Best of the Weekend at the RWC: New Zealand & France to meet in the final

Only two games this weekend, but that doesn’t mean we’re short of topics to talk about. By this time next week, the Rugby World Cup 2011 will be over. But that’s too sad for us to think about. Let’s crack on.

Brutal All Blacks crush Australia to reach the final

Australia probably thought they’d played the most physical match of the tournament the week before against South Africa in the quarter-final. After the performance of New Zealand, that’s up for debate. The way the All Blacks shut down Australia was as impressive as it was dull. The dedication of their players to attack the breakdown, particularly when counter-rucking, paid off again and again as Australia were unable to generate the quick ball they thrive off. If the Wallabies were not driven off the ball and turned over, then they had to scrap and commit more bodies than they wanted to try and salvage any kind of possession. What came back was scrappy and sluggish. Will Genia must have felt like he was having a nightmare.

The physicality wasn’t just limited to the rucks though from New Zealand. Some of the tackles in open play were phenomenal, draining Australia mentally and physically. One huge hit from Kieran Read on Rocky Elsom immediately springs to mind, two giant men clashing but with only one winner, the man in black. This pressure in the tackle area, as well as in air under the high balls towards Quade Cooper in particular, was extra special.

In fact, New Zealand essentially adopted South Africa’s gameplan from recent years, using the box kicks and up and unders to great effect. Cory Jane and Israel Dagg thrived taking the high ball, making countless perfect catches. More importantly, it was also Dagg’s good footwork that lead to the only try of the game for Ma’a Nonu, slipping tackles on his to the line on the right hand side, before having the sense to look around for support and find Nonu for the offload. He has finally proved his ability at this level, and will be around for a long time yet.

For Australia, this loss should be treated as a one off. They have enough good young players to compete seriously in 2015. Some serious work is needed at the scrum, where James Slipper is developing but not quite quick enough, but when it comes to physicality you’re either strong enough or you come up short. It will be a lesson learned. Unfortunately, it happened in a World Cup semi-final.

Wales begin to recover as Lievremont “praises” his players

24 hours later and the debate is still raging on. Should Sam Warburton have been sent off? By the letter of the law, yes. By personal interpretation? No. The rules are in place for a reason, and the tackle could quite easily have resulted in a serious injury to Vincent Clerc. Warburton came out afterwards and swore there was no malicious intent, but the level of intent is irrelevant when the technique is wrong. If Alain Rolland had chosen to sin-bin Warburton rather than send him off, then there would be nowhere near as much reaction. However with the emotion put to one side, which it has to be said many people who commented on the match yesterday failed to do so, making wildly ignorant comments about Rolland’s background and professionalism, it was the right call.

Wales still could have won this match despite their captain’s absence, something that has perhaps been forgotten due to the controversy over the sending off. Wales missed kickable chances for 11 points in total, James Hook missing two penalties, Stephen Jones a conversion, and Leigh Halfpenny a long range effort. If any of those chances had been converted, we’d be talking about a Welsh-Kiwi final this Sunday. On top of those opportunities, when pressing on the edge of France’s 22 around the 73rd minute, no drop goal attempt was made. Stephen Jones has since come out and said he wanted to get closer, but in reality, he was close enough. It was a chance missed, Jones’ “Jonny Wilkinson” moment. He choked.

Wales will head into the third place play-off against Australia without Adam Jones or Sam Warburton, which in a bizarre twist of romantic fate opens the door for a potential return and 100th cap for Martyn Williams, who was in New Zealand working as a TV pundit for ITV last weekend. With no other specialist openside flanker in the Welsh squad, Williams could be called into the squad as an injury replacement for Adam Jones. One last smile to wash away the pain of the semi-final perhaps.

France though move on to a repeat of the 1987 final against hosts New Zealand, and have been as united and harmonious as ever. With certain members of the squad freshly labelled sales gosses (spoiled brats) by Lievremont, Morgan Parra nursing an injury, and Vincent Clerc coming out and saying that he had “never been so scared on a rugby pitch”, they’re in the perfect condition. Don’t write them off though. That would be madness.

For Try of the Weekend, there is a grand selection of, uh, two. So congratulations to Ma’a Nonu. It was a case of right place, right time for the big Kiwi centre as he benefited from Dagg’s brilliant running.

This weekend’s Hero is Richie McCaw. Few people will know how fit he actually was before kick off, but the captain bullied and hustled his way through a bloody encounter against his favourite enemy with aplomb.

Villain of the weekend is not Alain Rolland, but Stephen Jones. He should have backed himself to take the drop goal. Even if he’d gone for it, at least he would know whether things might have turned out differently. It will haunt him.

by Ben Coles

27 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend at the RWC: New Zealand & France to meet in the final

  1. Good, fair analysis. As a Kiwi I would’ve loved a Wales-NZ final, but alas, it was not to be.

    Perhaps the only thing I would perhaps disagree with is “For Australia, this loss should be treated as a one off.” Actually, I believe that Australia still have a long way to go before they can be called a truly successful side. Since the last World Cup, under Robbie Deans Australia have a win rate of 57.4%. In comparison, Wales win rate under Warren Gatland in the same period of time has been 52.1%, and England under Martin Johnson (slightly shorter time frame) have 55.3%, so Australia aren’t exactly standing out with their results. Their main issue is consistency (much like Quade Cooper’s own problems!) and once they can start nailing the results week after week they’ll be very successful – as it stands now they remind me of the French, although certainly they deserved their semifinal spot much more than the French did!

    Having said that, I certainly do think they can improve and be a real force, so perhaps 2015 will be a different story.

    1. Fair comments. The men in gold do have a lot of work to do. The good news is that it’s not a knock down and rebuild and the core of the team have at least one or maybe two world cups, but I hope that we can learn from our many issues, including (in no particular order):

      1 Aggression in the forward pack. The likes of which we haven’t seen since 2001.
      2 A scrum (Damn Benn Robinson’s knee!)
      3 Sorting out our lineout
      4 Always taking a ‘spare’ fetcher.
      5 Resolving the Quade Cooper question. Let’s be honest, he choked his way through the tournament – now that the pressure is off he’ll probably have a blinder against Wales. What’s baffling is that he had a brilliant super xv, whilst also under pressure.
      6 Why did we have a purely defensive centre combination?! Yes they tackled their hearts out, but with Quade Cooper firing hospital passes from every orifice, every man and his dog could see the wisdom of putting Barnes in at 12 and Horne at 13. Digby Ione is one of the world’s best wingers – yet he had less ball than a Pharoah’s eunuch!
      7 A game plan would be nice. Preferably one that doesn’t involve kicking it to a fullback we know to be class. If you look at the South Africa and New Zealand matches, our game plan was to forget our attack (which is this team’s trademark), give the opposition the ball and play 80% of the game on our 22, haemmoraging penalties.
      8 A back up game plan that we can employ when Quade starts playing like Ricky Gervais’ dance in the office.
      9 Consistency.

      Forget 2015. These boys need to sort their act out now. We need to stop capitulating the Bledisloe cup and don’t forget there’s a Lions’ test in 2013.

      1. yes, humped!

        As in “we played at the weekend and got humped 50 – nil” or ” I took my dog for a walk by the river and he humped a pug bitch”

        1. Ha! Got to love subtle language differences. Humped here in NZ is generally used in a sexual way! Not sure if I’d be keen to watch the All Blacks hump the French out of the park… ;-)

          1. Oops, just re-read your post, and see you also used it in the same context, so same meaning then. Never heard it used to describe sport though!

          2. You got there eventually!

            Israel Dagg. where did he spring from? Im surpised Mills got to 100 caps with him around.

            Corey Jane – reminds me of a young Josh Lewsey. your best player!

  2. Dagg only arrived on the scene last year, played a few tests but then injured so only came back to full fitness recently. Reminds me of Christian Cullen – deceptive runner and stronger than he looks. And Jane was incredible under the high ball wasn’t he? Mind you Digby Ioane is an awesome runner for the Aussies too, expect to see some awesome tries from him in the near future.

  3. Jane had a great game but how did he not get sent to the blood bin by the ref to get stitched up. He played most of the game leaking ketchup!

    1. There was alot of blood flowing wasn’t there? When Andy Ellis came off (and poor Piri Weepu, who thought his night was done, had to come back on) the blood was fair gushing out of him…

  4. Oh and the word I’d use is “tonked” as in France are going to get tonked this weekend. No sexual reference in this one – more brutally destroyed, which is actually petty much what the Kiwis did to the aussies but without as many points.

  5. This may sound bitter but id love France to get slaughtered in the final…. The worst team ever to “grace” a final. Wales are going to struggle to lift themselves for friday tho where as Oz will be happy to play for fun cos nobody really believed they were going to win it anyway

    1. surely welsh fans should be shouting for a France win , to make any sense of their loss?

      As an aside, did anyone see Yachvillis after match interview? what a twat. nothing worse than being an arrogant winner.

  6. Is it just me or is the stage now set for the biggest upset in all sporting history? Eng should have scrapped past France and didn’t, Wales should have won comfortably and didn’t. The all Blacks should smash them but will they? It’s so unlikely that it might just happen!

    1. the vaunted welsh scrum did not take the frogs apart.
      NZ will not have as much front foot ball as they did against the ausssies.

      if the french forwards turn up with game heads, anything can happen.

      1. Have to say that if the frogs did win, the whole kiwi nation would have a collective fit and wouldn’t the Aussies just love to rub in the choker title. Still can’t see it happening, though wonder what the odds are at the bookies………?

  7. Just checked – New Zealand 1/8, and France over 7/1. In a two team race that’s a massive difference. Don’t think the bookies reckon the AB’s will choke!

    1. I have to say I like the look of those odds. I like the French but would prefer the AB’s to win it, but my, they’re generous odds. This game will not be as one sided as the pool game. It will be a completely different game. I believe we will see the French at their best next weekend. A big day out for the centres – Mermoz, Rougerie, Marty Estebanez. I’d play David Marty I think. This is a different game for the kiwis. They will need their discipline, and above all awareness and concentration. If you lack either of the last 2 against France at their best, you’ll be punished, and as I say, I like those odds. It’s a game that always suits France and their counter attacking style of play, and hence why they have a good (relatively) success rate against the kiwis. The French will be showing up in white but they will not be surrendering I think. If they do, they will never live down the surrender monkeys tag – lol. They had the chance to put the filthy AB’s into white kits.

  8. I simply can not see the final being anything other than a 30 point annihilation.

    The kiwis want this so badly you can see veins popping in anyone that says ‘fush.’ They’ve got the best team in the world, an incredible home town advantage and a 24 year old axe to grind.

    They may even make up a new Haka for the occasion.

    Next week’s headlines: French Toast.

    1. Predictions for next Monday’s headlines – I like that. “Kiwis not chickens” (a bit lame I know – I’m trying to help it along!)

  9. @ Mars, the medics weren’t treating players anymore towards the end….it was a blood bath. Sheer intensity..Weepu has some skills for a fat little slob. AB’s will win this with ease, no grand finale on Sunday.

  10. Some comments from the french side !
    I do agree with you. From what we have seen on the pitch over the last weeks, the AB should win that final game by 30 points at least. I could not see any reason against that until I (and french players) read the NZ newspapers. If the French were lacking motivation, they now have enough to fight and you know what could happen when the french find the motivation, they can make THE game of a tournament….. (remember some past WC games).
    I do not fully understand why the newspapers in NZ are so hard against the french players, I thought our sport was based on showing respect to the other players.
    BTW did you notice that the french did show some fair play by letting the AB play in black. Coudl we expect the same from some new papers?

    1. Fair comment regarding letting the ABs play in black, and I think that was appreciated.
      To be fair to the NZ newspapers though, I think you’ll find the papers everywhere (except France, I assume) are saying the same thing.
      And unfortunately, I think you’re right – the French have nothing to lose so maybe they won’t!!!!

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