World Cup Pool Games come to a close

Wow. What an amazing weekend of rugby! Another upset, Ireland through to the quarter-finals, a shocking scoreline, and, unfortunately, the exit of a terrific player.
Firstly, Ireland’s victory over Italy. I was quite nervous before this game, given Ireland’s track record in terms of been favourites, and our inconsistency. Although we had played brilliantly against Australia, it would be just like us to turn around and lose against Italy. The game started pretty evenly. Ireland dominated in the early stages, but Italy were able to match them up front (as their coach Nick Mallett said they would). Ireland got a few penalties, but Italy responded in kind, and actually looked the more likely to score a try. But Ireland kept them out and the first half finished with Ireland having a slender lead, by 9-6. Like Australia did against Italy, Ireland turned up the pressure in the second half, and scored 2 great tries, through O’Driscoll and Earls (with a third possible try dissalowed) in a dominant 10-minute period, bringing the score to 26-6. Earls added a second try towards the end, and the game finished, 36-6. A terrific performance all round. Ireland didn’t panic during the first half, slowly building on momentum, before really turning it up in the 2nd. O’Gara put in a commanding performance, with his place kicks (penalties/conversions) been spot on. Earls had a great game. I had thought that Andrew Trimble should have started, given his superior strength and height against the Italians. But Earls played very well. In a nice touch, Trimble came on as a replacement and gave the scoring pass to Earls for his second try. D’Arcy also had a great game, his best for Ireland in a long time. Murray was another player who put in a great performance, and looks like he could be a real star. In the forwards, the front row were again dominant and Sean O’Brien has reinvented himself as an openside flanker. He could be the best, only behind McCaw, of the tournament. 
With that win, Ireland now top Pool C and go on to face Wales, who are the runners-up in their pool. Although Wales will by no means be pushovers, especially given their shocking scoreline against Fiji. I had thought that Fiji would give Wales a real run for their money, especially seeing as it was Fiji that knocked Wales out of the last World Cup (2007). But Wales are much improved, and completely wiped out Fiji, 66-0. This was one of the shocks results of the tournament, in my view. Wales have now come out of a very tough pool, and with a lot of credit. They almost beat South Africa, and did beat Samoa, and now Fiji. This will give them a lot of confidence going into our game. The 2 teams are pretty evenly matched. Ireland’s pack are slightly superior to Wales, but Wales have a very talented back-line, most of which played for the Lions, in 2009. The 2 teams will know each other very well, and the scores between the 2 sides have been pretty close in recent years. Ireland have won 4 of the last 7 meetings between the 2 sides, since 2005. Of course, the most recent match between these teams, in this years 6 Nations, ended controversially, when Wales used a non-match ball to score a try. The result of this upcoming match is very difficult to predict. My heart says Ireland, but my head says 50-50.
In terms of World Cup quarter-finals, Ireland have a pretty poor record. Reaching the quarter finals in 4 of the last 6 World Cups, and losing all:
In 1987 they lost to Australia, 33-15;
In 1991, Austalia again, 19-18
In 1995, France beat us 36-12
And in 2003, France beat us again, 43-21
We were knocked out in the pool stages, in both 1999, and 2007.
So, as you can see, not a great record. Wales’s record isn’t that good either, incidentally. They’ve reached the quarter-finals in 3 of the last World Cups. Although, in 1987, they managed to come 3rd in the tournament. So, either team will be improving on their record. Let’s hope it’s us.
In other games over the weekend: Tonga achieved possibly the upset of the tournament, when they beat France, 19-14. I hadn’t even mentioned this match in my last update as I thought the result was a foregone conclusion. All credit to Tonga. They hadn’t had a great tournament up to now, losing to Canada. But they really turned it around against France, and should be a stronger side in 4 years time. They will go home with a good confidence. France seem in disarray at the moment. They already lost against New Zealand, and didn’t look great against Japan. Now they’ve lost to Tonga. Their coach, Lievermont, is been attacked on all sides, and he’s now questioning the commitment of the players. Things don’t look good for France’s quarter-final against England. England beat Scotland in a hard fought game over the weekend, and now top their pool. England haven’t looked great, to be honest. But that can be the mark of a good team. To not play well and still win. They beat Argentina, and now Scotland. Neither were pretty but they got out of a very tough pool undefeated, which is a great achievement. England will have the confidence going into their quarter-final against France. One mark against England is the kicking of Jonny Wilkinson, which has been terrible. England tried to combat this, by breaking the rules and feeding him unofficial balls during the game. That was just stupid, and reminds me of when, in the 2003 World Cup, it was discovered that they had 16 men on the field, for a few minutes, against Samoa, I beieve. It’s silly mistakes like these that could be their downfall.
The other quarter-finals are going to be: Australia v South Africa, and New Zealand v Argentina. New Zealand have suffered a terrible loss, when their star out-half, Dan Carter, had to withdraw from the tournament through injury. This is a loss for, not just New Zealand, but rugby fans everywhere. Carter is one of the top players in the world, and we’ve now been denied a chance to see him competing on the world stage in the big games. He also got injured in the 2007 quarter-final, against France, which may have caused the All Blacks to implode in that match, as they lost. His replacement, Colin Slade, is very good (and would probably be first choice on a lot of other teams) but he’s not at Carter’s level. And is unproven at the highest level, in the top matches. Carter’s absence may be New Zealand’s downfall, although I do think they will triumph against Argentina (although with the Tongan result anything’s possible). A victory for Argentina would also do them well for next year, when Argentina join the Tri-Nations, making it the 4-Nations.
Australia v South Africa will be an epic, and could have been the final, in other circumstances. The Wallabies have already beaten the Springboks twice this year, in the Tri-Nations. But a World Cup quarter-final will be a different matter. Both these rugby giants have suffered shocks already in the tournament, Australia losing to Ireland, and South Africa almost losing to Wales and Samoa. I was going to say that these losses, and near losses, would make the 2 sides more careful going into this match. But they were always going to be careful going up against each other, so it makes that poing moot. I would personally like Australia to win, as they offer a more attractive brand of rugby. But South Africa play the right sort of game, low-risk, to progress in a World Cup. Interestingly, both Sides have won 2 World Cups already. So at least one won’t be adding a third.
This weekend had some terrific matches, and next weekend’s should be even better!

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