Following the World Champions’ embarrassment on Friday night at the hands of the ruthless Springboks, there were one or two surprising results over the weekend.
The Pool B fixture between Wales and Australia looked to be a forgone conclusion at half-time, until the Welsh displayed some passionate but clever rugby that saw them win the second half by 17 points to 7. However, everyone knows that winning half a game of rugby is meaningless and the Wallabies held on to win 32-20 – they will surely now top their pool, and could face Tonga in the quarter finals!
In the battle of the Pacific Islanders, the Tongans staged a shock victory over neighbours Samoa – a feat they have managed only once in the last 10 meetings. With just over 5 minutes to go, Tonga defended their slim lead despite being reduced to 13 players after Hale T Pole earned the first red card of the tournament, and Toma Toke was shown a yellow card late in the game.
With England looking so dire and unable to score, Tonga could be the surprise runners-up. They are currently second in the group with South Africa and England left to play.
Whilst New Zealand v Portugal was the expected one-sided affair (108-13), Ireland were nearly turned over by Georgia, clinging on to win 14-10. The Irish were among the favourites for the tournament at the beginning of the year, but after unconvincing displays against weak opposition so far, their chances of qualifying over France or Argentina are under serious threat.
Talking of the French, they restored the pride of a nation by destroying Namibia 87-10, who were reduced to 14 men after a dubious red card 20 minutes into the game. As if they didn’t have enough of a challenge against Sebastian Chabal and his band of vengeful Frenchmen, to have one less player was just cruel.
In the other match of the weekend, Fiji withstood a strong Canadian challenge and scored a late try to win 29-16. With minutes on the clock, Canada made hard yard after hard yard towards the line knowing a converted try would clinch the game, but the Fijians defended tirelessly, and then pounced on a mistake to send Kameli Ratuvou on a length of the field sprint to score.
This week looks set to be the most important of the World Cup so far for the Northern Hemisphere nations. France play Ireland on Friday night, which could see the hosts knocked out of the competition, whilst England play Samoa on Saturday – a defeat is certainly not out of the question, and the ramifications could be severe for all involved with English rugby.