What a week for rugby! There is so much to report that I really don't know where to start. How about the World Cup?
World Cup Finals
England v South Africa: 25 - 6
What a game that was! Unfortunately I was not there in person but, sitting in the comfort of my armchair, I was able to soak up the atmosphere and cheer the boys on1. Matt Dawson and Richard Hill were injured but, as Coach Clive Woodward has said all along, he has taken a squad that he is happy to play any one of the 30 players from. Bracken and Moody were fit and Gomersall and Worsley more than happy to fill the bench. Prince Harry was also in the crowd and rumoured to be available should the need arise!
The first question was, is it safe for them to walk onto the pitch down the same tunnel, together? Well, it was. No problems there. Onto the pitch and away. The game had been hyped up for days and England were expected to win but, although the final score may lead one to believe differently, England had to fight for the full 80 minutes. The first half ended 6-6 with England appearing less than composed during play. It was not a game of set piece moves and at times seemed somewhat 'scrappy' but at the end of the day it was the result that mattered. The fact that South Africa missed kicking 4 penalties in the first half has to be down as a plus point for England. Will Greenwood scored the only try in the 63rd minute boosting the score to 19-6. Once again the nation was indebted to the amazing kicking skill of Johnny Wilkinson whose final tally in this game was four penalties, two drop goals and a conversion of Will Greenwood's try. The two drop goals in the final quarter sealed the match and a relieved England celebrated a hard fought win to go forward in the easier route to the final. England still have Samoa on October 26th and Uruguay on November 2nd, to complete their games in Pool C.
Wasps' full back, Josh Lewsey, speaking after the game stated that England would need to improve their performance if they are to reach the final where the likelihood is that they would meet Australia or possibly New Zealand. Although their performance against South Africa was not brilliant they had played and beaten a tougher side than the last time they had beaten them 53 - 3 in 2002. To win the final would require a less disjointed game with the best performance they could give.
Wales v Tonga: 27 - 20
I'm sorry but Tonga does not summon up an immediate picture of world-class rugby to me. Now Wales with a squad of hand-picked strong men from the Valleys does. You can imagine the power and the passion on the field with such a team. Unfortunately that is not the story in recent times. Steve Hansen, the Wales Coach, gave his team only five or six out of ten for their latest performance. Although saving themselves from a defeat by Samoa with seven points they will have to improve their game before they meet Italy. They failed to take charge of the game and Samoa scored three tries - one with a rolling maul. Tries from Gareth Cooper and Martyn Williams, who also had a drop goal, and points from Stephen Jones eventually gave Wales the win. Tonga fought well and showed more discipline than in their game against Italy but Wales failed to impress. Hansen, after the game, excused their performance on the grounds that it was the first time they had played in rain for some time! Wales a drought area? I don't think so!
Wales meet Italy on October 25th
Ireland v Namibia: 64 - 7
Speaking of rain, it did nothing to hold back the ten tries recorded in Irelands game against Namibia, their biggest win in a World Cup combat. And combat it was, with lock Paul O'Connell cited for a stamping incident on Archie Graham when he fell under a rolling Irish maul. The result of the inquiry could be a 4 or 18 week ban depending on the severity of the incident, leaving Ireland without O'Connell for their crucial match against Argentina. Aside from this it was a good open game with conditions favouring the Irish who played good old-fashioned driving rugby. Namibia centre Corne Powell scored their only try in the 37th minute in conditions, which were obviously not suiting them at all.
Ireland met Argentina on October 26th
Scotland v USA: 39 - 15
Monday morning rugby does interfere with the working day but it has to be done! Scotland wanted a win and got it largely thanks to two tries and a lot of running from Simon Danielli in the first half. The referee took centre stage in the first half and the USA led 6 - 3 having gained two penalties from his whistle. The crowd were enthusiastic, complete with Mexican Waves, if the play was a little scrappy at times. Scotland lost a man to the sin bin at the end of the first half and started play again with fourteen men. The fight continued and the final score was 5 tries, 4 conversions and 2 penalties for Scotland with just 5 penalties for the USA. A lucky Scotland conceded 17 penalties, which they were fortunate not to have paid for. Some good rugby was played when the referee allowed it and Scotland regained some of their confidence with Gregor Townsend giving one of his best performances for years.
Scotland meet France on 25th October
Leeds Tykes v Leicester Tigers: 39 - 18
A red card for the Tigers lock James Hamilton in the 16th minute did nothing to help their game although they dominated the first half finishing in front at 15 - 9. After the break Tykes came into action scoring 30 points in the last 30 minutes of the game. The final score confirmed that the Tigers list of defeats had not been broken.
Newcastle Falcons v Northampton Saints: 20 - 33
An exciting match left a disappointed home crowd when Saints finally snatched victory in the second half. Saints started well with goal kicker Drahm taking a penalty in the first minute of the game. However the Falcons dominated the rest of the first half although Falcons Ben Gollings missed the conversions for both of their tries. After the break Saints returned and Drahm successfully took two penalties, then a try, which he then converted. Despite Dave Walders appearance and the penalty and conversion of a try for Vyvyan that he took, the Saints had the bit between their teeth and Neil Beal scored another two tries. Saints went home ecstatic at winning their first away game of the season2.
Wasps v London Irish: 22 - 15
If you had any nails before the game you certainly did not afterwards! London Irish have been on a roll this season and looked dangerous when they came on. The fans sounded dangerous as well, with a collection of green-haired drum players who banged and bonked (not that sort) throughout the game, it was a case of Anadin all round when you got home.
Both teams defended well and the outcome of that was only one try scored by Shane Roiser in the 25th minute for Wasps. London Irish came very close on a couple of occasions when the Wasps defence seemed to have turned in to Emmenthal Cheese, but they failed to get in to touch to score. Penalties were rife on both sides with both teams racking up five successful kicks each from van Gisberg for Wasps and Mapletoft for London Irish.
An exciting game but nerve racking if you were a Wasps fan. Once again they had the action but managed to avoid scoring, becoming bogged down and suffering from some very poor passing, as well as a kick from Voyce the like of which the crowd had never seen before. To say it was low and lacked strength was a gross understatement! Interestingly London Irish have not lost any players to the World Cup whereas Wasps are missing several key players. Perhaps that bodes well for Wasps for the latter part of the season!
Standings as at 22nd October 2003