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.
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.”
“England started well and never gave us a chance to get into the game,” said New Zealand’s captain Keiran Read in a good summary of their 19-7 loss to the English side.
Manu Tuilagi scored 1:37 minutes into the match and George Ford added four penalty kicks. England had two tries called back because of infractions, one for obstruction and one for a call rarely seen: a ball slipped forward in a maul.
England’s defense kept the New Zealand running game bottled up, and we saw more missed passes and penalties from the Kiwis than we have seen in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Their only try came on a poorly thrown or lack of communication on where to ball was supposed to end up in an England lineout. It ended in the hands of a New Zealand player who went untouched five yards for the score.
It’s the first RWC game the All Blacks have lost since 2007, and they will not three-peat.
Tonight’s game — make that 2 a.m. tomorrow in Seattle — could bring a non-RWC winner into the finals if Wales can get by South Africa. Then beat England in the finals, and the Welsh will win their first RWC championship. A tall order, but we’re still 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.
Before we left London, Kathy asked if going to the Rugby World Cup measured up to all my expectations — a question that surprised me since I thought the giddy smile on my face for eight weeks made my delight obvious.
Let me count the way, m’lady. Thirteen international rugby matches. Theater seats for London and Stratford-upon-Avon shows. Hiking the hills, punting the river, browsing through every sort of attraction covering history, art, religion, architecture and others realms of human achievement.
Yes, a definite success and then some.
Then we decided over a restaurant meal to break it down: list the top five favorite things we did while in England. We both ticked off five before the waiter got the first glass of water to the table. We were approaching more than 10 favorites apiece before our order was taken.
In keeping within the rules of naming only five, I tried to do categories, so that one of my five choices was “the rugby games,” another was “Oxford colleges,” another “plays.” Cheater, cheater, Kathy protested.
My answer to this was to offer to list five choices within each category, and of course I started with the rugby games I saw. My five favorites:
Scotland vs. Australia in the quarter final: If you take the measure of excitement generated in a game by how many times the lead changes, this match goes right to the top of the list. Four lead changes. Australia took an early lead, but Scotland took over for most of the first half and was ahead by one point at the break, 16-15. The teams were never more than eight points apart and most of the time were within three points of each other. Australia got up early in the second half until Scotland climbed back up to a 34-32 lead with under seven minutes to go in the game. Then came the bad call from the ref, a three-point penalty kick by Australia with less than two minutes left and that was the end of the tournament for Scotland.
New Zealand vs. Australia in the final: How can the culminating game of the tournament not be No. 1 on this list? It probably would be if the Scotland-Australia match hadn’t been one that had me jumping out of my seat and endangering my laptop on the media table in front of me. The final threatened to be a boring, let’s-play-it-safe, penalty- kicking affair through most of the first half. It wasn’t until the clock had ticked off more than 38 minutes that New Zealand put together a thriller try from the back of a loose ruck with Aaron Smith getting two touches and then skipping a pass to “he’s everywhere!” Richie McCaw, who made one more pass to put Nehe Milner-Skudder in for the score. The All Blacks got up 21-3 and it was starting to look like a rout until Australia put together two converted tries and pulled within four points. All Black Dan Carter stomped on the Aussie momentum with a drop goal at 69 minutes. Every winning team needs a player who can perform this score-from-anywhere-inside-the-50 tactic. Nothing is so soul-killing for a team to be scored against this way. And Carter wasn’t done. He added a penalty kick at 73 minutes and all that was left to complete the game was a mishandle by Australia, kicked ahead by Ben Smith and a bounce up into the hands of Beauden Barrett for one more New Zealand score and a conversion by Carter. 34-17 All Blacks.
The other quarterfinal — South Africa vs. Wales: Another close one. Most of the scoring came on penalty kicks, but the tries turned the fortunes of the game for both Wales and the Republic of South Africa. It went like this: 3-0 RSA, 6-0 RSA, 6-3 RSA, 9-3 RSA, 10-9 Wales (nothing like seven points from a converted try to get you back in the game), 12-10 RSA, 13-12 Wales (drop goal by Dan Biggar gave the Welsh the halftime lead), 16-12 Wales, 16-15 Wales, 18-16 RSA, 19-18 Wales, 23-19 RSA (nothing like five points from a try to get you the win). RSA 23, Wales 19.
Canada vs. Italy: Canada got up 10-0 to start the game, which included a try by DTH van der Merwe, who scored in all four of Canada’s losses. Owen Slot, chief rugby correspondent for The London Times, named him to his all-tournament team this week saying “his try-a-game tally showed consistency and the try he started and finished against Italy was outstanding.” Yeah-yeah, as the English say when in agreement. Too bad Canada couldn’t finish one more of some great movements. That would have given them at least a tie. But Italy won, 23-18.
Canada vs. Romania: Canada again? Yep. For an exciting game, it’s hard to beat a 15-point comeback. Just too bad that it was Romania coming back for a 17-15 win. You can’t look away from the train wreck and you don’t want it to happen, but you have say afterwards that it was exciting.
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:
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
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.
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
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.
Wales will pick up four points in the standings from their win over Fiji today. But neither the Welsh team nor the Fijians could make good at the end of the game on efforts to get the extra bonus points: Wales could not put in a fourth try and Fiji could not pull within seven points in the loss. Each would have been worth a bonus point in the standings.
So Wales gathers 13 points in the standings with one game to go. A win by England Saturday against Australia would get them to within two points in the standings, a bonus point for four tries would put them within one. A win by Australia would tie them at 13 with Wales; a bonus point for four tries would give them the lead in Pool A.
Wales has one more game after Saturday, against Australia on Oct. 10. If England loses to Australia on Saturday, the Wales-Australia match will decide who goes out as the winner to face the runner up in Pool B and who will face the Pool B winner.
Probably can’t say that Fiji is out of this game, but they need more possession in the second half to make up the 11-point deficit. They have had some exciting runs but haven’t been able to connect all the dots for a try.
Wales has put together some good back line moves to get close, found support from their forwards and put in two converted tries and a penalty.
This just in: Fiji has a great movement from their backs and scores a try. Ben Volavola converts it and the score is 17-13. looks like we have a game here.