, whereas Samoa have Fiji and South Africa, so it will be very difficult.

With QF4 Argentina are 3 points behind Scotland but Scotland has yet to play England which may well result in a zero points haul and Argentina has Georgia which should get them at least 4. So the Scotland vs. Argentina pool game next week should decide which of them goes through to the knock-out stages.

Looking too far ahead is dangerous, but we love danger so let’s throw the clichéd (and boring) ‘one game at a time’ rule out of the proverbial window.

In some parallel universe, the above quarter-finals will produce these semi-finals:

SF1: Wales vs. France
SF2: New Zealand vs. South Africa

And, being an All Blacks supporter, and a lover of symmetry I can’t help but predict that the 2011 Rugby World Cup final will be the same as the inaugural World Cup held in 1987 in this country:

Final: New Zealand vs. France

And the result of that will obviously be a New Zealand victory by 29-9.

Eh bien!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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11 Sep

Cup Balls: Heeeeeere's Jonny!
by Paul Waite
11 Sep 2011

England versus Argentina down in sunny Dunnydin turned out to be a corker of a game which took Los Pumas to the verge of victory with 8 minutes to go, before the dastardly Poms stole it 13-9 with a last-gasp try.

To be frank, apart from the final slightly fluky result, bugger-all went well for the English in their opening match of Rugby World Cup 2011. By half-time they were 6-3 down on the scoreboard, hadn’t looked like scoring a try, had watched Jonny Wilkinson miss most of his kicks at goal, had one man in the sin-bin, and all the numbers were peeling off their cheap imitation All Blacks kit.

To make things worse, judging by facial expression and some lip-reading, they thought they were being refereed by an alien life-form which had taken over the body of Bryce Lawrence and had been sent here to Earth for the sole purpose of putting them out of the tournament.

I have news for them, Brycie isn’t an alien, but is definitely a ‘special’ referee and all New Zealanders are thankful that he can never, ever, officiate in a game that the All Blacks are playing.

In a typical incident the whistle would shrill, followed by a polite request for clarification from the English forward penalised. "The fookin’ ‘ell was that fookin’ for??" asked the player, rising from his rightful position on the Argentine side of the ruck and carefully dropping the player he had by the neck. "You can fook right off" he prompted in an attempt to gently guide the referee’s thought processes in the right direction.

"Off your feet, playing the ball on their side of the ruck!" spat Bryce, in an officious and suspiciously metallic tone of voice.

At this the English forward (name omitted to protect the guilty) looks dumbstruck, then turns around and walks back to his mates with an expression of incredulity plastered across his gormless visage "that referee is an alien that’s taken over a human body" he whispers to them, and they nod in somber unison. "Probably a victim of a pod last night, I’ve seen it on’t telly.. it can happen" he adds. His team-mates look embarrassed. The "pods" are obviously a ridiculous notion.

Everywhere you look you can see panic rippling under the surface of the English players’ faces. They are in a nightmare situation. The Argentine forwards are much too strong for them to rumble the ball up-field for Jonny to droppie them out of trouble, they can’t win with penalties because they are the ones conceding most of them, and the ones they do get (horror of HORRORS), Jonny misses!

Yes folks, that nightmare of English rugby is upon them – the only way to win this game is to move the ball wide. Dear God.

Martin Johnson, doing an accurate impression of a mad bison with an angry wasp up its bottom, disappears in a storm of papers and body-parts as he thrashes about like a loony in his cubicle. Never one able to conceal his emotions, the sentence "I am going to rip the arms off everyone in the squad if they don’t win" is writ large across his face. Actually it was writ large in dripping red letters on the inside of his cubicle window, but I digress.

Back on the pitch the Argentinian team was self-destructing. Players were launching themselves into rucks and tackles as if they had spare bodies in pods, waiting for them back in their hotel rooms. Unfortunately this meant that the current bodies were being carted off the paddock in large numbers and eventually this allowed the English, on about their second visit all game into the Argie 22m, to score a try.

So the Poms won, against all the alien forces (referee, the Other Team, Laws of the game) that were arrayed against them.

But well done Argentina – you played all of the rugby!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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20 Dec

RWC Hosting Venues Announced
by Tracey Nelson
20 Dec 2009

Twenty-three New Zealand centres – 16 in the North Island and seven in the South Island – will host at least one of the 20 participating teams.

There are 20 teams particpating in RWC 2011, four of which have yet to qualify. The teams will be based in 23 centres, ten of which are non-match centres – Bay of Islands, Rodney, Taupo, Tauranga/Mt Maunganui, Gisborne, Wanganui, Masterton, Blenheim, Ashburton and Queenstown.

A range of criteria was applied to assess each option, such as:

  • all accommodation options on match days will be no more than 50 minutes drive from the match venue
  • all training facilities will be a maximum of 30 minutes drive from team accommodation
  • enduring benefits (how much of a catalyst for facility improvement as a result of the allocation of a team)
  • cost containment (minimising cost of domestic air travel)

The duration of stay in each centre varies from 2 to 25 nights. Teams will be based at 47 training venues, which inlude 18 rugby clubs and 7 schools. The allocation of accommodation and training venues for the knock-out stage of the tournament will be determined by ballot for the teams that qualify, and will be located in the cities hosting these matches (Wellington and Christchurch for the quarter finals, and Auckland for the semis, Bronze Final and Final).

Centres and the teams they will host are listed below, with the total number of nights a team will stay there in brackets.

Centre Hosted Teams
BAY OF ISLANDS Canada (6), Tonga (4), Asia qualifier (3)
 
WHANGEREI Tonga (10), Canada (3), Asia qualifier (2)
 
RODNEY Asia qualifier (11), Samoa (5), Namibia (3)
 
NORTHSHORE France (25), South Africa (4)
 
AUCKLAND New Zealand (15), Fiji (8), England (7), Ireland (6), Samoa (7), Scotland (5), Tonga (5), Australia (4)
 
HAMILTON Wales (13), New Zealand (7), Asia qualifier (3), Samoa (2), Fiji (2)  
TAUPO South Africa (9), Wales (5), Irealand (4)
 
ROTORUA Namibia (7), Samoa (6), Irealand (4), Fiji (2), Europe 2 (2)
 
TAURANGA/MT MAUNGANUI Fiji (9), Samoa (4), Europe 2 (3)
GISBORNE Namibia (12)
 
NAPIER Canada (15), Asia qualifier (2), France (3)
 
NEW PLYMOUTH USA (10), Ireland (4), Namibia (4), Wales (3), Europe 2 (3)
 
WANGANUI USA (6)
 
PALMERTSON NORTH Argentina (7), Europe 1 (7), Play-off winner (3)
 
MASTERTON Europe 1 (7)
 
WELLINGTON South Africa (17), Wales (9), New Zealand (8), Fiji (7), Australia (6), Tonga (6), USA (5), France (3), Canada (3)
 
NELSON Itlay (21), USA (4), Europe 2 (2)  
BLENHEIM Europe 2 (10)
 
CHRISTCHURCH Argentina (23), England (19), Australia (16), Scotland (11), Italy (7), Europe 2 (6), Europe 1(3)
ASHBURTON Play-off winner (6)
 
DUNEDIN Europe 1 (11), Play-off winner (8), Ireland (7), Scotland (5), Italy (3), England (3)
 
QUEENSTOWN Ireland (6), Play-off winner (4), England (3)
 
INVERCARGILL Play-off winner (7), Scotland (4), Argentina (3)

20 Nov

Match preview: England v All Blacks
by Tracey Nelson
20 Nov 2009

Obviously the most important thing for the All Blacks to achieve this weekend is a win over England. Anything less will relegate the entire end of year tour as a failure. But there are some additional boxes that could do with some ticks too.

Thankfully the coaches have selected the same forward pack I would have, which is always a good start in my books. The naming of Thomson, McCaw and Read points to a desire for dominance at the breakdown and the combination of McCaw and Thomson on the flanks should provide the speed to outgun England there. I also like the options both Thomson and Read provide in the lineout.

The tight five are exactly that – a tight five who won’t roam about getting in the way of the backs, and all of them have shown willingness and ability to get to the breakdown in numbers and not shirk their duties in the ball security stakes. If there is one thing that would play into England’s hands this weekend, it would be the All Blacks reverting to the Fatties in the Backline style of play we saw the game against Italy degenerate into last weekend – they key to beating England and beating them well is to provide clean, fast, front foot ball and let our backline rip into it without having to sidestep their own forwards.

The first tick box I would like to see fulfilled (well, the second after actually winning the game of course) is for the backs to score tries. So far in the two test matches against Wales and Italy it has been the hookers who have scored the tries – and just one each, leaving a sad tally of one try per test. This needs to change, and Twickenham is the ground to do it on.

The other tick box is the requirement to keep our line unbreached. A win against England will be badly tarnished if they score a try against us, particularly with the way England have been travelling so far. They have selected a very defensive-oriented side, so it would be all the more galling to concede 5 points to them.

Of interest will be the shift of Zac Guildford over to the right wing – a position he feels is not uncomfortable for him, and one he opted to take in deference to his more senior counterpart Sitiveni Sivivatu who offered him the left wing spot. England have a Kiwi amongst their ranks in hooker Dylan Hartley (born in NZ but shifted to England as a teenager) in just his fourth run-on start. Hartley played in the same Rotorua Boys’ High School 1st XV with Liam Messam. They are also starting Ayoola Erinle at 2nd 5 this weekend which makes for a new pairing in the England midfield, and he will be head to head with Ma’a Nonu.

England have been slammed by their own press (and fans) as being boring and lacking any skills to play attacking rugby after losing to Australia and only just beating Argentina this month. Some of their better attacking players have been relegated to the bench (Mathew Tait, Shane Geraghty, Tom Croft), and whilst Simon Shaw is back from injury at lock the entire line-up looks remiscent of siege-mentality in what is likely to be an attempt to prevent he All Blacks from getting their running game going more than having a clue how to attack to win the game.

That doesn’t mean that powerful forward play should take a back seat, and I hope the All Blacks can also illustrate some good scrummaging (thankfully Stuart Dickinson isn’t refereeing this week!) and physical dominance at the breakdown. The All Blacks owe it not just to themselve and their fans, but to world rugby to ensure ball through the hand dominates the now in-vogue kicking game that has brought rugby union to the sorry state of being a kick-fest at international level.

12 Mar

RWC 2011 Match Schedule and Pool Match Venues announced
by Tracey Nelson
12 Mar 2009

Lancaster_ParkThe opening match of RWC 2011 will be played between New Zealand and Tonga at Eden Park on September 9th. The RWC 2011 Match Schedule and Pool Match Venues were announced today in Auckland by by RNZ 2011 Ltd Chief Executive Martin Sneddon and RWC Ltd boss Mike Miller. With Auckland’s Eden Park already set to host the two semi-finals and the final, and Wellington and Christchurch will hosting the four quarter finals, there has been much anticipation as to where the pool games will be played.

Auckland (Eden Park), Wellington and Christchurch have been allocated five pool matches each while North Shore, Hamilton, New Plymouth, Rotorua and Dunedin will each host three matches. Whangarei, Nelson, Palmerston North, Napier and Invercargill will host two matches. There were submissions from 11 regions across New Zealand, comprising 16 match venues in total.The regions which applied to host Pool Matches were: Northland, Auckland, Hamilton, Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Manawatu, Wellington, Nelson Tasman Region, Christchurch and the Southern Region (Otago/Southland).

Our philosophy all along has been a Stadium of Four Million. We believe today’s announcement, building on the knock-out decisions announced last year, takes us further towards the fulfillment of that promise said Mr Snedden.

Auckland and the Southern Region’s proposals contained three venues while the Bay of Plenty’s proposal included two venues. All of these regions have also included applications to host teams as part of their proposals. Regions which have applied to host teams only are: Marlborough, Tairawhiti (Poverty Bay/East Coast), Taupo, Aoraki Region (Timaru), Ashburton, West Coast, and Wanganui.

The opening weekend of the tournament will seeArgentina meeting England in Christchurch, and South Africa playing Wales in Wellington as well as communities in Invercargill, New Plymouth, Rotorua and North Shore getting their first taste of Rugby World Cup action. The second weekend will feature the Australia v Ireland clash, while the third will seeNew Zealandtake onFrance. The pool stage wraps up with deciders taking place across all 4 pools.

The quarter-final match-ups were also confirmed, with the top two teams in Pool A (featuring currently qualified teams New Zealand, France and Tonga) and Pool B (featuring Argentina, England and Scotland) playing off in Christchurch. Wellington will host quarter-finals featuring the winners and runners-up from Pool C (featuring Australia, Ireland and Italy) and Pool D (featuring South Africa, Wales and Fiji).

The four quarter-finals will be played on the weekend of October 7, 8 and 9, 2011. The semi-finals will be played on the weekend of 15 and 16 October while the Bronze Final will be staged on Friday October 21 at Eden Park, followed by the Final on Sunday October 23 at the same venue. The two day break after the Bronze Final allows us to better prepare for the Final on Sunday, and should also ensure a huge festival night for Auckland on Saturday said Sneddon.

Today marks the culmination of a 22 month process that has involved regions from every part of New Zealand.We are pleased that all 11 regions will have the opportunity to host matches. Given that a total of 16 venues were proposed, we do appreciate that there will be disappointment among those who have missed out. The RWC 2011 Regional Coordination groups, of which there are 22 around New Zealand, will now evolve from having an initial focus on bidding for hosting rights into regional core tournament and festival delivery agents.”

The 20 team bases will be announced later this year.

2011 Rugby World Cup Match Schedule

 

15 Dec

John Drake: The passing of a true legend
by Tracey Nelson
15 Dec 2008

John Drake, LegendIt was with great sorrow New Zealand rugby circles learnt of the news that John Drake had passed away at his Mt Maunganui home on Saturday evening, at the age of just 49. Drake was part of the 1987 World Cup winning side, and played 12 matches (including 8 tests) for New Zealand at tight head prop.

Much of Drake’s scrummaging ability was honed playing off-season club rugby in France, and it was from France that he was first called into the All Blacks as a replacement prop during their tour to Argentina in 1985. He went on to play his first test match in France the following year, before being named in the World Cup side in 1987. Drake played in all but the opening game of that tournament, and later stated that the most memorable try in his career was the one that John Kirwan scored in the final against France “because that was when I knew we had the game won“.

Drake retired from playing the year after the RWC, and soon after shifted from Auckland to Mt Maunganui where he went on to have a very successful business career running Cotton Traders. But his links with rugby remained, and he continuedscrum coaching for the next few years.

He first entered media circles as radio comments man alongside Peter Montgomery for games at Eden Park, and then in 1998 began writing a column for the Auckland Herald. But it was his foray into rugby analysis for SKY Television’s rugby commentaries where he really found his niche.

Not only was Drake balanced and intelligent in the comments he made, he also had the ability to remain calm and articulate when the pressure was on. He chose his words well, and those of us listening would nod in agreement or be given cause to think further and deeper on what we had just seen on the screen. While his knowledge of all things scrum-wise was a given, his ability to analyse backline moves and plays was something that set him aside from other comments-people. Drake also had a long-time slot on Brendan Telfer’s Radio Sport show on Monday mornings,analysing the weekend’s rugby action.

New Zealand rugby analysis and comment will be muchthe poorer with his loss, especially SKY’s commentaries where his combination with game-caller Grant Nisbett was without peer. While we mourn the loss of a great rugby man our thoughts go out to his wife Cathy and three daughters, who have lost something even greater.

John Drake’s first class record:

Auckland: 1981-87 (University Club)
NZ Universities: 1980-82
NZ Trials: 1984 & 1987
North Zone: 1987
All Blacks: 1985-1988 (12 games, 8 tests)
Test tries: 1

3 Oct

And then there were Four
by Tracey Nelson
3 Oct 2007

Finally we are back in France, in the City of Love – where no love
will be lost this weekend as the hosts France take on reigning World
Cup Champions England, and the South Africa go into battle against
Argentina.

Semi Final 1, Saturday October 13: France v England

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan, South Africa

So it has to be asked – can France string together two big games in
consecutive weeks? Going on past history, most people will say NO.
France have a track record of playing one huge game and then rolling
over in the next one. Will this weekend be any different?

Possibly. They are playing the reigning World Champs who have been
anything but in the four years between tournaments, but last weekend
England turned on a display of immense forward power, combined with
the boot of the mercurial Johnny Wilkinson, to put Australia to the
sword. Although it must be said that the Australian pack is dreadful,
and it was only a matter of time before they got a referee who could
call it as it was happening. So other than snuffing Australia out by
having a better pack, can England match France?

If France can get their heads together and get out on the field with
the same mental determination they had to beat New Zealand last week,
and IF they can get their backline running, then they can win this
game. England have struggled to score tries, and while potting three
points at regular points during the game was enough to deny Australia
the win, you’d have to question whether it will be enough against a
team that is more than capable of matching them up front.

In France’s favour is the fact they are playing on home turf. This is
their tournament, and it’s do or die for them. With the hearts of a
nation behind them, those trumpets playing (Ole!!), and the lights of
Paris twinkling in the background you would have to think that perhaps
the scales are balanced somewhat in their favour. In England’s
favour, they have new belief after dispatching Australia and there are
some experienced players in that team. Though have they passed from
being experienced to just plain past it? All will be revealed this
Saturday.

Semi Final 2, Sunday October 14: South Africa v Argentina

Referee: Steve Walsh, New Zealand

Almost like two Sherman Tanks going for each other. Two magnificently
powerful yet mobile packs, vs two great running backlines. The match
ups in this game are mouthwatering to say the least. The pre-match
slanging has begun, and despite Argentina never having beaten the Boks
in their previous 11 meetings, it wouldn’t be a silly move to put a
sly dollar on the Pumas this weekend.

Argentina, the team that plays in neither the Six Nations nor the
Tri-Nations, has burst from black hole of rugby obscurity and by
winning the Pool of Death have marched on to make their first ever
appearance at the World Cup semi finals. Their forwards have carved
up the opposition like a hippopotamus blocked trying to get to the
river, and their backs play with all the Latin flair of their French
counterparts – no surprise that most of them play club rugby in France
then.

South Africa have continued their heritage of massive forwards,
twinkle-toed backs and of course that kicking game – because what is a
Springbok team without a kicking 1st 5? But they are street savvy,
and they are brutal. There are no prisoners taken when the Springboks
play.

This game could go one of two ways – it will either be an immense
struggle up front with neither backline getting to see much ball, or
it will be a display of running rugby like no other. Personally I’m
hoping for the latter, as I think the talent in both backlines would
be worth the admission price alone if they are allowed to cut loose.
Who will win? The Springboks are probably favourites at the bookies,
but Argentina are fast becoming the tournament darlings and have
almost slipped undetected and unfancied to the business end of the
matches. The first 20 minutes will determine the outcome of this
game, if South Africa can get a lead then I expect them to run away
with the game. But if Argentina can get a look in, then watch out.

2 Oct

The Eight Emerge
by Tracey Nelson
2 Oct 2007

The final eight teams have been decided, with the boil over being Fiji’s win over Wales – thus knocking the Welsh out of the tournament with the conclusion of pool play. The three southern powers of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia had already booked their quarter final spots by finishing undisputed top of their respective pools before the final round, however Pool D remained an enigma right up to the final pool game as to which of Argentina, Ireland and France would miss out on going through to the quarter finals, and who would finish top of the pool and thus miss playing the All Blacks in that game.

As expected (well, by those of us who usually reside south of the equator anyway), Argentina put paid to Ireland’s hopes, beating them comprehensively in the end to emerge the overall winners of Pool D by virtue of having beaten France in the opening game of the tournament. That there are two sides in the quarter finals, neither of whom compete in either the Tri Nations or the Six Nations, should be making some of the fuddy duddies at the IRB sit up and take notice. Not that we shall hold our collective breath.

With Australia, New Zealand and France all now ending up on the same side of the draw, South Africa looks to have the easiest road through to the final meeting Fiji in the quarter finals, and then most likely Argentina in the semi (Argentina meeting a less than impressive looking Scotland in the other quarter final). The fly in the ointment for South Africa could well be Argentina though, who are looking more and more confident as the tournament progresses and they have both the forward pack and the kicking game that could quell the Boks.

Australia will play the unfancied England in their quarter final, and given the woeful state of English rugby you’d have to think that Australia would win that game unless it comes down to a swathe of scrums which is the one area England would certainly have the wood on them. Meanwhile New Zealand will take on host nation France – although this game will be played on the neutral territory of Millenium Stadium in Cardiff and it remains to be seen how France will cope with the lack of home ground advantage.

With the rapidly decaying state of rugby in the home unions, and France looking out of sorts other than when playing the minnows, there remains a high chance of the semi finals being an all southern hemisphere affair. One has to wonder what the interest will be like in France and the UK should that happen. Surely the tournament organisers would not have wanted a New Zealand-France clash this early in the tournament, and likewise I’m sure that France would have been expecting to play a quarter final in front of a partisan home crowd on their home turf in Paris.

To win the Webb Ellis Trophy, New Zealand now faces the sternest path having to beat France, Australia and most probably South Africa to be crowned world champions. And if they can beat those three teams in space of three weeks, then they surely will deserve that mantle.