England v France World Cup Quarter Final 1991 au Parc des Princes, the near impregnable citadel of French Rugby. Brian Moore fixed everyone with a glare before the match – ‘we lose this and it’s back to work on Monday – or else there’s another week off. A dramatic win in a cauldron of emotion was a huge relief en route to a semifinal against Scotland.
The pain of defeat at this point in the competition can be a platform for renewed strength but this week France and Japan may not see it like that – they will in time. To go out at semifinal stage is worse but not much more so than a quarterfinal. I thought that SA brought a game plan which was even more impressive for the fact that their brutal defending was entirely legal (mostly) despite an agile, supremely fit opposition who were ducking and bobbing for most of the match. The Springbok ace that is Du Klerk masterminded the effort in attack and defence. I don’t know his stats but he made plenty of big tackles. Au revoir to Japan, who have made a permanent place for themselves at Rugby’s top table. What an addition to warm the rugby heart. What to say about the French in their glorious defeat – they played mostly every minute of the rugby worth watching, Wainwright apart. France worked out he was their only player too. Even with a man down though France should have won, some key substitutions didn’t help in my mind. Wales seemed so unsettled without Jonathan Davies that it was deeply worrying. I make France a 2023 favourite almost immediately as their Toulousain style of play ripped to shreds the famed Welsh defence. Shaun Edwards has his French phrase book out already and with his defence work not far away it’s a dead cert that this young French side will go places.What will worry the All Blacks is that none of England’s Big Guns fired at the weekend – Itoje,Vunipola Bros, Tuilagi all played quietly while Sinckler, George, Underhill and Curry were everywhere. Anthony Watson was electric in everything he did. Australia will always be easy on the eye and no pushover but there is no variety and why choose the wrong No 9?
Talking of selection, Larmour and Conway deserved a start against NZ. They may not have caused an eventual upset but experience in itself is never enough – as Hansen observed and Jones belatedly worked out 6 months ago. As to the match, it was a sad way for Rory Best to finish and in general we were all left a little shortchanged other than to admire the relentless efficiency of the defending champions.I have always said this World Cup will take some winning and with style – both NZ and England have what it takes so this weekend is possibly the Final in disguise? Ticket prices would have you believe so.
Emphatically no! The Springboks have pace to burn and smart players everywhere, just lacking in structure and a little midfield wit. Have Wales peaked? Probably but no point discounting them because they keep hanging in there. I just feel more is needed and Jonathan Davies’s return may not be enough.What I do know is that it just doesn’t matter how you play this weekend, just win – Gatland called it as he often does. Noone remembers a losing semifinalist.