Best of RWC - Episode 15


2011 – Classics

Some good footy in 2011…

South Africa 17 v Wales 16 – Pool D

And we’re off with a bang in the opening weekend.

I still have fond memories of the opening weekend in 1987, but the opening weekend of 2011 was close to it’s equal, especially this match where South Africa were battling with Wales to stay ahead of each other and the Pacific duo of Samoa and Fiji.

In some ways, in my own twisted logic, I equate this match to the France – Scotland classic from 24 years earlier.

An absolute classic.

Some very very good tries.

The Bokke were on the board early with a well taken try on the right wing to Frans Steyn after three minutes.

The game remained close throughout – so much so that Wales’ Hook appealed for a TMO decision on a missed penalty.

When Welsh No.8 Toby Faletau ( … must resist poaching comment …) crashed over fourteen minutes into the second half the Taffs took a 16-10 lead.

The South Africans were forced into action and bashed away with Francois Hougaard running off du Preez’s shoulder, taking a short ball to score what became the winner (well – given the conversion had to go over) fifteen minutes from time.

This put South Africa in the box seat to win Pool D and left the Welsh with the not insignificant task of beating both Samoa and Fiji (oh, and Namibia…).

Fiji 49 v Namibia 25

Probably a stock standard RWC pool game between two teams not expected to advance, but I really enjoyed this game played in bright sunshine at Rotorua’s International Stadium.

Great spectacle.

Wales 81 v Namibia 7

I include this only for the try by big Namibian lock Heinz Koll. Remarkable solo effort.

The commentators waxed lyrical about Gethin Jenkins’s try, which was also a pretty reasonable effort, but ignored Koll’s effort, which I though was horribly unfair. So I am giving him the accolades he deserves now.

Ireland 22 v USA 10 – Pool C

On the anniversary of Nine-Eleven (even though it was Eleb-Nine, I hate how Seppos do dates) the Americans put up a spirited show at New Plymouth. Cheered on as underdogs the Yanks stayed with their fancied Home Nation opponent and scored a great try at the end.

New Zealand 37 v France 17 – Pool A

Classic DC.

Carter was all over this game – he ran the game, set up tries and dominated.

This was the match that settled the nerves for us worrisome Kiwis. It was our first real test. A genuine contender challenging us. And it was France. Yes the team we remember though we try to forget from ’99 and ’07. They do strange things to us in World Cups do France. And we, the supporters, were jittery. And surely a loss would put us on the “wrong” side of the draw (although Ireland had put the cat amongst those pigeons a week earlier).

Anyway, the way the Froggies started did nothing to calm our nerves. Five minutes of pounding our line with attack after attack. Surely this boded ill for the result.

And then: click.

The All Blacks won some ball and it was all over bar the shouting. They marched the length of the field with Adam Thomson waltzing over in the left hand corner.

Suddenly the All Blacks upped the ante and piled on the pressure. Then the points came. Corey Jane took a short ball off Piri Weepu 35m out, brushed off a defender with his classic fend and out sprinted the defence to the right hand corner.

Dagg added five points before the break, and another immediately after the restart. Whilst Memoz and Tranh-Duc added some respectability to the score, before Sonny Bill Williams iced the result.

(unfortunately the best highlights on youtube has an strange musical choice)

A comprehensive 30 point win against a genuine contender.

But us Kiwi’s are a pessimistic bunch and doubts remained about just how committed the Froggies were to beating New Zealand in Pool play when they really didn’t need to. They’re a strange mob are France. Were they holding something back for when it really counted?

Australia 11 v South Africa 9 – QF3

Bryce Lawrence became 2011’s Wayne Barnes.

South Africa went feral on Kiwi referee Lawrence following the game.

I’ve never re-watched the game but it’s been widely suggested, particularly in the Republic, that perhaps David Pocock may have won a few turnovers with a technique that did not quite meet the full requirements of the lawbook.

There was also a bit of whinge about a forward pass that was called (how ironic!) (and it was called correctly) as well.

Lawrence – not my favourite referee – was forced out of the game by the reaction from the aggrieved Bokke fans.

Perhaps the fans were directing their anger in the wrong direction because serious questions need to be asked of any team that could not fashion a win with overwhelming possession and territory … (it’s my hypocrisy and I’m keeping it).

The win set up a much anticipated semi-final between Australia and New Zealand, Dingo Deans and Ted, Neighbour and Host.

The tension across the country mounted.

(highlights SA/Aus & NZ/Arg)

New Zealand 33 v Argentina 10 – QF4

New Zealand however had to get pas their own quarter final opponent. In this case Argentina.

Included as a classic mainly for the heart palpitation when Jerome Kaino threw a no look pass to Kieran Read for the result confirming try (at 67 minutes). Looked for all the world to like the intercept was on, which would have made the score 18-17, instead of the comfortable 23-10. Sure we scored another 10 points, but that was the defining moment.

I hate knock-out rugby.

Wales 8 v France 9 - SF1

Sam Warburton. D’oh.

Wales probably weren’t expected to reach this far into the tournament having finished fourth in the Six Nations. However some big talk from Coach (former All Black) Warren Gatland had them believing.

And given the results of France’s previous two games it was not beyond the realms of probability that the Principality could have found a path into the Final. If they’d kept a full compliment on the field.

Poor Sam, who had done a marvelous job as captain and star player, copped the requisite sanction of a stemming from a shift in officiating philosophy following a string of incidents of players landing on their heads, some potentially life threatening over the previous couple of years, for his 18th minute tackle on Vincent Clerc.

Obviously playing with a man down for so long is a difficult assignment, but Wales did remain in the game. Mike Phillips 58th minute touch down reducing the gap to a single point.

I seem to recall thinking he could have tried to move closer to the posts to make the conversion easier, but checking the replay that is unfair as the French defenders did close off that option.

The conversion missed, the score remained unchanged, and Wales were oh so close to making the big dance but consigned to the third-fourth play-off match, whilst France advanced to their third World Cup Final.

New Zealand 20 v Australia 6 - SF2

My favourite moment of this game? The scrum at the 76th minute mark when the All Blacks buried the ghosts of 1991 and 2003 by burying the Wallaby forwards in the Eden Park dirt.

The reactions, jubilation even, of Big Bad Brad Thorn and the best player in the world in 2011, Jerome Kaino, were priceless. They knew they’d done the job and survived another week for a crack at the Big Show.

The build up to this match was excruciatingly tense. The history of the All Black coaching reappointment and the subsequent recruitment of the unsuccessful candidate by those on the left hand side of the Tasman all boiled down to an eighty minute period on a Sunday night at Eden Park. I won’t say the success and failure of the reappointment. Success could only be measured a week hence should the All Blacks advance. Failure however was a definite option should the unthinkable happen. Again.

With tension at kick off at fever pitch Quade Cooper let all the air out of the Wallabies balloon as he kicked directly to touch, to the expected jeering of the Eden Park fans.

Cooper copped a huge degree of derision from the NZ crowds in 2011, and for years following, not all of it deserved, but definitely some of it was. How he got to that point in the NZ popularity polls bears a bit of examination.

Cooper was (and is) and extremely talented player. That became obvious early in his career. So much so to listen to the Fox Sport television commentators they would have you believing that Quade was the greatest fly-half ever.

This rather rubbed kiwis up the wrong way as the actual greatest fly-half ever was busily tearing it up for some moderately successful Super Rugby team down south somewhere, and we had least one other promising 10 developing (whilst recovering from cancer) and producing performances more than comparable to Quade’s which were dismissed by those with yellow and green eye patches.

Cooper’s non-repentance for an extremely clumsy, and rather ineffectual, act of thuggery on the All Black captain the year before, and the Aussie media excuse making for same, certainly did not help his popularity in the land of his birth.

Unfortunately in trying to own the reaction he served to stir up more derision and he rather misjudged his ability to handle it.

So it was intensely gratifying when Cooper, appointed Public Enemy Number Two in a NZ newspaper poll earlier in the tournament, fluffed his lines on the kick off. (In case anyone doesn’t remember Public Enemy Number One was, it was pre-knighthood Mr Graham Henry.)

(first half highlights)

Watching some highlights recently (love YouTube) a couple of things stood out: firstly just how well the All Blacks played; and secondly just how did Australia manage to keep it so close?

The ABs had come to play. The ball was whizzing all over Eden Park.

Almost as good as the match defining late scrum was the Kaino manhandling of Digby Ioane, throwing him away from the tryline. You shall not pass!

The Blacks just couldn’t move the scoreboard on as much as their endeavor deserved, despite a brilliantly taken try by Ma’a Nonu brilliantly set-up by find of the tournament Israel Dagg.

On the subject of the Australian media talking up their stars they were all over the poached Zimbabwean David Pocock. Apparently he had taken over from Richie McCaw as the greatest ever openside flanker to have played the game. Let’s face it, he was quite good at turn-overs. However, McCaw had a few lessons to teach the youngster, who may not have had the leeway he enjoyed at Wellington a week earlier (refer the QF versus SA above), the upside down double overhead pike steal on Adam Ashley-Cooper being the highlight of that battle.

With the score slow to advance it was gratifying to AB fans that Aaron Cruden kicked a drop goal. It was so reassuring that we had such a talented back up first five-eighth that would take us through right to the end of the tournament.

(second half highlights)

The All Blacks slowly eased away in the second courtesy of three second half penalties, the last one to seal the victory coming from that scrum that the All Black enforcers so enjoyed.

As chants of “Four More Years” rang around the ground the All Blacks themselves advanced to what would be the most nerve wracking denouement of any tournament in any sport I can recall.

As we move forward a week I’ll drop in a quick mention of the bronze medal match, Australia pipping Wales by three 21-18.

But the rugby world, and in particular the two poxy islands hosting the tournament, waited with bated breath, nerves a-jangling. They had made it back to their third final, 16 long years after their dramatic loss at Ellis Park, and 24 years just waiting for a chance to try and win Webb Ellis.

The Final. Coming up next time.

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