England crash out and rightly so
Let’s start with England and move on. As if their performance against France wasn’t disappointing enough, at the time of writing news has just filtered through from Auckland that Manu Tuilagi has been detained by police after jumping from a ferry and swimming ashore. To be honest, who can blame him for jumping ship. The brutal truth is, he’s one of very few players worth saving from England’s sinking wreck.
The future though is something we are set to discuss extensively on The Rugby Blog this week, so for now let’s focus on the match itself. England started with the intention to play fast and hard, but didn’t have the hands or skill to pull it off. Once again, their heads were filled with rushes of blood rather than clarity at the breakdown, so blinded by the hunt for the ball that they couldn’t provide you with the definition of legality as they conceded kickable penalties for their former tormenter Dimitri Yachvili to slot over.
In fact, composure, or the lack of it, has been at the heart of England’s demise. When Jonny Wilkinson missed a tackle on Vincent Clerc, England’s players took each other out rather than the French winger in the scramble to stop him. With 0 points on the board five minutes later, Toby Flood’s horrific drop goal attempt furthered the panic. Another five minutes later, with Alexis Palisson in space and one on one with Ben Foden metres from the line, Chris Ashton and Manu Tuilagi recklessly flew over to assist when no assist was needed, opening a gulf of space for Maxime Médard to dive over past the despairing Wilkinson. No thought, just rash actions. England 16-0 down.
Attempting to get a grip on the game in the second half, Ben Foden took his try well and Mark Cueto worked brilliantly to finish off his own score. But it was all too late. The good bits came too scarcely amongst the rubbish. England didn’t deserve to go through on this performance. It takes a lot of negativity and embarrassment to be glad your team did not progress.
Wales looking good for the final as Irish legends walk into the sunset
Quite easily the game of the weekend came first up on Saturday morning, after a brilliant performance from Wales sent them through to their first semi-final since 1987. Their excellent tackle count of 141 was only bettered by Australia’s 143 against South Africa, as the Shaun Edwards drilled side kept Ireland at bay over and over, despite Ireland spending nearly 15 minutes in their 22. With Ireland mentally and physically drained from constantly trying to break the Welsh line, and stunned early on by Shane Williams second minute score, gaps appeared for Wales to exploit. Mike Phillips speed of thought saw him dive over for a doozie of a try, whilst Jonathan Davies broke through green tacklers all too easily to seal the win.
For Ireland, they were good but Wales were simply better. Questions must be asked as to why Ronan O’Gara refused to opt for the points early on when penalties went Ireland’s way, but overall their energy was drained from constantly trying to break an impregnable Welsh defence bar Keith Earls well taken score at the start of the second half. It marked the end of Ireland’s best opportunity to reach the semi-finals to date, and the final appearance on the world’s biggest stage for four legends of the Irish & British game; Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Ronan O’Gara and the irreplaceable Brian O’Driscoll.
Dogged Australia battle past blunt South Africa
The World Champions are on their way home, though quite how this has happened will leave them baffled throughout the whole flight. With the majority of possession, 76% territory and around 11 and a half minutes in the Wallabies 22, South Africa failed to cross the whitewash. The Wallabies exceptionally high tackle count and work at the breakdown, which included 9 turnovers of which David Pocock made 4, banished the previous suggestions that their game is all about attack. Pocock was immense, Radike Samo’s hits were huge, and Pat McCabe’s bloody face when he came off summed up the commitment in midfield. The only question is, can their bodies and minds go through all that once more against the All Blacks?
South Africa will be bitterly disappointed, but this marks a changing of the tide now in South Africa rugby, and the break up of a side which to be honest peaked against the Lions two years ago. With such a wealth of talent waiting back in South Africa and the galvanising effect bringing in a new coach will have on the whole country, the Boks will become a force again without doubt. It will be interesting to see which 15 starts in the Northern Hemisphere this time next year, but around a core of Bismarck du Plessis, Heinrich Brussow, Francois Hougaard and Patrick Lambie, there is so much potential.
All Blacks eventually cruise past brave Argentina
New Zealand were inspired by Piri Weepu in the final semi-final against Argentina, sending the hosts through to the stage where the last time they were this far into the competition they crashed out to their opposition next weekend, Australia. The number 10 curse continued as Colin Slade limped off after 31 minutes, but Piri Weepu really stepped up to the mark, kicking 23 points and providing a lovely assist for Kieran Read’s try. There were some serious jitters after Juan Cabello finished off an awesome move from the Pumas for the only try of the first half, but that aside, they failed to keep New Zealand out as the pressure eventually told. It marked the end on the international stage for Mario Ledesma, Rodrigo Roncero and Felipe Contepomi, some of the finest players of their generation.
Try of the Weekend goes to Mike Phillips of Wales. Spotting the space down the blindside and beating the cover of Gordon D’Arcy, Phillips dove brilliantly to touch down in the corner and giving Wales back the lead after Ireland had levelled the scores at the start of the second half. Game changer.
Hero of the Weekend is David Pocock of Australia. Man of the Match against the Springboks, the man with some of the biggest guns in rugby was awesome. A pest at every ruck, numerous turnovers and several huge hits, Pocock was inspirational. A huge performance.
The weekend’s Villain has to be Manu Tuilagi. Regardless of how young he is, acting in that manner following a defeat is unacceptable. He has rightly been punished, and is learning the hard way what it takes to be an international player.
by Ben Coles