Rugby Union

Rugby World Cup Round 4 review

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The end of the Pool stages means big performances from all teams involved. Some had group deciders, others had statements to make, and some had pride in their jersey to compete for. In a World Cup of constant entertainment, drama, and surprises the final week of the Pool stages was no different. 

Canada Vs Romania

Canada's game plan was to ship it wide, Romania's to scrum their way up the middle. The rain would not have helped the Canadians but the bigger issue was lateral running allowing the Romanians to easily drift across the field. This changed when Jeff Hassler got the ball as he straightened the line, powerfully scoring one try himself, and allowing a clean sweep of tries for the man of the moment D.T.H. van de Merwe.

Romania's scrum brought them from behind to snatch a precious victory in yet another World Cup thriller.


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Fiji vs Uruguay

From early on, it was clear that Fiji were a level above their opponents. Their size, pace, handling, footwork and experience all told and they secured the bonus point before half time. The set piece dominance meant they could switch off without too much to worry about. But as we all should expect by now, the underdogs kept in the game, and scored their first World Cup try in 12 years.

You'd think it might get boring singing the praises of Leone Nakarawa but he simply continues to amaze. Within three minutes he was offloading for a try. Shortly after he was scoring one of his own. He seems to be able to choose the outcome every time he enters contact. He even managed to pluck the ball from the back of a well set Uruguayan maul as if it was always his possession. I'm not sure I've ever seen that in international rugby; but then I've never seen anything like Nakarawa.

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South Africa vs USA

The score line says it all really. 64-0 reflected more on the fact that USA offered nothing in terms of creativity in attack or intensity in defence. Even with a big share of possession in the first half, they were more delaying the inevitable than realistically trying to score.

South Africa eased through the gears and were suddenly out of sight. The second half saw them play from anywhere on the pitch with a clinical edge that will alarm other teams. The consolation for the rest of the competition was that USA put up little resistance, so it looked more like a training run for the Springboks than an international test.

Lots of records fell: the first nil of the tournament, USA's first in 28 years, the biggest winning margin of the tournament. But the memorable one was Bryan Habana equalling Jonah Lomu's World Cup try total of 15. That was probably the highlight of this disappointing fixture.

Namibia vs Georgia

Despite all their endeavour, possession, territory, scrum dominance, you name it; Georgia could not score a point in a first half that took nearly 68 minutes. Different refereeing interpretations could have cost them tries on four different occasions, but their discipline and error count won't have helped them either.

After the break panic seemed to be setting in until inspirational captain Mamuka Gorgodze finally got them on the scoreboard. It looked like Georgia were going to pull away as they relaxed and Merab Sharikadze continued to make breaks. But the gutsy Namibians pulled their way back to within one point. In the end they might have lost, but despite missing 48 tackles, they secured their first ever World Cup point in one of the most extraordinary World Cup games ever.

Georgia are likely to have qualified for Japan 2019 where they will be a welcome addition to the tournament if this one is anything to go by.

New Zealand vs Tonga

The whole complexion of the World Cup might have changed at the 59th minute of this match. Until that point all the frailties that have haunted New Zealand all tournament were yet again on display. But after that point, and a superb restart was gained by Ben Smith, the All Blacks found top gear.

They weren't perfect from that point on, but they quickly ran in several tries and their entire demeanour changed with them. There was a sense of urgency for the first time. Their defensive line and breakdown work suddenly became much more physical and their running lines and handling far more accurate and incisive.

Tonga will be pleased with their first hour, stringing together phases much better than their exalted opposition, and dominating the scrum. They lacked the crucial penetration that might have altered the whole match and being denied a penalty try just before half time made their task a little too big.

New Zealand will have to step up again if they are to make the semis at the expense of France, but the curve is going in the right direction. With their bench, and Nehe Milner-Skudder's finishing prowess, they will be a huge proposition to put away.

Samoa vs Scotland

For the first time in the tournament, Samoa turned up primed and ready to play rugby, and it paid immediate dividends. And then immediately cost them. Then instantly rewarded them. It was a topsy-turvy game where the less said about the defence the better.

In the second half Scotland were by far the more controlled and disciplined team and with the scoreboard ticking over, captain Grieg Laidlaw turned down three points and vindicated his own decision with a sniping try to break the game. Samoa did bite back but it was too little, too late once again to cap off a disappointing tournament for the islanders.

Australia vs Wales

Not every game of the World Cup has a true Test Match feel. This one did. For a game without tries it was absorbing viewing. It was attritional and dramatic and may well stand both teams in good stead come the quarters. Their supporters will hope that it won't take its toll too much for potential semi-finals, however.

Every mistake was capitalised upon in defence and the pressure on both sides was absolutely paramount. Australia defended like Champions elect, and once again proved their worthiness in the set piece.

If Wales can bring this attitude and commitment to their game with South Africa they will have every chance to pull out the win. Their squad is being stretched and they will be second best in the scrum once again, but the Springboks have been fallible themselves.

Australia continued their unbelievable form to show the rest of the world that at this stage they must be favourites. They have every single tool they need to go all the way; providing Israel Folau regains full fitness.

England vs Uruguay

This was always going to be a unique match to review due to the circumstances. England were fielding a team with several changes to the line-up and were hoping to offer something positive with which to exit the tournament.

The difficulty is that due to the standard of opposition, everything done well must be taken with a caveat. However, the things that were still done badly should cause serious alarm. England picked a ball playing back line but seemingly without an end result in mind. If it didn't get wide for Watson to cut back inside, it never looked as incisive as a competitive international back line needs to be.

Without a big ball carrier, Uruguay were not put on the back foot like they should have been. This allowed them to rush the outside centre channel and funnel George Ford back into the traffic. Only by getting across the gain line could England start hitting their screen passes to shift it wide. Against more physical opposition this simply isn't a viable game plan. They looked much more threatening once Jonathan Joseph came off the bench and it is clear that he needs the starting shirt.

This was made worse by England still being unable to generate the quick ball from their rucks. These are issues that must be addressed by whatever the eventual management.

Either way, they won this battle but lost the war. Uruguay will have benefitted from being part of this tournament. How England react in coming months will decide if they did as well.

Argentina vs Namibia

Argentina are playing some of the best rugby of the whole tournament. The way they flood together after every clean break has resulted in some incredible tries, full of offloads and outstanding lines. They will fancy their chances against any team in the knockout stages.

Though never likely to challenge the scoreboard, it was fantastic to see Namibia make their mark. It rounds off a tournament of new heights, scoring tries like never before. They have unearthed some real talent outside of Jacques Burger which is evidenced by the quality of their performances without him.

Tjluee Uanivi has stood out as an individual, and their whole back line has shown plenty of pace in attack. These are good foundations from which to continue building.

Italy vs Romania

With a quick turnaround from their monumental win earlier in the week, Romania would have been excused for lethargy. But they started powerfully, stampeding over the Italian scrum to make a statement of intent.

Italy, once again without their talisman Sergio Parisse, rose to the challenge and demonstrated their own considerable power and controlled much of the game. Late on, Romania continued with the spirit they showed against Canada, winning the second half with three tries and not letting up the pressure until the end of the game, and their World Cup campaign.

Italy will rue missing their captain for so much of the tournament, but Romania have plenty to hang their hat on; not least setting records for attendance and World Cup comebacks.

France vs Ireland

This was the second match of the weekend that indicated that knockout rugby is upon us. Both teams started at a frantic pace and it did not let up. Ireland marginally got the better of the first half, controlling possession and territory better than the French.The defence from both sides was disciplined and assertive.

Finally the pressure told as Ireland crashed over in the second half through Rob Kearney, and they kicked on, while the French wilted.

By the end of the game Ireland were better by a distance and compiled arguably the strongest performance of the World Cup, except a couple of dropped passes in promising positions. They made use of the inside ball and chip kick time and time again, and the brilliance of Joe Schmidt's strike moves was evident throughout.

The performance made Ireland look every bit the contenders they have been billed, but the injuries might have damaged their chances. The replacements were sensational but the quarter final is in doubt for Jonny Sexton, Peter O'Mahoney, Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien if he gets sighted for a punch. That's not a list any team can lose without consequence.

As for the French; they are still a very strong squad. And no one should forget that they have faced the All Blacks in a quarter final in Cardiff before.

USA vs Japan

The final game of the Pool stages featured its biggest heroes. The Japanese team has become so popular, not just because they beat South Africa, but because they have been so good. This match was further evidence of their incredible growth. 

They get over the gain line as well as any team in the world, with captain Michael Leitch doing it more than any other player. They also string phases together and protect possession with a relentless accuracy and when those two things combine, you score.

They have every tool to be a great team. With players like Koliniasi Holani, and Amanaki Mafi from the bench, they have enormous power in defence and attack, and out wide they have runners like Yoshikazu Fujita and Kotaro Matsushima who always seem to beat the first man. And at the middle of it all is Fumiaki Tanaka at scrum half, who keeps the metronome ticking. Their fitness has been a feature which allows them to keep up an unforgiving pace and wear teams down.

The USA gave a much better account of themselves than their previous outing, but Japan have announced themselves as a class above and competition for every tier one nation in four years time.

And with that, the quarter finals are set. Every game is a must watch as the competition dictates that only real quality can escape the Pool stages these days.

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