By Ryan Moran
- Scotland fall one point short of the semi-finals against Australia, to be the last of the home nations to fall.
- Wales lead going into the final ten minutes only to lose out to the Springboks.
- Ireland overpowered by a last 15 minute surge by Argentina.
TWICKENHAM, UK – Scotland came the closest to a semi-final place as a last minute Bernard Foley penalty dealt the same blow given to both Ireland and Wales in their quarter-final ties, as the remaining home nations exited the Rugby World Cup.
South Africa 23-19 Wales
After leading for the 30 minutes following half time, South Africa broke down the Welsh barrier set out in front of them to claim victory and a place in the last four of the World Cup. The Reds had a chance early on when Gethin Jenkins’ pass evaded Tyler Morgan missing the opportunity to open up a five point lead. An early bombardment without reward was made to pay when George North gave away a penalty for Handre Pollard to dispatch opening up a three point lead for the Springboks. Pollard was given another opportunity to kick through the posts when Alun Wyn Jones was punished for not moving away from the tackle.
The deficit was halved four minutes later when Dan Biggar made no mistake from the penalty to put his side’s first points on the board. The indiscipline by the home nation cost them once again as Pollard restored the six point gap. Biggar has been a bright spark in Warren Gatland’s side and it was his piece of play that lead to a subsequent seven points, putting Wales in the lead for the first time in the game. The number 10 chased his kick downfield, gathering the ball before offloading to Gareth Davies with the simple task of placing the ball under the posts, converted by Biggar.
The men in green and yellow took control yet again as another mistake gave away a penalty for the clinical Pollard to put his side one point in front with 19 minutes left to play in the first half. Time after time, red bodies put in tackle after tackle to deny their opponents a clear opportunity, Biggar missing two penalty kicks to gain a five point deficit. On the stroke of half time Biggar’s drop goal sent Wales into the dressing rooms with a lead going into a crucial 40 minutes.
With Gatland’s side leading as the sides took to the field for the second half, a missed Pollard penalty three minutes into the second half might come back to haunt his side. Biggar made the South African kicker pay for his miss, scoring a penalty to extend Wales’ lead to four points. Pollard brought his side back within one point, taking away that breathing space. Five minutes later another penalty was missed by the South African as somehow Wales held onto their thin lead.
After an exchange of penalties, the score moved to 18-19 as the Springboks lead for all of two minutes. With no breathing space for the men in red, any mistake would prove costly, Biggar was relieved with six minutes to play, letting his frustration known to everyone around, that frustration about to get a whole lot bigger as Fourie Du Preez found a way through a spirited Wales line of 15 that had held out for 75 minutes without a try being scored. Tackle after tackle by the Welsh 15 finally put their campaign on the brink. The try came after a pass from Duane Vermeulen round his back to Du Preez with a clear run down the left flank to touch down for the try. The conversion was missed by Pollard but a late attack was thwarted by the 15 bodies their opposition placed in the way to hold on to their lead. A loose ball at the scrum was collected and kicked into the stands by Captain Du Preez to break the hearts of the Welsh fans both in the stadium as well as up and down the UK.
Australia 35-34 Scotland
Scotland came even closer to a place in the final four as the last kick of the game was through their posts, taking the Wallabies one point ahead and into the semi-finals. In a close fought game that went down to the wire, the kicking of both Foley and Greig Laidlaw would be crucial to the final result.
In a first half where Laidlaw kicked 11 points, three penalties and on conversion, Foley missed three conversions with no penalties scored. It was in fact Australia who took the lead when Adam Ashley-Cooper scored the first of three first half tries for his side. Laidlaw’s penalty narrowed the gap to two points followed by a Peter Horne try, converted by Captain Laidlaw as the game was now in Scotland’s favour at 5-10. Another penalty took the lead to eight points but the Wallabies struck next as Drew Mitchell took the first of his two tries in the game to take his side back within three of their opponents. Foley missed the second conversion of the game.
10 minutes until half time, three points separated the two sides, step up Scots captain Laidlaw, clinical at set plays adding another three points with Australia needing a converted try to go into the changing rooms in the lead. On the verge of half time Michael Cheika’s side got the try through Michael Hooper, Foley’s conversion would have put the Wallabies in the lead going into the changing rooms. Unfortunately for Australia the conversion was missed and Scotland had the victory going into the second half, one point ahead at 15-16.
Stepping out onto the turf in what was Scotland’s biggest 40 minutes in any rugby tournament, the aim was clear; avoid indiscipline, make Australia work for every point. In a first half Foley would have wanted to forget, Mitchell’s second try handed the kicker the opportunity to right his fist half wrongs with a conversion.
With the try converted, six points separated the sides, the score in Australia’s favour. Another clinical kick from Laidlaw halved the deficit only for Foley to dispatch a penalty extending the lead to six points once again. Tommy Seymour finished off a hearty attack with credit to Finn Russell charging down a Foley kick, carrying the ball deep into the opposition territory before finding Seymour as one point now separated the two sides. Laidlaw brilliantly converted as his 16 points put his Vern Cotter’s side one point ahead again.
The game once again fell in Australia’s favour with Tevita Kuridrani forced his way over the white line, converted by Foley as a six point lead was opened up once again. Laidlaw’s penalty meant a try would have taken them into the lead with minutes remaining. Mark Bennett’s try was converted as Scotland were on the edge of glory, close but not close enough. Late drama arose as a penalty was awarded when an offside decision was awarded in Australia’s favour, Foley ended the dream for Scotland in a memorable campaign with Laidlaw a key player the whole way through the tournament.
Argentina 43-20 Ireland
Ireland started slowly and were punished as a rampant Argentinian side surged into a 20-3 lead after 22 minutes. Tries from Matias Moroni and Juan Imhoff, both converted by Nicolas Sanchez. Two Sanchez penalties either side of an Ian Madigan penalty put Ireland up against it with 58 minutes left to play. Luke Fitzgerald scored a try to give Joe Schmidt’s side a lifeline to get back in the game, the converted try took the deficit from 17 down to 10 points, with the half finishing at 20-10.
The greens came out fighting with Jordi Murphy scoring a try after Fitzgerald did the legwork, the conversion took Ireland within three points of their opponents. A score line that once looked so bleak now looked achievable. Madigan missed a penalty that would have levelled the scores only for Sanchez to be awarded a penalty kick opportunity which the Argentine scored, taking the gap to six points, giving the Pumas breathing space.
Joaquin Tuculet’s converted try took the gap to 13 points as the game once again looked out of reach. Ireland’s opposition didn’t stop there, the push to claw the game back allowed openings for Argentina as the blues raced to 40 points, Imhoff diving to touch down securing the victory as joy set in for Argentina and heartbreak for Ireland. A Sanchez penalty only added salt to the wounds.
Ireland bowed out along with Scotland and Wales as British heartbreak transcended up and down the country as none of the home nations would be present at the home World Cup semi-final.
South Africa and New Zealand meet at Twickenham for the first of two semi-final matches at Twickenham on 24th October.
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