Rob’s RWC Round Up Weekend 6

It’s business time, and only two weeks of blogging left. It’s been pretty fun writing my thoughts about probably the best tournament in history. Let’s crack on.

Full Disclosure — I only saw the second half of New Zealand South Africa as I was watching QPR crush MK Dons 3–0

One. I’ll stop going on about this now, but waking up on Sunday morning and thinking “I should be going to Twickenham today” put me in a right foul mood for three solid hours. Instead I went to a friend’s house to meet their new baby and spent 2 hours ignoring it watch Australia Argentina. Such are the Sundays dreams are made of.

Two. Obviously missed the first half, but NZ vs SA was the least close two point games I’ve ever witnessed. A limited but game South Africa were very efficient at taking points for All Black indiscipline, but New Zealand were in complete control of the game. In the final 20 minutes South Africa spent 18 seconds in their opponent’s half.

And so much for the much vaunted technical Southern Hemisphere. South Africa managed less than a pass a minute, and didn’t offer a single offload in the entire game. They turned up to give NZ a boshfest, and credit to the All Blacks for not only matching it, but maintaining their composure and adding enough nous near the line to get their tries.

Three. South Africa’s second row. Both Etzebeth and de Jager had pretty great tournaments (the latter the top tackler of the whole shebang) despite looking like they have children’s faces superimposed onto adult bodies like Chris Evans at the beginning of Captain America. Been impressed by their energy, work rate and keeping the line out working without Matfield. As they’re both so young they could be international fixtures for the next decade.

Four. Ma’a Nonu. A lot was said pre game about Carter and McCaw, but precious little about the man reaching 100 caps, which in of itself is an incredible achievement. Watching the game, it occurred to me how little credit Nonu receives, myself included. A battering ram with a penchant for ill discipline early in his career, I was captivated by how he uses his line breaking power in direct and indirect ways; his line for the second try where he crabbed slightly, drawing two defenders who feared his impact, before straightening and delivering a deft offload for Barrett to score. Also — Beauden Barrett? I’m pretty sure at this point the All Blacks have a Football Manager style regen naming system for new players.

Five. Argentina. The neutrals’ second favourites crashed out in a bundle of frenetic Latin fury. It was agonising to watch them come so close over and over again, only to see them shoot themselves in the foot. I mean, I know we all love them for how they’ve developed their game, but come on lads, no one’s going to think less of you if you run a couple of rumble phases or kick for the line every so often. Playing crazy offloads in your final third with a minute on the clock is just madness.

They were clearly very nervous too which exacerbated their hurried style of play and meant their error rate was just far too high, particularly in the Australian 22. They broke the stringent Aussie defensive line more than I’ve seen all tournament, but they lacked the composure to finish their chances.

They also weren’t helped by positively feral counter rucking by the Australians. They contested Argentinian ball expertly, and notably racked up the intensity in the final third which added to Argentina’s already edgy attacking play by having no clean ball. This was a situation which got worse when the substitute scrummie came on for Argentina (look I haven’t got time to google everyone’s name) — his passing was sloppy; loopy and slow balls Sanchez was having to take in the air around his head and slowed their play to a halt at a time when they really needed to step on the gas.

A real shame, though it’s hard to begrudge Australia. Argentina start in the Super 15 next year, they’re a real success story for the sport, but I feel actually a little bit of their old style of grunt and niggle might have helped them on Sunday. Their ambition is to be admired, but you’ve got to play the situation in front of you, like New Zealand did on Saturday.

Six. Wayne Barnes. As I mentioned last week there is massive outcome bias when it comes to refereeing. Australia won because their defence stood when it needed to and they were clinical in attack. However Barnes, cursed by my words last week, had an absolute stinker. The yellow card was madness. It was a penalty, and that was the extent. They way Barnes let himself be moved from his initial position to giving a yellow by the TMO was weak officiating. From then on in he seemed to fall to pieces with a series of erratic calls.

Clearly he felt he’d made a mistake and started to give Argentina all kinds of weird calls. A turnover penalty awarded when he was under a metre away and was staring straight at the Argentinian player lying on his front. The bizarre ignoring of a Arg player bound on the floor moving the ball backwards and forwards to avoid being turned over. I also feel he bottled binning Slipper for repeated scrum offences knowing his was about to hoiked from the pitch.

Then Australia’s final try. I was tempted to give this a pass as frankly if a winger starts on the left wing at half way and makes the assist offload 5 metres out with the defence having missed five tackles on the same player, well, you get what’s coming from you. But not even a cursory TMO check to a pretty wild forward pass was poor.

Owens take charge of the final. Good.

Seven. Pocock. The player of the tournament. I…just don’t know how he does it. His technique is perfect. Just perfect. His strength is just unreal. When he clamps those arms, that’s it. The ball is coming with him or the ref is pinging the defender. He also displays great faith in his team mates to stack them up for him, positioning himself exactly each time. Big shout to Scott Fardy who doesn’t seem to get the status of the Pooper dream team, but does all of their dirty work for their, noticeably some top notch chop tackling, getting down very low for such a tall player, to set up the opportunity for contesting the ball. Partnerships are built on that — Warburton is noticeably more effective when Lydiate is at 6 for instance.

Argentina threw everything at him (literally by the state of his face at full time) with their own exceptional 7 in Lobbe, but still couldn’t dislodge him. He is critical to Australia’s chances on Saturday.

Eight. Maradonna chinning a pint. Sorry Japan beating South Africa, you have been usurped as the best moment of the World Cup. Made all the more glorious by him being completely unaware on the big screen. He was just doing it for the craic like.