CASTRES, FRANCE – How Bryan Habana equalled Jonah Lomu’s Rugby World Cup try-scoring record against USA, what’s so impressive about Romania’s comeback against Canada, and why Georgia are celebrating while for brave Namibia it’s farewell to all Jacques. Four more England 2015 matches get the Rugby Wrap Up treatment.
Fiji Fly High Again
Fiji 47 – Uruguay 15
Such has been the incredible lure of this Rugby World Cup that more than 30,000 fans flocked to Milton Keynes’ stadium:mk, in the heart of non-rugby country, on a wet English midweek evening for a dead-rubber match between two sides with no future in the competition.
In common with all previous visitors to the stadium in the city of concrete cows and roundabouts, those who braved the early autumn rain were treated to an entertaining and enthralling rugby spectacle.
Fiji, the showmen of the South Pacific, reminded the rugby world exactly why they bask in the nickname ‘Flying’, as they scored seven tries despite a patchy performance. And let’s not forget Uruguay, who ran themselves into the ground, and scored two tries of their own – their first touchdowns at a World Cup since current coach Pablo Lemoine barrelled over against England in 2003.
The evening looked grim for Uruguay just 10 minutes in when scrum-half Agustin Ormaecha picked up a yellow card – and conceded a penalty try – for an illegal tackle on Levani Botia after the South Americans’ scrum backpedalled furiously in the face of a ferocious Fijian onslaught.
Ormaecha would later pick up a second yellow card as tempers frayed – but the citing commissioner has cleared the feisty number nine to play against England at the weekend.
While he was in the bin, Nemia Kenatale shot off yet another big scrum for Fiji’s second.
Uruguay hit back. Their World Cup try drought was broken when Carlos Arboleya hit a superb line to spark intense celebrations – and the loudest cheer of the night from the crowd. Amazingly, courtesy of an Alejo Duran penalty the score was an unlikely 12-10 at the end of the first quarter.
But Fiji shredded the Uruguayan scrum for a second penalty try before Leone Nakarawa sold the most outrageous dummy, sidestepped with surprising grace even for a flying Fijian, and bullocked to the line. Moments of brilliance like this, however, were all-too-often followed by lapses in concentration that would have cost Fiji dearly against stronger opposition.
Fiji were 16 points clear and cruising when Ormaechea scored Uruguay’s second of the World Cup after Rodrigo Silva hacked on a loose ball. The scrum-half’s father, Diego, also has a World Cup try to his name, having touched down against Spain in 1999.
The final quarter was all Fiji. Tevita Cavubati crashed over for their fifth in the 65th minute, and Kini Murimurivalu finished a brilliant length-of-the-field move from the restart. Referee JP Doyle had time to issue a yellow card to Campese Ma’afu and a second to Ormaechea, before Nemani Nadolo – benefiting from Uruguayan fatigue as much as the one-man advantage – scored Fiji’s seventh.
It’s a Game of Two Halves, Bryan
South Africa 64 – 0 USA
Given the humbling final score, the biggest winning margin in this World Cup and the first time a side has failed to score a point in the tournament, it’s either a remarkable achievement that the Eagles were able to keep the score to just 14-0 at the end of the first half, or an indictment of South Africa’s discipline in attack.
The reality is somewhere in between. Sure, an unheady mix of South Africa’s ill-discipline and poor finishing helped keep the score down, but it would be unfair to ignore heroic Eagles’ defence. Brett Thompson, in particular, should be the recipient of more than a few pats on the back for his tireless work, while this try-saving effort from Niku Kruger deserves a second look:
Nearly 55,000 rugby fans piled into London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium to witness a first half that was – on the whole – thoroughly forgettable, followed by an exhibition of destructive rugby in the second.
A pair of missed early penalties did not help the cause of Mike Tolkin’s side, as what was to all intents and purposes a second-string USA side were overpowered and overwhelmed by a Springboks’ outfit convinced that the horror of JAPAN will not be fully erased even if they win the whole thing.
South African centre Damien de Allende scored his first international try seven minutes in, making the most of a huge hole in the Eagles’ defence to coast to the line.
Meanwhile, the Boks pack was busy destroying the Eagles scrum. Referee Pascal Gauzere possibly should have reached into his pocket for a card of any colour – World Rugby’s laws are quite clear on the subject – when the Americans crumpled for the third time at a 5m scrum just before the half hour. Instead, he settled for just a penalty try. It was an act of refereeing compassion that played right into South African hands.
Otherwise, the only memorable incident in the opening period was this:
The second half, however, rapidly turned ugly for USA. Bryan Habana, whose sole first-half contribution was to clatter into Blaine Scully as they both competed for a high ball, needed just 62 seconds to cross for the first of his three tries in the match.
He went over again in the 59th minute after a break by De Allende and picked up a loose ball to dive over in the corner two minutes later to score his 15th World Cup try and move level with the legend that is Jonah Lomu. He could have gone on to break Lomu’s record – but a knock-on as he tried to collect another chip through denied him a fourth score. Another day, then, Bryan.
Six minutes after Habana’s first, Bismarck du Plessis blasted over from close range for the bonus point score. Power again told when Francois Louw finished a lineout drive to make it 33-0 in the 53rd minute.
Three further tries were to come in the final quarter – another lineout drive for Louw, a try for Jesse Kriel to finish a glorious move, and a breakaway at the death for Lwazi Mvovo, though the referee may wince when he reviews the replay.
South Africa now look forward to a quarter-final against the loser of the Pool A decider between Australia and Wales. If the Boks do go on to lift the World Cup, they will become the first side to do so having lost a pool game.
Meanwhile, USA will head home after their final pool game against Japan.
Georgia celebrate, but it’s farewell to Burger
Namibia 16 – 17 Georgia
Barring a World Cup upset bigger than JAPAN, Georgia head home having qualified for the 2019 tournament by virtue of a third-place finish in Pool C.
All tournament – and certainly after they surprised Tonga on the opening weekend – Georgia coach Milton Craig has insisted that automatic qualification for 2019 was always the plan. No one really took him seriously. They will now.
But subduing Namibia took some time at Exeter’s Sandy Park – and, if the game had lasted just a few minutes longer than the 110 it actually took, the story may have been very different.
There is no positive spin to put on the number of times referee George Clancy referred to the TMO, or to his apparent inability to award a penalty try despite pinging the Namibians ad nauseam for infringements ranging from the blindingly obvious to the confusingly technical.
But, in a game that threatened to defy statisticians almost as much as TV schedulers and local bus services in southwest England, Namibia were 6-0 up at the end of a 68-minute first half, despite falling off 33 tackles to have a tackle rate of just 56% and losing captain Jacques Burger – who went off after just 10 minutes with a head injury.
It was a sad, premature end to a brave Test career for the captain. Burger has announced his international retirement and will not play against Argentina at the weekend.
The Africans produced a now-expected never-say-die defensive display but three yellow cards – for Raoul Larson, Johannes Coetzee and Renaldo Bothma – did not help their cause.
Georgia finally got a hold of their nerves – and the ball – to score two tries after the break, through the bulldozing Mamuka Gorgodze and the more subtle Lasha Malaguradze, to apparently seal victory. Or so it seemed, until Namibian fly-half Theuns Kotze snuck in at the corner and converted his own try from out wide to take the game into a final nerve-jangling final phase.
But Georgia held on, and celebrated at the final whistle as though they had won the tournament. All they have to do now is hope that New Zealand beat Tonga on Friday…
Meanwhile, although they have now secured their first World Cup point, Namibia’s search for a first tournament win in 16 years and 17 matches extends a little longer. In four days, they face Argentina in Leicester. It’s unlikely their search will end there.
Romania Comeback Stuns Canada
Canada 15 – 17 Romania
Never before has a side recovered from a 15-point deficit to win a Rugby World Cup game.
Even more remarkably, Romania left it until the 52nd minute to score their first points of the game against Canada at Leicester. The astonishing turnaround means that the Eastern Europeans could still finish third in Pool D – and qualify for the 2019 World Cup – if they beat Italy at the weekend.
A Canada victory seemed inevitable at the end of a one-sided first half, which finished 8-0 to the Canucks as Scarlets-bound DTH Van der Merwe enhanced his reputation and became the first player from a Tier Two nation to score a try in four successive World Cup matches.
Eight points became 15 when Jeff Hassler bounced his way out of some limp tackling to touch down. Romania seemed out of it. Their formidable pack had been stopped in its tracks, and their efforts to spin the ball out wide in slick conditions ended in errors.
Finally, after the clock had ticked past 50 minutes, number eight and captain Mihai Macovei managed to convince his players that the day and their game suited eight-man rugby better than 15.
He was the one to benefit both times, going over to set Canada nerves jangling and, after Jebb Sinclair was sin-binned for bringing down a rolling maul, his second close-range score made it 15-14.
The comeback was completed when cool-beyond-his-years Florin Vlaicu slotted a late 45m penalty, two minutes from time.
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