Rugby World Cup 2007 has become probably the most dramatic in the competition’s history, especially after the twists and turns of the weekend. It’s now wide open, and any of the four remaining teams could go all the way.
Saturday alone will probably go down in RWC history as the greatest day ever (or indeed worst day ever, if you are a New Zealander.) Before the tournament started, you would have gotten very short odds on the Webb Ellis going back across the equator, most likely into the warm embrace of New Zealand, where a pedestal bearing its name has been standing empty since 1991. England were written off. Argentina weren’t even supposed to get out of their group. The received wisdom was that the semi-final line-up was going to be New Zealand v. Australia and France v. South Africa.
But ’twas not to be. England put up their best display in four years against top class opposition to repeat the outcome of the 2003 final. Australia is a sports-obsessed nation, and they hate losing. But there is one thing they hate more than that, and that is losing to England. Rugby, cricket, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t get any worse than losing to the Poms.
France made it 2-0 to the Six Nations on Saturday night, and you have to give them credit for their win. The stats alone are unbelievable. They made something like 170 tackles to New Zealand’s 40-odd. They had 28% possession and spent well over half of the match in their own half. But they defended like guard dogs and hit New Zealand on the break, (though there was a credible claim of a forward pass for France’s second try.) There was an incredible passage of play late in the second half where the All Blacks just kept rumbling forward, finally coming unstuck after 26 phases. In the end it counted for nothing as the French held out.
New Zealand immediately went from being “the land of the long white cloud” to “the land of the long black cloud of depression”. The inquest has begun as have the recriminations. The rugby-obsessed public are scratching their heads as to why the best-prepared group of players ever to leave the country for a World Cup should exit at such an early stage (hmmm… that sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?) Everything from the squad rotation policy to the fact that Carl Hayman shaved off his beard have been offered as explanations.
Sunday saw South Africa take on Fiji in what was seen as the easiest of the four quarter finals. It was far from easy for the Springboks, as Fiji gave a very good account of themselves, including scoring two tries while they had a man in the sin-bin. The final score of 37-20 did not reflect the nature of the game.
And then, it was the turn of Argentina and Scotland. I missed most of this match, as it coincided with the return of Mrs Gerry and Mrs Munstermad from their weekend jollies in Brum. A well-disciplined Pumas team won deservedly by all accounts.
So that sets up the semis next weekend. Both matches are completely unpredictable, so the competition is there for the taking.
Eddie and the lads must have watched the weekend’s proceedings and thought ruefully, “It could have been us.”