black cloud on the horizon…
well… mixed fortunes for my two teams.
south africa, after beating england 36-0, then nearly went and lost to tonga and eventually won 30-25 (just). with it south africa booked their place in the semis, and first place in the group is almost guaranteed with the mere formality of having to see off the usa (yes, they have a team).
france beat ireland and with it pretty much secured their place in the quarters. second place isn’t quite where france want to be, but the one very good thing about france finishing second is that if they’d finished first and both sa and france won their quarter finals, then they would’ve met in the semi-final… and that is absolute hell for me. its the worst match in the world. and it would’ve been even worse in a semi-final. so i’m glad, at least, that france and south africa won’t meet each other in the semi-final… (although they could, of course, still meet in the final 😉 )
so why do i say mixed fortunes? well lets look at south africa first.
the match against tonga was an awful affair. awful. and not at all encouraging. of course, in the end we won, which is what matters most, but our performance was less than brilliant.
i suppose one has to consider that it was a second-string south african team, so the result isn’t really representative of the first team.
i do sympathise with the players, though (and with the players of any big team playing a lesser one) because if you’re on form (as south africa are) you are simply not going to lose. you know it. immediately the intensity, and therewith the focus, goes out of the game.
at the latter stage of the game south africa were coasting on 30 points with something like a 15 or 20 point lead. but 30 points just didn’t seem enough against a team like tonga. you’re “meant” to beat them further. so south africa started experimenting and the game became looser, and tonga, focused and hungry, snapped up the chance and counter-attacked when our wild attacks failed (and our defensive ranks were in dissarray (mostly because our defensive ranks had become our offensive ranks)). suddenly they scored two tries and were one try away from getting a draw and snatching the lead! the ascendancy was with tonga and south africa found themselves hufffing and puffing to hold on to their lead.
delighted tongan bloke at the end of the game (after having swapped shirts with a south african)
it was embarrassing. put in context, of course, the scoreline isn’t that bad. but still, at the end of the day south africa were scrambling to keep tonga out and were grateful for the final whistle. not the kind of game you want to play leading up to a quarter final…
one would think that the best thing to do is to at least “learn something from this performance” and “use it to improve the team”. but theres nothing to learn – well, not in preparation for a match in the quarter final at any rate, because a quarter final game is entirely different from a group game against a lesser team. so one will play entirely differently.
there is the chance that they’ll play fiji (a team of similar stature to tonga) in the quarter final. the notion of it being a quarter final is enough motiviation for south africa to take the game seriously and play professionally. and if they need any further motivation they can just think about the fiasco that was the tonga game.
ruan pienaar crossing over for a try
so here’s my opinion of the tonga debacle. if they meet wales in the quarter forget about the tonga game. its irrelevant – it was a different kind of game. if, in the unlikely event, they meet fiji, then they can learn from the tonga game and be prepared.
after losing to argentina in the opening game they simply had to beat ireland, which they did. it seems likely that argentina will win the group – the only way that this won’t happen is if france beat georgia and gain a bonus point and ireland beat argentina without argentina getting a bonus point. pretty unlikely – not least of all because ireland are deflated and argentina are playing like ninjas! what makes it even more unlikely is that ireland have very little insentive to do this, because, simply beating argentina won’t mean they’ll go through… they’d need to score four tries or more and prevent argentina from getting a bonus point themselves in order to progress.
and whats france’s prize for finishing second? a lovely romantic evening in cardiff where you will be bashed and mauled and run ragged by the all blacks. yes, if france finish second then they’ll meet the all blacks in cardiff. yahoo.
i know i shouldn’t really be upset at having to face new zealand, because at least france should make the quarter finals – which is sadly not the case with ireland. understandibly fence is devastated. i think its very tragic. ireland have been in beautiful form for much of the last 4 years and i was looking forward to seeing them perform this world cup. i was really hoping they could go far and shake up the status quo a bit!
i must also say that i was hoping that argentina would do well too. its unfortunate that its been at the expense of france, though, but still, i’m happy about it. for too long its just been the usual 8 teams of england, france, scotland, ireland, wales, south africa, new zealand and australia and i would love it if argentina became real competitors! italy have also been getting better of late and have recently finished fourth in the six nations, beating scotland and wales.i really hope italy can get better too! it’d be really cool if we had italy and argentina as two teams who can really compete on the world stage. for italy it isn’t as important to do well in the world cup, as they are now in the six nations. still i’d like to see them beat scotland and reach the quarters!
anyway, back to argentina, as good as they have been of late, good performances at world cups really are the key to pushing a sport forward, getting noticed and capturing the imagination of your home public.
argentina have done really well this world cup so far and look sure to finish first. i hope they win their quarter final game! although, if they do they’ll meet south africa (should south africa get through their quarter final)… and well, thats as far as i want argentina’s progress to go this world cup… 🙂
i think the saddest thing regarding the fortunes of france, ireland and argentina is the fact that they were put in the same group. at the time of the world cup all three were ranked within the top six of the world! all three! that means that each of the other groups had one team from the top three, one below the top six and then one even lower than that, outside the top 10! that just illustrates how unfortunate that grouping is.
in an ideal world i would’ve liked to have seen all three go through to the quarters and advance beyond. as it is argentina are sitting pretty as group leaders, ireland are probably going out and france have the unenviable match-up of having to play new zealand. france vs new zealand is hardly the kind of game you want to play that early on if you have hopes of lifting the trophy – they were hoping to face new zealand in the final…
vincent clerc about to score a try against namibia
however, something which zinzan brooke (ex-kiwi player) said about the all blacks game against scotland gave me pause:
“It was a calamity of errors and if they end up facing France in the quarter-finals and playing like that, they are going to get absolutely pasted.”
later in the article ol’ zinzan says this, which makes me think that he’s being more than a little serious about the france thing – and isn’t just using france as a whip to beat nz with and criticise them.
“I’ll be cheering on Ireland to beat Argentina so the All Blacks don’t have to play France in the quarters”
from that its clear that he really is afraid of meeting france – not as afraid as france are of meeting new zealand, of course! 🙂 its also an odd thing to say, as new zealand pretty much sweep most teams before them… but, world cups are different, and the fact remains that even though they’ve pretty much been favourites in every world cup, they still haven’t won it since 1987 and no-one will ever forget when the unfancied french ran riot against the imperious new zealand team in the 1999 semi-final. you only have to lose once (in the knock-out stages) after all…
the talismanic sebastien chabal – the very definition of the word “gaul”
its good to hear though that france is not the team he wants new zealand to meet now, as it would be if new zealand were to face australia or south africa (although, i’d guess he’d fancy those match-ups even less). i still think he’s exaggurating. yes new zealand didn’t look particularly fearsome against scotland, but think a somewhat similar thing happened to nz as what happened to sa against tonga. i say “somewhat” ’cause there are marked differences, and south africa haven’t come in for the same amount of stick for their performance.
nz beat scotland 40 – 0, which sounds better than it actually is. firstly because scotland sent in a mostly second-string team (so as not to get your first team hammered and thereby demoralised) – nz should’ve beaten a second-string scotland by far more than just 40 points. secondly, there were long periods during the game when scotland, embarrassingly, kept nz out. thirdly, nz made a whole host of errors as they pushed and pushed to make the scoreline look more impressive. so all in all it wasn’t a good day for the all blacks.
but, i think one has to bear in mind the same consideration one applies to the south africa vs. tonga performance – that being the issue of motivation. nz were expected to beat scotland handsomely, and when word got out it was going to be a scotland with key members rested the rugby world expected and pretty much demanded a massacre. but it is so hard to say to yourself “okay, these guys aren’t even going to be able to compete, which means we simply have no excuse to make any errors at all.” now, that is very very hard. you can do that in one game maybe, but not easily. if the team is that much less competitive then it is simply so much harder to concentrate on your game and play well – and without that concentration, the errors are bound to come in. and the errors nz made were only made, one could argue, because new zealand were pushing to make the scoreline look more comprehensive.
still. it doesn’t hurt that they looked bad and it’ll buoy france. also, the criticism will hurt nz. no team handles criticism worse than nz – in any sport. they are such a bunch of babies. they whimper and cry and make excuses. just like a real toddler they scream and go red and protest and vow to show the world – but the criticism makes them feel incredibly insecure and hurt, and rattles them terribly! it really affects their morale in a big way. haha!
so, even though, put in context, the scotland performance wasn’t all that bad at all, new zealand have come out of it with egg on their faces and have garnered a lot of criticism. now they are under pressure. how will they handle it? well, they may just absorb it and focus and get really angry and destroy france, or they could panic and become insecure, and if france start well… it’ll be goodnight little baby…