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9 November 2015
I travelled to the eighth Rugby World Cup in Great Britain as an Ambassador for Williment Sport Travel of Wellington, New Zealand; I made it to into Cardiff at the quarter-final stage. Before that I posted a regular Rugby World Cup blog.
Look also for my 15th book 'Quinn's Whims' - which will be out before Christmas and will contain yarns and stories with an emphasis on the 2015 Rugby World Cup. It will be a sequel in style to the earlier 'Quinn's Quirks' and 'Quinn's Quips.' It will be well worth getting folks!
I like to find the quirky stories and odd-ball stories. I'll be also posting alerts on twitter to draw you to this site.
I wish to thank Williment Sports Travel most warmly. They have been very good friends to me over the years.
Below, here; Read my most recent written report on the matches of the current Rugby World Cup - with earlier games to follow in the sequence they have been played.
Game 21; Pool ; TONGA 35 NAMIBIA 21; 29 September 2015;
A really nice game to watch this one, on little Sandy Park in Exeter. I had been to that town 20 years ago with a film crew to interview people at the County ground across town where Dave Gallaher's 1905 New Zealand team played their first ever game in UK and the term 'they played like all backs' was changed, it is said, mistakenly by a local newspaper to 'All Blacks' because of the colour of their jersies. And by the manner their team all played like back line speedsters.
We'll never know of course if that's a correct story but back then Exeter was a nice place to visit. And still looks like it today.
I have another stored away memory too of Exeter and I'll put it in here for no reason. One day back in the late '70s we of the newsmedia were rumbling through the countryside in a shared-rental car following the All Blacks bus. We entered Exeter, we were on our way to Wales I think it was. Suddenly the bus veered to the side of the road and parked. Naturally curious types, we of the media, stopped too, after all we were reporting what the All Blacks got up to. Someone ill on the bus? Or the bus breaking down? It might be a story.
Then we saw the All Black captain of that team, Graham Mourie, step off the coach (bus) and walk down a narrow lane.
Turns out the lane led to a perfect place in which to duck in and view the famous Exeter Cathedral. Mourie had called for a stop to go inside and see what a nearly 600 year old Cathedral looked like. Only problem was no one else in the AB's of that year could be bothered getting off their chuff and going in to see the pride of Devon with him. Funny the things that come back eh?...
All that is by the by; to repeat this game in 2015 was a good one to see; 'Tooong-ga' (as commentator Tony Johnson has started calling the Friendly Isles team - perhaps Tony knows something we don't) was far too big and strong for Namibia but the 'Namz' (my pronunciation) sure had some moments too. Tonga scored five tries and Namibia three so the 35-21 score had given the 10,000 crowd their money's worth. And good old Jacques Burger got two tries into the bargain for Namibia. He's one tough cookie is Jacques and the Namibians are real proud of him.
On the Tongan side, I liked tough flanker Jack Ram - I had first seen him in the Tongan 7s team and I know he is one of the rare top players in the world who is of Indian descent - he scored two tries as did the flying winger Telusa Veainu. The other player to catch the eye was the HUGE substitute number 8 forward, Opeti Fonua. He came on after 30 minutes and thereafter was eye-catching in everything he did. Mind you that mostly because of the size of the man. You couldn't miss him! (He is over 140 kilograms and is built either like an outhouse brick or a brick outhouse - you take your pick!)
Game 20; Pool AUSTRALIA 65 URUGUAY 3; 27 September 2015.
There was no David Pocock or Michael Hooper in the Australian lineup for this game versus Uruguay but you would never know it from the performance of the two flankers who replaced them. When Sean McMahon drove over from a rolling maul seven minutes into the game it looked like a sideshow impersonation of a David Pocock trick. Only a minute or two later McMahon made another powerhouse run before unloading a side flick pass to Joe Tomane; Joe's try was scored and it looked like the main show was on after the Australia-Fiji game a week before had just been a matinee. You could even say the comparisons carried on further when Quade Cooper was sin-binned after 14 minutes!
And when Ben McCalman on the blindside of the scrum also scored twice there was a definite link. You could definitely make out what coach Michael Cheika was showing with Pocock and Hooper in place. As my grandkids used to say; 'It was same-same' with McMahon and McCalman.
Scoring carried on regularly after that. Australia led 31-3 at halftime and their final score of 65-3 could have approached 80 points if Quade Cooper had have landed more conversions. His percentage of goalkicking success in the game turned out to be less than 50% and all media were saying that was to be the end of him to be a contender for the serious games ahead. Probably true. Cooper however, true to his mercurial style, did have the last say. When replacement centre Tevita Kuridrani crashed over in the corner Cooper's conversion sailed high and true from the sideline. He really in amazing - at times!
Game 19; Pool ; IRELAND 44 ROMANIA 10: 27 September 2015
Sadly I was only able to see highlights of this game and I'm sorry that I didn't see more. It was a second very good win for the Irish team. For the second time they racked up a win with bonus points and their backs shone throughout. This is a team to be reckoned with too. On the TV highlights the sad thing was that Simon Zebo's miracle run to score in the corner had to be denied by a 'gnat's whisker' from scoring. Zebo really can be a freak and his run then chip and gather was as good as you'll ever see. Alas he was correctly called back by the TMO.
For Romania there was not much to cheer. Admittedly their star forward Ovidiu Tonita scored a try - the last of the game but then he broke his hand and is out of all further play in the tournament.
Game 18; Pool : SCOTLAND 39 USA 16:
The Americans came to this game with high hopes but in the end the Scots just took up where they had finished their previous outing against Japan. They had scored five tries and secured a bonus point against the Japanese team. There were five more tries against the USA. So Scotland had two good results so far 45-10 v Japan and 39-16 over USA.
Good Memory from this game; It should be mentioned that the referee for this game was the New Zealander Chris Pollock. No doubt he had arrived in Britain thrilled to be at his second World Cup but the first one where he would have control of the action with the whistle. Misfortune dogged him only days after his arrival. Back home in New Zealand a horror car smash killed two people; a husband and wife who had been married over 50 years. Pollock was the father of a young girl by one of the couple's daughters. So he left the World Cup and flew home, obviously in support of his daughter and the family. He therefore had to forfeit the first game on his original schedule to be controlled - thus Scotland v USA game was therefore his World Cup debut with the whistle. To Mr Pollock for his caring gesture I raise my hat. [Post-script; There was a very sad rugby connection with the smash back home in New Zealand; the male who died was the All Black centre of 1963, Ian Uttley]
One Way Traffic: Well, in the second half anyway. The USA team had played a strong hand in the first half and with a try by their 19-year old prop forward Titi Lamositele and some more sound goal-kicking by A.J.McGinty they led 13-6 a half time. But Scotland showed us their best in the second half which they won by 33-3. That included tries by both wingers, Tom Visser and Sean Maitland in six minutes. Those two swung the lead onto the Scotls side and they never looked back.
Game 16; Pool A; WALES 28 ENGLAND 25; 26 September 2015
This game was a classic, nothing more, nothing less.
Of course England v Wales matches have been going on as a serious rivalry for yonks (err since 1881 Keith!) and every game is a reflection of that. But to repeat, this one, a World Cup game, was an even truer classic. Wales won gloriously in the end in a see-saw struggle against England who, at times, were full of their traditional power and fury while at other times appeared weak and almost gummy.
Best Memories from the Game #1: Firstly we home TV watchers had to get through the drama of the national anthems. Sitting in the stands, apparently just in three seats among ordinary folks like you and me, were the British Royal Princes, William and Harry. The Missus of William, Kate was there as well though no sign of Granny anywhere.
However when they sang 'Granny's song,' the one called 'God Save The Queen' we noticed both of the lads sang lustily. But when it was just the Welsh National Anthem 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' (Land of my Fathers) only William lifted his voice to the skies. That was no doubt because a) he is the Royal Vice Patron of the Welsh Rugby Union (and Granny is The Patron) b) his dad, silly old Chuck, Prince Charles, is the Prince of Wales c) William's name everywhere is William Wales, and d) Prince Harry is the Royal Vice Patron of THE Rugby Football Union (of England no less).
And probably William, of the two bros is the only one who knows the words. (Before you laugh too much - be sure YOU know all the words of the Maori part of our own anthem!)
That little victory having been won for the Welsh team the game then kicked of in a tumult of noise, excitement and expectation from the crowd of over 80,000. This was a 'Pool of Death' game of the highest and most critical need for winning and both teams really went at it to their maximum effort. The two excellent goalkickers Dan Biggar of Wales and Owen Farrell of England traded the first five shots at goal and the end of the first half hour loomed with England leading 9-6.
Best Memories from the Game #2; It was the 27 minute tick of the clock that England pulled off a high-speed set move from a 22-metre line out. The ball swung out to the left wing live wire Johnny May who flew in at the corner for the try then improved the position for Farrell's conversion kick. Over it went and the score at 16-6 started to look, and feel a bit ominous against the Welsh. The crowd sensed it too; a minute later, when England snaffled a Welsh lineout throw the most almighty cheer went up. Cocky buggers I thought - but a knowledgeable crowd it had to be admitted. Halftime was reached soon after; 16-9 to England.
The first six scoring moments of the first 25 minutes of the second half were all penalty kicks successfully swapped by Biggar and Farrell. They really were kicking brilliantly. Neither had missed a shot. But still the margin stayed at seven points to the English.
Horror Moments for Wales on the field: Wales just could not close the gaps which was bad enough but around them bodies began to topple. With 12 minutes to go there was a major pause in the action; reserves were rushing on and off the Welsh side, some heads were being bandaged and the mini-ambulance even came on to carry away a severely banged up Welsh fullback Liam Williams. Winger Hallam Amos also went, carrying his own arm with his other one; clearly it was dislocated.
Game changing moment?; When play resumed Wales had all its bench on the field but in what position we were not told by the TV - probably they were too busy trying to untangle it for themselves. Then suddenly a high-speed attack launched - by the Welsh!
What was this? The ball sailing through the three-quarters to the winger but the winger was a reserve halfback! It was crazy - except that no one told the stand-in winger Lloyd Williams, he scooted downfield at great velocity and crazily, madly, then side-kicked a ball to the mid-field. It looked rather like a (soccer) footballer bringing in the out-wide ball to where the centre forward should be.
And there he was! Racing after the end-over-end bouncer was the real halfback Gareth Davies. He gathered the ball at top momentum and crashed in under the posts. The conversion in the mayhem meant Wales had tied the scores at 25-all with eight minutes left to play.
So back they went for the restart at halfway. Both sides were still in it but you would still have put your rent on England to push through as they had the huge crowd backing, the big names and Wales were, let's face it, were still in positional disarray.
The next act was the second to last in the stage show acted out in this by now frenzied arena of the highest ferment. Referee Jerome Garces made a penalty call against the England fullback. But with the award being right near half way we all thought, surely it is too far for Dan Biggar to attempt to maintain his 100% record. But he was given instructions by his captain Sam Warburton to go for goal. So Biggar did - going through an agonising sequence of nervous hair-touching. shirt straightening and longing looks at the goal. Then it was swallow hard and make the kick of his life.
Would you believe it? The ball soared high through the night sky to become one of Wales's greatest of goals. They led now by 28-25 and there were six minutes to play.
But this England team is nothing if not powerful and from the kickoff they fiercely charged down to the corner for some driving attacks. Each one repelled by brave Wales - but could it go on? ...three minutes to play!
Then a penalty came and captain Chris Robshaw of England had to make the call of his life. Too kick at goal from the excellent Farrell and possibly secure a draw - or kick to the corner and possibly drive over for a try which would WIN the game. Robshaw chose the latter - and I for one thought it was a good call. Surely in all walks of sporting life to try for a win is better than the try for a draw. Even in Pool play at a Rugby World Cup! Simple as that!
Besides even though Farrell had been 100% with his success rate who's to say what he might have done with the kick in the white hot pressure of that real, living moment. It was a wide out shot, they're always difficult.
The Most Brilliant finish to the game - if you're Welsh that is!; History now tells us Robshaw and England's gamble failed. From the lineout the Welsh back gave a mighty heave and repelled England's attempted thrust for a driving maul try. Wales also repelled another lineout and when the next one was won it was kicked into the crowd and the referee swept his arm to signal the end. It was a truly wonderful moment for the carved up Welsh XV and truly shattering for England.
Um, my next memories are of the two Princes standing shoulder to shoulder in the grandstand; one cheering and smiling - the other grim faced and tight-lipped - you can guess which was which. Fair's fair to them though - they had ridden the road for their respective teams on this day - so good on them.
The next thing we all have heard of course over the days after the game has been a groaning chorus of whining and moaning from all and sundry about Robshaw's choice - to kick for goal - or try for the drive over.
I think he did the right thing. Since when should a captain have to explain himself when all he was trying to do was WIN the game he was playing in? He had to make his call in the heat of the moment - he could not see into the future right then. The whingers after all have 100% perfect vision in hindsight.
Game 15; Pool B; South Africa 46 Samoa 6; 26 September 2015.
Best memories of the game; From Villa Park in Birmingham this was a highly anticipated game, kind of knife-edge for the Springboks after they had been thumped by Japan seven days earlier. Suddenly it had become a must-win for South Africa but then it was the same for Manu Samoa who had had a win but needed to consolidate to have a big chance of moving ahead in the Pool B points table.
In the end this became a one way traffic game. South Africa won by a 40-point margin (46-6) because their desperation shone through while Samoa crumbled in the face for the green force.
Honestly the pressure was regular and intense from South Africa. And the points kept flowing. Its hard to believe, when I look back now, that after a quarter of an hour it was Samoa leading by 6-3. That was on the back of two very good penalties by Michael Stanley who plays with style and class. But when Stanley tried a Samoan back move after a quarter of an hour his wide pass was plucked out of the sky by Springbok winger J.P.Pieterson. There was no one in from of him and the 'Del Shannon Runaway' try over 60 metres was then completed! Tries followed regularly with goal kicks added by the excellent Handre Pollard.
From 17-6 at halftime the Springboks soon were at 29-6, then 39-6 and finally 46-6. Samoa were well beaten.
Reflective moments from the game; Yes, there were at least two I could think of. One came when a knuckle-head fan ran from the crowd onto the field and rushed towards a forward's maul. Off course security were onto him quick-smart and the TV coverage cut away really quickly too. It's a well-known fact that if these 'drongo's' see that they can get some sort of TV exposure and the vicarious infamy which follows from their actions others around the place of similar idiocy then think 'if its good for one then it'll be good for me too.' So copycat drongo's soon appear. [Note; If you are wondering what a 'drongo' is the name has reasonable prominence in Australia/New Zealand urban slang. 'Drongo' was the name for a hopeless horse around racecourses in Australia back in the 1920s who entered 37 races and could not ever win,place or show in any one; hence a no-hoper person became known as a 'drongo'] The term has stuck. The man in Birmingham was a drongo of the lowest sort as they led him away. Let's hope there are no more.
The other reflective moment was for a rugby person at the complete opposite of the scale. Jean de Villiers has been a famous Springbok for more than a decade. Indeed this game was his 109th cap. But if you look at his record for injury and 'blessages' (as we French students say) then its a wonder he even made it to double figures. Along the way de Villiers has 1) missed the 2003 Rugby World Cup because of injury, 2) made it to the 2007 World Cup but could play past the first game because of injuries, 3) then he has had knee breakages, not once but twice, and now a second breakage of his jaw this year alone. And everyone has forgotten but I haven't but I saw Jean de Viliers carried off Wellington Westpac stadium after breaking his leg there, even before he ever became a Springbok player.
De Villiers announced his retirement from international rugby soon after hearing that the other side of his face had been fractured in a collision with one of the Samoans in this latest game. And who could blame him? But what was this? No sooner hd the captain left the field, walking openly and with dignity even though he must have been in burning pain, he was back out on the field? Yes, he was playing the last three or four minutes with his jaw probably being held in its best position by the clenching of hids teeth.
De Villiers is a Springbok champion, there can be no doubt of that and he has the respect of the New Zealand players and fans. He will be much missed - meantime despite the Springbok's much improved showing in this game there is much work still to be done by them. And the same goes for Samoa now. Samoa are on four Pool points so must beat Jpan in their remaining Pool game and hope that Scotland thrashes the Springboks. Hmmm, on this day's form beating South Africa by a big score might be stretching it for the Scots.
Game 14; Pool D; Italy 23 Canada 18; 26 September 2015
Best memories of the game; This game came first in a long vigil through the night for us watching in New Zealand. One again the English weather did not let the World Cup down and the first thing we saw was a lovely Leeds afternoon. A tight, excellent and very even game followed. Basically Italy 'ground out' its win against the oft time brilliance of Canada. Honestly if Canada have scored two better tries in recent times, than the ones they scored in this game then I haven't heard about them.
The first one came from the ever-exciting 'DTH' van der Merwe on the left wing. Not only did he start the movement down his left touchline, some 75 metres from the Italian tryline, but after some high speed and deft inter-passing with his centre Ciaran Hearn it was DTH who scored the try with a finish down the right side. Since the game I have seen some esteemed writers calling it one the best tries the tournament has seen so far. I would agree.
And I might even offer up Canada's other try in a similar category. The second came from a set piece lineout play with the fullback Matt Evans roaring in at top clip and dashing in under the cross bar. The crowds thundered their approval of such enterprise from the Canadians but it was to no avail in the end.
Turning point in the game? Canada had a lead of 10-0 at one point in the first half and then at 15-13 early in the second. When their right winger Phil Mackenzie sprinted in again I thought wow! This is going to be a very good day for the old Maple Leaf. But Mackenzie's try was controversially ruled out after a TMO consultation and the Italians rumbled back thereafter.
To be fair the Italians did score one very well taken long-distance try of their own; it came after a sweeping 75 metre move with prop forward Michele Rizzo scoring.
But this was a tough result for Canada to bite on. They played enterprising rugby throughout and I was disappointed for the team and their coach Kieran Crowley. 'Colt' we Kiwis called him when he was around the All Black scene all those years. He had obviously instilled the tactic to be inventive into his team and against the Italians they were following his commands to the letter of the law. But Italy were the winners on the back of a second try, some pressure goal-kicking by flyhalf Tommaso Allan and, it has to be said, the better end of a number of Irish referee George Clancy's calls.
Game 13; Pool C; Argentina 54 Georgia 9; 25 September 2015
Best memories; What we had seen from Argentina when they played such a tough opening game, and lost only narrowly to the All Blacks by 26-16, was confirmed in this excellent second outing for them. They marched past some excellent 'stopping' by Georgia and, admittedly aided by a timely yellow-card against Georgia's top player Mamuka Geogodze the Argies finished with a 54-9 winning margin.
They played such excellent football throughout, via a powerful scrum, some unknown (well, to me anyway) but powerful second rowers and some dashing and excellent backs. They all made the end score totally appropriate. Not that I'd want to say anything bad about Georgia - they too have had some good moments so far - but the Pumas were that good!
There was tight, tough play in the opening exchanges until Nicolas Sanchez who is a most talented flyhalf by the way, blooped over the first dropped goal of the tournament. It crossed my mind as being odd that it had taken 13 games for any team to produce a dropped goal as that noble form of scoring will no doubt will play a significant part of some really critical games later on - we know that from the Rugby World Cup's young history, don't we? (Most countries will wince at that reminder).
The 'droppie' turned out to be a signal for Argentina to start to lift the tempo and they played some marvelous, pressure rugby, swinging their attacks to left and right and building each one onto the stretching Georgians defences. In the first 15 minutes of play the statistics showed that the Pumas had had 85% of possession. Within two minutes of the dropped goal the young lock forward Tomas Lavanini, after more very fine teamwork crashed across in the corner for the game's first try.
When halftime was reached it had to be said that though Argentrina had made all the running the Georgians had hung on bravely. The score was only 14-9 to the blue-and-whites.
All that changed though in the opening exchanges of the second half. First of all, the accomplished flyhalf Sanchez made another scything break and when he was stopped near the goal line Gogodze leaned over at the breakdown and tried feverishly to haul the ball onto his defensive side. The referee J.P.Doyle of England saw the big man's work as an offence at the breakdown and a yellow card was produced. Away he went to the bin and thereafter went Georgia's chances.
Let's look at the facts; it was 14-9 when Gogodze sat down on the sin-bin chair and when he resumed his place on the field ten minutes later his lads were behind by 35-9. Brave Georgia were not the same team in his absence, while Argentina bullishly exploited their one man advantage. The three tries were all superbly taken so they ruined any hopes Georgia may have had. But there was no doubting the class of the Pumas for when Gogodze came back on mre points kept coming.
The final margin stretched out to 54-9 with Juan Imhoff and Santiago Cordero, the flying wingers racing in for two tries each. They were fed by the brilliant Sanchez, who landed five goals (out of seven tries) plus the 'droppie' as well as making several brilliant runs.
At the end I could not help but reflect on the 26-16 win by the All Blacks over the Pumas in round one. One the basis of what Argentina and New Zealand had shown in their second outings, played within 24 hours of each other, the All Blacks might have been lucky to strike the Pumas first up. They South Americans might have been a bit rusty then.
The way Argentina played in this win over Georgia they won't have to pack their bags for home just yet. And maybe not for quite a while yet, if you get my drift.
Game 12; Pool C; NEW ZEALAND 58 NAMIBIA 14; 24 September 2015
Best memory #1; Well, I liked it that the All Blacks under their new captain Sam Cane won this game at the Olympic Stadium in London by the score of 58-14 but there was not a lot to 'write home about' from it in terms of generating confidence that New Zealand was going to go on and win the William Webb Ellis Cup.
New Zealand had many changes from the team which had turned back the Argentineans only four days before but that didn't excuse another rash of dropped passes, missed connections and simple mistakes. The All Blacks have had two wins but from now on will simply have to be better. Sometimes on my TV Mr Hansen looked glum.
Best Memory #2; On the other hand, it was a game of infectious delight for little Namibia. Their players must have just loved the day. They competed manfully in a lot of the exchanges and even when they had a man in the sin bin they showed New Zealand how to slow the game down to zero forward progress for more than ten minutes.
Best Memory #3; Oh, I've gotta remember that the All Blacks did score nine tries to one in the game so that means they were never under threat. But they did not 'put away' Namibia at any stage (like the 142-0 Australia had done to them in 2003) and in truth most of the moments that had the 57,000 cheering loudest today came when Namibia did their best things, like when inside-centre Johan Deysel dived over to score. The roof lifted!!
But against that was a thrilling solo straight-arrow run to score under the posts from 35 metres out by Beauden Barrett and two tries each to the lively wingmen Nehe Milner-Skudder and Julian Savea. And a whole swag of others. Too bad a whole lot of play between the tries was mistake ridden.
Who played well for NZ? I thought SonnyBill Williams was very good again. This time he was off the reserves lists and into the starting line-up. And he relished the chance to be an early one to shine. His off-loading continues to be unique and impressive. Actually even though I was pleased that he came into the game off the bench early in the game v Argentina I thought that today they took him off too quickly. Each time he switches place with Nonu - so I guess each presents different problems for their opponents, so that's a good thing.
And Nehe Milner-Skudder had a very good match. Tonight on the news both channels in New Zealand were quick to say he was ' back to his best etc' seeming to say he had a shocker v Argentina. Funny, I don't remember him being at all that bad. Seems you have to work doubly hard to impress the blond kids in the New Zealand's newsrooms! And we know they are very good in hindsight!
Commentary Quotes to remember? Wow, I thought today that Sky TV's commentary team delivered their best work for we watchers in some time. Rather than doing 'roll over' commentary for the 'roll over' results which the All Blacks games, even test matches, often are, this time Messrs Grant Nisbett, Justin Marshall and Ian Smith found new matters to discuss and devote time to and delve deeply into. The stop-start nature of the game allowed them to do that. And they used some great new expressions which I hope might catch on;
Justin led the way;
Marshall; 'they've been doing that since day-dot.'
Marshall;' that pass was hot-potato, hot potato from Nehe Milner-Skudder.'
Marshall; '(when discussing a neck-roll tackle) 'See? He's almost been turtled onto his back...'
Smithy got an oldie-but-goody in; 'Uh Oh; there'll be another steward's enquiry for this one;' ...
Nisbo described Namibia when they were slowing the game down as 'killing the clock' and Melodie Robinson, back home in the Auckland studio, asked, ' (about the All Blacks play) what are the main fix-ups needed?'
To me that's the essence of good broadcasting; finding new things to talk about in each game and new ways to express them, even if the choice of different words is slight - while not forgetting the experts (or so-called experts) at home who you are talking too -or brand new viewers too.
The commentators today sounded like they were relishing being there and seeing something different to talk about. Its funny, but it was such a shame the game allowed them to do that.
Game 11; Pool B; SCOTLAND 45 JAPAN 10; 23 September 2015
Best Memory #1; A couple of things jumped out at me as I watched this game from front to back. One was how impressive Scotland was. This was not the fall-over easy beats of recent years; instead they were a hungry outfit, keen-looking and sharp. But was that only a reflection of difficult the day must have been for Japan?
Following the Brave Blossoms amazing win over South Africa, the Japs team had only four days in which to recover, travel, settle in, nurse injuries and play. And they were not quite up to it for a second time. Coupled with that they met Scotland who were in no mood to yield an inch of ground.
Best Memory #2; Mind you that's not to say the Japanese at least didn't try their very best to emulate what they had famously achieved at Brighton. Japan scored the first try, by their number eight forward Amanaki Mafi and they more than held their own for the first 30 minutes. Indeed, Mafi was nearly in again when he tried to dive over the top of a maul by the posts. Captain Michael Leitch was even encouraged to kick for the sidelines when some of referee John Lacey's stream of penalties came their way. It's just that this time the Scots were waiting.
Turning point in the game; Scotland led 12-7 at half time and in the second half Mafi started with another brilliant surge, this time up the centre of the field. He was looking great but when he went down clutching his leg, so did the Japanese momentum falter. Mafi was carried away, gone for the night, if not the remainder of the tournament. Even though a penalty by fullback hero Ayumu Goromaru closed the gap to only 12-10 that turned out to be it for the red-and-whites in terms of scoring. The Scots raced away with it after that scoring the next five tries. It would be a hope for Japan that their star forward Mafi will be back soon. But that looked doubtful.
Summary; I thought Scotland looked pretty controlled throughout. And in fullback Stuart Hogg, winger Tommy Seymour, centre Mark Bennett and the brilliant flyhalf Finn Russell they have some real backline talent. In the pack they are not quite so impressive but the 'New Zealander John Hardie' (as he was called several times from the commentator's box) helps secure the scrabbly ball on the ground.
Watch out for Scotland. They could surprise some more teams here. They could jump into qualification chat if they beat USA in their next game.
Game 10; Pool D; FRANCE 38 ROMANIA 11; 23 September 2015
Summary of this game. The French got a nice win on the scorecard - and they insisted they dominated. And they did. But I did not watch this game (I was sound asleep and then watching Fiji play Australia); So here's what i gleaned from The Guardian's excellent run of play from the action. Remember France scored five tries; therefore they start with a bonus point win - from a largely second string selection which they ran out onto London's Olympic Stadium.
The Guardian said; Yes France dominated, but certainly in the first half they were a mess and they did not really get it going terribly well in the second either. Having said that, this was a team with 13 changes from that one that faced Italy in the opening game, so perhaps that rustiness can be excused as they learned how to operate with one another. They can argue that they got the job done too: a win and a bonus point sets them up very nicely in Pool D. (KQ; that's 2 wins for France; 32-10 over Italy and 38-11 over Romania.) Nice.
Romania will be delighted by their try (by Valentin Ursashe) and their grunt in the first half. But they had only a few flashes so it will be interesting to see how they play against Italy: they could well give them a game.
Game 9; Pool A; AUSTRALIA 28 FIJI 13; 23 September 2015
Best Memory #1; This might give away who I was shouting for but I loved it in the early stages of this game when the Fiji scrum held the Aussie pack firm and secure and did not bust open. It was Fiji waking a statement of 'we are here too, you guys!' It was great to see by Fijians (or the 'South Sea Islanders' as the British commentators continue to want to call them. How churlish.)
Best memory #2; However credit where credit is due, the Wallabies deserved to win this one. They cut through at vital times and won, if not totally convincingly, then by a similar margin to the All Blacks over Argentina. 28-13 by the Wallabies 26-16 by the All Blacks.
Best memory #3; . David Pocock is a great fetcher at the breakdown and in the rolling maul he multi tasks superbly; looking around, while staying attached, and driving hard when necessary. In addition, his work with Michael Hooper is becoming a combination which should take Australia deep into this tournament (but see below). Scott Fardy is a valuable addition too, making the loose men duo now formidable as a trio. Pocock deserved the award of Man of the Match.
Summary; However not everything was super in the Wallaby camp. The lineout was so modest by a reasonable international standard that you might even offer that the Aussies are weak in the second row. Rob Simmons did not have a good game and when he went off the function of the lineout as a way to start the game for the Aussie backs became a real problem. In addition, say what you like, but Will Skelton would not make it into too many other top test nations. So the Wallabies might be as vulnerable at lineout time as they are strong in the open field. However if they can 'get their share' of lineout ball and find Israel Folau in open spaces then tries ought to come.
The only other matter for the Aussies to consider is that after one outing they have become one point behind England and Wales who both had bonus points in their first games. Pool A is the tightest pool of the 'comp' and Australia would not to lose touch any further. However their next game is against Uruguay (surely a win with a bonus) while England and Wales are banging heads - so Aussie ought to jump into second place then.
Summary of Fiji; It was reported that after the game coach John McKee was very depressed. That may be so but he shouldn't be. I know he would have had high hopes of qualifying through to the quarters but to get through from the 'Pool of Death' was always going to be tough. He should be pleased and proud though. His 'Fiji Boys' have done the nation proud.
Other thoughts; A crowd of 67,253 in Cardiff singing 'Swing Low Sweet chariot?' Say it isn't so!
One more thing; One of the tournament's 'musts' already is to watch the Fijiian players in full frame on TV while their national anthem 'God Bless Fiji' is played. The players choke the tears back, and bottom lips quiver, as the music wells up to its peak. Some big men cannot hold back - and the close ups are great to see.
If Warren Gatland can get a tape of that sacrilege and play it to the Welsh team they will be fired up beyond belief against England on the weekend. I'm looking forward to that.
Game 8; Pool C; NEW ZEALAND 26 ARGENTINA 16; 21st September 2015.
Best memory #1 of Rugby World Cup Game 8; This was an All Black win posted on 'The team of 23' rather than just 15 players. Argentina began in front of 90,000 at the famous Wembley Stadium and went at the game like gangbusters. But their early enthusiasm didn't always lead to the right decisions being made and the referee Wayne Barnes pinged them heavily. Dan Carter put the All Blacks into the early lead but still the Pumas went into every passage of play with tough, aggressive action. At one point after 12-13 minutes I saw Richie McCaw make four tackles in about one minute in the middle of the field such was the heat of the attacks coming at his team. Then flanker Pablo Matera was sin-binned and Carter goaled again, as he did a few minutes later. NZ was leading 9-0 after 20 minutes. Then came a change; a powerful second quarter of the game followed for the Argentinians, to the point where they had McCaw sin-binned for what he called a 'dumb' act of foot-tripping, the lock forward Guido Petti crashed over for a try and Conrad Smith was also in the bin for a swinging hand at the bottom of a ruck. That meant for 3 minutes the famous All Blacks were playing a rugby league type game with only 13 players.
Best memory #2 of Rugby World Cup Game 8; But the second half saw a massive change unfold. Steve Hansen and his selection cohorts made some totally judicious changes and the game momentum slowly evolved. The best of these turned out to be Sonny Bill Williams, on for his best game in the AB shirt since his debut in Edinburgh in 2010. Everything he did was emphatic and direct and had the Pumas grasping at his presence. Hansen also brought on two new props, Wyatt Crockett and Charlie Faumuina and they subdued the previously dominating Argie opposites. There is no doubt the superior fitness of the All Blacks then pressed home the new advantages which the substitutes had brought about. Dan Carter was 100% with his kicking and the two tries in the last quarter, to Aaron Smith and another sub Sam Cane completed a final, and well-taken but very tough 26-16 opener. It wasn't perfect at all but it was a win.
Best memory #3 of Rugby World Cup Game 8; I hope the world appreciates that we Kiwi rugby fans have to get out of bed sometimes at 3.45am to see our team play. (I seem to recall that in 2011 the Rugby World Cup final in Auckland kicked off at 9pm here and that was so European followers could see their teams play at breakfast time!) But I did the early rising thing today and thoroughly enjoyed it. A cup of tea, the fire going and a great game unfolding - what could be better? Especially when the final score was posted!
Personality of the game; I usually get cheesed off when the newsmedia list-makers of New Zealand, when talking about global rugby matters, seem to automatically put Richie McCaw as their number one - and then start to think about other contenders; but in discussing the personality of the game between All Blacks against Argentina who could go beyond 'our Richie?' Not only did he play 'the full 80,' (that's 70 minutes if you deduct the ten minutes he was in the bin!) but he tackled everything that came his way and, even if you include the 'dumb' foot trip (his word to describe it) then he still dominated the game. And he didn't seem to mind the booing noise that rose to the heavens when his image appeared on the stadium big screens. (It crossed my mind that the sound was a far cry from the roar of adulation of Eden Park a month ago)
A moment when things turned; Maybe it was when New Zealand was down to its rugby league-sized team. That woke up the side - and also Steve Hansen came to realise that Argentina was a real threat and that changes on the field had to be made urgently. Obviously the All Blacks did not want a Japan-South Africa repeat.
Any memorable commentary quotes? Ian Smith on the sideline of the SKY TV crew gave a great first half summary when he offered, 'Argentina have never beaten New Zealand and in the last few moments of the half they're showing us they still might not know how.' How true Smithy was.
And at halftime in the New Zealand studio the two biblical guests 'Israel' Dagg and 'Christian' Cullen were very wise considering the time of the morning they were making their judgements; Said Dagg; "I'm not worried too much right now; I know our boys well - and there'll be cool heads in the halftime huddle.' And from Cullen; 'All three yellow cards that have been dished out (in the first half) have been legit, let's face it.'
And Grant Nisbo himself was in good form too; his 'Milner-Skudder's got beautiful feet' sounds like he knows the lad intimately but it summed up the lively New Zealand World Cup debutant's running style perfectly.
Short summary; This was such a tough opener and the All Blacks got through it OK. Probably the most important thing, after the win, was that no one seemed to suffer injuries. That and the fact that Steve Hansen has now an even more difficult task in the coming weeks as the subtle additions he made off the bench will make his selecting task that much more difficult.
Any Final thoughts? Isn't booing Richie McCaw a bit like booing nice champions like Chrissie Evert or that nice Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus or even Tiger Woods? Men and women who are at the very top in the world in their chosen sports activity? It's not really on is it?
Game 7; Pool A; WALES 54 URUGUAY 9; 21st September 2015.
Best Memories of Rugby World Cup game 7; Look I gotta be honest here. Of the first seven games at RWCup 2015 spread over three nights of New Zealand's winter's evening and overnight time this was the first I did not see much of at all (I know, I know, I'm sorry Wyn!) But the Samoa v USA game hadn't finished till after 1am and I was quite frankly knackered. So I staggered off to what we Kiwis call 'The Scratcher' and slept blissfully for two hours. But that's all I got before my feet hit the cold floor again. The All Blacks were to be soon on deck in Wembley Stadium!
As I arrived in the lounge on the TV after 3am NZ Time was the live coverage of the last ten minutes of Wales against Uruguay. And when I tuned in it was 49-9 to the home team. They scored one more try and it finished 54-9. That meant it was a total bigger than Ireland had racked up on the same ground 24 hours earlier against Canada. Well played Cory Allen, the Welsh centre; he scored three tries making him the first Welshman to do 'a treble' in one Rugby World Cup game.
To repeat; according to the commentators the Welsh had played adequately against the brave Uruguay amateurs, none of whom had ever been to a Rugby World Cup before. However, the main talking points seemed to be about the three Welsh injuries which added the other three they had suffered in the recent weeks. So we'll see how that pans out in future days.
So well played Wales; a good win. 'Iechyd da! ('Yacky Da!') and all that but now please be quiet (Wyn-o!)! The All Blacks are about to kick off!
Game 6; Pool B; SAMOA 25 USA 16; 21st September 2015
Best memories of Rugby World Cup Game 6; A solid win here by Samoa over an ambitious US Eagles team. The score was close but in truth the Samoans never looked like losing. Both teams were nervous in the early stages and a number of mistakes marred the play. Samoa used their massive-sized winger Alex Tuilagi on a number of inside track moves from scrum and lineout early on but to be honest Tuilagi looked a bit out of sorts for the whole day. In the first half alone he dropped the ball three times.
On the other hand fullback Tim Nanai-Williams, still a new kid on the block at test level, was at his very best and was rewarded in two ways; one by scoring a very fine first try and the other by being awarded the Man of the Match title.
USA did score a cracking try. They won a lineout off a Samoan throw and on their own 22-metre line the Eagles started to flash the ball along their backs. Their shortish flyhalf 'AJ' McGinty made a great break and after three more passes Chris Wyles swept in for an 80 metre score.
Samoa led 14-8 at halftime but early in the second half you could have counted no fewer than six kicks which had gone out on the full. There was that high a level of errors being made. One other thing that counted against the Americans was their lack of discipline. They gave away far too many penalties and Samoa profited from them with some nice goal kicking by Tusi Pisi and Mike Stanley.
The attendance at this game in Brighton was 29,178. They were highly excited, having seen the Japan-South Africa game 24 hours earlier. However singing 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' was a bit rich by the crowd I thought. Even a bit rude?
Game 5; Pool D; FRANCE 32 ITALY 10; 20th September 2015
Best memory #1 of Rugby World Cup Game 5; This was a tough game to watch, not very spectacular at all with lots of penalties and stoppages. Maybe the lingering memory might be that Twickenham once again sweated over the waiting time for decisions from the match officials, the same as 24-hours earlier when England had played Fiji. Indeed the same mystery TMO voice belonged to South Africa's Shaun Veldsman. He is well-known in South Africa for a history of controversial video calls. So far at this Rugby World Cup he therefore is living up to his reputation. Oops....
In this game the main charge against officialdom was that the wait after Noa Nakaitaci, the French winger, thought he had scored only came after the crowd of 76,000 roared when they saw the replay of the try and saw clearly that Nakaitaci had lost control of his try-scoring dive. The gripe is that the try had been awarded by referee Craig Joubert and time had passed to the point where Freddie Michalak was well into his conversion-kick routine. Then the crowd roared as the replay appeared on screen in a massive close-up - one bigger than the side of a barn. Therefore the conversion attempt was interrupted and the try reviewed. Of course the scoring of it was then declined.
Best memory #2 of Rugby World Cup Game 5; France were on top most of the way but with far too many simple mistakes they will have to improve if they are to make it past Ireland in the 'big' game of their Pool play.
Best memory #3 of Rugby World Cup Game 5; Sadly the tournament ended for two very significant players; one from each side. For Italy the centre Andrea Masi hobbled away with an achilles tendon injury and the French team's highly touted winger Yoann Huget will also not play again at the tournament. His was a knee tear I think.
Personality of the game; I'd plump for Freddie Michalak. He played in the 2003 and 2007 Rugby World Cup teams but was absent in South Africa in 2011. Now he's back as a 33 year old and was banging lots of great goals over in this game (5 penalties and 2 conversions = 19 points)
Any memorable commentary notes; Not so many quotes of note but just good to hear the great Miles Harrison at the microphone again. He is all class.
Final summary thoughts; This was a game with plenty of niggle in it. The Italians look like they are waiting desperately for the return from injury of their captain Sergio Parisse. But they were hardly a threat to France and will have to do better. On the French side there would have to be disappointment that they could not secure a bonus point from the number of tries scored.
Game 4; Pool D; JAPAN 34 SOUTH AFRICA 32; 20th September 2015
Best memory #1 of Rugby World Cup Game 4; Remember that famous line in the film 'Fatal Attraction' when the Glenn Close character snarls, 'I will NOT be ignored!' That quote came back to me today when I watched 'little Japan' take on the mighty Springboks in Brighton; That's little Japan against a team steeped in rugby traditions of power play and brute strength.
But Japan insisted with every movement of the 80 minutes of superior rugby action that at this tournament they cannot now be ignored by anyone. And I gotta say it; the resulting game was terrific to watch!
Best memory #2 of Rugby World Cup Game 4; I think everyone in the ground would have picked South Africa to win but with repeated banzai charges the Japanese inflicted one of the rugby world's greatest upsets. Was it bigger than Samoa over Wales in 1991, or Tonga over France in 2011? Hard to say - but any way you look at it - it is right up there.
Best memory #3 of Rugby World Cup Game 4; While the Saffers came out of this game with two points (and so won't be too hardly hit if they win their next couple of games) two of the tries Japan scored were simply breathtaking; one was a set move from a lineout where at the highest of speed the Japanese backs sliced their way through some tiring Springbok defenses. Racing in from fullback Ayumu Gorumaru reached warp-factor one when he received an in-pass and no green shirt could touch him after that. Then at the end of the game with the scores first at 29-all , then 32-29 to South Africa, the substitute winger Karne Hesketh came on (in 'injury time' ) and he knew what to do!
When the ball came his way for his first touch he made a thrilling dash to the corner and the rugby world stood up in awe at what the Michael Leitch-led Japanese team had achieved; 34-32 to Japan.
Personality of the game; Very hard to call this one; there were so many heroes, but I'd probably offer Michael Leitch's name. When the scores were reading 32-29 to the Springboks and his team, hot on attack, was awarded a penalty, he chose to put down a scrum rather than take the penalty shot and comfortably rest on a drawn result. The fact that Hesketh scored after that is testiment to Leitch's confidence in what he believed his team could do. He might also be given credit for reading that, by the 82nd minute mark, a number of the Springboks were down to walking about and were clearly not fit for the pace the Japanese offered.
A moment when things turned? It might sound a bit simplistic but the Springboks, who crashed and thundered about for much of the game, suddenly lost their fitness and were breathing hard, no amount of clever substituting could help them. They were gonski by two thirds of the game's duration - and therefore ripe for the plucking!
Any memorable commentary quotes? I reckon Gordon Bray's call of this game was about as good as any could be. Gordon was superb. He didn't just shout to the high-heavens when a try was scored in this thriller of a game, that's the easy thing for a commentator to do. Insteasd he paused to let the crowd's cheering take the moment and then was measured, but still excited, by what the win meant. He also saved his best 'lines' for the climatic end of the game.
You'll hear Gordon's voice on the video of Australia v France and other games way back in the first Rugby World Cup in 1987. He has been around for a very long time. He is still the TV free-to-air rugby test commentator in Australia. (Spoiler alert; Gordon and I are mates) But he oozes experience out of every pore. And it showed today.
Best Quotes from Gordon Bray? 'There's Mafi; he's the 15th of 16 kids in his family!' And when there was a huge pile-up for the TMO to sort out, 'Hey! Where's Clark Kent when you need him?' and at the end of a truly great game, 'Your eyes have seen the glory!'
Short summary; This result today left us asking many questions. Just how good are Japan really? Might coach Eddie Jones's Brave Blossoms do this again at this World Cup? And what is happening to South African rugby? How have they sunk to such modest levels this season, having lost now 4 games?
Any Final thoughts? This was a sporting upset of the most momentous kind. It ranks up there with the most shocking surprise results ever seen at any rugby test match in history? Which means it might be seen in a wider context; for example Japan are hosting the next Rugby World Cup finals in 2019 but there is significant discussion going on right now at home as to whether they will have sufficient funding and Government backing to be on time and with appropriate facilities to cope. Such a win today in Cardiff - and maybe some more at this World Cup - will assist any future discussions with doubters back home.
But i cannot agree with those people who are saying 'this is the greatest upset in ALL sports history!' To my mind its only as big a surprise as some Rugby World Cup scores from the past. (like Samoa over Wales 1991, like Samoa over Wales 1999, or Fiji over Wales 2007 or Tonga over France 2011) Comments like that appear in the media and are unchallenged - mostly because half of the reporters only go back as far as Justin Bieber's arrival on the world scene!
Game 3; Pool D; IRELAND 50 CANADA 7; 20th September 2015
Best memory #1 of Rugby World Cup Game 3; Not to many 'best' memories from this loss for the 'Land of My Fathers' (which Canada is for me;my Dad was born there). Ireland played a good game, got on top early, posted some very significant points when Canada's toughest forward Jamie Cudmore was in the sin-bin, were up by 29-0 at half time and then manfully withstood a half hour of Canada's best play in the second half. Then they scored 21 more points to crack the big 5-0!
Best memory #2 of Rugby World Cup Game 3; Maybe I haven't been paying much attention but Ireland showed real pace in their back play in this game and I was surprised at that. They have quick-thinking talent there now and they were just too classy for the Canadian team.
Best memory #3 of Rugby World Cup Game 3; The only consolation for Canada was a very solid period in the second half when no additions came onto the score for about half an hour. And then there was the play of Nathan Hirayama. 'Nate' has been around the sevens world tour for years now and I would have put money on the fact that he might be too small for the big game of 15s. But he made a number of excellent line breaks and played really well.
Personality of the game; With regards to my remarks earlier about the speed of some of Ireland's backs the best example might have been Jonny Sexton, the flyhalf. He scooted away for an excellent try at one point. Is he allowed to showcase his speed more under Kiwi coach Joe Schmidt? - I'd say yes.
A moment when things turned? With Ireland leading 29-0 just before halftime once again the TMO came into play. Canuck winger 'DTH' van der Merwe dived in at the corner to score; that would have given the reds at least something warm to feel about as they headed to the sheds. But once again the try was disallowed. I'm not saying the TMO call was wrong but with this only the third game of 48 at this tournament is there already a trend that the minnows are going to always be on the receiving end of TMO calls? I sure hope not.
Any Final thoughts? No question Ireland deserved this one. Canada improved in the second half which was something but they have much to do if they are to fulfill their hopes of winning at least twice before going home.
Game 2; Pool C; GEORGIA 17 v TONGA 10; 19th September 2015
Best memory #1 of Rugby World Cup Game 2; Though this was the 'next day' for the Rugby World Cup's UK audience Tonga and Georgia actually kicked off late on Saturday night in New Zealand on the same day as we'd seen England open against Fiji. We'd just had a day of our local ITM Cup matches on our screens and if you were a Kiwi like me, in the dreadful rainy weather, you'd have been well hunkered down from lying flatly (fatly?) on the couch watching the 'stay at home' New Zealand teams in action.
I really enjoyed Georgia v Tonga. Both teams gave it heaps. It wasn't particularly skillful with dropped balls etc but you couldn't knock the commitment and enthusiasm.
Best memory #2 of Rugby World Cup Game 2; Both the teams were superbly led; Georgia by their powerhouse number 8 Mamuka Gorgodze and Tonga by their tough flanker Sinali ('Nili') Latu. You could see the others in the team really rallying behind their captains. Gorgodze plays in France where his bullocking style is such that he is nicknamed 'GorGodZilla.'
Best memory #3 of Rugby World Cup Game 2; Again, as with the England v Fiji game at Twickenham, there was far too much TMO in this one. Sure, the dashing 'try' by Viliame Ma'afu was superbly executed and the TMO replay ruled it out quite rightly but the length of time to decide it was interminable. There were other examples of this.
But what we know already is that at this tournament the referees are acting under a group instruction to use the TMO's as often as they deem fit to do so; so get used to it folks.
Personality of the game; Apart from the aforementioned Gorgodze I'd go for the teenage halfback Vasil Lobzhanidze who became the youngest ever RWCup player in this game. He was 18 years and 340 days old today, passing Thretton Palamo's previous record set in 2007. Palamo is at the RWCup this time, again for USA, as a crusty old veteran of 27 on September 22.
Of course boring old buggers like me know that there have been younger guys at the World Cup than Lobzhanidze; like Talia'uli Liava'a for insance, whose age is unconfirmed at being only 17 when he was a non-playing member of the Tongans in RWCup I in 1987. But Talia'uli didn't take the field in any game (only getting onto the bench) so today Lobzhanidze takes the prize. And anyway, the wee Georgian played like he was about 27 years old! And he's another thing; I tried to ring a man by the name of Talia'uli Liava'a the other day in California. There was no reply to the phone number I have. He is apparently a yam inporter to California from Tonga. Does anyone hasve any more details of the man. All I want to hear from him is the date of his birth!
A moment when things turned in today's game? Two moments actually; they are when the TMO ruled out tries to Tonga's Siale Piutau and Viliame Ma'afu. If either one, or both, had have been awarded the end result might have been very different. Not saying the TMO's got it incorrect but going back two phases to check on play which led to a try being scored or rough play being checked is no good I reckon.
Any memorable commentary quotes? Not so much a commentary quote but New Zealand's Tony Johnson was sharp in seeing, and was slightly taken aback when he noted, as we viewers did too, one of the Georgians having to take off a chain from around his neck after about 30 minutes of play. 'Very dangerous,' said Nigel Owens.
It reminded me of the time I saw the Irish hooker Keith Wood run up to the referee after about five minutes of a test against the All Blacks in Dublin and slip his wristwatch off one hand and hand it the ref for safe-keeping!
Short summary; This wasn't a pretty game, in fact it became a bit of a slugfest but it was still highly exciting and we were on edge to the end. Good stuff.
Any Final thoughts? What was really nice was the unbridled joy in the hugging and embracing of the Georgians at what their captain described, as the 'greatest day in Georgian rugby history.' His smiles and tears said it all. But also well done to Nili Latu and Mana Otai for the dignified and respectful way they honoured their opponents in the post-match interviews.
Game 1; Pool A; ENGLAND 35 v FIJI 11; 19th September 2015
I watched the Opening Ceremony from Twickenham on TV in New Zealand and saw the first game of Rugby World Cup 2015 in full. And generally I thought the whole day was a pretty good show. The ceremony was short, neat and well-orchestrated. I did smile at the organizers perpetuating the myth of Williams Webb Ellis having started the game by running with the ball at Rugby School in 1823. That's a case, I think, of 'if you tell the punters the story often enough it will become fact.' All considerations there might be of an evolving, handling, running and football game spread across a number of English towns in the early years of the nineteenth century seem to have been disregarded totally. Its Wee Billy Ellis we are told - or you get nothin'
The Fiji v England game was a very good one. I admired Fiji for their tenacious attitude of attack and their fiery tackling too. Overall England were pretty good as well and the 35-11 result (with a bonus point) was a solid start for them.
For each game I watch I'll post a short report (and maybe the reports will get longer as the tournament builds) Here comes my first.
Best memory #1 of Rugby World Cup Game 1; I know England won handsomely by 35-11 but they hardly had things all their own way. Fiji did many things very well. They would be very disappointed that they did not get at least a bonus point for closeness.
Best memory #2 of Rugby World Cup Game 1; No doubt about it; the superb TV shot of Nemani Nadolo crying his eyes out while the Fiji anthem played. Absolutely moving.
Best memory #3 of Rugby World Cup Game 1; Feeling proud for having a vague connection with Fiji. Coach John McKee used to be in the Hutt Valley in Wellington, New Zealand ten he went to Sydney; I haven't see John for a while but I know him a bit. His late Dad Brian and I did some fundraising together for our kids school gym one time. And the Fiji team's scrum coach is Alan ('Grumpy') Muir of the Wellington Football Club; He's an 'Axeman' like me. We played in the same club team many moons ago. And one of the Vunipola brothers playing for England is the son of Fe'ao who played at the RWCup for Tonga. Fe'ao was also an Axeman. We're everywhere you know!
Personality of the game; Probably Mike Brown the England fullback. He scored two tries and was always looking to be in the action right to the end. I've always liked the look of the way he plays.
A moment when things turned; I felt very sad that the brilliant 50-metre dash by Niko Matawalu the Fijian halfback wasn't rewarded with a try. It would have been one of the RWCup sensations of all time. The TMO Shaun Veldsman of South Africa overturned the referees call but it was quite a moment. I had posted a pre-Cup tweet yesterday suggesting that the players of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga would have to be totally vigilant at the tournament about the refereeing because in the many contentious areas of the laws which referees are going to be instructed to police seriously it will be players from the Pacifika nations who will be on the toughest ends of such calls. That's the way the refs are worldwide. Such was the case with Niko Matawalu. Before his brilliant run, he allegedly came in from the side of a ruck and bingo! He was off for ten minutes onto the naughty's sin-bin chair while England also got a penalty try - and sevens points - from the same incident. [PS; And I thought the TMO was kept far too busy on the night! Let the TMO stay alone - all refs! Why not let the TMO sit quietly and without distraction enjoy the game!]
Any memorable commentary quotes? At one point when England were considering what to do with a penalty the ex-England scrumhalf Andy Gomersall who was in the box with broadcaster Simon Ward said, 'England have to build the score here; it's not just about scoring tries you know.' (hmmm, I think most New Zealanders would have the attitude of, 'well, rather than build the score by 3-point penalties here, let's risk it right now for a possible 7-point addition.')
Short summary; No one will deny that it was a solid win by England. They didn't look particularly like World Cup winners but neither did they look really vulnerable. Just wobbly for a while for ten minutes in the second half. As for for Fiji - they could still look with confidence to getting at least two wins from their next three games in this pool of death.
Any Final thoughts? Even though I am not commentating on any games at this Rugby World Cup, by instinct I still do certain commentary things; like checking the start and finish times of each game. This first game at Twickenham under the control of South Africa's Jaco Peyper, lasted 15 minutes in playing duration past its allocated 80 minutes. Maybe even longer. What with all the faffing around with the TMO and the Refereeing Assistants having their say is it a sign that its going to be a verrrry long six weeks?
Thus the ABs beat the Lions 18-17. Shocking really - but hey! We'll take it!
Jedforest, Newcastle and Scotland
51 internationals for Scotland 1988-99
Described once as ‘a one-off, a complete and utter mystery’ as a person, Gary Armstrong ended his international career remembered as a deeply steadfast scrumhalf whose commitment to any team he played for could never be denied. The 'mystery' referred to extreme shyness.
But like a lot of shy rugby people Armstrong expressed himself strongly once he ran on to the field. He always tackled way above his diminutive stature, was an elusive runner, especially around the short side of a scrum, and above all was unswerving in his courage. He may have been a quiet man but when he played his final game for his country, captaining the team against the All Blacks at the 1999 Rugby World Cup, he was described afterwards by his coach Jim Telfer as ‘the bravest man I ever saw play for Scotland’.
Armstrong made his debut for Scotland in 1988 and only months later was in the British Isles team which toured Australia. On that trip he failed to make the test teams, losing out to Robert Jones of Wales, but in 1990 he played some of his greatest rugby. Not only was he a powerful force in the Scottish touring team to New Zealand, a team which harried the All Blacks over two close tests, but he also played a pivotal role in Scotland’s epic victory over the ‘auld enemy’, England, in the critical Five Nations and Grand Slam match of that year.
Injuries kept him out for two seasons and one time, after 28 tests, he actually retired from test rugby to concentrate on his dearly loved Jedforest team. But Scotland seemed to always call Armstrong back and each time they did he gave his usual 110%. He was captain of Scotland when they won the Five Nations in 1999 (of great satisfaction considering they were 100-1 outsiders when the season started). He also was one of the rare players to play the 1991 World Cup series, then miss the 1995 series in South Africa (he was injured), only to be back for the World Cup in 1999.
He retired from international play after captaining and playing strongly in the quarter-final match against New Zealand on his beloved Murrayfield.
After sevens years of productive play as a professional with the Newcastle Falcons, Armstrong became one of the first professionals with the new Scottish Borders professional team in 2002, signing as a 35 year old on a three-year contract!
Who captained the British and Irish Lions on tour to New Zealand in 1977?