As the knock out stages begin to take shape, we round up the best action from the last weekend at the Rugby World Cup.
New Zealand looking ominously good
Pre-tournament favourites the All Blacks kept the New Zealand public believing on Saturday after a convincing win over France. As expected, France struggled defensively down the number 10 channel, but the way they were outplayed around the fringes of the rucks came as a shock. It was no surprise to see Dan Carter or those running off him surging through into space. Whilst the All Blacks were second best at the breakdown against Australia and South Africa in the latter stages in the Tri-Nations, against France it was New Zealand who dominated, their physicality but also effectiveness at stealing the ball practically winning them the game.
With control of the ball at the rucks, and France having to commit more bodies than they would have wanted into the contact area to compete for or retain possession, the spaces where always going to be there for Carter and co to exploit. Winning the breakdown is one thing, but unless the resulting space is attacked powerfully and quickly then it is wasted dominance. This is something we have become used to seeing with England. For the All Blacks, the chances are never left untouched.
Scotland left on the ropes heading into encounter with England
This was always going to be tough, but after beating Argentina in their own backyard last year not just once, but twice, Scotland might have gone into this match a tad confident. Confident, but never ignorant though of the challenge Los Pumas offered. Andy Robinson has commented on how 30 seconds of madness cost his side the match when Lucas Amorosino raced over with minutes in single digits left on the clock, but the reality is Scotland had their chances to win this game.
The dying seconds saw Dan Parks fluff a drop goal attempt, and promptly scream at the referee for offside against Felipe Contepomi. The whole preparation for the attempt was hurried under the pressure of the ticking clock, and Scotland would have been better off to have played one more phase and insured that the pass was safe.
Furthermore, if you’re 5 metres in front of the posts and a fly-half, you should really hit the target. Scotland must now beat England to progress. Points difference does not matter. If the teams are tied on points, then it will come down to the result between the two of them. To finish above them outright, Scotland will have to score four tries or aim for the more simpler of adjective of beating England by 8 points. It is one hell of a challenge.
England, Ireland and Australia cruise to victory
Scoring 30 tries between them, the three top 10 ranked teams convincingly racked up wins against Romania, Russia and the USA to make their destinations in the quarter-finals all the more clear. England’s triumph over a weak Romania team brought them the confidence boost they needed after their uninspiring performances against Argentina and Georgia. Their backs received some much needed finishing practice, with both Chris Ashton and Mark Cueto scoring hat-tricks, whilst Manu Tuilagi confirmed his status as England’s best attacking option with another good performance in the centre, grabbing his fourth Test try in five matches. An easier test, but one England passed.
Meanwhile Ireland managed to rest several of their key players and still convincingly dispatch Russia without any serious injury worries. They should not be too concerned about the tries that they conceded in the second half, lapses in concentration are bound to occur when a game is too easy to win. They were able to rest Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe and still grab a comfortable bonus point. Elsewhere Australia, their bruised and despondent victims from the week before, bounced back perfectly against the USA, inspired by the return of Berrick Barnes and running in an impressive 11 tries, including at hat-trick from Adam Ashley-Cooper.
Samoa win the battle of the Pacific Nations
Through a controlled set-piece and solid defence, Samoa defeated their Pacific Island foes Fiji rather convincingly in a sell out at Eden Park. Tries from George Stowers and Kahn Fotuali’i, along with the effective boot of Tusi Pisi at number 10 meant the Samoa were too good. In a way, it is a shame that neither of these sides will progress to the knock out stages, such as was the case in 2007 when Fiji conquered Wales.
Try of the Weekend goes to Adam Thomson. New Zealand’s first try against France may end up being try of the tournament. Starting with a sublime break from Ma’a Nonu through the middle, his hips causing chaos, the centre burst up the 5 metre line. Then superb hands from Dan Carter and Israel Dagg sent the ball left to Thomson near the touchline, who finished with ease. Brilliant.
Lucas González Amorosino is the weekend’s Hero, for his match-winning try. In the dampest of conditions, Amorosino swivelled his way infield past three Scottish tacklers to touch down. It was then left to Felipe Contepomi to add the conversion, and Argentina were ahead.
Lastly, this weekend’s Villain is Dan Parks for his crucial drop goal miss. Rather than rushing the phase, it should have been Parks call for more composure and security ahead of the pass. A couple more phases may have put him more central, or even caught Argentina offside.
by Ben Coles