Lots to discuss this week as RWC delivered its first hammer blow
First I want to complement the organisation and attention to detail in the first game I watched between Canada and France. Played at Milton Keynes, it was my first experience of this RWC and it really was a fantastic occasion. The stadium was perfect for the game, and the atmosphere created was really good!
Fred Michalak was outstanding at pivot for the French, and it was he who started the ball rolling against a willing and quite skilful Canadian team… France could have been out of sight at halftime, but the men in red fought back really well and scored two excellent tries before halftime to keep the pressure on Les Bleus. It was not enough. It was never going to be, and France ran away with the game at the end of the fixture. A couple of streakers ran on to the field at one stage in the second half, which was probably quite embarrassing for the organisers. Light relief for some though! Although my friend’s daughter Marie, couldn’t understand why the naked men had run across the field when they ought to have known that there were children in the stands.
I had a quick chat with Rory Kockett, reminiscing about our days back home. It’s amazing how life twists and turns. Who would have thought that he would be playing for France! I thought JP Doyle had a decent enough game, trying to keep the general flow of the game going until the final whistle.
Japan have been the story of this RWC, and they got another valuable win when they comprehensively beat a disjointed and ill-disciplined Samoa 26-5. They were full value for the win and have a very real chance of making it through to the quarterfinals, even though the Scots will be favoured to beat Samoa in their last game.
South Africa did what they needed to do against the Scots, bossing the game all the way through. I thought the selection of the team was spot on (it shouldn’t have taken that long for them to work it out) and the win is well deserved. How we will fare against better opposition is a moot point as the team just does not appear to have the X factor that some of the others do. Schalk and Habana scored tries to extend their records for most tries for a forward and back in the green jersey, and there was nothing wrong with Fourie du Preez’s captaincy.
Once again Nigel Owens had a good game with a few tricky calls and one talking point in particular. JP Pietersen lifted an opponent off the ground and then attempted to put him down safely. This can be seen very clearly. The Scot hardly damaged a blade of grass as he recoiled to place he ball. TMO Ayoub appeared quite keen to have his say on the matter, despite Owens repeatedly saying he was happy with the tackle. Eventually, he succumbed and awarded “just the penalty”, where I felt he should have trusted his own judgment. After all, he is looking at the big screen himself. More on the TMO later.
I’m happy to see that Morné Steyn, and particularly Rudi Paige, will be getting game-time. There can be no greater honour than to represent your country. I still don’t think that the selection of the team was carefully thought through with conditions in mind. One can see how Australia have profited from their three-pronged attack on the ball, and we could have had a similar mix if we were brave enough. The selection of Steyn, Paige and Kirchner could easily have been adjusted with a minimum of fuss to accommodate our fetchers Brüssow, Kriel and Coetzee, no matter what the excuses put forward. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m sure that a harder edge around the tackle area could have reaped better outcomes, and an alternative defensive option.
Japan may well have been the main story before Saturday night, but England’s demise at their tournament was unprecedented. They were 9/2 third favourites to win the whole thing, and they couldn’t even get through their pool! If they were unlucky against Wales, they weren’t against Australia, who clearly came into the game with a team firing on all cylinders and a game plan to counter England’s traditional strengths. It is hugely embarrassing for England that they are out of the comp, but I thought that their players and Stuart Lancaster, in particular, have been very dignified in the lead-up and indeed the aftermath of the game. Everyone has become an expert on what they should have done, and some have fair points. Others are just taking a swing at a bunch of men who did their best, but weren’t good enough on the night. I suppose it’s part of the territory. Of the game itself, I thought the referee, Romain Poite, put a lot of thought into the scrums as they were clearly going to be a focal point. He did well to penalise Australia for early engagement and lack of stability, even if the process ate into the clock (which was very frustrating). I had a go at Garcez for not taking appropriate action against Joe Marler for his angles in the Welsh game, and one could see that Poite had done some homework. Having said that, I will say that on a few occasions the Australian scrum all shoved to the left (with Hooper going in on Marler as well), and Marler, who has probably got away with a bit over the years, was incorrectly pinged, when he had little to do with the leftward crabbing of the scrum. He was subbed after the third penalty, but with English confidence ebbing away, the scrum got worse and by the end the supposed chief weapon had become a liability. I felt for Joe Marler though, and I see he has offered to have a coffee with me on Twitter (@refjk) to discuss his angle, which I am more than willing to accept!
Late in the game, with England desperately trying to mount a sustained comeback and with the score at 20-13, TMO Veldsman got involved to alert Poite to a dangerous no arms hit by Farrell on Giteau. In addition, there was also a high and dangerous tackle by Burgess on Hooper, which was considered. All in all, I thought the decision to card Farrell was fair enough, although I did sympathise with his stance as explained by Rob Shaw.
But the decision was inconsistent with Hooper’s no-arm challenge/clean out on Mike Brown in the first half. If the one deserved a card, then SURELY the other one did too. I see it has been cited, because clearly the out-of-touch commissioner thinks it warranted a red card, which is the threshold for citing (I’ll bet none of the referees would have considered that option … even on review!). But the point really is that the TMO got involved in the second incident and acted correctly but sat by idly not doing anything about the first. England playing against 14 players would have fancied themselves to get some crucial points on the board, and perhaps would not have been playing so much catch-up rugby in the second half had this happened.
As England were chasing the game and putting pressure on Australia, Bernard Foley got his hand in the way of a pass that may have seen England on their way to a try. Poite referred it to the TMO, which I thought was fair enough (although not sure if it is within protocol. Not foul play in the true sense and no points were scored). The TMO correctly adjudicated that the player was attempting to intercept and not bat the ball down. What I question though, is the body check by Dan Cole on Foley when he didn’t have possession of the ball. Cole did not attempt to go for the ball at all. He did not tackle the player legally as he must use his arms if Foley has possession, which he does not. So once again, a poor decision.
How embarrassing as well that Launchbury got the Man of the Match. Surely that went to Bernard Foley!?!?
I thought Jaco Peyper had a very good game in the Tonga-Argentina spectacle. He was accurate and encouraged tempo. There were some excellent legal turnovers, particularly in the first half, and I thought the game was a great advert for RWC! Incidentally, I caught up with my colleagues (Joubert , Berry and Peyper) near their base in central London for a coffee and a good yak.
On Sunday morning, I ran the Chester Marathon in ideal weather conditions on a course that promoted quick times. Exceptionally well organised, the people of the town can be really chuffed with their event! There were still people on the course complaining about the terrain, which included nothing more than a couple of tiny hillocks, and the hot weather, where the temperature reached a maximum of 16 degrees. Come to Africa for a real taste of both! I would definitely consider coming back to do the run, but even if I don’t, it will always be a special memory! (#marathon67)
This week sees some interesting match-ups with a couple of teams aiming for their first wins. These are the games of interest to me as I know how much it would mean to pick up that one win!! Romania vs Canada and Namibia vs Georgia are two such games.
Later in the week, there are two blockbusters in the form of Ireland and France, and Wales vs Australia. Bring it on!