RWC2015: Home Nations draw tough tests in quarters

By Ryan Moran

  • Scotland draw Australia while Wales draw South Africa.
  • Out of contention England score 10 tries against Uruguay.
  • Ireland face Argentina after topping Pool D.

RWC 2015, UK – Ireland are the only home nation to top their pool and go in as a winner after beating runners up France. Wales’ loss to Australia sees them face South Africa while Scotland’s win over Samoa saw them earn a tie with Australia. England’s win over Uruguay was only a consolation as their loss to Australia last week ended their campaign.

Samoa 33-36 Scotland

 

Greig Laidlaw’s 26 points guided Scotland to a hard fought victory against a Samoa side who have underperformed in the World Cup. In a game featuring 69 points, supporters at St James’ were not disappointed with the first half ending with 49 points on the score board. Vern Cotter’s side were 26-23 down at half time before 13 second half points sealed victory, even fending off a late surge by the Samoans.

15 minutes on the clock and 25 points were already on the board with score 15-10 in Samoa’s favour. Tusi Pisi kicked his side into the lead with a penalty only for Laidlaw to pull the score back to 3-3, Pisi then converted his own try to open a seven point deficit over their opponents. Tommy Seymour’s try was converted by Laidlaw to level the score once again only for Scotland to fall behind again as Ma’atulimanu Leiataua opened a five point lead, only for the conversion to be missed by scrum half Pisi. A penalty kick by Laidlaw closed the gap to two points. A further try by Rey Lee-Lo, not converted followed by two penalty kicks took the Pacific Islanders to 26 at the close while a Laidlaw penalty and converted John Hardie try left three points between the sides going into the second half.

Two penalties by scrum half Laidlaw put the home nation ahead for the first time in the game. 19 points already for the captain was taken to 26 when instead of choosing to kick for goal, he chose to take a scrum, resulting in the player running through and touching down behind the white line for a further five points, converted to add another two points to his tally, opening up a 10 point lead. A test of character was needed from the opposing team to deny Scotland a place and hand Japan a place in the knockouts. With 78 minutes on the clock, danger struck when Motu Matu’u’s try was converted by Patrick Faapale, however the Thistles held on to make the quarter finals.

For a country who have been underwhelming on the international stage in recent times, reaching the knockout stages represents a turn in the tide for Cotter and his squad. Having only lost to the third best team in the world rankings, the second best team await them in the knockout stages in the form of Australia. The Wallabies are unbeaten so far in the competition with both England and Wales losing with Bernard Foley the key man in both victories. The current form of Laidlaw will give his side a chance but the defensive fragilities exploited by Samoa will be a concern heading into the encounter.

Australia 15-6 Wales

 

Foley once again played a key part Australia’s second win over a home nation in the competition already with a third waiting them in the quarter finals. In a game where penalties were at the forefront, scrum halves Foley and Dan Biggar were essential to the end result.

Wales led for 20 minutes as Biggar’s penalty in the fifth minute put the reds ahead. 25 minutes marked the yellows comeback as Foley kicked over to level the scores. Foley then kicked his side ahead for only a matter of minutes as Biggar earnt his side another three points from a penalty. A further penalty opened the gap for Australia as Biggar had the chance to level the scores once again, but failed to take advantage of the kick. Matt Giteau had the opportunity to extend his side’s lead to six points, unable to kick through the posts 9-6 in Australia’s favour meant Wales needed a big second half performance to take top spot in the group.

Foley kicked his side into a six point lead but the turning point came in the game when a backs against the wall performance was needed. Will Genia and Dean Mumm had been sent to the sin bin, leaving the Wallabies with 13 men on the field and at one time 12 because of the injury to David Pocock. 13 men held out the siege as Wales huffed and puffed but could not find a way through Australia. A contentious issue was similar to the questions asked to Chris Robshaw last week, why not kick for goal? A further penalty dashed hopes of Wales coming back into the game but qualification was already secured last week.

A test against South Africa is the next challenge for Wales in their quest for a World Cup trophy. Both sides have only lost once in the tournament so far this year, the Springbok’s loss being more prominent and surprising than Wales’ having lost to Japan. Since that game, South Africa haven’t looked back and are unbeaten since that game with momentum. Biggar was a stand out in the England game and can’t afford to be missing penalties and chances in big games coming one after the other against big opposition be it they progress past the might of South Africa.

France 9-24 Ireland

 

As Ireland top their group, eyes will be on Joe Schmidt’s squad as injuries to Jonathan Sexton, Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony were picked up in the victory over France. France made the game easier than it could have been for Ireland as opportunities were squandered to put pressure on the greens.

Six minutes into the game and Frederic Michalak was granted the opportunity to kick Les Bleus into a three point lead. The chance was not taken and were given another chance from another penalty to capitalise on their first miss. Scott Spedding missed the kick as the game remained scoreless with 11 minutes on the clock. Sexton made up for the error, scoring the next penalty opportunity 13 minutes into the game. Spedding levelled the tie three minutes later at 3-3 before Sexton once again put his side back in the lead 6-3. Another Spedding penalty cut the deficit and put the sides on level terms as Sexton went off injured being replaced by Iain Madigan. Madigan took over the penalty reigns and made no mistake putting Schmidt’s side ahead at half time 9-6.

The second half was where Ireland managed to kick on in a game that was very close in the first half, becoming much more open in the second, Ireland being the beneficiaries. Rob Kearney’s try extended the lead to eight points as Madigan was unable to convert. Morgan Parra’s penalty took France to nine points as the scores edged closer, not for the first time in the match. A Connor Murray converted try by Madigan once again opened the gap to 12 points. Three minutes before the end, it got worse for France as Madigan kicked one last penalty to grasp top spot in their pool.

Topping their pool earnt Ireland the best tie of the home nations with Argentina their opponents. A loss to France would have seen Ireland play New Zealand, ranked first in world rugby. If they are to progress past Argentina, Scotland or Australia await them in the semi-final. Injury concerns inhibit their chances as O’Connell’s injury looks to be ending his tournament while Sexton and O’Mahony are set to be monitored over the week with Sexton having a scan in the run up to their tie with Argentina.

England 60-3 Uruguay

 

After already bowing out of the tournament last week by losing to Australia last week and Wales the week before, their last group match against Uruguay was all about pride and restoring dignity. Stuart Lancaster’s position has been questioned due to being the first host nation to fail to qualify for the knockouts while more drastic claims have been made as to revamping the grass roots structure of rugby.

Lancaster’s side didn’t get off to a good start, giving away a penalty Uruguay made no mistake of kicking through the posts, courtesy of Felipe Berchesi. Anthony Watson got England off the mark with the first of 10 tries eventually scored by the whites when Jack Nowell’s kick forward was chased down by Watson who dived to push the ball into the ground before the line of the end zone. His try was converted by Owen Farrell. In his last World Cup, Nick Easter scored his first of three tries in the game when a ruck was pushed over the line as Farrell converted again. Easter added his second and England’s third try with 23 minutes gone, with Farrell’s conversion take the host’s 18 points ahead of Uruguay. Santiago Vilaseca was sin binned just before half time, leaving Pool A’s bottom side with 14 men to start the second half.

Watson added a fourth try as the ball was passed down the line taking advantage of that extra man to take the score to 26-3. Henry Slade put his name on the scoresheet when closing down a drop kick, kicking the ball towards the try line before picking the ball up and adding another five points to the score. Nowell added his second before Easter added his third and England’s seventh. Nowell joined Easter on three tries a piece with his side’s ninth with a penalty try converted by George Ford to go out of the tournament on a high.

Not making the knockout finals is a real blow for an English side that many said lacked World Cup experience in front of their own fans. The crucial loss was to Wales when Robshaw chose to go for a try over a penalty kick, in the end proving costly as Australia showed their pedigree the week after at Twickenham. Sam Burgess earned his place in the 31 man squad over Danny Cipriani, a man with World Cup experience, add to that a selection policy preventing players who play overseas being selected other than in certain circumstances.

The likes of Nick Abendanon, European player of the year, not selected as well as Steffon Armitage because they play in France. Toby Flood is another example, 60 England caps but since his move to France as not been selected. The only player of note to play in France and still get selected was Jonny Wilkinson. Compare this to sides such as Australia and Wales, their players play abroad and still get picked for the national side while New Zealand remain firm on players only playing for the national side if they play in the domestic New Zealand rugby leagues. The integrity of the English domestic league was a reason given to the policy but international success is once every four years, where your best players should represent their country no matter of where they ply their trade. Both Wales and Australia made qualified from the group of death with players such as George North playing abroad for example.

Contrary to this, England’s performances in those big games did not justify their place in the knockout stages over Wales and Australia. The gulf in quality was shown by Foley’s demolition at Twickenham as the roses could not handle the pace and power of the Wallabies. As for the Wales game, should I mention the Robshaw penalty or try scenario again? The clear point was under pressure from the better sides in the group, the host’s struggled the longer the games went on, struggling to grasp onto their lead against Wales being a prime example.

Where do England go from here? Is sacking Lancaster the right decision? Recently revealed was an argument between Cipriani and Mike Catt. All of this floating around the England camp can affect the mentality of a squad and their preparations. A reform of the grass roots of rugby seems an overreaction to the exit from the tournament so early given the success of the national side in recent years.

 

Wales face South Africa in the first quarter final match on 17th October at Twickenham as the knockout stages begin.

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