Best of RWC - Episode 12
2007 – Classics
Episode 12 of the Best of Rugby World Cup as we return to Europe for RWC VI. The line between opinions and facts may become (more) blurred.
For reasons which may become clear, when I updated this series back in 2011 I tweaked the order of Upsets and Classics as it just suited the narrative better. Or it may have been to delay writing or thinking about … something … I’m sorry I forgot what I was talking about …
Anyway welcome to France (and Wales) and the best games that aren’t upsets – there’s a couple of those coming up in Episode 13.
Strangely enough I recall less about some of these (comparatively recent) games than I can about the tournament 32 years ago. This is much to do with having a young family imposing on rugby watching time, Australian free to air TV coverage or lack thereof, differences in time zones compounded by a fondness for cheap Australian shiraz all conspiring to prevent viewing and cloud the memory.
Because of that I have resorted to some googling to add some background that my own memory banks are missing.
Let’s face it though. The rugby at RWC ’07 was boring. The common theme through 2007 seemed to be you were more likely to win by letting the opposition play with the ball. Perhaps that was a factor in my partial amnesia. Anyway, the games that stick out for me include:
South Africa 36 v England 0
Included for the clinical manner in which the Bokke took apart the defending champions. The margin quite remarkable when it’s remembered the same two teams would meet in an incredibly tense final only seven weeks later. Were England that bad, or were they foxing? I personally think they were that bad, got up for one big result (Episode 13) and rode the draw into the final. More on that later.
New Zealand 108 v Portugal 13
Included if only for the passion of the Portgu-geezers and the fact that Carl Hayman won a lineout.
South Africa 64 v USA 15
Included for the wonderful try by US winger Takudzwa Ngwenya in an otherwise business as usual result. The try came from a great team breakout finished by Ngwenya blitzing past the best winger in the world at the time in Bryan Habana.
Ireland 14 v Georgia 10
Unfortunately I missed this match on tele live and the replay times just weren’t conducive to re-watching. I did have great fun reading the commentary thread on TSF as if it were live.
A memory jog courtesy of Google tells me that the Irish held a four point lead at the break before the Georgians hit the front five minutes into the second spell. The Paddies grabbed the lead back on 55 minutes but spent the last 25 minutes having the living daylights belted out of them by a desperate underdog. To no avail. Credit it seems must go to the Irish defence as they survived three failed drop goal attempts (who would have thought it? drop goal attempts failing to win a RWC match …) and a TMO decision.
Ireland were disappointing in 2007, losing to France and Argentina and barely scraping past the Georgians. They were somewhat favoured by many pundits, and me, to go deep into the knockout stages of the ’07 Cup on the back of their “Golden Generation”, which included a couple of truly World class players. Impressions gained at the time were that Irish fans were not much enamoured of coach Eddie O’Sullivan, and blamed him for their failure at this tournament.
Samoa 15 v Tonga 19
Sorry, I really can’t remember this one at all. It was close, and between two strong pacific Island rival nations (each of whom would have had some thought of advancing to the knockout rounds).
Seems it wasn’t a match for the ages, one try to Tonga effectively the difference that saw them take their first win over their rival in 7 years, despite playing the last seven or so minutes with 13 players.
South Africa 30 v Tonga 25
Good Grief! Tonga take South Africa to within a try and I didn’t remember it!
For me this was a case much like the Ireland-Georgia match above. Missed it live, and struggled to catch a replay.
The Bokke took a 7-3 lead to the break, with the Tongan’s big defence repelling several attacking raids.
Pretorius had the yips with his boot and Jake White was forced to bring on the heavy artillery early in the second half.
The Saffas, down 10-7 in the second half, slowly built a wining lead at 27-10, but that was cut to 27-15 with nine minutes left. A further try (variously attributed in googled match reports) cut the lead to 5 points two minutes later.
The teams traded late penalties as the eventual champions avoided one of the greatest upsets of World Cup and Test Match history.
This match seems to fit the pattern created by Australia’s 9-3 win over Western Samoa in 1991, and England’s battle at Telstra Dome against (not-Western) Samoa in ’03. The eventual champion’s unexpected banana peel in pool play that they just survived.
Scotland 18 v Italy 16
I said back in Episode 11 on the 2003 Cup that the games between Pool Seeds 2 & 3 are often the most closely contested, and I find these games fascinating. Perhaps the best we can do for this match is assign it “close” status as the Scotties ground out a close win on the back of Chris Patterson’s 6 penalties to advance to the Quarters.
Some of the other Pool games that on review seemed close, but I either didn’t have time to watch or commit to memory include:
Samoa 25 v USA 21
Japan 31 v Fiji 35
Canada 12 v Japan 12
Romania 14 v Portugal 10
Anyone who cares to elucidate us on (any) of the above games please feel free!
South Africa 37 v Fiji 20 – QF
In Episode 13 we’ll review some of the upsets and the effect these had on the knock-out draw. One of the obvious effects is that South Africa, on paper, ended up with what some may argue was one of the least challenging knock-out draws in the history of the tournament, starting with Fiji.
But rugby isn’t played on paper and you can only play who is in front of you (if you’re looking for clichés you’ve come to the right place). Fiji had beaten the supposed “on paper” stronger team (Wales) “on the field” and no doubt also raised SA coach Jake White’s blood pressure a little during this game.
Leading comfortably at 20-6 with half-an-hour to play and Fiji down to 14 players all was well in Saffaland.
But strange things happen in knock-out rugby.
Within the space of two minutes the Bokke lead had disappeared. First Vilmone Delasau then Sereli Bobo crossed for tries as the Fijians entered the final quarter of the game on even terms.
The Saffa’s class allowed them to ease away, and run out comfortable winners, advancing themselves to the semi-final against Argentina, and then on to the final.
South Africa 15 v England 6 – Final
Not a list of opponents that would normally have a top rugby nation quaking in their boots, let alone a list of opponents that would be expected to set major roadblocks on the road to Webb Ellis glory.
2007 saw South Africa become the Steven Bradbury of World Cup Rugby as all the top contenders fell over leaving the Bokke the last man standing.
(As an aside on Bradbury, I think he gets unfairly maligned for winning his gold medal. As has been noted he worked five hours a day, six days a week for 14 years to get that lucky.)
Having said that there was still quite a job of work to do to dispose of what had been, since their own RWC triumph in 2003, a very disappointing England.
Given the prize at stake each team’s defence seemed to grow an extra leg, and the concept of attack was consigned to the “we’re not very good at it, so we won’t do it in case we stuff it up” file, as is seemingly traditional to both teams.
England’s Matthew Tait seemed not to have read the team instructions as he made the most significant attacking break of the game setting up a probe at the corner by Mark Cueto.
Controversial referee Stu Dickinson sitting in the TMO box made the most important, and most accurate decision of his career as he correctly ruled Cueto had a foot in touch.
This later led to some unpleasant whinging, particularly from Cueto and the great Lawrence Dallaglio. Vocally complaining about a correct decision seemed ironic, given the restrained silence from truly aggrieved parties following certain a quarterfinal result a fortnight or so earlier.
Anyway, come the final whistle South Africa (the country) went mad (again), the inter-tournament record forgotten and forgiven, and the rugby world steeled itself to visit Stadium New Zealand in four years time.
So how did the host nation for RWC VII fare in RWC VI? Well … keep an eye out for Episode 13 (unlucky for some).