Minnows – Crowd Favourites
Have the IRB pulled off a bit of a coup here? Before the World Cup started they made public noises about reducing the number of teams from 20 to 16. As if that was a wake-up calls, the teams most likely to be effected by such a cull have all performed above expectation, and the packed houses around France have loved it.
Yes there have been some lop-sided matches; over the weekend Portugal, 14 man Namibia and England all suffered blow-outs, but most of the matches have been tight affairs with the result uncertain going into the final 10 minutes.
And most importantly the crowds have loved it. There have been packed crowds throughout the tournament to date, and the French have really embraced the “Support the Underdog” theme. The now familiar scene of the little teams getting a standing ovation in defeat has symbolized this tournament up until now.
Case in point the All Black v Portugal game. This was like the Wellington Sevens without Elvis. From the Portuguese team banging out the anthem (who needs a haka?), the underdog’s try bringing the house down, through to the post-match celebrations that saw no-one leave the packed house until 30 minutes after the game had finished, this was a great occasion that does not deserve the chop.
Last weekend belonged to these teams.
Best Match of the Week
Ireland 14 Georgia 10. Unlike some earlier games where the underdogs have dragged the glamour side down to their level, this was a genuinely tough game. Georgia, previously famous for giving the world Joseph Stalin and nothing much else, played good tight rugby throughout the full 80 minutes. They dominated possession and territory from start to finish a shut Ireland out for long periods. The end couldn’t come soon enough for the 6 Nations runners-up. The last 10 minutes was as dramatic as ever seen at a World Cup as Georgia drive and drove again in order to get a winning try.
In the end it was only the lack of confidence and experience of Georgia to modify their game plan during that period when camped on the Irish line, some Irish luck, and a desperate tackle by Leamy that prevented what would have been a fitting upset. And at the end; yet another prolonged standing ovation for the defeated side.
Worst Match of the Weekend
None. The Springbok v England game was a blow-out that was never in doubt after the first 10 minutes. But the total domination that the South African side was able to achieve, without ever looking that flash, was a surprise even to the most passionate of England-baiters. Jason Robinson’s emotional exit in front of what was effectively a home crowd after having been the sole point of resistance was one of the most dramatic moments to date.
What about the picture of Eddie Jones in the stand wearing his Springbok top. Have a good look at yourself Jones.
The All Black – Portugal game had the party atmosphere and Australia ran in some pretty decent tries against the most spirited of the Home Nations to date. The contrast of styles, and the cliff-hanger finish where an intercept try was the difference between victory and defeat. meant the Fiji – Canada game was a ripper, only to outdone by the gladiatorial Tonga upset of Samoa in a game played with huge passion, brutality, and pace but not huge on finesse. Even France’s walkover of Namibia produced some brilliant tries and the deafening sound of the crowd breathing one huge sigh of relief.
Player of the Weekend
A tight one this. Fourie du Preez put in a totally dominant performance at half-back against England, including having a hand in all 3 tries. But it helps when there are no loosies around to tackle you.
Facing a bit more opposition was Chris Latham who proved that when fit, he is still clearly the best fullback in the world. Evading tacklers, a near perfect kicking game, bumping Welshmen off, he showed the full bag of tricks.
But in 10 years who will remember any of this? But everyone will remember the Rik Salizo look-alike replacement prop Rui Cordeiro who scored a try for Portugal against the All Blacks. Free port for a long time for that man.
Try of the week
Stirling Mortlock finishing off a Wallaby counter attack by collecting a Gregan chip ahead. And the man who started the counter-attack? Mobile Matt Dunning of course.
Adding to the brilliance, Mortlock even dislocated his shoulder. Easy now
Andy Farrell, the 32 year-old league convert and sole product of England’s rebuilding strategy, playing in the #12 jersey for England and being the designated kicker for restarts. He kicked like… a rugby league prop. Interesting to see the quote from Mike Ford the defense coach admitting Faz is past it.
How did Steve Walsh miss Gareth Thomas’s appalling shoulder check on the very impressive Berrick Barnes?? There were no mirrors around.
Those Welsh jerseys. How does the circulation go with them on?
And on the subject of jerseys, the NZRU has decreed that players are only allowed to swap socks and shorts after matches. Putting aside the PR howler aspect, that is just plain disturbing.
Josh Lewsey chasing back in the dying minutes against the Boks, looks up and sees a wall of green with no white, and lamely dribbles the ball into touch. A fitting run of the white flag up the pole. Summed up the whole performance
The sunshine-drenched festive World Cup moves to …. Edinburgh in another symptom on Northern Hemisphere rugby politics. Scotland have decided that it is the Romanian game that requires their top side, rather this the weekend’s showdown with the All Blacks.
There is also another game in tropical Cardiff where Wales should polish off Japan, and Italy have their last chance to find some form against Team of the People Portugal in Paris.