Rubgy World Cup Weekend Wrap Up
Less than a month out from the 3rd biggest sporting event on the planet, i.e. the Rugby World Cup, the weekend action provided some excellent examples of what to expect from the leading contenders, as well as some of the emerging rugby nations. South Africa hosted the Wallabies at Kings Park, Durban; Millennium Stadium, saw a spirited Welsh side, in black, overpower the English; Ireland suffered at that hands of the French in Bordeaux; the Italians, at home, upset an aggressive Japan outfit; and Fiji were too strong for their Polynesian rivals Tonga.
Firstly, the Rocky Elsom led Wallabies, recovering from a humiliating defeat by the most capped test side ever, the All Blacks, the week before plus endured the arduous journey all the way from New Zealand to Natal to overcome a 6-0 half time deficit to defeat the most capped Springbok side (810 caps), of all time, 14-9. Playing the tough men of the Republic, led by perennial skipper John Smidt and Vice-captain Victor Matfield, the maturation of this young Aussie team did not shirk in defense or attack and eventually, through the much maligned captain Elsom, in only his sixth match for the year, scored the only try of the game to Pat McCabe.
The ‘Boks never gave the Wallabies any other chances at 5-points by their traditional ‘in your face’ defense with, the Venus de Milo of rugby, Butch James at stand-off stemming attacks on the inside channel, backed-up by loose forwards Heinrich Brüssow, Dannie Rossouw and Pierre Spies. Super-sub, world number one hooker, Dannie du Plessis, coming off the bench lifted the tiring Springbok pack and they almost snatched the win at the death except for rock solid defense by Australia to muscle out their victory.
Man of the Match, Stephen Moore, and veteran, Nathan Sharpe, took it to the massive Springbok forward pack laying a platform for the Wallabies to follow. It was a tough day at the office against the World Champions, in what is closer to coach Peter de Villiers’ world cup side with the inclusion of the most capped lock pairing in the world in Matfield and Bakkies Botha (61 caps), plus a large contingent from the 2007 Webb Ellis winning side.
Meanwhile, in Cardiff, the Welsh side wearing the black strip this week instead of the English out-powered Martin Johnston’s men and over-came a first half 6-all draw to revenge the previous week’s loss at Twickenham winning 19-9. Played under a closed roof, something they refused to do in their quarter final clash against the Aussies in the 1999 World Cup, the packed Millennium Stadium witnessed a home side eager to make a mark at this year’s World Cup in New Zealand. Drawn in possibly the toughest pool, alongside South Africa Samoa and Fiji, they realize they will have to hit that competition right from the outset. They have two more trials against Ireland and Argentina, both top 10 rugby nations, before the tournament kicks off on September 9th.
In the picturesque town of Bordeaux, Marc Lievremont’s Les Blues side began their World Cup preparations with a polished win over the Irish, 19-12. The Irish, in their white away strip, suffered their second loss in consecutive weekends after going down to Scotland 10-4 the week before.
In Italy, ex-South African coach, Nick Mallet’s, Azzurri team overcame a 17-14 half-time deficit eventually defeating a vastly improved Japanese outfit 31-24. The Cherry Blossoms, under the auspicious of All Black legend, John Kirwan, have recently won the Pacific Nations Cup; but equally so, the Italians, having defeated France (22-21) (and possibly should have beaten Ireland too losing 11-13 in the dying minutes due to a Ronan O’Gara drop goal) in this year’s 6-Nations Championship, proved too much of a force to be reckoned with. Over in Fiji, at Churchill Park, the locals were able to revenge their neighbor Tonga’s 45-21 mauling in the Pacific Nations Cup by taking this match 27-12. This is the first of a two test match series between the two nations as a warm-up for the World Cup.
There are still two big matches in the Tri-nations series next weekend between South Africa & New Zealand at the new Nelson Mandela Stadium in Port Elizabeth and the following weekend at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane where the Wallabies host the All Blacks. Incidentally, that match on August 27th is preceded the day before at Skilled Stadium, on Queensland’s Gold Coast, by the Australian Barbarians verses the Canadians, who recently defeated their nemesis USA. A few Wallabies will be returning from injury to play in this match, such as Drew Mitchell, Berrick Barnes & Tatafu Polata-Nau. This will be their last chance to press Robbie Deans for a seat on the plane to the World Cup.