South Africa has the halftime lead over New Zealand, 12-7

South Africa has good ball out from their scrum.
South Africa has good ball out from their scrum.

Early in this Rugby World Cup 2015, New Zealand blemished their wins with mishandles, some penalties and a very few missed tackles. But it hardly mattered as the All-Blacks swept away the competition in Pool C and then destroyed France in their quarterfinal game, 62-13.

But it matters today, especially the penalties: four of them that resulted in kicks by South Africa’s Handre Pollard to take a 12-7 lead.

The game has been a choppy sort of affair, not the smooth running dominance the All Blacks have shown in previous games — when they weren’t mishandling. Today’s game has been interrupted by NZ miscues, most of them at the loose play although they have also been guilty of collapsing a scrum.

The penalty with the most potential for damage came within two minutes of halftime when Jerome Kaino, trying to get on sides at a loose scrum played the ball from an offsides position. The referee ruled it a deliberate kick and served Kaino with a yellow card.

The All Blacks will be without him for about eight minutes in the second half. He scored the only try in the game, converted by Dan Carter for New Zealnd’s 7seven points.

Early in the first semi-final game, South Africa ahead 9-7

Three penalty kicks by South Africa for infringements by New Zealand, but the All-Blacks have the only try and a conversion.

Scored by Jerome Kaino, a wing forward, after what the radio announcer called a “basketball pass” over the head of South African defenders.

New Zealand guilty of more penalties in this game than would have been expected and their defense has been suspect at time. Most of the penalties have come at the loose play — offsides in most cases.

A busy, busy day in London

London from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral.
London and the Thames River from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower Bridge and a play in Leicester Square — that’s a fully packed day in London, one that had us almost sprinting at the end to get to our seats at the Wyndham Theater in time for the curtain for “The Father.”

As you climb up to the top of the St. Paul's dome, there's one place where they let you take a photograph looking down to the cathedral floor.
As you climb up to the top of the St. Paul’s dome, there’s one place where they let you take a photograph looking down to the cathedral floor.

It started at the train station in Oxford, of course, the beginning for many of our adventures these days. Into Paddington Station, on to Leicester Square on the Underground to check on theater tickets for that day. “Hamlet” with Benedict Cumberbatch is only a remote possibility although it has been done. “Photograph 51” with Nicole Kidman was a request that raised a “are you kidding?” eyebrow from the ticket agent and an offer of a list of plays where tickets were available. We retreated to a corner in the tube station and decided on “The Father.”

Then it was back on the tube to St. Paul’s. Kathy and I were here in 1982 but the place is still amazing. My favorite part is climbing the 500 plus steps up to the top of the dome and having a good look around London. Even on a cloudy day, it’s an impressive view of this huge city.

Looking back at St. Paul's from the Millennium Foot Bridge across the Thames.
Looking back at St. Paul’s from the Millennium Foot Bridge across the Thames.

Then there is all the history about the place: A religious site since 604 A.D., a cathedral with a spire even taller than the present dome, the destruction by fires, the design of the present structure by Christopher Wren, the bombing during World War II and the reconstruction since then.

We left St. Paul’s, had lunch and then crossed the Thames River on the Millennium Bridge. That lands you just next to the Globe Theater, which unfortunately for us is closed until next April when the outdoor Shakespeare productions will resume.

We somehow got it in our heads that we could walk down to the Tower Bridge, cross it and then walk back to Leicester Square in time for the 7:30 start of the play. We proved that it can be done in little more than an hour — if you set an Olympic race-walking pace and risk your lives jay walking in the dark.

Kathy and Cyndi in front of the Globe Theater.
Kathy and Cyndi in front of the Globe Theater.

It also means getting only a fleeting glimpse of some sights that we should come back to, although we have already visited the Tower of London during our grand tour in 1982. But we need to get Cyndi, our latest visitor, there before she leaves next week.

We were glad that we got in our seats in time for “The Father,” a play by Florian Zeller, starring Kenneth Cranham as Andre, an older man going through the stages of dementia. The playwrights succeeds, I think, where so many writers fail. That is in demonstrating a confused mental state by portraying the confusion in the writing or in the presentation of the play. More often than not, the effort just ends up being . . . confusing, with no understanding or empathy passed on about how terrifying or disconcerting this must be to the sufferer.

It’s a grim subject but Zeller and the actors manage bits of humor that keep the audience from retreating to the exits or rustling around in purses or pockets for hankies until the end of the play.

See this one if it comes your way.

Home on the train. We’re back in London tomorrow to take in a sight and then head for Twickenham for a semi-final game in the Rugby World Cup: New Zealand vs. South Africa. The Kiwis are heavily favored.

A replica of the Golden Hinde, Sir Francis Drake's ship.
A replica of the Golden Hinde, Sir Francis Drake’s ship.
Walking across the Tower Bridge.
Walking across the Tower Bridge.
Tower of London
Tower of London

Camden Market: Like a hundred Pike Place Markets

Last Saturday before the South Africa-Wales game at Twickenham, we spent part of the day at London’s Camden Markets, at the suggestion of Eddie, who had been there before.

This is the Horse Tunnel in the Stables part of the Camden Market.
This is the Horse Tunnel in the Stables part of the Camden Market.

What a place!

First of all, there are the crowds. Never seen so many people funneled through so many narrow aisles and spilling out into heavily populated food courts with tents, carts and stands serving every kind of dish you can imagine. The three of us went for Thai and Jamaica jerked chicken before finding a stand that sold chocolate filled churros — hot and syrupy innards.

It would be like taking the stream of people on a Saturday morning at Pike Place Market in Seattle and multiplying it by a hundred through channels of vintage clothing, leather goods, antiques, cooking ware, china, vinyl records, hats, gowns and just about everything else anyone might need or not, all there for purchase.

Our first stop was at the Cyberdog shop, three floors of pulsating music, black lights and strange techno objects for purchase. We bought a present for a certain young man who turns 32 this Friday. Hope you like it, Jake.

Dancing into the entrace of the Cyberdog
Dancing into the entrance of the Cyberdog

The rest of Walton Street: Where we live

Walton Street and the Jericho Cafe.
Walton Street and the Jericho Cafe.

We have three choices for walking into Oxford’s city center or the train station: Woodstock Road (very busy), along the Oxford Canal (very serene) or Walton Street (just about right).

The Cooperative where we do most of our grocery shopping.
The Cooperative where we do most of our grocery shopping. The covered boxes on the lower left are for the daily newspapers: A choice of 12 each day, a newspaper addict’s heaven.

As reflected above, we usually choose to go back and forth on Walton. We do our everyday shopping there, visit the Post Office, stop for an occasional lunch or see a movie.

We live in the Jericho area of Oxford, a quiet residential sliver between Woodstock and the Canal, north of the main part of the city. It seems to have a large student population but also an established number of homes with children. Our building is across the street from a school.

Many bicycle riders use Walton Street, which I would prefer to Woodstock if I were riding. Truth is there are bicycles all over this university city. Wish I had brought mine.

It would be a longer walk to a supermarket where we could do all our food shopping in one place. Besides it being a longer walk, we have found that we enjoy the rare-in-America way of shopping where you buy bread in one place, coffee in another, vegetables and meat at a third. It makes for a more interesting neighborhood and shopping experience.

So here are some photos of where we have been living for the past six weeks and where we will be for the next two.

The friendly clerk at the deli where we buy our bread. You need to get there in the morning before they sell out.
The friendly clerk at the deli where we buy our bread. You need to get there in the morning before they sell out.
The closest shop for getting a newspaper, milk, Guinness and other essentials.
The closest shop for getting a newspaper, milk, Guinness and other essentials.
We live on the fourth floor of this building.
We live on the fourth floor of this building.

“Oxford is a town of private spaces obscured by walls”

Along the walk through the grounds of Worcester College in Oxford.
Along the walk through the grounds of Worcester College in Oxford.

“The big thing to remember is Oxford is a town of private spaces obscured by walls that were built to defend the students and dons,” Casey wrote to us before we started our visit here.

He had spent a term here back in his college days. How many years ago, Casey?

Let’s skip the carbon dating of Casey and go to the truth of his advice to us.

We have walked down Walton Street dozens of times on our way to the train station or just into the city center. Each time we have passed by the entrance to Worcester College, stopped to check on the hours it was open to the public and then gone on by as the hours never seemed to correspond with our walks.

Worcester College Chapel.
Worcester College Chapel.

Finally, the opening times and our walks aligned, and we went in for a visit. I expected some old buildings, a sward of vibrant green grass (which you could see from the street through the open doors) and a YAC (Yet Another Chapel). I had no idea there would be so much more obscured by its walls.

All of the above was there, plus a lake, centuries-old trees, gardens, a rugby pitch I envied and a circuitous walk that eventually led us back to the college entrance where we read about its history.

Founded in 1714 (which makes it young compared to other Oxford colleges) on the site of Gloucester College, which started in 1283 as a “place of study for 13 monks.” Monasteries ended in 1539 (Can you say Henry VIII?), and so did Gloucester College. The buildings served as palace and then entered 150 years of “chequered history” and decline. An endowment came to their rescue in 1714. Sir Thomas Cookes, a Worcestershire baronet, left the money for the founding of a college.

All the rail carvings in the chapel are of animals.
All the rail carvings in the chapel are of animals, including this serpent.

The college, now near the center of town, was once at the edge of the city, which is how it came to have enough land to incorporate its athletic fields and gardens within its walls.

All of which supports something else Casey told us: “Oxford is steeped in history.”

Thanks, Casey, for the help in introducing us to Oxford.

Kathy and Eddie stand in front of a massive tree trunk in the Worcester College gardens.
Kathy and Eddie stand in front of a massive tree trunk in the Worcester College gardens.

Rugby World Cup: Who can complain? Unless you’re from Scotland, of course

What a weekend of rugby at Twickenham Stadium.

One hundred and eleven points scored in two games and a difference of only five between the winners (South Africa and Australia) and the losers (Wales and Scotland). Both of these quarter-final games in the Rugby World Cup were decided in the final five minutes. (Not so in the other two quarter finals: New Zealand disposed of France 62-13, and Argentina had a surprisingly easy time against Ireland, 43-20)

South Africa was down 19-18 with five minutes to go when a try by Fourie du Preez gave the Springboks the margin they needed to beat Wales on Saturday.

Bear with me while I relive it:

Statue of a lineout at the entrance to Twickenham Stadium.
Statue of a lineout at the entrance to Twickenham Stadium.

Time: 7:45 Penalty kick by Handre Pollard. Score 3-0 South Africa

11:03 Penalty kick by Pollard. 6-0 South Africa

13:52 Penalty kick by Dan Biggar. 6-3 South Africa

15:35 Penalty kick by Pollard. 9-3 South Africa

17:37 Try by Gareth Davies, conversion by Biggar. 10-9 Wales

19:31 Penalty kick by Pollard. 12-10 South Africa

41:12 Drop goal by Biggar. 13-12 Wales

HALF

47:00 Penalty kick by Biggar. 16-12 Wales

51:45 Drop goal by Pollard. 16-15 Wales

60:26 Penalty by Pollard. 18-16 South Africa

63:25 Penalty kick by Biggar 19-18 Wales

74:25 Try by Fourie du Preez. 23-19 South Africa wins

Obviously helps to have a high-percentage kicker on the field. Pollard missed two penalty kicks, and Biggar had one hit the upright and fall back into play. In between all the scoring by kicks, there was some furious loose play and some exciting runs. Both tries scored came from remarkable ball handling, especially the Wales try after Biggar gathered in his own kick and made the pass to Davies as he was tackled.

Both teams played hard; the clock ran out with South Africa ahead.

No complaints.

Plenty for Scotland. Papers Monday morning screaming about how the Scots were robbed “at the death” and bringing special attention to the post-game dash into the tunnel and out of the public eye by referee Craig Joubert.

Scotland had the lead over Australia, 34-32, with less than two minutes left in the game when Joubert called Scotland’s Jon Welsh for being offsides. At worse, it looked like accidental offsides to me, which would have been a scrum to Australia. Mick Cleary in The Daily Telegraph on Monday dissects the play this way:

Scotland throws to the back of a lineout but David Denton can’t handle it. My friend Eddie, who went to the game with me, points out that had Scotland secured the ball in the lineout and kept possession for less than two minutes, they would have won.

But they didn’t. Instead, the ball was knocked forward by Scot wing forward John Hardie. The ball careens into Australian Nick Phipps and then to the ground. Welsh falls on the ball and is called for being in an offside position. As Cleary says in his report, “Joubert ruled that . . . Welsh was in an offside position following the initial knock-on by John Hardie.” But if Phipps was intentionally trying to play the ball — after the match he said he was — and then knocks it forward, that puts Welsh onsides — he’s in front of the Australian player.

To me, it looked like the ball bounced off Phipps and went to the side of Welsh, who turned and fell on the ball from the Australian side of the play. But after Phipps touches the ball, it’s in open play and Welsh can play a loose ball from any direction.

Robbed at the death, I say.

Indulge me now while I relive it:

Time 8:29 Try by Adam Ashley-Cooper. Score 5-0 Australia

12:51 Penalty kick by Greig Laidlaw 5-3 Australia

18:00 Try by Peter Horne, conversion by Laidlaw. 10-5 Scotland

20:12 Penalty kick by Laidlaw. 13-5 Scotland

29:36 Try by Drew Mitchell. 13-10 Scotland

32:21 Penalty kick by Laidlaw 16-10 Scotland

38:36 Try by Michael Hooper. 16-15 Scotland

HALF

42:00 Sean Maitland is called for intentionally knocking the ball forward. Scotland playing with 14 men for 10 minutes.

43:00 Try by Mitchell, conversion by Bernard Foley. 22-16 Australia

47:00 Penalty kick by Laidlaw. 22-19 Australia

53:12 Penalty kick by Foley. 25-19 Australia

58:12 Try by Tommy Seymour. 25-24 Australia

64:16 Try by Tevita Kuridrani, conversion by Foley. 32-24 Australia

67:48 Penalty kick by Laidlaw. 32-27 Australia

73:21 Try by Mark Bennett, conversion by Laidlaw. 34-32 Scotland

78:10 Penalty kick by Foley. 35-34 Australia wins.

Besides the bad call at the end of the game that gave the win to Australia, I think that all yellow cards given for an intentional knock on are too harsh. Even if the player knocks the ball forward intentionally, I think it should be a penalty kick only. For one thing, that would take refs off the hook in deciding whether the play was an intentional foul. And yellow cards should be reserved for dangerous play, not mishandling.

You have to love tries that pop up out of nowhere, usually the result of an alert player taking advantage of the other teams’ mistakes or capitalizing on their own good play. That was the case for two Scotland tries. Finn Russel gathered in an Australian kick he blocked and then tossed the ball up to Tommy Seymour who was in good support and went in for the try.

Mark Bennett scored his try by stepping in front of an Australian back, intercepting the intended pass to that back and dashing in for a score under the post.

Worth the price of admission, robbery and all.

What's rugby without rain? It fell at Twickenham on Sunday 71 minutes into the game.
What’s rugby without rain? It fell at Twickenham on Sunday 71 minutes into the game.

One point game decided with less than two minutes to play; Australia wins 35-34

It’s an all Southern Hemisphere semi finalists with Scotland going down to defeat with less than two minutes left in their quarter final match against Australia, 35-34, in the Rugby World Cup.

So it will be Australia against Argentina and New Zealand against South Africa next weekend.

The game was decided on a penalty kick by Bernard Foley after Scotland were called offside just outside their 25 yard line. The three points gave Australia the one point they needed to lead as long as they could hold off a last minute effort by Scotland. They could.

It had looked like Scotland might take a two-point lead right down to the end after a dramatic play by Mark Bennett, who intercepted an errant Australian pass and scored under the posts. Greig Laidlaw added the conversion and Scotland led 34- 32.

Scotland had another exciting play when Finn Russell gathered in his own blocked Springbok kick and had the ball up from the ground after the tackle to a trailing Tommy Seymour , who went for the try.

In the second half, South Africa added tries by Drew Mitchell and Tevita Kuridrani. Foley kicked two conversions and two penalties.

Scotland keeps Northern Hemisphere hopes alive with 16-15 halftime lead

The Australia scrum has collapsed but they had the ball out in time to keep their movement alive.
The Australia scrum has collapsed but they had the ball out in time to keep their movement alive.

At times it looked as though Scotland had no chance against Australia in their quarter final game Sunday in the Rugby World Cup, allowing an Aussie try at just over eight minutes into the match. Adam Ashley-Cooper  took the offload from Tevita Kuridrani, who broke two tackles, and went in untouched for the five points.

But that seemed to energize the Scots as they came roaring back, picked up three points on a penalty by Australia’s Scott Farley for playing while off his feet.

They didn’t stop there. Maintaining possession and pushing forward, Scotland found itself within five yards of the Australia goal. That’s where Peter Horne picked up the ball from behind one of his forwards in what might have been a loose ruck had Australia committed anyone to it. Absent any bind from the Australians, Horne was free to pick up the ball and prance in for the try. The TV announcers called it a “quarterback sneak”. Greig Laidlaw added the conversion to put Scotland ahead 10-5

Laidlaw added another three on a penalty to give the Scots a 13-5 lead.

Then Australia woke up, took steady possession and worked the ball down to within five yards out with their forwards. That drew in the Scot defense and when the ball came out to the backs there was a overlap and an opportunity for Drew Mitchell to score a try in the opposite corner. No conversion, and Australia settled in behind Scotland 13-10.

Laidlaw added another penalty kick for Scotland, 16-10, and then Australia got the last say in the half when Scotland was called for illegal scrummaging. The Wallabies passed on the chance for a penalty and instead kicked to touch. They won the lineout, and their rolling maul put Michael Hooper over for the try.

Scotland led at half 16-15.

Northern Hemisphere hopes depend on Scotland

The Argentina-Ireland game just ended with a surprising result: The Pumas defeat the Irish, 43-20.

Ireland lost their captain, Paul O’Connell, to injury last week, but take nothing away from the Argentina team. They scored early, often and kept Ireland far from the try line.

That leaves Scotland as the only Northern Hemisphere team still alive in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and they face a tough task today in taking on Australia in just a few minutes.

Whoever ends up in the semi-finals, it is hard to imagine a final without the New Zealand All-Blacks in it. They pounded France on Saturday to the tune of 62-13. Watching the last 20 minutes of that game in a pub back in Oxford made you hope the ref would blow up the game 20 minutes early and put the French out of their misery. By then they wanted no part of the game and had no success at stopping any of the New Zealand players. To have a score like that in the quarter finals seems  an embarrassment for the tournament. You’d like to think that the minnows have been tossed from the tournament and only the evenly matched best are left.

Obviously not. Hard to imagine anyone besting New Zealand.