Saturday 24 October 2015

RWC: quarters and a semi

More "off topic" rugby shite here.

I meant to write something midweek about my experiences with the quarter finals weekend, and predict what would happen in the semis. Well one semi is done, and - spoiler alert - I'm glad this article is not entitled "FFS", and include only a link to the match report of South Africa beating New Zealand. Cos, thankfully, that didn't happen.

But let's wind back a week first.

Last weekend I promised myself a quiet Friday because I had a huge mission on Saturday. So I went to the pub and caught-up with a coupla mates I'd not seen for a bit, and downed a pint or two too many (I think it was six. I was aiming for 2-3). So Saturday started not with a hangover, but with a bit of a malaise. And I needed to meet my mate Lloyd and traipse up to the All Blacks v France quarter final in Cardiff. Anything involving Lloyd also involves a lot of beer. That said, if Lloyd was writing this, he'd be saying "anything involving Cameron...", so fair enough.

We met at the pub at Paddington and basically worked out how all the matches would go, except for the ABs v France once. It was cut and dried. And we had a single pint. Mine was named for NZ rugby hero Zinzan Brooke, and it was actually pretty good: Zinzan’s World Cup Drop (from Windsor & Eton Brewing).

I stuck to my guns and thought Wales could tough it ought against an ordinary South Africa, and no-one outside South Africa would ever will the Springboks to win anyhow. Then Ireland would clean-up a keen but under-qualified Argentina, and Aussie would sort out Scotland.

The train to Cardiff seemed to take an age, and our two-cans-each (me: Guinness-via-widget; Lloyd drinks lager) didn't last. A third covered the rest of the trip.

Cardiff cannot handle the number of people that were there. It had not earlier occurred to me that as well as the ABs v France match on Sat, Ireland was playing Argentina there on early Sunday afternoon as well. So the entire city was full of Kiwis, Frogs and Irish (and occasional but rare Argentine). Oh, and a few Welsh, but they were mostly in London for their own foray against South Africa.

All the pubs were absolutely full already (and I mean all the pubs), so we settled on a restaurant with a bar area, and - key - no TVs. Ergo no rugby mob. We got our pints and used ITV Player to stream the match on my phone (Nexus 5... OK screen but not great). We quickly accumulated four French fellas and a coupla Channel Islanders (supporting bloody France!!!) around our huddle. This is the good thing about rugby camaraderie, btw... the oppo is not the enemy; they're our mates. We had a great time with the lads (and one girl), watching Wales... not win... against South Africa. It got pretty close at a point, but Wales were outplayed and the best they could do was to get close to South Africa. 23 - 19.

So we knew that if the ABs beat France (big "if"), we'd have the Saffers the following week. First things first: we needed to sort-out the French.

We headed off to the ground, trying to find an intermediary pint with little luck. By the time we got in an served anywhere, we had to actually show up for the match. I ended up sneaking a pint out of the pub we got into (and served at after about 20min), only to be caught with it 10min later at the gate of the stadium. I abandoned it.

Our seats were close to the corner again (similar to the Namibia match), and not too bad. As it turned out we saw a lot of traffic down there in the second half. I've enjoyed being at Millennium Stadium in the past, but it was way too manic this time. The queues for beer were at least half an hour long, and... we didn't arrive with 30min spare. There's no way a sports stadium should have any more than a 10min queue for anything. Rugby with no beer. Hmmm.

62 - 13

Sixty-two to bloody thirteen. The All Blacks blew the bleu and the rouge off Les Tricolores, leaving only their traditional blanc on their flag. They're used to waving that standard. What a fricking monstering. We scored nine tries to their one. We destroyed them. I hasten to add that my fairly churlish reaction here is not epicaricacy, but relief. France have always been the team we fear. Not South Africa (in my era of watching rugby, anyhow), not Aussie, not England. France. This was the first time we had beaten them in a play-off match in the elimination stage of the World Cup. Sure we've beaten them twice in the final, but in '99 they thrashes us in the semi, and in 2007 they also sent us packing in the quarters.

Win or lose the final fight, the win NZ takes away from this is that bogey has finally been put to bed. We don't fear France any more.

Back in RealityLand, Lloyd and I had no accomm in Cardiff so we needed to jump on the next (and pen-pen-ultimate) train back to London as soon as the whistle blew. That was fine - two hours of standing up next to the bar and chatting to the other punters) but then I found myself in London at 1am, and thanks to Boris there's no Night Tubes, so the N55 bus it was. 2h of east London drunkeness to watch when I really just wanted to be home and in bed.

On Sunday I could not face the pub, so watched the other games at home (and, cough, the first one from bed... I didn't get home until 3am!).

Ireland let themselves down. And Argentina played a fantastic match, and monopolised on Ireland's mistakes. Ireland's backs lost the game for them, by failing "School Boy Defence 101". They did not hold their line, instead crabbed inwards towards the action, then the Pumas worked it wide to the - now exposed - wing and ran in a try. They did this at least twice. The margin of 20 - 43 painted a worse picture than it was, but only one team deserved to win.



Oh for fuck's sake Scotland.

Now let's remind ourselves of two things:

  1. Aussie won the Rugby Championship 2015 (Argentina, Aussie, NZ, South Africa's annual comp). They're ranked 2-3 in the world, all the time.
  2. Scotland "won" the wooden spoon in the Six Nations (England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, Italy). And ranked about 10. If they're lucky.

So Aussie was gonna win this. Easy-like.

At the 79min mark (rugby is an 80min game, remember), Scotland were leading (32 - 34). Scotland had it won. They had possession, and only had to run down the clock. It was a hard, hard slog for both teams, and Scotland played outside themselves to get where they were, and Aussie were in shock. But Scotland had taken the lead in the 75th min, and ran most of the clock down.

It was pissing down with rain now, so this usually means to reel-back the plays a bit, and keep it tight. Scotland had to endure a single line-out - their throw - and waste about 30sec recycling the ball. But what did they do? Threw long, messed it up, and knocked it on. And having knocked on, it cannoned into another of their (now off-side) players, and Sir called it a penalty. What Sir did not see was that the ball went forward, sure, but then cannoned into an Australian, and then onto the - actually not offside - Scot. Not a pen. A scrum. An Aussie scrum, but this would now put the clock at 80min, and I can't seem Aussie actually scoring from there. But Sir messed up, Aussie got the pen, Foley kicked it, and the final score was a heart-breaking 35 - 34 to Aussie. Undeserved, IMO.

That was then: this is now.

It's 7:12pm at a quiet pub (my local in Galway), an hour or so after the first semi final.

The All Blacks started well; so did South Africa: both sides knew who the opposition were, and this was a tough game. And a World Cup Semifinal. I'm not gonna do a full match report, but I will say there were too many penalties (and going against the ABs), and Dan Carter's usual sublime tactical leadership from fly-half seemed flustered: he repeatedly tried "clever" cross-field kicks that were too deep, too predictable, or were unexpected by the erstwhile receiver: fuck-ups basically. On the other hand, whilst South Africa never looked like getting a try, Pollard kept them in the match (and for the most part: in the lead) via the penalties the ABs were haemorrhaging. But despite tactical and legalistic mishaps, the All Blacks did cross the line twice, and managed to fight down to the last minute to take it.

New Zealand beat South Africa 18 - 20.

New Zealand beat South Africa 18 - 20.

(not a typo. I just liked writing it twice).

Before we start thinking about the finals, there's still a huge game tomorrow. We've got two startled teams contesting the other final spot: Aussie thinking "how the fuck did we end up playing the Pumas for this?", and the Pumas thinking "how the fuck did we end up in the semi-finals?". Aussie made quick work of England and Wales, and I think they were the most solid-looking team of the pools round. But Scotland almost beat them: this will have unsettled them a bit. The Pumas on the other hand gave the ABs a run for their money in the pools, and have looked nothing but good all the way through. Ireland were tough customers, and the Pumas destroyed them. But Aussie never ever ever sit down when it comes to a sporting competition. Hmmm...

I am picking the Pumas to narrowly beat Australia in the second semi-final.

This is a case of voting with my heart, and I'm taking it as revenge for Scotland not doing the same last week. The other possible result could be Aussie ripping Argentina a new one. It'll be one of those results, anyhow.

Next week, the New Zealand All Blacks will meet (I just typed "beat", by accident) the second best team in the competition.

The All Blacks haven't played a bad game twice in a row for... a decade or so, that I can recollect. We've put our bogeymen of France to bed. England could knuckle down and beat us in a final, but they're history. I'd've loved to face Ireland or Wales in the final, but those other fellas had to get there first, and they didn't.

The All Blacks will beat Los Pumas next week to win the Rugby World Cup for the third time (*).

And, hey Scotland... looking forward to seeing what you do to the rest of the Six Nations in 2016.


(*) or lose. Maybe to Aussie. One of those three results, anyhow.