Rugby World Cup ends, back to normal sleep patterns

First hopes were on the United States Eagles. Just win a game, maybe get beyond pool place in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. A hopeless cause, and unfulfilled.

Then I turned to Ireland. They could win the whole thing, until they could not. Then Wales, another hopeless cause when South Africa destroyed them.

Lastly, I turned to England, who played so well eliminating New Zealand from the finals.

That hope died this morning when South Africa took the championship by overpowering England’s scrums, containing their running game and out-kicking them in penalties. The score was 18-12 at one point, all on penalty kicks, which makes a boring game. Then at 66 minutes into the game, the Springboks opened up scoring with two tries before the game ended, 32-12.

A more interesting game was Friday morning when New Zealand clobbered Wales 40-17 to take third place. One of the announcer said of Wales’ desperate effort to get back in the game, “it’s not tidy, not pretty, but there is a certain freedom in that kind of rugby” — throwing the ball around recklessly like kids on a playground playing keep-away. That’s what keeps me glued to this form of football.

No more 2 a.m. start times for rugby games, at least not until 2023 when the Rugby World Cup moves to France. Or, we could be in that time zone, just down the road a piece to queue up to get into the stadium. Maybe not a hopeless cause.

Down they fell: Ireland, Wales and now what?

Ireland looked like a contender in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but they fell to Japan and then New Zealand.

I thought Wales could become a winner that had never taken home the Webb Ellis trophy before, but they lost to South Africa, 19-16, this morning. The Springboks head for the finals next Saturday, while Wales plays for bronze against New Zealand, who were stopped by England in their attempt to win the RWC for a third time in a row.

Both England and South Africa have captured the RWC championship before, but I’m probably going to root for England, who played an excellent game against New Zealand and did so poorly in the 2015 RWC when they became the first host nation that never advanced beyond pool play. Winning the World Cup might help English fans get over that lingering malady.

Wales and South Africa kicked and kicked, the kind of game a former teammate calls “Ping-Pong.” Back and forth when running seemed a good option. Even the scoring was mostly from penalty kicks with the game tied 9-9 on penalties until the 44th minute when the Springboks scored a try and conversion. Wales answered with seven points 10 minutes later, and the 16-16 tie held up until the last five minutes of the game when South Africa kicked another penalty for the 19-16 win.

So I’ll be singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” which the English fans sing in the stands, which does seem an odd choice. but so did “Bread of Heaven.”

 

This week, I will be a Welshman singing “Bread of Heaven”

The suspects have stepped forward to the lineup, and they are the usual suspects: England will play New Zealand, and Wales will take on South Africa in the semifinals of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Probably the best bet for beating New Zealand comes from England, who did away with Australia, 40-16, as Saturday started here in Seattle. Owen Farrell scored 20 of those points: kicking four conversions and three penalties. Jonny May had two tries, and the ref and the two teams’ front rows could never get together on how to keep set scrums from collapsing.

I struggled to get the iPad working at 3 a.m. to watch New Zealand against Ireland. By the time I got NBC Sports Gold running, the All Blacks were up 17-0. The Kiwis were mechanical, perfect and almost boring in how predictable they were in beating Ireland, 46-14. New Zealand may be headed for a three-repeat, winning the RWC in 2015 and 2011.

Of the four teams headed to the semis, Wales is the only one that has never won a World Cup. So I will be Welsh this week, hoping against all hopes that Wales can beat South Africa and then either NZ or England in the finals on Nov. 2. That’s betting on a doubtful outcome, like my handicapping for horse racing. But maybe . . .

Wales beat France, 20-19, after the Frenchmen showed how to link up backs and forwards in a fast running game. The turning point came when six-foot-eight Sébastien Vahaamahina got a red card for foul play. And foul it was. First he had Wales’ Aaron Wainwright in a headlock in the maul, dropped that and then elbowed Wainwright in the face. That will teach him for scoring Wales’ only try up to that point. Then it took Wales most of the second half to come up with another score against a team playing a man short. Wales goes on with a 20-19 win over France.

In their game against South Africa, Japan never got their thrilling running game going that they displayed so well against Scotland in the final game of pool play. They scored a penalty kick and held South Africa to 5-3 in the first half. And that was that, losing 26-3.

So if you hear me singing, it will be the song the “Bread of Heaven,” the song the Welsh fans sing in the stands as they are headed to victory and their first Rugby World Cup championship.

 

 

 

My new team, Ireland, trounces Scotland. So what?

Irish“Skies growing darker while the prospects for Ireland are growing brighter,” said the announcer during the Ireland-Scotland rugby game early Sunday morning. That may be, as the Irish won 27-3 over Scotland in both teams’ first games in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but I’m not so sure things are bright enough to see an Irish victory over New Zealand if that match ever came about in this tournament.

The Irish forwards looked strong against Scotland, scoring three of their four tries, before a wing added one more and then “Ireland took all the pace out of the game,” the announcer said, as Ireland played cautious ball to protect their lead. Those four tries  win a bonus point for Ireland, but remember this is Scotland, the team that fell to United States in 2018, the first time the Eagles beat a Tier One team. Ireland will advance out of Pool A, but Scotland, figuring they can beat Russia and Samoa, might have a hard time getting by Japan to move into the quarter finals.

Good bet that New Zealand will advance out of Pool B, and a potential Irish-New Zealand match could come during the weekend of Oct. 19 and 20. I’ll be on my couch cheering for Ireland and hoping for a new nation to win the RWC.

Also happy to report that my scrum slumber during the New Zealand-South Africa game had nothing to do with the strength of my coffee, heavy food or even my age. Simply a matter of too much rugby in the middle of the night and early morning. So I skipped English beating Tonga, 35-3, and I’m laying off viewing rugby until the Eagles take on England Thursday, Sept. 26, at a 3:45 a.m. PDT. No Wales vs. Georgia, Russia vs. Samoa, Fiji vs. Uruguay or Italy vs. Canada (might make an exception there at 12:45 Thursday morning).

USA over England? That would be an upset that would lend big time mystery over who escapes Pool C.

A question: The 2019 RWC is being held in Japan. The stadium was filled with Irish and Scot fans, who were loudly singing along to. . .  John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road.” Do they know where West Virginia is and what’s there?

 

My rugby over nighter was a huge disappointment

The rugby all nighter turned out to be a disappointment. It started at 9:30 PDT Friday night with the kick off of the Australia-Fiji match in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Then on to the France-Argentina game and finally the belle of the evening: New Zealand vs. South Africa. Actually, the belle of the morning as it started at 2:30.

What I was looking for was disruption in one of the four pools in which the 20 teams had been organized. An upset. Argentina over France (that’s happened before). Fiji over Australia (could happen). South Africa and New Zealand? Could go either way, but as much as I like rooting for the Kiwis – great country, great haka and greatest rugby – it would be nice to give others a chance. New Zealand has won three of the eight Rugby World Cups, including the last two. South Africa has won twice.

It would be nice if someone besides Tier One nations won this thing – or at least threw in some mystery on where this would all end up on Nov. 2, the day of the championship game.

Fiji could create some mystery in Pool D if they knocked off Australia. Not to be. Fiji made a good run in the first half, but the Wallabies settled down in the second half, got stingy with possession of the ball, and Fiji got tired, frustrated and resorted to reaching in to grab the ball out of rucks and mauls, resulting in penalties and then, a yellow card. Australia won 39-21 and picked up a bonus point for scoring four tries. And Wales and the Wallabies will probably go on to the quarter finals out of Pool D.

Argentina gave the most exciting game of the evening/morning. The Pumas were down 17-3 at half time but scored 18 points to get to a 21-20 lead over France, who had a three point penalty kick to get to 20. France needed a drop goal in the last few minutes to regain the lead at 23-21. A last minute penalty kick to Argentina wandered left of the posts, and they will have to settle for one bonus point for finishing within seven of the winner.

Only the United States and Tonga are left to keep the predictable England and France from moving forward out of Pool C. The USA Eagles get their chance against England on Thursday, Sept. 26, at 3:45 a.m. PDT. Another early day to rise.

Which leads me to my biggest disappointment of the rugby all nighter. The New Zealand-South Africa game displayed superb rugby skills, great runs, good defense and gritty scrummaging – what you expect from these top teams. The Kiwis prevailed 23-13 over the Springboks, and I can’t tell you much about how they did that because I woke up with my iPad on my chest with Kieran Read, the Kiwi captain, giving an interview on how they held off South Africa.

Narcolepsy may be common in baseball stadiums, and it is increasingly reported in the stands of America’s brand of slow football, but no one – no one – falls asleep during a rugby game, even after six hours of middle-of-the-night viewing. Could be the strength of my coffee. It could be from squinting at a small screen. It could be, I can barely stand to say this . . . It could be age. No, no. Lack of exercise. Too much heavy food. Up the night before for the Japan-Russia game? Maybe.

Only one way to find out what is up with my sleep patterns, or lack of them. The Ireland-Scotland game starts Sunday morning at 12:45 PDT. Ireland may have the best chance of breaking the chain of usual suspects. I’ll be on the couch.

 

Japan, this is no time to follow England

CoffeeJapan’  rugby team looked like it was headed in the same direction as the last country to host the Rugby World Cup: Not finding its way out of pool play and into the quarter finals. The “Cherry Blossoms” (trying to make that name fit into the game of rugby) let Russia’s high kicks fall to the ground, and one of them into the hands of a Russian back who scored the first points of the 2019 RWC.

Cherry Blossoms got over their nervous start in a stadium mostly filled with their countrymen and bloomed later in the game to win 30-10 in the first of 48 games in the tournament. But they will have lots to work on if they don’t want to end up like England, the 2015 host, who failed to advance into the playoff round of the tourney. That was especially embarrassing to England, where rugby got its start. However, England has been in the playoffs before and won the RWC in 2003.

Japan has never advanced out of pool play even though they won three matches, including an upset of South Africa and beating the United States, in 2015. They did not collect enough bonus points then to advance.

Last night — oops, make that this morning at 3:30 — Japan picked up one bonus point for scoring four tries in the match. Bonus points are also awarded to losers who stay within seven points of the winning team. No bonus points for Russia.

To advance, Japan has to pile up bonus points and find a way to beat those in their pool: Ireland, ranked No. 1 in the RWC; Scotland (a chance of an upset) and Samoa (betting on Japan).

Australia vs. Fiji is tonight at a decent time here in Seattle — 9:30, and then I will fill my coffee cup and get into my favorite sweater, blankies and my couch for early morning viewing for the New Zealand-South Africa game at 2:30 Saturday morning. Could be the best game of the tournament.

Now, time for a nap.

Australia moves ahead to RWC Final against New Zealand

Drew Mitchell wound his way through the Argentina defense, breaking tackles and sending a pass out to Adam Ashley-Cooper for his third try of the game.
Drew Mitchell, No. 11, wound his way through the Argentina defense, breaking tackles and sending a pass out to Adam Ashley-Cooper for his third try of the game.

Penalty kicks aren’t enough.  Six of them didn’t do it  for South Africa against New Zealand Saturday, and five didn’t work for Argentina on Sunday against Australia.

Ashley-Cooper scores his third try of the game.
Ashley-Cooper scores his third try of the game.

A team needs tries to win, and Australia had plenty of them — three from Adam Ashley-Cooper alone and another from Rob Simmons, who started the scoring for Australia with an intercepted pass and a gallop in for a try just more than a minute into the game. Bernard Foley converted three of those tries for another six points and added a penalty kick for three more, giving Australia a 29-15 win.

Argentina had trouble moving the ball into Australian territory and could only collect penalty points on five kicks by Nicolas Sanchez.

Australia will play New Zealand on Saturday, Oct. 31, in the finals of the Rugby World Cup 2015. That Southern Hemisphere showdown will be back here at Twickenham.

Argentina will meet South Africa, who lost to New Zealand 20-18, in the Bronze Final on Friday night at the Olympic Stadium in London.

New Zealand adds a drop kick, a converted try and a penalty to win 20-18

New Zealand kept South Africa far away from their try line. The Springboks only socring came on six penalty kicks.
New Zealand kept South Africa far away from their try line. The Springboks only socring came on six penalty kicks.

New Zealand had to use all ways of scoring to get ahead of South Africa early in the second half and then gradually inch just ahead of them to full time for a 20-18 win in the first semi final match of the Rugby World Cup 2015.

That puts the All Blacks in the finals against the winner of tomorrow’s game between Australia and Argentina.

All of South Africa’s scoring came on penalty kicks, five by Handre Pollard and one by Patrick Lambie.

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.