While the Northern Hemisphere may be indulging in some collective handwringing – which i shall come onto- i prefer to focus on the most eagerly awaited semi-finals in the history of the Rugby World Cup.It just doesn’t get better than the Green and Gold of South Africa against the in form sensations which are the All Blacks.
There can rarely have been a more effective dismemberment of a serious competitor at the knock out stages of the World Cup than the quarter final clash with Les Bleus..We had reminded ourselves time and again that France should have beaten them in the 2011 Finals, as well as the shock defeat at Cardiff back in 2007.That nostalgia was literally blown away and will be forever irrelevant.What impressed me so much was the pure simplicity of this old fashioned thrashing.Carters reminder to the rugby world of how to execute a two on one,Savea’s Lomu-like finishing power and the sleight of hand of the forwards all live in the memory of that game.Wayne Smiths vision was writ large all over the park and must have left England’s off field decision-makers squirming at having let him get away.
As for France, the bloodletting is underway and its brutal.None of the English reserve over there ,they are indulging in a prolonged bout of finger pointing,and let us all hope that the outcome is a long overdue return to traditional French strengths, so that once again the opposition will have to worry about French flair and ambition.There was none on display that sorrowful night in Cardiff,and Louis Picamole’s singlehanded heroics went unacknowledged,i even admired his defiant clenched fist which at least signalled some resistance.
South Africa’s power play recovery from their shock Japanese setback has continued apace,it being enough to account for a tired looking Wales.The emotional and physical exhaustion of their pool experiences plus the injury toll meant that they were hanging on for large chunks of the second half with literally no possession.I don’t necessarily blame an out of form Alex Cuthbert for stepping in on Vermeulen, he played a card and got it wrong.Something was going to give after all their amazing defence.What disappointed me about Wales was their narrow attack philosophy which is a trademark Gatland approach,they can play wide as per their fantastic try against England,but against Australia it was so disappointing to see Roberts et al turn inside time and again when they had a two player advantage.Roberts must become a passer to offset the inevitable decline , but conversely Dan Biggar is now one of the worlds best fly halfs with real attitude.A future Captain for sure , and Wales can look forward with pride and optimism to the times ahead, especially as their regions are now working constructively again with their Union.
For the Springboks today,there is nothing better than a big clash against the men in Black.They will be loving it,a challenge to their very hearts and souls.Physical wont be enough,which is why i take the All Blacks to win by 10 points or more unless the likes of Willie Le Roux is given the freedom to play.He has been very quiet – no space to run so far for someone i thought would be a star of 2015.He still could be of course, and the meanness of South Africa’s defence may offer up turnover opportunities.Schalk Burger and Vermeulen,probably featuring in a World’s best team right now,will have plenty to say.Cant wait for this one.Power versus power and skill ? Surely only one winner?
I did feel sorry for Ireland who were cruelly affected by injury and the fallout from their incredible tussle with France in the final pool match.They looked tired, and of course Argentina had one more weeks rest as they played their reserve team against Namibia.it makes so much difference in todays world and the All Blacks/Argentina pool was clearly a good one to be in !!The Six Nations champions somehow cannot get it going in World Cups,although at 20-23 there was some light until the stunning Argentinians used their skills to complete a truly comprehensive win,so impressive as to leave some people thinking they can win the tournament.Not sure i agree as they are in unknown territory and its fine margins at this stage.But i would love it to happen , inspired by their brilliant backs as opposed to their usual up front bludgeoning.How England’s fliers must have looked on in envy as the men in blue and white were given full rein to show their skills- what could had been…
Finally, to Australia who in some peoples eyes are the favourites, or were until their last minute dramas against Scotland.Their performance versus England has shown what they can do,and at times their back play and general skill on show last Sunday were mesmerising.But they may lack a little nous at times,which gives Argentina plenty of optimism for tomorrow.I was in the ground for the Scotland match, and Kenny Logan was heard to say how proud he was to be British, and the whole crowd rallied around the Scots,i was even recalling my mothers Scottishness and i roared them home to what had to be a victory.How not to close out a match??! Dropped the kick off,twice kicked aimlessly to the Aussie back three,overthrew a line out and knocked the ball on- all in the last four minutes.You can simply say it was adrenalin , and the old adage from Sir Clive Woodward,TCUP (thinking clearly under pressure) was far from their minds.A dream gone then,but the men in Blue will look back in pride and they will be one tough team to beat in the Six Nations this year and i back them to give someone a real spanking.
What, no mention of England?Well it was back to Premiership action at the weekend,but behind the scenes there is plenty going on.I do not care how long it takes as long as the right decisions are made for the future of English rugby, and frankly no one in World Rugby wants to see England languishing just above Japan in the world rankings – but hold on, we would have loved to see England put in a performance to match those of Japan wouldn’t we ?This is what i mean.Remove the arrogance,take on some humility -we are currently in the lower reaches of World Rugby,like it or not.
Change the structure,bring in people who know who to get this done.They are out there and very few of them work in the RFU right now.Interview as many of the actors in the horror movie as you want,ask the audience,phone a friend.But do not toss a coin and cross the fingers.Form a Professional Elite structure with all the resource pointing in the same direction and you will get great coaches on board – just like very one else in the world,bar France and England themselves.Simple…