Sat, Oct 15, 2011 - Page 18 News List

Jenny Foreigner’s World Cup Prattle: Winning now determined by the rucks and the referee

A combo picture shows Australia’s David Pocock, left, playing in Auckland, New Zealand, on Sept. 11, and New Zealand’s Richie McCaw in Wellington on July 30.

Photo: AFP

At last, we are at the tail end of the Rugby World Cup, with only four matches left to be played and only four teams left in the running to lift “The Bill” come D-day on Oct. 23. In a strange twist of fate, they are exactly the same nations that played in the semi-finals of the inaugural World Cup in New Zealand in 1987: Wales, Australia, France and hosts New Zealand.

In 1987, the New Zealand All Blacks won the rugby showpiece — the one and only time they have done so — by beating France 29-9 in a final played in Auckland. Will fate take things further and see these two teams face off in the final again, with the All Blacks the victors? Only time — and the referees, many rugby pundits say — will tell.

Today, in the first semi-final, the French Cockerels are up against the surprise package of this year’s tournament, Wales. Wales reached the World Cup semi-final stage for the first time since 1987 after a tenacious and inspiring grind through the pool stages, and soundly defeated Ireland 22-10 in their quarter-final game last weekend. Throughout this World Cup, the young team have been displaying excellent running rugby, while scrumming and fetching like men possessed in the breakdowns ... but will this be enough to beat mercurial France?

Last weekend the Cockerels outplayed a strong England side 19-12, after scraping into the quarter-finals following a dismal showing in the pool stages, where they lost two games. The problem with France is ... no, wait, the two problems are that first, they have never in their rugby history been consistent and second, nobody ever knows which team will arrive at the match venue: the brilliant achievers or the lackluster losers. If the latter proves to be the case today, Wales are going to run them ragged and win easily. If it’s the former, the men from Wales are going to have their hands full and will probably lose. It’s all up to Les Bleus.

Tomorrow, the second semi-final is definitely the game everybody will have their eyes on: Australia against New Zealand at Eden Park. This is for two reasons: These are seen as the two teams most likely to win this edition of the World Cup and, sadly, the performance of the referee will be under immense scrutiny — all because of criticism from all quarters of the way Kiwi referee Bryce Lawrence handled last weekend’s brutal quarter-final between South Africa and Australia.

The Wallabies won the intense match 11-9 — it could have gone either way, but for Lawrence’s repeated failure to whistle Australia’s David Pocock for slowing down the ball in the ruck, going off his feet in the ruck, not rolling away from the back of the ruck ... the list carries on. It is sad, because Pocock is an open-side flanker and fetcher of note and he deserved the man-of-the-match accolade. His brilliant performance did not deserve to be overshadowed by the sub-par showing of a referee. (By the way, a Facebook page asking the IRB to never, ever allow Lawrence to officiate at a top-level rugby match again already has more than 75,000 signatures, and the number keeps on growing.)

Both Pocock and All Blacks star fetcher Richie McCaw have been known to try their luck in testing the rules when it comes to the ruck-and-maul. These will be the two players to watch, although it’s not certain how effective McCaw, nursing a foot injury, will be tomorrow. If he is able to contribute, the game will boil down to three men in the rucks: Pocock, McCaw and South African referee Craig Joubert.

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