Best of the Weekend: Ireland steal the show at the RWC

With the second weekend of matches all over, we’re edging closer towards deciding the line-up for the quarter-finals with only two games left in pool. So who stole the headlines? Find out below.

Ireland conquer Australia for the first time in five attempts at the RWC

No contest for the game of the weekend. Ireland’s victory over the Wallabies at Eden Park was widely unexpected, given Ireland’s terrible form throughout August and an unconvincing performance against the USA in their first match. However, it was always likely that Ireland’s old army would raise their game against Australia, and so it proved. Lead from the front by a leaner, meaner Paul O’Connell than we’ve seen in recent years, Ireland’s pack effectively won them this game, as they dominated the scrum, line out and breakdown.

The work of Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip in the back row for Ireland was exceptional. Physical, intimidating, Australia struggled to get any fluency when attacking due to the pressure placed on their half backs Will Genia and Quade Cooper. Every time the ball was sent Cooper’s way, his options were reduced to scraps, the capitulation of this coming when he threw a loose behind the back pass that fell into the hands of Tommy Bowe. Unfortunately the winger’s gas ran out about 10 metres away from the line as he went for the interception try, halted by exhaustion and James O’Connor’s excellent try-saving tackle, but the damage was done. Australia were too far away from the Irish line to get the crucial bonus point.

Overall, the match exposed that Australia do not have a scrum to compete with the best at key moments in big matches. A combination of flawed technique and inspired performances from Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross in the front row saw them crumble, presenting the opportunities for Johnny Sexton and later Ronan O’Gara to put Ireland further out of sight. In fact, the change to bring on O’Gara for Gordon D’Arcy was inspired, providing Ireland with two strong kicking options that helped them close out the game. This Irish performance was one of their best in years, perhaps their greatest since the 2009 Grand Slam success. The only question is, can they keep on pulling out those kind of performances throughout this tournament?

England run in six tries, but produce far from a great performance

Score lines occasionally flatter to deceive. 43-10 certainly looks substantial, but for the majority of this match England were under pressure from Georgia. About two thirds of that pressure was self-induced, the reason being England conceded 16 penalties over the course of the match. The indiscipline was unacceptable to say the least, the side failing to adapt to Romain Poite’s refereeing of the breakdown.

No example of this is better than Dylan Hartley’s sin-binning just ahead of his own line when Georgia were at their most threatening towards the end of the first half. Coming into the side for Steve Thompson, this was Hartley’s chance to win his shirt back.

Unfortunately, like many other of England’s new players who came into the side, he didn’t seem to take it. In attack, there were too many moments of hesitancy, of self-doubt with the ball in hand of where to go next.

Channels became crowded, passes failed to go to hand. Same old England. Only when Georgia began to tire did the tries come more easily, with three in 20 minutes as opposed to the ones that had come every 20 minutes before.

Ahead of facing Romania, England must be coached less and be encouraged to think on their feet more. An attack is not simply passing the ball from one side to the other through the hands. This concept of reduced coaching needs to happen except at the breakdown, where hard work is needed. Look at the way Ireland managed to dominate the breakdown with immense physicality and good technique from the few numbers they sent in to the rucks. England have the players to do this. It’s about time they started doing so.

Wales leave it late against Samoa but are back on track

Trailing 6-10 at half-time against Samoa, the vibe on Twitter from the Welsh contingent was verging on one of panic. Samoa looked brutal around the fringes, this area proving to be the surprise point of the successful attack rather than their attractive wide game. However hard they defended, they couldn’t seem to keep Samoa out. They big question was, how much juice did the Samoan engine have left after playing just five days ago against Namibia?

Ultimately they didn’t have enough, and the debate will rage on over the lack of impartiality from the IRB on the RWC schedule. Why should Samoa have to play twice in a week when none of the top 10 Nations have to? No one knows how this match might have gone if both teams had started the match with a weeks rest under their belts.

This argument however takes away from the many positives that Wales showed. Rhys Priestland is growing into a better and better international 10 every game, and his control against Samoa was impressive. James Hook was again excellent under the high ball, while Leigh Halfpenny’s introduction provided a sharp injection of pace down the wing, leading to the try from Shane Williams. The line out struggled after the high standards of the game against South Africa last week, but this was their biggest obstacle in the pool and they’ve come through it relatively unscathed.

New Zealand, South Africa and France still on track

Two wins and two bonus points for France and hosts New Zealand means that their crunch match next Saturday morning will still decide who progresses through to the quarter-finals to face Argentina or Scotland. The fact that the Kiwi public was still unsatisfied despite their side recording the biggest win of the tournament so far when they won 83-7 against Tonga last Friday, says a lot about the country’s high standards. At the back of their minds however, they must be fearing a sense of déjà vu from Cardiff four years ago. Yet to be tested properly, constantly rotating their selection, and with McCaw, Muliaina, Read and Carter all carrying niggles, the nerves will be fluttering around Eden Park on Saturday morning.

Meanwhile there was to be no repeat of Fiji’s scare of South Africa in Nantes four years ago. As spirited a performance as the Islanders put in, South Africa were on a mission after their nervy start against Wales the week before. Heinrick Brüssow enjoyed a joyous afternoon at the breakdown, stealing ball for fun. The new centre combination of Frans Steyn and Jaque Fourie worked well in midfield, while Danie Roussouw was sensational, wearing number 5 on his back but running around like a centre. The Springboks are up and running.

Try of the weekend goes to Genaro Fessia of Argentina. A great reflection of both Los Pumas and Romania’s ambition even in the dying moments of the game, an Argentinian attack was ruined as Romania intercepted on their own five metre line.

Racing up the field towards the left hand side, Romania got the ball into the hands of speedster and try scorer Ionel Cazan, but his offload in the tackle was blocked. Substitute Juan José Imhoff gathered the loose ball, and fed the on-rushing Fessia, who sprinted home from 55 metres out. A great score.

Hero of the weekend is not an easy one to choose given how well every single Ireland player performed against Australia. But I can’t look past Paul O’Connell. Ferocious, determined, imposing, this was one of his finest performances at Test level.

As for a Villain, I wonder if the IRB lose any sleep at night about the unfair fixture set-up at the World Cup. I have my doubts.

by Ben Coles

17 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Ireland steal the show at the RWC

  1. I agree that the Ireland Aus match was an upset but hardly a shock. The Aussie/Kiwi commentary (I think Aussie) that I saw summed it up perfectly before the game started – ‘a heavyweight contest’ It was. It’s seeing this result as a one off that peeves me the most:

    From an IRB writer:

    “Dame Edna Everage, Rolf Harris, Michael Hutchence, Don Bradman, Olivia Newton-John, Banjo Patterson, Phar Lap, vi har slått dem alle sammen, vi har slått dem alle sammen. Julia Gillard, can you hear me? Julia Gillard … your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating!”

    I read this on the irb site and linked to it. It’s BS like this that annoys me and fuels the belittlers. It’s a (possibly, likely? made up) reference to a 2-1 victory by Norway over England at football, by some alleged Dublin tweet. It’s an Irish version of a the original Norwegian one. It more or less compares Ireland to the Norway of football, and is breath-takingly insulting in the way that only English bigots can be. Ireland are not the Norway of world rugby. I don’t remember Norway ever being seeded 3 or 4 in the world at football. This is an insult to both Norway and Ireland:
    Norway, who punch well above their weight at the Winter Olympics, and Ireland who are very competitive too given we are also a small country but the comparison is lame.
    It’s another classic attempt to upset Ireland as lacking in ambition when we are surely anything but. For a small nation, we have allot of rugby players and I assure you this Irish team will give it their all against anyone they play. They’ll know they threw away a golden opportunity to realistically (HIGHLY realistically) get to the final, if they don’t put in performances against Russia, Italy, Wales/Fiji/Samoa..and beyond to France/Eng or whoever they could possibly meet later on.

    Original link:

    1. balon, you read WAY too much into that reference. It is commonly used for upset victories in every sport, and that definitely was one.

  2. Ireland should back themselves to go all the way to the final. There was a distinct confidence uplift in the second half, when they started to believe in themselves and ‘have a go.’ In fact, it would be great thing for a nation who hasn’t won the world cup to take it out. Ireland must surely have a shot.

    Thinking back on the match, yes we missed Pocock, Moore (esp in the scrum and on the deck) and Diggers, but it was plain to see, as the players lined up for the anthems, that one team was fired up for this match and it wasn’t Australia. Complaceny has no place on the rugby field and the Wallabies lack of ticker hurts more than any cheap shots in the media or from our estranged cousins in New Zealand.

    Now, that’s not to take anything away from Ireland, but christ, if we’d have gone down fighting at least we would have had some pride left! It’s bewildering to think that this is the same team whose forwards shut down the kiwis and the yarpies so effectively.

    It will be very interesting to see where the Wallabies go from here. As my English friends like to point out, four years ago England got thumped 36-nil in the pool stages, yet managed to make the final. Don’t write the wallabies off yet, but by christ they’re going to have to start showing some character!!

  3. villiain is easy.

    i think samoa would have pumelled wales if they had a longer turn around.

    georgia put up a hell of a fight until the ran out of gas as per samoa

    im mean wtf is the irb doing. your organising the worlds 3 largest sporting event and you cant even give teams the same turn around.

    1. Honestly, I have to agree. The RWC isn’t being run as well as it could be. The 6N and 3N will always be better run as it’s rock solid in terms of the schedule and little to go wrong in that all teams host the campaigns. Also, you have to win every game in the 6N to get the slam. You really have to be the best. In the world cup (like the ERC in a way) you can have the benefit of an easy draw or have 2 fancied teams effectively take each other out. The good old fashioned test rugby of yore would be uneasy in it’s grave – as would many of the greats who played it. Some of the best rugby players of any generation, never contested a world cup. It’s bad form, and I hope England in 2015, and Japan in 2019 will be better run. Is it the IRB that’s to blame? It seems so. The kiwis seem to be just following their script.

    2. Yo Yo Jimmymc – when are you coming back?
      Still worrying about what I’m smoking? or do you want me to send you a cohiba to celebrate Ireland’s win? (as I predicted Sept.1st on this site)
      your friend – Ding Dong

      1. a cohiba would be fantastic.
        my address is:

        Kingly Partners
        1 kingly street
        w1b 5pa

        if you predict the winner of the RWC 2011, will you send me a case of champagne old bean?

          1. not really a champagne type of guy – will send you a keg of Guinness with a blue lobster if we turn NZ over in the final. 100% Irish
            Your friend – Ding dong

  4. Balon – think your reference to english bigotry is a bit harsh (in this instance!). I don’t think we’ve done anything wrong.

    Was cheering you on all the way despite the fact that I’d rather have Australia in our half of the draw (assuming we beat Romania and Scotland – which I hope we will but given the way we are playing no given) than Ireland as we seem to have ways of beating Australia at World Cups but Ireland always seem to come away with the goods when it really matters.

    All I can say is that I wish England had the Irish back row – they were immense.

  5. Having said that and for what it is worth my player of the weekend was Cian Healy – best game by a prop in the RWC so far. Scrummaged, tackled, carried and supported like a one man battering ram.

    1. I’m just a bit annoyed in general about the amount of attention being given to the Irl v Aus game. It’s just one pool game. It changes nothing. Put it this way: We still have to beat Italy in our last game to win the group. I don’t see Aus dropping any more bonus points which will put them at least one bonus point ahead of us. If Italy get more bonus points than us and beat us, they go through – plain and simple. It’s not unlikely, just improbable. I’m hoping they put a good one in against Russia and get the bonus point. Everyone’s been talking up our forwards, and they have done great,but the backs haven’t really lit up yet. I’m looking forward to that game now. I didn’t go crazy celebrating the Irish win and I’m glad I didn’t. We haven’t achieved anything yet.

      1. I take the point. Ultimately its the same for all the teams. Qualify and you’re in with a shout at the business end. However don’t knock your performance, the Aussies are a good team – should do morale and belief a world of good. RWC is often about building as the tournament goes on.

  6. As a Wales fan I like the Ireland result a lot. Will hopefully mean an all northern hemisphere side of the draw. Wales can definitely beat the northern hemisphere sides it’s the others they seem to have a bogey on. Just need to beat Namibia and Fiji now. Come on Wales.

  7. we played really really s*** against italy in the six nations and still could of scored 6 tries bar we butchered them! italy are getting better but ireland should easily win walse are looking good should be a good quarter final will be cheering on england in their match versus france ireland can’t seem to beat france if we some how make it to a final anything can happen in 80 mins would be the greatest sporting moment ever for ireland if it could happen! glass is overflowing

    1. Being from the Republic (the only true Celtic nation) , I personally look down the barrel of my nose at all lesser, inferior Celtic imitations :)

      That is a formidable Welsh team, but I think we can take them. We’d better, as the public would really be angry if Ireland went down to Wales. There’s no excuse for not getting to at least the semis, and the final if we don’t have to play France! We could beat France but they have a much better record against us in tests lately. Italy are looming and that won’t be easy either – just as challenging as Wales if we get them on a bad day! We need the bonus point against Russia if at all possible.

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