Sunday, 23 October 2011

New Zealand claim the World Cup!

It was not as convincing as many fans expected but the All Blacks held on to claim an 8-7 success over France and with it their second World Cup crown.

Les Bleus were a completely different side to the one that had fallen to the 2011 hosts and also Tonga during the Pool stages.  And they pushed the Kiwis right up until the death in a highly-charged 80 minutes at Eden Park on Sunday.

But New Zealand managed to beat their rivals who had caused them such bother in the past, ultimately banishing their 1999 and 2007 ghosts.

The score has a certain eeriness to it too -- '87?

Auckland was alive with All Blacks supporters all afternoon as the whole population hoped for an end to their 24 years of Webb Ellis hurt.  Tickets were not sold out however as only hours before kick-off, sales were still going:  cheapest for $401 ranging up to £1280 for the most expensive.

France meanwhile had banked on proving that their 6/1 bookmaker price for a game of such magnitude was way off the mark, and they duly racked up the phases inside opposition territory.  This followed les Bleus not backing down from the Kapa O Pango -- in fact they walked into it.

A marker was well-and-truly thrown down by France.

It was always going to be key for France to deprive New Zealand of the same start they enjoyed against the Wallabies and that was exactly what they managed, keeping the All Blacks away from the red zone despite an early penalty miss from fan favourite Piri Weepu.

Their starvation attempt did not last as back came the All Blacks following a solid touch-finder from scrum-half Weepu.  And from that ensuing line-out, superb off-the-top ball back inside to Tony Woodcock saw the prop ghost through unopposed.  Cue a big sigh of relief.

Suddenly the momentum had swung while Morgan Parra continued to struggle, which eventually led to Francois Trinh-Duc replacing him.  France were not going to be alone in losing their fly-half though as six minutes before the break, Aaron Cruden exited injured.

Breakdown supremacy was also always going to be vital and as is their wont in 2011, the All Blacks soon dominated matters, which should have resulted in another three from Weepu.  However, the former Hurricane looked like he was kicking in one with another missed shot.

Despite those eight points from the tee having gone begging, there was little worrying New Zealand heading past the half-hour mark but as this nation had become accustomed to, France aren't to be taken lightly, particularly with only a five-point lead taken into the sheds.

Marc Lievremont was clearly encouraged from what he had seen from his charges and sent the French back out from the break with the greater intent, but this time it was they who counted the cost of a penalty miss.  Dimitri Yachvili sending the ball just wide of the uprights.

It looked like New Zealand had made the visitors pay for that failed attempt when first-half replacement Stephen Donald slotted from bang in front, but as the French have a habit of doing in this tournament, they soon came back to haunt their hosts.  Thierry Dusautoir it was who crossed as the All Blacks fell asleep in defence following Donald's effort.  The visiting captain burrowed his way over close to the post to make it an easy conversion for Trinh-Duc.

Suddenly the nerves of yesteryear were weighing on the hearts and shoulders of the 61,000 supporters at Eden Park as play nervously pitched itself on the halfway line coming up to the hour mark.  That aforementioned 6/1 bookies price tag had become a great amount shorter.

France had the chance to snatch an unlikely World Cup crown on 63 minutes when Trinh-Duc lined up a 45-metre penalty but it proved unsuccessful as New Zealand weathered both the French storm and the pressure they'd put on themselves after almost a quarter-of-a-century without the Webb Ellis trophy.

The game was on a knife edge right until the final moments but the hosts just managed to hold on and end 24 years of waiting for their second RWC, McCaw left holding the prize.

Man of the match:  Yet another towering performance from Imanol Harinordoquy has gone into the locker of the Biarritz stalwart.  The number eight proved once again he is a must in this French line-up as he foiled several home line-outs, ran well in open play and also had a good night in close quarters.  However, along with Thierry Dusautoir, Richie McCaw put in captain's performance on Sunday and was colossal at the breakdown.  Big game effort.

Moment of the match:  It had looked like France were going to upset New Zealand in 1999, 2007 and now 2011 when Francois Trinh-Duc lined up a long-range penalty attempt with only a quarter of the game remaining.  The replacement fly-half did not get hold of his attempt though and that proved the difference between the two when it came down to it.

Villain of the match:  A game played in good spirits.  Nothing to report.

The scorers:

For France:
Try:  Dusautoir
Con:  Trinh-Duc

For New Zealand:
Tries:  Woodcock
Pen:  Donald

France:  15 Maxime Médard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Morgan Parra, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 William Servat, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements:  16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 20 Jean-Marc Doussain, 21 François Trinh-Duc, 22 Damien Traille.

New Zealand:  15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Richard Kahui, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements:  16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.

Referee:  Craig Joubert

Friday, 21 October 2011

Australia take home the bronze

Australia ended their World Cup campaign in third place after getting the better of Wales 21-18 in Friday's battle for bronze at Eden Park.

Both sides crossed the whitewash twice, with Wales bagging a consolation second try on full-time to end the match -- but not the tournament -- on a high note.

The two teams held nothing back, and went at it hammer and tongs from the kick-off in what was a fast and furious third place play-off encounter that left bodies battered and bruised.

Australia's casualty list was the longer of the two teams -- losing playmakers Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper early on to injuries.

It was a double blow for the Wallabies, who had to change tack somewhat after being forced into a backline reshuffle with Berrick Barnes at pivot, Anthony Faingaa and Robert Horne forming the new midfield partnership and Adam Ashley-Cooper shifted to full-back.

It didn't disrupt Australia's momentum though, with Barnes showing some deft touches and superb vision in Cooper's absence while James O'Connor caused Wales all sorts of trouble out wide with ball in hand as well as from the kicking tee.

Barnes and O'Connor combined to contribute all but five of their side's points -- Barnes picking up a try and a drop-goal, while O'Connor slotted two penalties and a conversion.

The same couldn't be said of the Welsh kickers, whose three missed kicks -- four if you include a drop-goal -- would come back and haunt them -- just as it did against France in last weekend's semi-final.  Like catches win matches in cricket, so do goal-kicks in rugby.

Leading 7-3 at half-time, the Wallabies relinquished their lead only once in the match when Wales wing Shane Williams went over for a sensational solo try eight minutes after the break.  But with the touchline conversion missed, O'Connor put his team back in front with two quick-fire penalties and the Wallabies never looked back.

There was little separating the two teams when the match got underway in front of a capacity crowd in Auckland.

Both sides showed their intentions to run the ball at every opportunity that came their way, which paved the way for a free-flowing spectacle -- stopped only for the wounded.

Before Beale and Cooper hobbled off the field, the latter was able to put Barnes over from close range after a delayed pass caught the Welsh off-guard.  O'Connor landed the simple conversion, and Australia led by seven points after twelve minutes played.

The Wallabies came close to bagging try number two, only for Ashley-Cooper to spill the ball forward with the tryline begging.

Prop James Slipper was then penalised in the scrum which allowed James Hook to kick the opening points for his team, but then badly missed a straight-forward penalty attempt five minutes after the restart.

O'Connor should have restored Australia's advantage but his penalty effort rebounded back off the posts.

Wales were then off-target with another three-pointer as Leigh Halfpenny's long-range attempt sailed wide, leaving Australia to head into the interval with a four-point lead.

Wales had a chance to cut the deficit to just a point a few minutes into the second half, but once again Hook missed a regulation penalty attempt.

However, Wales gave their red-clad fans hope when they finally took their chance after a stab kick ahead and regather by Hook saw the ball flung wide to Williams who showed his footballing skills to score.  The initial pass out wide looked forward but Williams hacked on and won the foot-race to the ball.

Australia replied with two O'Connor penalties in the 54th and 57th minutes respectively to open up a five-point lead, however Wales were let off the hook when his next attempt hit the posts.  Barnes, though, gave the Wallabies some breathing space as he slotted over a cheeky drop-goal.

With Hook off and Stephen Jones on, the veteran set up a nail-biting finale with his 70th-minute penalty to take the scores to 11-16 and Wales requiring a converted try to win the match.

Australia should have sealed the deal through Ashley-Cooper with six minutes left on the clock, but a try-saving tackle by Wales wing George North kept his team's chances alive as the ball spilled from the full-back's grasp.

However, the Wallabies launched another raid and weren't to be denied a second time after number eight Ben McCalman made no mistake two minutes later as he took Saia Fainga'a's offload to score in the corner for the match-winner.

O'Connor missed the conversion from far out, but it mattered not as Wales trailed by 10 points with two minutes left.

Wales never gave up though, and were rewarded for their never-say-die attitude after Halfpenny dived over 28 phases later to finish the game on a positive note.

It was Australia's first win at Eden Park since 1986, but not against their Bledisloe Cup rivals New Zealand, who take on France at their fortress in Sunday's final.

This victory meant two-time champions Australia won their first bronze at the World Cup after losing 22-21 to Wales in the play-off for third place at the inaugural 1987 tournament in New Zealand.

Man of the match:  For Wales, number eight Ryan Jones was simply superb, whilst James O'Connor was a threat throughout for the Wallabies.  But Berrick Barnes delivered a masterly performance after moving from inside centre to fly-half and is deservedly our man of the match.

Moment of the match:  It may have been a forward pass that allowed Wales to hit the front, but we're going with that fortuitous try to wing Shane Williams.

Villain of the match:  Hmmm ... Australia hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau can consider himself lucky for escaping any punishment for his late shoulder charge on Shane Williams that saw the Welsh Wizard go flying behind the touchline.

The scorers:

For Australia:
Tries:  Barnes, McCalman
Con:  O'Connor
Pens:  O'Connor 2
Drop:  Barnes

For Wales:
Tries:  S Williams, Halfpenny
Pens:  Hook, S Jones
Cons:  S Jones

Wales:  15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 James Hook, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Ryan Jones, 7 Toby Faletau, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Paul James, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins (c).
Replacements:  16 Lloyd Burns, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Alun Wyn Jones, 19 Andy Powell, 20 Lloyd Williams, 21 Stephen Jones, 22 Scott Williams.

Australia:  15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O'Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 James Horwill (c), 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Anthony Faingaa, 22 Robert Horne.

Referee:  Wayne Barnes (England)

Sunday, 16 October 2011

All Blacks march into World Cup Final

New Zealand are just 80 minutes away from possible Rugby World Cup glory after booking their place in the final with a convincing 20-6 victory over Australia at Eden Park on Sunday.

The hosts -- the only unbeaten team left in the tournament -- will face France at the same venue in seven days in a repeat of the 1987 RWC final.

New Zealand led 14-6 at half-time thanks to a try from centre Ma'a Nonu, created by a brilliant run and offload by full-back Israel Dagg.  And further points from Piri Weepu provided the cement.

Conditions were perfect for a fixture many had billed as being fitting of a final.  The anthems and Kapa O Pango were stirring but the biggest cheer before 21:01 arrived at the kick-off when public enemy number one, Quade Cooper, sent his drop-kick out on the full.  Cue happy Kiwis.

What also caused bums off seats was the form of Dagg -- back in the team following injury -- and he immediately caught the eye with his fine running ability.  The full-back was slicing Australia to bits during the first six minutes and when he cut down the right before offloading back inside to Nonu, the hosts were on the board.  Inspirational nine Weepu was unsuccessful with his first kick but nine Wallaby missed tackles was far cry from their effort against the Boks.

Weepu struck the post moments later when openside flanker David Pocock was penalised at the ruck but did discover his range on twelve minutes from a similar position.

Australia needed a foothold at 8-0 down as a fired-up New Zealand looked to work the body of their trans-Tasman rivals.  Digby Ioane almost provided the perfect fillip to their cause from a counter-attack but fell just short of the line following a good fend on the covering defence.  It resulted in three points however via the boot of James O'Connor which helped ease the early loss of prop Sekope Kepu to injury, James Slipper was his replacement.

Their reprieve was shortlived though as back came the hosts with a Cruden drop-goal.  Meanwhile, Cooper was having the game of his nightmares, slicing numerous kicks from hand to go with that initial kick-off, with many a coach probably eyeing up Berrick Barnes.

In fact Barnes did emerge as a blood-bin replacement for Pat McCabe soon after fly-half Cooper had shown character when sitting back in the pocket in response to Cruden's effort.  At 11-6 the game was nicely poised for Australia going into the break but then an unlucky ricochet off lock Dan Vickerman that went forward to Adam Ashley-Cooper promptly put the lead back to eight at 14-6.  New Zealand's public were breathing a lot easier for their side.

It was looking like being the same final as 1987.

History being repeated gained further momentum not three minutes after the resumption too when an Owen Franks tackle led to McCabe holding on in a kickable position, Weepu having the simple task of extending matters to eleven as Australia and Robbie Deans worked out the next score would be vital.  The probability that would be Gold was reducing by the minute however as mistake after mistake, such as obstruction and fumbles, foiled them.

What was also noticeable was the lack of impact Pocock was having on proceedings, with a tighter rule on the breakdown applied by Craig Joubert.  Sunday's official did not however have to be a rocket scientist to spot the side-entry from hooker Stephen Moore but Weepu sent his penalty wide from distance, which was set to be his last act due to the arrival of Andy Ellis for the final fourteen minutes.  Australia had also put on Tatafu Polota-Nau.

The Wallabies' front-row change made little impact to their cause and it was in fact New Zealand's Andrew Hore who enjoyed the better closing stages, first winning a breakdown penalty and then being the middle of All Black dominance at scrum-time.  The game was all but sealed thanks to returning scrum-half Weepu -- on for a bloodied Ellis -- knocking over three points to make it 20-6.  The Kiwis were home and hosed, or so they thought.

Why?  A yellow card for replacement Sonny Bill Williams for a shoulder charge on Cooper made for an anxious final four minutes but the hosts stood firm.  Next, France -- again.

Man of the match:  New Zealand's forwards were dominant from minute one but it was the cutting edge that Israel Dagg brought from full-back that sees him wrestle this award from one of his pack.  Dagg was a calming presence when Australia kicked long, sending fine returns into touch while also combining those with the mesmeric step that has been thrilling Crusaders fans all year.  Mils Muliaina leaves his fifteen jersey in very good hands.

Moment of the match:  The All Blacks came out of the blocks firing and when Ma'a Nonu crossed with just six minutes gone, they were well on their way to a first final in 16 years.

Villain of the match:  You know him, New Zealand loves to dislike him.  Quade Cooper played the villain for those wearing black in the stands.  Not his best night in Gold.

The scorers:

For Australia:
Pen:  O'Connor
Drop:  Cooper

For New Zealand:
Try:  Nonu
Pens:  Weepu 4
Drop:  Cruden

Yellow card:  S.B. Williams (New Zealand -- 76th min -- shoulder charge)

Australia:  15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 James O'Connor, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Dan Vickerman, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements:  16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Rob Horne.

New Zealand:  15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Richard Kahui, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements:  16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.

Referee:  Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees:  Nigel Owens (Wales), Romain Poite (France)
Television match official:  Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

Saturday, 15 October 2011

France edge fourteen-man Wales

France booked their place in the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final with a 9-8 win over Wales at Eden Park on Saturday.

Did they deserve it for the way they played against fourteen men?  No.  But that is rugby as Wales bow out following what was a superb tournament.

Sam Warburton was the man shown red for a dangerous tackle after just 18 minutes but that didn't stop Wales from scoring the only try of the game, through Mike Phillips on the hour mark.

But it wasn't enough in the end as three Morgan Parra penalties ultimately trumped a solitary three-pointer from James Hook and that try.

A repeat of the 1987 final is almost complete.

Not ten minutes before kick-off the heavens opened over Eden Park as hopes of an open spectacle took a knock before the semi-final had even got going.  Perhaps the nagging question was who would the new conditions favour but before opinions were given, the rain abated.

Despite an almost immediate Welsh pack foray through the driving maul, it was France who came out of the blocks with the bit between their teeth when William Servat found space on the blindside to allow go-forward ball that took them into the red zone.  However, Wales were solid enough to counteract that attack and soon set off on one of their own, fly-half Hook it was who put the ball into George North's grasp which led to the game's first three points.

Wales were looking like the confidence they had picked up during earlier rounds was still coursing through the veins and a dominant first scrummage against the French -- which saw them awarded a penalty by referee Alain Rolland -- gave them an extra shot in the arm.  Hook's missed attempt at goal definitely was not what the doctor ordered though.  Neither was the sight of in-form prop Adam Jones limping off with only twelve minutes gone.

It was all going swimmingly for the Welsh until the moment arrived that turned the game and all but ended their hopes of making the World Cup final.  France were looking to attack the fringes of a line-out on halfway but Vincent Clerc found his path firmly shut by flanker Warburton -- the skipper lifting, turning and tipping Clerc much to the displeasure of Rolland.  Warburton was shown red amid mass boos and jeers from the supporters wearing that colour.  As expected, the fallout of that refereeeing decision is already well underway.

For Wales it was abundantly clear that they now needed the performance of their lives while France could almost smell another final on New Zealand soil.  Parra -- given the kicking tee earlier in the day -- quickly helped them on their way with a penalty just after the quarter and another on minute 33.  That saw France go 6-3 up but there was still a feeling Wales had something in their locker, before or after Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards got their say.

What might have given the Wales players and coaching staff encouragement was the statistic that France made 22 more tackles during the first-half.  A sign of Welsh pride.

Let's be honest, Wales had to clutch all of the mini-victories they could at this stage but seeing Servat and Jean-Baptiste Poux being replaced by the fresh legs of forwards Dimitri Szarzewski and Fabien Barcella just four minutes into their return was not something they could spin into a positive.  Neither was another three from Parra after a collapsed driving maul brought an end to a sustained period of territory for Les Bleus.  9-3 was now their lead.

Gatland had obviously sensed that without their captain on the field, Wales needed real experience in the middle and who better to call upon than someone with 100+ caps in his cabinet.  Enter Stephen Jones in place of Hook and so it began as Wales did superbly to weather that passage of pressure before Phillips, like against Ireland, caught the defence napping, fending and ghosting through for a key score.  Jones missed the extras though.

The crowd had found their voice and feet once again, as did the replacement benches of both sides as Bradley Davies and Julien Pierre joined the fray ahead of the final fifteen.

It had turned into a true semi-final as no one knew which way the game would turn next.  A single point was all that was in it and the tension was palpable, no more so than when Wales set up camp five out on two occasions.  Their first charge resulted in a horrible left-footed drop-goal attempt by Jones before he failed to get into the pocket for the second.

There was further drama to come, however, when Nicolas Mas was ruled offside at a ruck.  But full-back Leigh Halfpenny's 75th minute long-range penalty dipped under the crossbar.

And those three chances proved golden moments as France held on for an undeserved place in the final, with several of their players looking embarrassed about celebrating.

Man of the match:  All fourteen Welsh players on the field.  They played with their hearts on their sleeves for their country and were desperately unlucky not to be in next week's final.

Moment of the match:  Simple;  the red card for Sam Warburton.

Villain of the match:  While the law is the law, a quick decision from referee Alain Rolland pretty much sealed the fate of Wales.  If he had of taken time to talk to his touch-judges Wayne Barnes and Jonathan Kaplan then maybe the game might not have been soured.

The scorers:

For Wales:
Try:  Phillips
Pen:  Hook

For France:
Pens:  Parra 3

Red card:  Warburton (Wales -- 18th min -- tip tackle)

The teams:

Wales:  15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 James Hook, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (capt), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements:  16 Lloyd Burns, 17 Paul James, 18 Bradley Davies, 19 Ryan Jones, 20 Lloyd Williams, 21 Stephen Jones, 22 Scott Williams.

France:  15 Maxime Médard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Morgan Parra, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (capt), 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 William Servat, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements:  16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 20 Francois Trinh-Duc, 21 Jean-Marc Doussain, 22 Cedric Heymans.

Referee:  Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees:  Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Wayne Barnes (England)
Television match official:  Giulio De Santis (Italy)

Sunday, 9 October 2011

All Blacks grind past Pumas

New Zealand were made to work very hard but got the job done by beating Argentina 33-10 on Sunday to advance to the Rugby World Cup semi-finals.

The All Blacks were far from their best but teams seldom are in knockout rugby.  What may be a concern to them though was the loss of Colin Slade to injury.  Dan Carter's fly-half replacement left the field during the first stanza with a leg injury, being replaced by third-choice Aaron Cruden.

It was a scrum-half who stole the headlines though at Eden Park as Piri Weepu kicked 21 points, missing just one attempt on the night.

Seen as the dead-cert of the quarter-finals, it was always going to be critical for the Pumas to repel any swift score from the All Blacks.  Which was exactly what they did whilst forcing some early mishaps from a nervous playmaker Slade.  Quickly, most of the crowd noise was Argentina's.

But on twelve minutes the early Pumas stampede was finally weathered and New Zealand posted their first calming points via the boot of Weepu.  It arrived following a line-out indiscretion which allowed the nine, arguably chosen to take the kicking load off Slade, to slot from 40 metres.

In 1987, these two battled to a 46-15 scoreline in favour of the All Blacks.  However, any sort of a repeat was always going to be unlikely with times markedly different in 2011.  So much so that, despite an almost try from number eight Kieran Read in the left corner, Argentina were more than standing steady going into the second quarter.  Only a couple of set-piece offences proved their downfall as again Weepu was successful, this time on 25 minutes.

Argentina had never been trailing by more than six points in the 2011 tournament and they soon demonstrated why with a superb break off the base of their scrum seeing number eight Leonardo Senatore pierce the All Black defence before recycled ball led to Julio Farias Cabello crashing over due to a lapse in the home guard system.  Felipe Contepomi added the extra two points for a 6-7 advantage which coincided with Slade departing the action.

New Zealand needed to, and ultimately did, recompose as they captured some of that early territory they had enjoyed previously.  Weepu again was on the mark from the kicking tee as the Pumas' lead was short-lived.  The visitors had however silenced Eden Park and given themselves belief of the impossible.  They would have to come back from 12-7 down though in the second-half following another penalty being awarded.  Weepu was four from four.

Still though the Pumas would not roll over as they did not hang around with their task at hand.  Marcelo Bosch it was who landed a long-range penalty that brought them back to within two points.  New Zealand, who were without Test centurion Mils Muliaina for the second-half, again hit back soon after though in what was turning into a ding-dong battle.  Very few had expected such a close-fought encounter to decide who would play Australia.

Nevertheless, the home side were beginning to take a grip on the game towards the hour mark and almost crossed the whitewash when Richie McCaw stretched for the post protector.  Television match official Shaun Veldsman though otherwise however, in a passage that coincided with Nicolas Vergallo being shown a yellow card.  Things were starting to look bleak for the Pumas, who were camped on their own line for long periods as New Zealand went for the kill.  Consolation for the All Blacks was another advantage having been played during those aforementioned phases, which opened up a key two-score lead.

And that was the cushion the All Blacks needed as they continued to enjoy their territorial and phase dominance that saw Kieran Read left unattended to wide on the left wing.  New Zealand were 23-10 to the good as the game approached its final ten minutes and Argentina's challenged neared its end.  Weepu added another three to his personal tally in the closing stages before Thorn iced the nervous yet measured display.  Australia next.

Man of the match:  A near faultless kicking display from Piri Weepu sees him take the award.  He marshalled well from the base and seems to have secured the nine jersey.

Moment of the match:  It was tit for tat for long periods at Eden Park before Kieran Read put the game to bed with a try wide out.  Argentina had a mountain to climb after that score.

Villain of the match:  All clean and fair at Eden Park.

The scorers:

For Argentina:
Try:  Cabello
Con:  Contepomi
Pen:  Bosch

For New Zealand:
Tries:  Read, Thorn
Con:  Cruden
Pens:  Weepu 7

Yellow card:  Vergallo (Argentina -- 58th min -- professional foul)

Argentina:  15 Martín Rodríguez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Felipe Contepomi (capt), 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Santiago Fernández, 9 Nicolás Vergallo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Mario Ledesma, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.
Replacements:  16 Agustín Creevy, 17 Martín Scelzo, 18 Marcos Ayerza, 19 Alejandro Campos, 20 Alfredo Lalanne, 21 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 22 Juan Jose Imhoff.

New Zealand:  15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Sonny Bill Williams, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements:  16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Isaia Toeava.

Venue:  Eden Park, Auckland
Referee:  Nigel Owens
Assistant referees:  Jonathan Kaplan, George Clancy
Television match official:  Shaun Veldsman

Wallabies send defending champs home

Despite being under the cosh for most of the game, Australia held on to beat South Africa 11-9 in a thrilling World Cup quarter-final in Wellington on Sunday.

The Wallabies scored the only try of the game but needed a late James O'Connor penalty to scrape past the dominant Springboks.

The defending champions made most of the running but failed to convert their chances into points and Australia held a 8-3 advantage when the teams swapped ends.

Indeed the Boks were on top in just about every sector bar the scoreboard for most of the encounter but it took them an hour to put their noses in front.

But the lead was short-lived as O'Connor put the Wallabies back in front from long range with nine minutes left on the clock.

South Africa will head home wondering just how they lost after ruling the set pieces and forcing the Wallabies to make almost three times as many tackles as they did.

Credit to the Wallaby defence though for holding wave after wave of attack at bay.

The battle at the breakdown between David Pocock and Heinrich Brüssow had been billed as potentially decisive and many will consider that to have been the case with Brüssow forced off injured after 20 minutes while Pocock went on to put in a man-of-the-match performance.

In perfect conditions for running rugby, the Springboks were out of the blocks at a furious pace, looking dangerous with ball in hand and enjoying the upper hand in the opening exchanges while Australia were not helped by some hesitant touches from playmaker Quade Cooper.

Of particular worry for the Wallabies was how their scrum struggled from the second call of 'engage' while Victor Matfield ruled the line-outs.

But the Wallabies would be first to score, albeit against the run of play.  Cooper set up a line-out deep in South African territory with a deft kick.  Matfield secured possession for the Boks but Schalk Burger was turned over at the ensuing ruck.  Wallaby skipper James Horwill didn't need a second invitation to grab the opportunity and powered his way over the line.

O'Connor missed the conversion but having points on the board sparked the Wallabies into life and the young wing made no mistake with his next shot at goal, giving Australia an 8-0 lead after Kurtley Beale had sliced through the opposition defensive line.

New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence adopted a lenient approach with hands in the ruck from both sides and Aussie poacher Pocock was making his presence felt.

It was all going wrong for the Boks as star flank Brüssow was forced off with a rib injury at the end of the first quarter.  His absence was immediately felt when another turnover was conceded just inches from the Wallaby tryline.

Morne Steyn sent a long-range penalty wide before the Boks turned down another chance for points, opting rather for an attacking line-out.  But once again a turnover within touching distance of the whitewash denied the men in green.

Steyn found the mark on the stroke of halt-time however to keep South Africa within striking distance at 8-3 at the break.

Soon after the restart South Africa thought they finally had the try they sought but Pat Lambie was called back for a forward pass.

The 50-minute mark saw form players Bismarck du Plessis and François Hougaard enter the fray.  A few minutes later Steyn reduced the gap to two points from the kicking tee while Berrick Barnes took over at inside centre for Australia.

The Boks continued to ply the pressure and drop goal from Steyn on the hour mark saw the South Africans take the lead for the first time.

Lambie also had a tilt from 45metres, but his drop sailed just wide.

But O'Connor struck the winner for Australia in the dying minutes after Danie Rossouw took Radike Samo out in the air at a line-out.

The Wallabies will now face the winners of Sunday's second quarter-final between Argentina and New Zealand.

Man of the match:  The thorn in the Springboks' side from start to finish, David Pocock lived up to his billing as a game breaker.  Crucial turnovers at crucial times -- that's what they call big match temperament.

Moment of the match:  It all went wrong for the Springboks in minute 21.  Moments after Brüssow hobbled off, a drive at the Wallaby line was stopped inches short and ending with the ball in Wallaby hands.  It left the Boks trailing by eight and set the trend for things to come ...

Villain of the match:  No nasty stuff in a magnificent game.

The scorers:

For Australia:
Try:  Horwill
Pens:  O'Connor 2

For South Africa:
Pens:  Steyn 2
Drop:  Steyn

Australia:  15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O'Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Dan Vickerman, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements:  16 Tatafu Polota Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Nathan Sharpe, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Anthony Fainga'a.

South Africa:  15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements:  16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Willem Alberts, 19 François Louw, 20 François Hougaard, 21 Butch James, 22 Gio Aplon.

Venue:  Regional Stadium, Wellington
Referee:  Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Assistant referees:  Dave Pearson (England, Romain Poite (France)
TMO:  Giulio De Santis (Italy)

Saturday, 8 October 2011

French renaissance ends England

France bounced back from last week's humiliation to stun England at Eden Park, winning 19-12 to advance to the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-finals.

England were second best as they could not make it three finals in a row, while les Bleus deservedly march on to face Wales next week.

First-half tries from Vincent Clerc and Maxime Medard ultimately gave France a 16-0 cushion that England could not claw their way back from.

Going into the game, Jonny Wilkinson was hovering on a dismal 45 per cent tournament kicking record while Toby Flood had kicked 62.5 per cent.  In stark comparison, France scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili was considered a sharp shooter at 81.25 in conditions that went against the initial forecast.  Statistics would not matter though at Eden Park as neither Flood nor Wilkinson were given an opportunity to improve their averages during the whole 40 minutes of the first period.

In fact -- as these midweek subplots have a way of working out -- Wilkinson was afforded just a single attempt at goal during his 65 minutes on the field.

A great deal had been made of Martin Johnson's decision to employ Flood outside Wilkinson, with many predicting a kicking style from the team in white.  But in fact it was the distribution the Tiger offered that was apparent for the 2003 champions as Flood showed a longer, flatter pass that allowed outside centre Manu Tuilagi and full-back Ben Foden to hit the line in the same fashion Chris Ashton did against Scotland the week previously.

But like England's backline, this was not the same France that fell to Tonga as passes went to hand, running lines were excellent and more importantly, they were putting points on the board.  Two successful attempts from Biarritz's Yachvili pushed them 6-0 ahead in a frantic opening seventeen minutes.

Yachvili did have the opportunity to extend the lead before the quarter but drifted his third shot to the right of the uprights.  France might not have cared in truth as they were controlling all facets of play.  Two scrum penalties, ample territory and also heaps of possession were the catalysts to their march while England were not helping themselves in losing three early line-outs, which ultimately came back to haunt them when Toulouse's Clerc sliced down the left wing, brushing off the attempted last-ditch tackle of Foden to score in the corner.

Slowly but surely England were managing to get themselves a foothold in the game though, with the 11-0 score not looking too daunting for a side that had shown they were more than capable of coming from behind in this World Cup.  A mini period of possession in French territory gave them hope but then came the moment that made Marc Lievremont stand up and applaud.  A rumble through the heart of England's tight five was duly shifted left where superb work by winger Alexis Palisson drew three tacklers before he handed the ball back inside to grateful recipient Medard.  16-0 and England were well-and-truly on the rack.

Some home truths were needed at half-time or England would be going home.  Graham Rowntree had to work some of the magic that halted Euan Murray while Brian Smith was required to instill a cutting edge in the backs instead of just nice passing.  Neither were achieved for the opening fifteen minutes as Johnson threw on trio Courtney Lawes, Simon Shaw and Alex Corbisiero for Tom Croft, Louis Deacon and Matt Stevens respectively.

But then arrived the moment the majority of the largely-filled stadium had been waiting for as a sustained passage of play, which was sparked by scrum-half Ben Youngs' quick tap, saw Shaw involved before Foden cut a line to go in under the posts.  Wilkinson's extras made it 16-7 with ample time to go.

Cue the French offending, with referee Steve Walsh having words with skipper Thierry Dusautoir after an English jumper was handled in the air.  The looming question was whether les Bleus would begin to capitulate or not?  They did not and swiftly set about attempting to strike back, comforted by the knowledge that they were still two scores ahead of their rivals, who were ringing the changes by bringing off Youngs and captain Moody for James Haskell and Richard Wigglesworth.  Even fly-half Wilkinson was cut from the action as Johnson looked to throw his kitchen sink of a replacements bench at France.

It proved fruitless before French substitute Francois Trinh-Duc did a Wilkinson on England by slotting a drop-goal that took the game beyond reach at 19-7.  England did set up a grandstand finish when Mark Cueto was adjudged to have grounded the ball over the line after television match official approval, but it was all too little too late as France prevailed to set up a mouth-watering semi-final clash with Wales at the same venue next Saturday.

Man of the match:  Plenty of heart was shown by France -- even when the going was tough -- and no one epitomised that more than Julien Bonnaire.  The flank tackled all night for his country, putting in key hits to halt England gaining any sustainable momentum.

Moment of the match:  The step and assist from Alexis Palisson.  It was magic from the French winger as he set up Maxime Medard for a key score just after the half-hour mark.

Villain of the match:  Scratch villain for disappointment.  Large pockets of grey seats were evident at Eden Park as the quarter-final was not sold out.

The scorers:

For England:
Tries:  Foden, Cueto
Con:  Wilkinson

For France:
Tries:  Clerc, Medard
Pens:  Yachvili 2
Drop:  Trinh-Duc

England:  15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Toby Flood, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Matt Stevens.
Replacements:  16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Courtney Lawes, 19 Simon Shaw, 20 James Haskell, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Matt Banahan.

France:  15 Maxime Médard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Morgan Parra, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Pascal Pape, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 William Servat, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements:  16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 Francois Trinh-Duc, 21 David Marty, 22 Cédric Heymans.

Referee:  Steve Walsh
Assistant referees:  Alain Rolland, George Clancy
Television match official:  Shaun Veldsman

Wales march on to Auckland

Wales broke Irish hearts after booking their place in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals thanks to a 22-10 victory in Wellington on Saturday.

In what was a breathless encounter in the New Zealand capital, the Welsh outscored Ireland by three tries to one to seal a semi-final spot on rugby's biggest stage for the first time since 1987.

It was tough to predict a winner before the start of this quarter-final, but it was clear from the kick-off which team would be marching on to Auckland and who would be heading home in arguably the game of the tournament.

It was simple:  Wales took their chances, Ireland did not.

Outstanding defence from the Welsh also paved the way to victory with Luke Charteris and talismanic Sam Warburton immense in the tackle -- frustrating the Irish as a solid red wall kept them out.

Wales roared out of the starting blocks and made the perfect start possible after wing Shane Williams went over for the game's opening try in the corner with barely two minutes up on the clock.

It was a team effort, with the Welsh counter-attacking from a turnover.  The ball was sent high by pivot Rhys Priestland and then taken and carried strongly by Jamie Roberts, who fended off Donncha O'Callaghan -- from there, Ireland were always on the backfoot.

A sea of red jerseys flooded Ireland's tryline, before the pigskin was sent through the hands out to left wing Williams waiting on the right and he finished off.  The TMO was called in to confirm, but there was never any doubt.  The swirling wind couldn't prevent Priestland from slotting over the touchline conversion to hand his team a 7-0 lead after three minutes played.

The shell-shocked Irish composed themselves and made their way towards Wales' dangerzone, where they turned down three penalty attempts at goal only for the Welsh to thwart every attack thrown at them from Ireland's catch and drive at the line-out.

Ireland finally gave in to three points from bang in front and Ronan O'Gara put his team on the board in the 24th minute.  However, Wales stretched their lead back to seven points thanks to a monster penalty effort from full-back Leigh Halfpenny on halfway.

Ireland, playing with more possession and territory, failed to convert pressure into points and trailed their Celtic rivals 3-10 at half-time.

The start to the second half proved to be more pleasant than the first for Ireland, who gave Wales a taste of their own medicine by making the ideal start by crossing the whitewash early on.

At first it seemed that Ireland had made a mess of it as Tommy Bowe's pass to Keith Earls hit the deck and rolled towards the Irishman.  But Earls did well to pick up and turn on the gas with little space to work with, before sliding over in the corner.  Again, the TMO was brought into play, and again he gave the green light.

O'Gara showed he was just as able to nail conversions from the sideline and punched the air as the ball sailed between the uprights to level the scores.  10-10!

But Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips restored Wales' lead with a clever dart down the blindside from a ruck 15 metres out.  The number nine fended off Gordon D'Arcy and launched himself spectacularly for the line, dotting down one handed as Bowe came in with the tackle.

Priestland's conversion drifted wide and the fly-half, whose form has seen him keep Stephen Jones and James Hook out of the team, then saw a 58th minute penalty come back off the upright.

Ireland were then caught napping out wide and a quick ball from Phillips found Priestland, who offloaded to centre Jonathan Davies.  The centre split through Cian Healy and Earls, before shaking off Eoin Reddan's weak tackle for a fine individual try.

Priestland hit the conversion to make it 22-10 with 15 minutes to play.

The Irish threw everything but the kitchen sink at Wales in the last quarter of the match, but poor decisions -- which summed up their match -- either saw penalties given away, or balls being spilled thanks to some steely defence and superiority at the breakdown from the Welsh.

Wales, knocked out of the last World Cup four years ago at the group stage, now await the winner between England and France at Eden Park.

Man of the match:  Wales captain Sam Warburton excelled in the loose and centre Jamie Roberts stood out as a midfield battering ram, but we felt Leigh Halfpenny had a blinder at full-back for the Welsh.  Cool, calm and collected -- Halfpenny was simply sublime.

Moment of the match:  Shane Williams' opening try set the scene for what was to come, but Jonathan Davies put the icing on the cake at the Cake Tin with his match-winning score.

Villain of the match:  The wind!  It was nasty.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Tries:  Earls
Cons:  O'Gara
Pens:  O'Gara

For Wales:
Tries:  S Williams, Phillips, Davies
Cons:  Priestland 2
Pens:  Halfpenny

Ireland:  15 Robert Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (capt), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements:  16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Donnacha Ryan, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Jonathan Sexton, 22 Andrew Trimble.

Wales:  15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements:  16 Lloyd Burns, 17 Paul James, 18 Bradley Davies, 19 Ryan Jones, 20 Lloyd Williams, 21 James Hook, 22 Scott Williams.

Referee:  Craig Joubert

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Italy sent packing by solid Ireland

Ireland created a mouth-watering quarter-final date with Wales next week after overcoming Italy 36-6 at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Sunday.

There was little to separate the two nations at the break with three Ronan O'Gara penalties edging Mirco Bergamasco's two.  But after their rest, the Irish stepped up through the gears in Dunedin.

Scores from Brian O'Driscoll and Keith Earls sealed the victory and with it, Italy's tournament in New Zealand came to a premature conclusion.

What will be a concern Ireland though will be the injury to hooker Rory Best, who apparently went straight to hospital with a collar bone injury.  With Jerry Flannery also recently ruled out of action, Sean Cronin is now first-choice number two.

Italy had made their presence felt in the first minute via their defensive line as Best found himself in the midst of a blue wave of Azzurri tacklers.  And it seemed to send a message to Ireland as O'Gara, who kept his spot ahead of Jonathan Sexton, soon began to take territory.

We knew going in there was going to be spice in the fixture and it came as no surprise that was what brought about the first points of the evening, Gonzalo Canale deemed the guilty party after some shenanigans with Gordon D'Arcy.  O'Gara stepped up to make it 3-0.

Back to the nitty gritty Italy went, this time demolishing the opposition scrum on the Irish 22 to allow Bergamasco a sweet levelling effort.  Parity did not look like lasting long though when hands at ruck-time from Italy allowed O'Gara to push what seemed like the 'home' side back in front.  He missed from the right but soon followed it up with a successful effort.

Despite the 62 per cent territory at this stage, Ireland were certainly not having things all their own way under the roof in Dunedin and Italy in fact almost opened the try account when a sudden wealth of possession saw them pitch up camp five metres from the green line.  Three points was their consolation.

The teams remained deadlocked going past the half-hour mark.  However, that could have been very different for Ireland had referee Jonathan Kaplan not spotted a forward pass from Sean O'Brien to an untouched Tommy Bowe.  The right wing celebrated the try under the posts along with the rest of the fans, yet it was short-lived as the South African had already blown his whistle.  Italy had survived despite being under the cosh.  However, it didn't last.

Ireland kept on knocking at the door and finally got reward for their efforts in two fold.  While key prop Martin Castrogiovanni was hobbling from the action -- and the 2011 Rugby World Cup -- O'Gara cooly pushed Ireland back in front by nine points to six as the first-half clock counted down.  Bergamasco should have made it 9-all before the break but struck the post from 40 metres and then, for reasons unknown, Italy had a penalty reversed by Kaplan.

Declan Kidney must have been quietly satisfied during the break at how the game was progressing while knowing they would need a couple more scores to create a comfortable finish.  And he soon got his wish from two of his old stagers when first O'Gara knocked over another three before O'Driscoll finished a superb initial break of the line from right wing Bowe.  It looked like the Italians' hopes had been firmly tucked away for another four years.

But the Irish weren't done there and soon went about extending their 19-6 advantage with a free-flowing move across the backs that had Italy clutching desperately for a foothold.  This time it was young Keith Earls who joined the party, a party that filtered into in the stands.

Replacement fly-half Sexton rubbed further salt into Azzurri wounds on 70 minutes with a penalty as the scoreline became 29-6 before Earls grabbed a brace of scores following good work from Andrew Trimble.  The 'Octagon' town centre of Dunedin was set have its eyes well-and-truly opened by the masses of jubilant Irish fans decked out in green.

Man of the match:  He just continues to get better and better in a green jersey.  Sean O'Brien was again immense for Ireland in what is shaping up to be a lethal weapon of a back-row.

Moment of the match:  Just when Ireland wanted their old stagers to step up and be counted, Tommy Bowe picked the Italian lock to send over captain Brian O'Driscoll.

Villain of the match:  The streaker in the North Stand, who was wearing only a green cape.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Tries:  O'Driscoll, Earls 2
Con:  O'Gara 2, Sexton
Pen:  O'Gara 4, Sexton

For Italy:
Pen:  Bergamasco 2

Ireland:  15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (capt), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements:  16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Donnacha Ryan, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Jonathan Sexton, 22 Andrew Trimble.

Italy:  15 Andrea Masi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Cornelius van Zyl, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements:  16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Andrea lo Cicero, 18 Marco Bortolami, 19 Paul Derbyshire, 20 Edoardo Gori, 21 Riccardo Bocchino, 22 Luke McLean.

Referee:  Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees:  Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand), Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Television match official:  Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

Wales cruise past Fiji

Wales confirmed their place in the World Cup quarter-finals on Sunday with a comfortable 66-0 win over a second-string Fiji side in Hamilton.

Wales secured a four-try bonus point in the first half of a one-sided affair and will now face either Australia or Ireland in Wellington next Saturday.

Wales went on to run in a total of nine unanswered tries and landed all their kicks in yet another impressive display in both the set-pieces and from their free-running backs.

Fiji arrived with somewhat naive tactics and selected a team based on the concept of "having fun", but they could not have enjoyed being run ragged by a better-organised Welsh side.

Tries from Jamie Roberts, Scott Williams, George North and Sam Warburton gave Wales a 31-0 lead at the break to put any doubts over the final result to bed.

The Fijian defence was cut to shreds at regular intervals and with the weather conditions deteriorating, Roberts claimed his brace before tries from Lloyd Burns, Leigh Halfpenny, Lloyd Williams and Jonathan Davies rubbed salt into the Fijian wounds.

Despite the lopsided scoreline, Wales coach Warren Gatland will not be entirely happy with the performance as his side were heavily penalised at the breakdown, especially for leaving their feet.

But one cannot deny that Wales will take plenty of momentum into the knock-out stages as arguably the most impressive northern hemisphere side on display.

Man of the match:  Plenty of names to choose from with two-try Roberts and skipper Warburton strong candidates.  But the official award went to barnstorming wing George North for his eye-catching runs and offloads.  We won't argue.

Moment of the match:  A handful of quality tries to choose from, but we'll go for Jamie Roberts's opening try off the back of a line-out lost by Fiji.  Not only did Roberts pick the perfect angle for his run, but it set the tone for things to come.  Fiji never looked like recovering.

Villain of the match:  No nasty stuff to report

The scorers:

For Wales:
Tries:  Roberts 2, Sc. Williams, North, Warburton, Burns, Halfpenny, L. Williams, Davies
Cons:  Priestland 5, S. Jones 4
Pen:  Priestland

The teams:

Wales:  15 Lee Byrne, 14 George North, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Leigh Halfpenny, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Ryan Jones, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements:  16 Lloyd Burns, 17 Paul James , 18 Alun Wyn Jones, 19 Andy Powell, 20 Lloyd Williams, 21 Stephen Jones, 22 Jonathan Davies.

Fiji:  15 Iliesa Lomani Rakuka Keresoni, 14 Albert James Vulivuli, 13 Ravai Susau Fatiaki, 12 Gaby Lovobalavu, 11 Michael Tagicakibau, 10 Nicky Little, 9 Vitori Tomu Buatava, 8 Netani Edward Talei (c), 7 Sakiusa Matadigo, 6 Rupeni Nasiga, 5 Wame Lewaravu, 4 Leone Nakarawa, 3 Setefano Somoca, 2 Sunia Koto, 1 Waisea Nailago.
Replacements:  16 Viliame Veikoso, 17 Campese Ma'afu, 18 Akapusi Qera, 19 Mala Ravulo, 20 Nemia Kenatale, 21 Seremaia Bai, 22 Vereniki Goneva.

Referee:  Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees:  Craig Joubert (South Africa), Stuart Terheege (England)
Television match official:  Graham Hughes (England)

Twelve-try All Blacks crush Canada

The All Blacks reacted to the bad news of the last 24 hours by running twelve tries past Canada to win 79-15 in Wellington on Sunday.

Wing Zac Guildford grabbed four tries as Canada were unable able to cope with the pace at which New Zealand launched attack after attack.

With superstar fly-half Dan Carter having been ruled out of the tournament and captain Richie McCaw forced to watch from the stands due to a foot injury, a big win was just what the doctor ordered.

Speaking of doctors, the All Blacks medical staff have more work to do after Colin Slade left the scene early with a slight ankle injury.

But we'll focus on the positives here and there were plenty for the tournament hosts -- as you would expected from a team that scores 79 points.

Top of that list will be the scrum which continues to impress and was rewarded with a push-over try, a rare sight in Test rugby these days.

It wasn't all bad news for the visitors though as Conor Trainor became the first Canadian to score two tries against the All Blacks.  And they were just reward for Canada's efforts -- not just at Wellington Regional Stadium, but over the last three weeks.

Canada were first to score when Ander Monro slotted an early penalty, but it was one-way traffic for 70 of the remaining 78 minutes.  New Zealand led 37-8 at break.

Victor Vito and Jerome Kaino also bagged two tries apiece as the All Blacks completed the pool stages with a perfect record of four bonus-point wins from as many starts.  What way to celebrate the coaching staff's 100th game and carry momentum into the quarter-finals, where they will meet Argentina.

Man of the match:  A few candidates here, and you have to mention Guildford, who not only scored four tries but had a hand in setting up a couple more.  But the gong goes to Jerome Kaino, who not only scored two tries of his own, but ruled the breakdown area with an iron fist.

Moment of the match:  We expected New Zealand to win easily and no one would have been surprised by any of their tries.  For us the highlight came early in the second half when Canada capped a purple patch with Conor Trainor's second try.  Not many people claim a brace against the world's best team -- well done lad.

Villain of the match:  Nothing to see here ... move along.

The scorers:

For New Zealand:
Tries:  Guildford 4, Vito 2, Dagg, Muliaina, Cowan, Kaino 2, Williams
Cons:  Slade 4, Weepu 4
Pen:  Slade

For Canada:
Tries:  Trainor 2
Con:  Monro
Pen:  Monro

New Zealand:  15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Victor Vito, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements:  16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Brad Thorn, 19 Anthony Boric, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Isaia Toeava.

Canada:  15 Matt Evans, 14 Conor Trainor, 13 DTH Van Der Merwe, 12 Ryan Smith, 11 Phil Mackenzie, 10 Ander Monro, 9 Ed Fairhurst, 8 Aaron Carpenter, 7 Chauncey O'Toole, 6 Adam Kleeberger, 5 Jamie Cudmore, 4 Jebb Sinclair, 3 Jason Marshall, 2 Pat Riordan (c), 1 Hubert Buydens.
Replacements:  16 Ryan Hamilton, 17 Scott Franklin, 18 Andrew Tiedemann, 19 Tyler Hotson, 20 Nanyak Dala, 21 Sean White, 22 Nathan Hirayama.

Venue:  Wellington Regional Stadium
Referee:  Romain Poite (France)

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Pumas get the job done

Argentina laboured to a 25-7 win over Georgia at Arena Manawatu in Palmerston North on Sunday, to book their place in the World Cup quarter-finals.

Any hope Scotland may have had of sneaking into the last eight through the back door, was shut in their face following the Pumas' three tries to one victory in Pool B.

As the scoreline reflects, Georgia put up a brave fight and at times another World Cup upset looked on the cards -- especially after leading Argentina by two points (5-7) at half-time.

However, the South Americans scored 20 unanswered points after the break that included a 67th minute try to skipper Felipe Contepomi and another by replacement Agustín Gosio on the stroke of full-time to put the result beyond doubt.

But whilst Argentina march on to face the injury-hit All Blacks in next weekend's knockout clash, the Georgians leave New Zealand with their pride intact.

A scrappy and error-strewn first half saw both sides struggle to get going.  Argentina's handling let them down too often despite some impressive running from the back division, while Georgia were their own worst enemy with their ill-discipline.

The eastern Europeans were let off the hook twice as Contepomi's woes with the boot in the tournament continued, with the Pumas captain missing two simple shots at goal.

With both teams still scorless in the first half, Argentina finally breached the Georgia defence after speedster Juan Jose Imhoff crossed the chalkdust nine minutes before the break.

Contepomi missed the conversion from far out, while Georgia full-back Malkhaz Urjukashvili missed his chance to cut the deficit as his penalty attempt went wide.

However Georgia moved into a surprise lead as fly-half Lasha Khmaladze crossed for his first international try.  The number ten won the race to Alexander Todua's chip ahead, with Urjukashvili converting to give Georgia a 7-5 advantage at half-time -- and hope to Scotland.

Contepomi finally found his range 10 minutes after the break following a sustained spell of pressure to put the Pumas back in front.  The veteran centre added a second penalty to move Argentina into a four-point lead, while Marcelo Bosch was off-target with a long-range attempt.

Contepomi then stepped unside two defenders for a well-worked try after the ball was spread wide following an initial break from hard-working flank Julio Farias Cabello.

The centre converted his own try and whilst the result was locked away in the bank, Argentina weren't done yet.  Contepomi was replaced by Gosio and the centre made an immediate impact by racing on to a grubber kick ahead by Imhoff for a sensational score in the corner.

Bosch converted from the touchline in the final minute to put the icing on the cake for Argentina.

Man of the match:  Pumas loose forward Juan Manuel Leguizamón was a tireless figure for 80 minutes.

Moment of the match:  Don't you just love it when the underdogs score a try? We do too!

Villain of the match:  Nothing to report.

The scorers:

For Argentina:
Tries:  Imhoff, Contepomi, Gosio
Cons:  Contepomi, Bosch
Pens:  Contepomi

For Georgia:
Try:  Khmaladze
Con:  Urjukashvili

Argentina:  15 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Felipe Contepomi (c), 11 Juan Jose Imhoff, 10 Santiago Fernández, 9 Nicolás Vergallo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Mario Ledesma Arocena, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements:  16 Agustín Creevy, 17 Martín Scelzo, 18 Tomas Vallejos, 19 Alejandro Campos, 20 Alfredo Lalanne, 21 Agustín Gosio, 22 Martín Rodríguez.

Georgia:  15 Malkhaz Urjukashvili, 14 Lekso Gugava, 13 David Kacharava, 12 Tedo Zibzibadze, 11 Alexander Todua, 10 Lasha Khmaladze, 9 Irakli Abuseridze (c), 8 Mamuka Gorgodze, 7 Viktor Kolelishvili, 6 Giorgi Chkhaidze, 5 Vakhtang Maisuradze, 4 Levan Datunashvili, 3 David Zirakashvili, 2 Akvsenti Giorgadze, 1 Vasil Kakovin.
Replacements:  16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Goderdzi Shvelidze, 18 Giorgi Nemsadze, 19 Ilia Zedginidze, 20 Bidzina Samkharadze, 21 Merab Kvirikashvili, 22 Lasha Malaguradze.

Referee:  Alain Rolland (Ireland)

Scots bow out to sloppy England

England were on the verge of facing up to a premature exit from the 2011 RWC until a late flurry saw them edge out rivals Scotland 16-12 on Saturday.

As it was, Scotland are looking at returning from New Zealand early as they await the result of Argentina's fixture against Georgia on Sunday.  The Scots need the Lelos to cause an upset of Tongan proportions in Palmerston North.

But despite England's four victories from four Pool record, questions will be asked following this performance, which lacked any real direction.  They were flat for most of the first-half and will need to up the ante when they run out for what will be a last-eight date with France next week.

While the nations were warming up, it was almost comical seeing a suited Martin Johnson prowling about on halfway looking at the Scottish back-line.  How he must sometimes wish he could roll back the clock and pull on the white jersey once again for what was the 129th meeting between the duo.

Just ten minutes before kick-off, the heavens had opened at Eden Park while Chris Paterson stood alone putting together the final touches to his goal-kicking routine.  And that extra practice seemed to pay off as he was on the mark with his first kick, a tough attempt from wide on the left touchline.

Andy Robinson had not held back in bringing in fresh legs for their Pool finale as Joe Ansbro made only his second start of the tournament.  But he was forced into making one other tweak moments before Paterson's effort when Ruaridh Jackson's night was ended due to what looked like a hamstring problem.

His replacement was Dan Parks, who in many people's eyes would be more suited to such weather conditions.  He proved his worth too on sixteen minutes as his long-range penalty shot, struck with a low trajectory, crept over the crossbar following approval from the Television Match Official.  It hadn't been the most memorable 24 hours for assistant referee Nigel Owens, who had thought the ball had not made the necessary distance.  6-0 it was.

What was more impressive from Andy Robinson's outfit was the fact that they were playing against the wind and winning the pivotal battle at scrum-time.  Jonny Wilkinson had also missed three penalty attempts from three, with the booing Scotland supporters lapping it up.

That was all soon to change though on 34 minutes when Wilkinson finally found his range from the left touchline to cut the deficit in half.  But a rather worrying statistic for England was that they'd not yet made a visit into the Scottish 22.  There was plenty of food for thought for Johnson at the break, particularly after Parks had sat back in the pocket to push the advantage back to six points.  Scotland were dominating all facets of play in Auckland.

England desperately needed a strong opening to the second-half and that was exactly what they got when Delon Armitage, in for Mark Cueto, raced down the left touchline before forcing a speculator back inside to a Scottish player.  These were good signs for the Red Rose though as Ben Youngs was much quicker at the breakdown, Mike Tindall began to look for work and Matt Stevens seemed to had weathered an in-form Euan Murray.

Things were not improving for an out-of-sorts Wilkinson, however, as he missed a point blank drop-goal attempt that cause many Scotland fans to turn and smile at Johnson in the coaching box.  England needed leaders to step up which wasn't happening as they walked to line-outs with their heads down.  Johnson needed to make changes to liven up his team, the first was enforced though when Nick Easter came on for captain Moody who had to go to the blood-bin for some running repairs.  One sensed though that the likes of Toby Flood and Dylan Hartley wouldn't be too far behind in making an appearance from the bench.

In fact is was Tom Palmer who arrived to join Easter just after Paterson had extended the arrears to beyond that golden seven points.  If ever the English needed their own golden boy it was now and Wilkinson stepped up when it mattered with a sweetly-struck drop before the hour that eased some of the heat.

That trend continued soon after too when Wilkinson slotted a touchline penalty to bring England back to 9-12 with seventeen minutes remaining.  At this stage, Scotland would have to hope that Georgia would do the unthinkable against Argentina on Sunday.  And it was not like they had chances to claim that priceless try as Simon Danielli and then Richie Gray, from a Parks cross-field kick, came close to making England sweat further.

But Johnson's side held on and in fact finished with a flourish when Chris Ashton, a virtual ghost for most of the game, crossed to end Scottish hopes.  Replacement fly-half Toby Flood's conversion made it 16-12 which was how it stayed at Eden Park.

Man of the match:  Euan Murray was a rock for Scotland during the first 40 minutes while Al Kellock led well.  But for his wet-weather masterclass, we have to go for Dan Parks.  Thrown on minutes after kick-off, Parks took the right options at the right time and had a good day.

Moment of the match:  The English had looked to be heading for more than a seven-point defeat due to Jonny Wilkinson's poor kicking early on.  But as soon as he found his range their hopes of progressing to a third straight final improved.  It was mighty close though.

Villain of the match:  None to speak of.

The scorers:

For England:
Try:  Ashton
Con:  Flood
Pen:  Wilkinson 2
Drop:  Wilkinson

For Scotland:
Pen:  Paterson 2, Parks
Drop:  Parks

England:  15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Mike Tindall, 11 Delon Armitage, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 James Haskell, 7 Lewis Moody (capt), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Matt Stevens.
Replacements:  16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Tom Palmer, 19 Nick Easter, 20 Richard Wigglesworth, 21 Toby Flood, 22 Matt Banahan.

Scotland:  15 Chris Paterson, 14 Max Evans, 13 Joe Ansbro, 12 Sean Lamont, 11 Simon Danielli, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Richie Vernon, 7 John Barclay, 6 Ally Strokosch, 5 Alastair Kellock (capt), 4 Richie Gray, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements:  16 Scott Lawson, 17 Alasdair Dickinson, 18 Nathan Hines, 19 Ross Rennie, 20 Chris Cusiter, 21 Dan Parks, 22 Nick de Luca.

Referee:  Craig Joubert (RSA)
Assistant referees:  Nigel Owens (WAL);  Jérôme Garces (FRA)

Australia ease past spirited Russia

Despite picking up a bonus-point win, Australia produced a Jekyll & Hyde showing in their 68-22 Pool victory over Russia in Nelson on Saturday.

Russia ran in three tries -- through Vladimir Ostroushko, Denis Simplikevich and Konstantin Rachkov -- but the Golds hit double figures.

Australia looked set to give the Bears a hiding from the kick-off as Australia opened the scoring with five minutes played, Berrick Barnes stepping and going in untouched.  However, James O'Connor missed the resulting conversion.

Drew Mitchell, who later left the field with a hamstring injury, went in for the second try after collecting a well-weighted chip kick from Barnes.  O'Connor made no mistake with those extras.

Then came one of the tries of the day as wing Radike Samo started a passage that saw many Australians involved.  Quade Cooper gave the final, unselfish pass to a supporting Ben McCalman.  Russia were on the rack.

Openside flanker David Pocock secured the bonus point try midway through the half, using his strength before he added another following good work from Adam Ashley-Cooper.  O'Connor had definitely found his kicking range.

Then came one of the loudest cheers of the day when Russia crossed the whitewash.  Coming from a Luke Burgess spillage, wing Ostroushko picked up the loose ball and stepped around Nathan Sharpe to make it 33-5.

Pocock then almost claimed his third try but instead chose to offload to hooker Stephen Moore, with O'Connor knocking over his fifth conversion.

Ashley-Cooper joined the party soon after as Cooper put in a nice grubber to his colleague that allowed O'Connor to make it 47-5 at half-time.

It didn't take long for Australia to add to their tally too as Salesi Ma'afu got over for their eighth try after referee Bryce Lawrence had twice played an advantage.

Replacement Rachkov's drop-goal cut the lead to 54-8 but then Mitchell responded for his side.  Mitchell then looked set for another try but he pulled up with what looked like a hamstring injury with the line at his mercy.

Simplikevich soon after intercepted a wild pass from Cooper and to race in and suddenly the scoreline looked a lot more respectably for the Bears.  However, Australia were to have the final say as Barnes got his second try after charging down a kick and strolling in.

Man of the match:  Yet again the presence of David Pocock was a massive plus for Australia.  With him they look like they could beat the Springboks, without him we are not so sure.  He scored two tries in just 40 minutes, with another mention going to Luke Burgess.

Moment of the match:  More for the Russian and New Zealand fans we have gone for Quade Cooper's pass that was intercepted by Denis Simplikevich.  On the other side of the coin, Drew Mitchell's inside ball was excellent and led to Stephen Moore's try.

Villain of the match:  Clean and fair.  No villain.

The scorers:

For Australia:
Tries:  Barnes 2, Mitchell 2, McCalman, Pocock 2, Moore, Ashley-Cooper, Ma'afu
Cons:  O'Connor 9

For Russia:
Tries:  Ostroushko, Simplikevich, Rachkov
Con:  Rachkov 2
Drop:  Rachkov

Australia:  15 James O'Connor, 14 Radike Samo, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 James Horwill (captain), 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:  16 Tatafu Polota Nau, 17 Saia Fainga'a, 18 Salesi Ma'afu, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Rocky Elsom, 21 Will Genia, 22 Nick Phipps.

Russia:  15 Vasily Artemyev, 14 Denis Simplikevich, 13 Andrey Kuzin, 12 Alexey Makovetskiy, 11 Vladimir Ostroushko, 10 Yury Kushnarev, 9 Alexander Yanyushkin, 8 Victor Gresev, 7 Vyacheslav Grachev, 6 Artem Fatakhov, 5 Adam Byrnes, 4 Alexander Voytov, 3 Ivan Prishchepenko, 2 Vladislav Korshunov (c), 1 Sergey Popov.
Replacements:  16 Evgeny Matveev, 17 Vladimir Botvinnikov, 18 Alexey Travkin, 19 Andrey Garbuzov, 20 Alexander Shakirov, 21 Konstantin Rachkov, 22 Mikhail Babaev.

Referee:  Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Assistant referees:  George Clancy (Ireland), Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Television match official:  Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

Friday, 30 September 2011

Boks seal quarter-final spot

South Africa remained unbeaten in Pool D and move on to the World Cup quarter-finals after beating Samoa 13-5 at North Harbour Stadium on Friday.

Samoa knew going in that it would be a tough ask to make it into the quarter-finals, but no one ever doubted they would fight until the final whistle.

There was a smidge of ''what might have been'' attached to the result though for the islanders as had Mahonri Schwalger grounded a score, who knows what might of happened in the final stages.  As it was the reigning champions had enough in the tank to stave off their opponents.

The Springboks came out with intent and quickly set about using their star player of the tournament thus far, Danie Rossouw, to make the metres.  Nothing came of their foray after Morne Steyn sliced a drop-goal attempt, but the marker was laid that they weren't going to lose the physical.

South Africa tried for the opening points again moments later when Frans Steyn had a 60-metre penalty shot after good breakdown work from Heinrich Brüssow.  That struck the crossbar in what turned out to only be delaying the inevitable as the Bok power soon shone through.  They attacked down the left via Schalk Burger, who used his backline, which allowed Bryan Habana to cross in the corner.  Morne Steyn's conversion made it 7-0 on ten minutes.

Samoa needed to up the ante and subsequently played to their strengths, with carrying from George Stowers and Seilala Mapusua making ground.  That passage certainly let the Boks know they were not going to have it all their own way in Albany as slowly but surely Samoa gained momentum, being willed on by their passionate supporters.  It was also apparent South Africa were not going to enjoy a similar score of their triumphs in 2007 and 2003.

That was not to say the Boks were struggling to make their presence felt, and with Frans Steyn sending over a 65-metre penalty on 25 minutes, they knew territory was not going to be a problem.  That three was promptly doubled by namesake Morne two minutes later too as Samoa were penalised at scrum-time.  13-0 it was with barely half-an-hour played as Samoa's hopes looked to be getting even slimmer.  Wales' fate was also almost known.

North Harbour Stadium was treated to a pulsating finish to the half when Kahn Fotuali'i broke down the right wing before handing on to Mapusua, but the ex-Exiles centre's Hail Mary pass failed to find its man, sending the teams in at 13-0 in favour of the Springboks.

It was a bumper 29,734 crowd on Friday that while packed into an open stadium, did not lack in atmosphere with the vocal Bok fans met by the islanders.  And the former were soon to be silenced by a mass of noise from those waving blue and red as a lovely dummy and run from Tusi Pisi unlocked the defence.  His offload to Mapusua was then recycled for Stowers to crash in.  Pisi missed the kick that would have brought them within one score.

South Africa could have blamed that swing in momentum on the fact they had lost duo Habana and Rossouw, who later returned, to injuries minutes earlier.  However, that is doing a disservice to Samoa who were turning up the heat on their rivals during the opening 20 minutes of the second stanza.  The Boks needed to some fresh legs and Peter de Villiers oblidged, throwing on forwards Gurthrö Steenkamp and Willem Alberts for the last quarter.

It did little disarm the Samoan assault though as they kept on coming, mixing power up front with stepping wider out until Schwalger came within touching distance of the line before fumbling.  Was that to be the moment that would haunt his outfit in the morning?

That it proved to be as an ill-tempered finish that saw Paul Williams sent-off for pushing Brüssow in the face and then John Smit shown yellow after a deliberate slap-down, ultimately ended Samoa's 2011.  South Africa are now set to face the Wallabies.

Man of the match:  Although on the losing side, Tusi Pisi again showed that he had a big future leading Samoa.  The fly-half was light on his feet throughout and marshalled well, finding holes on more than one occasion.  Mentions too for Bok props Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis at scrum-time and also flanker Schalk Burger, who was a genuine nuisance to Maurie Fa'asavalu and George Stowers.  David Lemi was also very impressive.

Moment of the match:  Had captain Mahonri Schwalger managed to hold onto the ball when reaching out on 66 minutes, maybe the Samoans were on the verge of something historic.  But it was not meant to be as even with John Smit going to the sin-bin soon after, South Africa held on to top the Pool and set up a probable last-eight clash with Australia.

Villain of the match:  It was played hard but fair until Paul Williams pushed/punched Heinrich Brüssow after being held at a breakdown.  Williams will be upset with how he ended the tournament as the frustration got the better of him.

The scorers:

For South Africa:
Try:  Habana
Con:  M Steyn
Pens:  F Steyn, M Steyn

For Samoa:
Try:  Stowers

Red card:  Paul Williams, 67 mins (Samoa, punching)
Yellow card:  John Smit, 70 mins (SA, killing the ball)

Samoa:  15 Paul Williams, 14 David Lemi, 13 Seilala Mapusua, 12 Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 George Stowers, 7 Maurie Faasavalu, 6 Taiasina Tuifua, 5 Kane Thompson, 4 Daniel Leo, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Mahonri Schwalger (c), 1 Sakaria Taulafo.
Replacements:  16 Ole Avei, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Logovi'i Mulipola, 19 Ofisa Treviranus, 20 Filipo Lavea Levi, 21 Junior Poluleuligaga, 22 George Pisi.

South Africa:  15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie Du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Jannie Du Plessis, 2 Bismarck Du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements:  16 John Smit, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Jean De Villiers.

Referee:  Nigel Owens

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Georgia send Romania home winless

Romania depart the 2011 Rugby World Cup without a win to their name after going down to Georgia 25-9 in Palmerston North on Wednesday.

It was a well-deserved victory by the Georgians, who stay on to play Argentina on Sunday with a win under their belt.

Scrappy for the most part, both sides threw everything but the kitchen sink at one another however sprung a major leak with handling errors the order of the evening.

The scrums were to be the weapon of choice for the two teams, with the Romanians winning the battle up front with some powerful work from their forwards who really stamped their authority in that particular department ... but nowhere else.

The Oaks' line-outs, however, were a shambles with skew throw-ins and their catchers doing everything but catch while the backs failed to spark anything with ball in hand.

It wasn't pretty, it wasn't expected to be, but the stop-start spectacle wasn't helped either by the trigger-happy refereeing of Dave Pearson who blew the game to smithereens -- awarding 14 penalties in the first half alone.

Romania started the match the better of the two teams, pushing the Georgians off their feet in the first scrum but failed to turn pressure into points after fly-half Danut Dumbrava missed a simple shot at goal.

Georgia pivot Merab Kvirikashvili showed his opposite number how it should be done after sending over the opening points of the match with a straight-forward penalty.

Dumbrava found his range in the ninth minute, but had to watch Kvirikashvili slot two more penalties before getting a chance in the 33rd minute to add another of his own.

With both sides rarely threatening the tryline, they took their opportunities at points when presented to them and Kvirikashvili was happy to raise the flags once more with the final penalty of the first half to take his team into the half-time sheds 12-6 ahead.

The second half started in the same fashion as the first half ended -- with more penalties.  Yet both goal-kickers made a mess of their attempts after the break.

Then the unbelievable happened:  Georgia managed to string 11 phases together as the Lelos marched towards their opposition tryline before Mamuka Gorgodze powered over for a brilliant team try.

Kvirikashvili added the conversion from bang in front and all of a sudden Georgia were in a commanding 19-6 lead.  I say commanding, because the Oaks hardly came within a sniff of scoring a five-pointer up until this point of the match.

In fact, Georgia's tryline was never in sight of Romania for the remainder of a tight tussle and when Kvirikashvili raised the flags with his fifth successful penalty, it was game over for Romeo Gontineac's side.

When Romania did work their way inside the Georgians' territory, they took the strange decision to kick for points whilst 16 points (22-6) down.

Replacement full-back Florin Vlaicu was successful with his penalty nontheless, but Georgia weren't done and nailed the final nail into Romania's coffin with a three-pointer by Malkhaz Urjukashvili four minutes from full-time.

Man of the match:  In a tight game where penalties ruled the roost, we have to go for Georgia's number ten Merab Kvirikashvili who contributed 17 points with the boot.

Moment of the match:  Um, erm ... hmmm ... ah yes -- Mamuka Gorgodze's try for the Lelos!

Villain of the match:  No punches, pushes or even a horrible word about anyone's second cousin whispered in the ear.

The scorers:

For Georgia:
Try:  Gorgodze
Con:  Kvirikashvili
Pens:  Kvirikashvili 5, Urjukashvili

For Romania:
Pens:  Dumbrava 2, Vlaicu

Georgia:  15 Lasha Khmaladze, 14 Revaz Gigauri, 13 David Kacharava, 12 Tedo Zibzibadze, 11 Alexander Todua, 10 Merab Kvirikashvili, 9 Irakli Abuseridze (c), 8 Dimitri Basilaia, 7 Mamuka Gorgodze, 6 Giorgi Chkhaidze, 5 Vakhtang Maisuradze, 4 Ilia Zedginidze, 3 David Zirakashvili, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 David Khinchagishvili.
Replacements:  16 Goderdzi Shvelidze, 17 Vasil Kakovin, 18 Levan Datunashvili, 19 Givi Berishvili, 20 Bidzina Samkharadze, 21 Irakli Chkhikvadze, 22 Malkhaz Urjukashvili.

Romania:  15 Iulian Dumitras, 14 Stefan Ciuntu, 13 Csaba Gal, 12 Tiberius Dimofte, 11 Madalin Lemnaru, 10 Danut Dumbrava, 9 Florin Surugiu, 8 Daniel Carpo, 7 Ovidiu Tonita, 6 Mihai Macovei, 5 Cristian Petre, 4 Valentin Ursache, 3 Paulica Ion, 2 Marius Tincu (c), 1 Mihaita Lazar.
Replacements:  16 Bogdan Suman, 17 Silviu Florea, 18 Valentin Poparlan, 19 Daniel Ianus, 20 Valentin Calafeteanu, 21 Constantin Gheara, 22 Florin Vlaicu.

Referee:  Dave Pearson (England)

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Irish showdown for bonus-point Italy

Italy secured a four-try 27-10 win over the USA at Trafalgar Park on Tuesday in a result that means Pool C will go right down to the wire on Sunday.

The five-point success sees the Azzurri go level on points with the Wallabies -- who play Russia on Saturday -- and just three behind Ireland.

It wasn't pretty from the Italians but they will not be losing sleep over that as it was a case of mission accomplished before they go down to Dunedin.

Captain and number eight Sergio Parisse opened the scoring after being handed a lovely offload from lock Cornelius van Zyl while further scores from Luciano Orquera, Martin Castrogiovanni and a penalty try saw them pick up a maximum haul.

The Eagles looked to have been offering stiff competition when Chris Wyles claimed ten points via a try, conversion and penalty inside the first half-hour, but the power of Italy eventually told as the States ended the 2011 Rugby World Cup with a solitary win.

On the back of Parisse's slick score, Tommaso Benvenuti almost got over on the right wing but failed to hang on after good defensive scrambling.  And it was then the turn of the Eagles, who levelled after good initial line-breaking work from Paul Emerick seeing Wyles go in for a converted score.

Bergamasco and Wyles traded penalties in the next 10 minutes for the teams to remain locked together.  But Orquera sliced through from close range for a 15-10 lead in the 30th minute after some adept mauling and pick-and-go work from his forwards.

Castrogiovanni was held up over the line not long before the break, but the bearded prop wasn't to be denied on the stroke of half-time.  He ensured Italy's sustained pressure on the Eagles' line was rewarded by powering over to give his team a ten-point (20-10) half-time lead.

Italy couldn't make their considerable possession and territory advantage count as time slipped away after the break and the pressure mounted for the all-important fourth try.

America's blindside flanker Louis Stanfill was sin-binned for one scrummaging infringement too many, and still the Eagles held firm.

It couldn't last.  One scrum too many went down, and referee George Clancy ran under the posts to signal the penalty try in the 66th minute that relieved the tension in Italy's camp.

Man of the match:  USA centre Paul Emerick was impressive every time he touched the ball while Sergio Parisse was his usual destructive self.  However, for his scrummaging and try-scoring effort we go with Martin Castrogiovanni.  His clash with Cian Healy should be epic.

Moment of the match:  Italy needed that bonus-point try and when it came on 66 minutes -- via a penalty try -- one could see the relief all around.  Job done, mission accomplished.

Villain of the match:  Another clean game at World Cup 2011.

The scorers:

For Italy:
Tries:  Parisse, Orquera, Castrogiovanni, Penalty
Con:  Bergamasco 2
Pen:  Bergamasco

For USA:
Tries:  Wyles
Con:  Wyles
Pen:  Wyles

Italy:  15 Luke McLean, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Cornelius van Zyl, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements:  16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Andrea Lo Cicero, 18 Marco Bortolami, 19 Paul Derbyshire, 20 Edoardo Gori, 21 Riccardo Bocchino, 22 Giulio Toniolatti.

USA:  15 Chris Wyles, 14 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 13 Paul Emerick, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 James Paterson, 10 Roland Suniula, 9 Mike Petri, 8 Nic Johnson, 7 Todd Clever (c), 6 Louis Stanfill, 5 Hayden Smith, 4 John van der Giessen, 3 Matekitonga Moeakiola, 2 Chris Biller, 1 Mike MacDonald.
Replacements:  16 Phil Thiel, 17 Shawn Pittman, 18 Scott LaValla, 19 Pat Danahy, 20 Tim Usasz, 21 Nese Malifa, 22 Blaine Scully.

Referee:  George Clancy (IRE)