LONDON, ENGLAND – And then there were four. Scotland and the USA Tomahawks had unlikely miracle runs, but in truth they were always going to stumble when they came up against the really heavy hitters. And now the really interesting part happens, who of the possible contenders can compete against the probable? But until next weekend enjoy the analysis of the quarter-finals.
New Zealand vs Scotland: The New Zealand machine rolls on, and their try scoring fireworks continue. They were slick and unrelenting against a brave but ultimately doomed Scottish team, they did get on the board but 40-4 is still a shellacking of immense proportions. Isaac Luke and Sonny Bill Williams were the two magnificent conductors of this beautiful symphony. The sniping runs and awareness of Luke coupled with the ball playing power-running skill of SBW assured this walk in the park victory. In truth even when Scotland had chances they were flat out unlucky. Danny Brough’s chip kick deep in Kiwi territory finding Roger Tuivasa-Sheck on the full. Cue an outrageous hitch kick and then the rocket-fuelled heels of this incredibly winger fired him over the line from 60 metres out. The only worry for the Kiwis will be their lack of serious competition, however a semi-final game against England should provide them with stiffer opposition.
Australia vs USA: The Tomahawks were brave and in the early minutes some could argue that they gave the Kangaroos some problems. But in truth once Greg Inglis stamped his authority on the game the fight left them, a sneaky run and fend with the offload to Jarryd Hayne broke the back of the US team. Four tries for both Brett Morris and Jarryd Hayne, created a slightly lopsided scoreboard that eventually stopped at 62-0. Morris in particular was outstanding with his strength and predatory instincts. If he was not free, he got free and if there was no space, he made it.
The US were gallant losers, their World Cup may be over but the experience of mixing it with the big boys (and indeed maybe the biggest boy) will have done wonders for their confidence, hopefully this will be mirrored in higher attendances of rugby league practices all over the US. Regardless of your feeling on the matter, nobody can deny that the influx of NRL stars, especially Joseph Paulo has helped them, and these NRL players have made it clear they are there to play for their country not just to fill in the numbers. The Australians take on the Fijians in what should be a classy encounter for a shot at the final.
England vs France: An early try from Vincent Duport silenced the rabid England fans momentarily. But in truth it was one-way traffic after that with the score line finishing at 34-6 . Sam Tomkins was exceptional, popping up all over the field as creator rather than finisher. Ryan Hall and Josh Charnley profited from the effervescent full back, taking advantage of beautiful passes from the New Zealand bound full back. Some wonderful running lines from Sean O’Loughlin and Brett Ferres saw the forwards get into the action and caused utter carnage up the middle and will need to be on top form against the Kiwis.However England will be nervous that they have been so patchy throughout most of their games. They turn on the style when they want, but the issue is that by the time they have found the on switch against New Zealand, the Kiwis will have ripped out the entire power station. Make no mistake England have it all to do against the current World Champions. As for France, the game goes from strength to strength on the back of the Catalan Dragons in the Super League. Long may it last!
Fiji vs Samoa: The final game saw an All Island shootout in which Fiji ran out 22-4 winners. Fiji were incredibly smooth in their play, when they really link well and set themselves they are very dangerous. And to make matters harder for the opposition, in this case Samoa, their superstar players are starting to hit some form. Akuila Uate was as hungry as ever setting up the first try for Aaron Groom, and finding himself in lots of space wherever he touched the ball. Wes Naiqama, who had a strong day with the boot, got in on the action with a bruising run up the middle of the pitch. Samoa were unfortunate to be missing so many players to suspension, but they will have expected more of themselves. Losing by this margin will have stung them and hopefully their reaction will involve an added emphasis on getting their young talent to commit long term, although with the sizeable carrot of the Kangaroos to play for this may not happen. As for the Fijians, if they can bring their slick passing skills and hard running lines to bear against the Australians, they will cause problems.
And now for the Semi Finals. Both England and Fiji will need a minor miracle to beat the Kiwis and the Kangaroos, but stranger things have happened……..