Silencing the northern hubris
REVIEW: The bragging rights did not last long, just a short week after four Northern Hemisphere sides topped their World Cup pools with four from four wins.
Cheers turned to tears as Ireland, France and Wales fell at the first hurdle in the knock-out phase over a pulsating weekend of action.
Only England made it through to the last four, scraping a 30-24 win over the sole Tier II team in the last eight, Fiji, to set up a semifinal against defending champions South Africa on Saturday.
The other semifinal, 24 hours earlier and also at the Stade de France, features three-time winners New Zealand against Argentina.
The All Blacks showed true grit to overcome Ireland, the world’s No.1 ranked team, in a match for the ages worthy of being the final itself.
They made a massive 276 tackles against the Irish, 100 in the last quarter, and notably during Ireland’s run of 37 phases in the dying minutes that ended in a crucial turnover for the All Blacks in the thrilling 28-24 win.
In the lead-up to the Ireland game, New Zealand coach Ian Foster admitted that previous tournament experience did count.
“It gives us confidence that we know what it’s about,” Foster said.
“In my time, 2015, we had to deal with the demons of Cardiff and France and people talking about 2007,” he said in reference to New Zealand’s quarterfinal loss to the French.
“In 2019 it was all about playing a red-hot Irish team who has beaten us the year before and coming into the tournament No.1 so there is a lot of synergies if you look at the past.”
Silence the hubris
Smart money is on an October 28 Final between New Zealand and South Africa, who edged France in another thriller, 29-28, on Sunday to cap an unforgettable weekend of rugby and silence the northern hubris.
France and Ireland paid the ultimate price for a lop-sided draw (made in December 2020) that saw the world’s top four sides in one half while 2003 champions England were the highest ranked, at sixth, in the other half.
“It is disappointing seeing two of the best teams in the World Cup go out so early, but that’s just the reality of when they do the draws,” former Wallaby Stephen Hoiles said on Stan Sport.
“They do it years out for planning, but it makes it difficult to see two of the best teams are no longer playing.”
Argentina, under the watchful eye of former Australia coach Michael Cheika, lost 10-27 to 14-man England in their opening pool match.
It was a dreadful display from the Argentinians that night, but they have improved with each match and they comfortably put Wales away, 29-17, in their quarterfinal.
“I am pretty happy to be here. A semifinal won’t be the end, that’s what I am expecting,” Cheika said.
“We are happy but that is not the final step, we want to go further. I know we won’t be favourites but we’ll be giving it our best.”
New Zealand have an outstanding record against Argentina, who famously finished third at the 2007 World Cup – also in France, and will be big favourites to progress to the Final.
South Africa, with an outstanding bench, look on paper to also have the measure of England, although Steve Borthwick’s experienced team offer up a very different style of rugby from France.
“We have got a lot of experience in the team, we have got a lot of players who have been there and done it,” said flank Courtney Lawes, who is one of several England players to have played in the 12-32 thumping they took from the Springboks in the 2019 Final.
“We will do everything we can to get the right tempo into the week so we can really hit the ground running at the weekend.”
Springbok scrumhalf Faf de Klerk added that England had been “struggling before the World Cup but they have definitely started to turn things around”.
“It is going to be a very big, tough challenge, especially with a six-day turnaround. We just have to focus on recovery and make sure we are ready for that.”