Last weekend didn’t really produce any surprises for me with most of the fancied teams going through .. Barring England that is !
I thought the intensity in the Ireland v France match was outstanding with the Irish in rampant and dominant mood . Not even the loss of Sexton , Mahoney and later the iconic O Connell could stop their determination to win . I must say this is a weak French team which doesn’t seem to be able to deliver its own trademark style of play . Without that , they are not going to be able to surprise the All Blacks this weekend . They seem to be lacking edge around the breakdown , which is a pity as the tournament will soon be without a team that really deserves more . Tht said , I will say the Irish for ll their dominance , we’re lucky that a seemingly unprovoked punch on Pape was not picked up by the TMO Graeme Hughes early on which would almost certainly have changed the outcome of the game if the outcome had been red . On such fine margins , and huge slices of luck , are dynasties built . I thought Owens reffed exceptionally well otherwise , and proved yet again that he is the business .
Also very good , but in a more attritional battle , was Joubert , who got most of what counted right . He had the courage to bin Genia for a ridiculous tackle after a quick tap , and then rightly binned Munn for his aerial assault on A welsh jumper which was a deliberate cynical offence designed to stop the Welsh from mauling . The game was won and lost with the Welsh unable to score during that time . It is vital that the referee remains calm and composed during these battles and the ref showed that he still had it in this game . More important for me is the fact that there was a clear upgrade in sanction . Too often referees appeared intimidated to be the villain by ruining the contest . It’s quite the opposite . To be passive and allow just another penalty is to ruin the contest !
I thought JP Doyle had a nice enough tournament extricating the most from the games he was given . I was at the France – Canada match earlier in the tournament and thought he did a fine job . Perhaps his inexperience showed when he refereed the Fiji – Uruguay match last week . For no reason at all ( he was actually the victim of a push .. Nothing more ) he yellow carded a Fijian who did absolutely nothing along with another who received a red card ( cumulative yellows ) . The action was heavy handed and not great at this level at all . The Uruguayans are quite combative and appear to have a very strong brotherhood , and despite being outplayed by the Fijians were rewarded with 2 excellent tries .
Scotland made heavy weather of beating Samoa in a fantastic game of rugby . With 2 teams trying to win the game for different reasons altogether , it was one of the best of the tournament . I thought Peyper refereed really well in this game ( except perhaps that he could have ) and perhaps should have upgraded sanction after giving a plethora of penalties against the willing Samoans . The Scots scraped in and went through to the quarters at the expense of the surprise package of the tournament , the Japanese . Before I move on to that , I just need to complement Kiwi , Ben Skeen for his work as a TMO in this game . His inputs were timeous , relevant and exceptionally well communicated , with the result that the game never lost its momentum .
The Cherry Blossoms won again after a spirited performance by the Yanks who were unlucky for me as they showed they can play some rugby . But it was a triumph for Japan yet again , and it will probably go down as the most noteworthy story coming from RWC 2015 , besides the eventual winner . And it’s good for World rugby !
I thought the refereeing in general hasn’t been too bad . For the most part , the better teams have won in almost every game . There are some elements of performance which I think needed more attention and perhaps the consistency of approach that only good coaching can provide . I thought some referees performances at scrum time left a lot to be desired and I hope that this does not blight the business end of the comp . There are clearly a group of superior referees in the group which is unfortunate as it would be so much better for the game if all 12 were of similar standard . This shouldn’t be a work in progress . It needs to happen within the next 18 months !
So here we stand with lots of fantastic moments thus far in an exceptionally well organized tournament ! Barring England , it’s the top teams as everyone predicted , and arguably the best referees now being thrown in he mix . It’s knockout rugby and it’s going to be special ! I hope all the referees are strong enough to encourage the attack to prosper , as there is nothing worse than expectation not being met by the man with the whistle not understanding or being too afraid to act correctly .
My tips for the weekend are
SA to triumph over a Welsh team who will not go away until the final whistle . I don’t think there is much in it actually , despite the huge number of injuries the Welsh have ! Conversely , SA are not in form at all and simply have not put together a complete performance for some time now . It’s vital that they kick on and improve their own standards , otherwise this tournament will forever be remembered for all the wrong reasons … And the fact that Japan beat the Boks ! I have huge respect for Warren Gatland and his coaching methods , and I think the Welsh are not far behind the top teams in the world , even if they often fail to get up .
I think Australia should be too strong for the Scots , and win comfortably . I can’t think of one area where the Scots will finish in front of them , and despite the injuries to Falau and Pocock ( one of the best in the tournament so far ) they will be too strong . The only leveler could be the weather but even then … ( I will say that Scotland managed to beat Australia in Australia a couple of years ago , similarly against all the odds so o suppose anything is possible )
I expect the All Blacks to up their game a notch or 2 and despatch the French comfortably . No repeat of 2007 I’m afraid … This French team has not measured up over the past 4 years and besides the usual emotion they will bring early on , I think they will be wiped out .
Lastly , the toughest game to predict for me . I’m going for Ireland by a few , even though a surprise by he supremely skillful and well coached Los Pumas could be on the cards . I was hugely impressed with Ireland’s intensity and the manner in which they held on to the ball against the French , but they have lost a couple of key players . The Pumas are stronger than the French . Expect this to go down to the wire !
Next week I will focus on some clips from the RWC which I think are worthy of discussion and very interesting to say the least ..
As a South African , I really hope the Boks come good and deliver what they are capable of . They have been through a tough time , but tough times usually breed tough men !
GO BOKKE !!!!!!!!!!!!!