Slip Sliding Away
Qualification Hopes Fade Amid Red Cards & Humid Conditions
The second set of midweek games kicked off on Monday September 30th with Scotland taking on Samoa in Kobe .
The match was crucial for both teams’ hopes of staying alive in Pool A, with the winner needing a bonus-point victory to remain in the hunt for a quarterfinal berth.
The game was marred by poor handling that was put down to humidity in the closed roof Noevir Stadium.
(World Rugby’s policy is that all retractable roof stadia must be closed throughout the tournament.)
Scotland, looking for redemption after an abysmal performance in their first match, came out strong.
Sean Maitland and Greig Laidlaw scored excellent tries in the first half and the Six Nations side led 20-0 at halftime.
Once again the Samoan performance was marred by ill discipline and both of Scotland's scores in the second period were penalty tries.
The first was given when Ed Fidow collapsed a maul on the line, and the second was on the same player for a knees-first tackle on a diving Sean Maitland.
Fidow was yellow-carded for the first incident and was given red for the second.
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend was proud of his team and the defense, "Credit to the players and defense coach Matt Taylor, who has done a fantastic job. They defended with real passion tonight, they got off the line and made some big hits on some big men". Samoa’s coach Steve Jackson praised the Scots. "They won the balls, and they executed it the way that they wanted, and they showed great skill; they played extremely well."
Wednesday’s games were both in Kyushu.
France took on the USA in Fukuoka, and New Zealand played Canada in Oita.
On paper, the USA should have been an easy match for France, but it didn’t turn out that way.
A determined American team kept the score to 12-6 at halftime, and it wasn't until the 66th minute that France began to pull away.
Les Bleus scored three late tries to finish 33-9 winners.
French coach Jacques Brunel was pleased enough, considering the conditions, "I am happy we won and got the bonus point, but, physically, it was difficult, it was very humid, and we felt the humidity. But the positive is we won. The ball was very slippery, and we made many mistakes and allowed them to counter, and they had a very tough defense too." American coach Gary Gold said, "I'm just so proud of everybody,” noting that “the gap is definitely closing quite a lot. If you look back a couple of years ago, a couple of World Cups ago, there were seventy, eighty point drubbings for Tier 1s versus Tier 2s, but now we are giving ourselves a chance 65 minutes into the game”.
In the match in Oita, New Zealand scored nine tries to comprehensively put away Canada 63-0. The score could have been easily much higher had it not been for handling errors due to the slippery balls. The effect of copious amounts of sweat affecting the grip on the Gilbert balls was most evident when All Black Beauden Barrett was running towards an open try line, and the ball just suddenly popped out of his hands. The match was significant for Barrett as his brothers Jordie and Scott were also starting members of the All Black team - only the second time in World Cup history that three brothers have played on the same team and all three scored tries for New Zealand.
Coach Steve Hansen was happy with the performance (handling errors aside) seeing the game as a stepping stone to the final rounds. “We have done a lot of work at training, way harder than we normally would, and we will come away (from tonight) with a lot of confidence. We’ll bank this one.”
Thursday saw two games played in Kansai, with the first at Hanazono stadium where Fiji put the disappointment of their match against Uruguay behind them as they thumped Georgia 45-10.
The Georgians were still in the match at the three-quarter mark (17-10), but the flair of the Fijians finally shone through on a wet Osaka afternoon. John McKee, the Fiji coach, summed up the game, "It was a long arm-wrestle in the first half, and very pleasing to see us finally show some of our flair and skills at this World Cup. It was a great team performance.” Thursday night saw the action move to Kobe Noevir stadium. Ireland facing a plucky Russia team, ran in five tries to win 35-0. The only stats the Russians managed were two yellow cards handed out by referee Jerome Garces.
Ireland, rebounding from their shock defeat to Japan, had hoped the make a statement, but though they did score five tries, the number one raked team coming into the tournament failed to put away a stubborn Russians side that was down to 14 men for 20 minutes of the game. The greasy ball was yet again a factor in this game, Irish Coach Joe Schmidt wryly acknowledging the conditions “we knew there had already been 65 handling errors in the two games previously - maybe we tried to make 65 ourselves.”
The Friday night game saw South Africa square off against Italy in Shizuoka in a matchup that will be remembered for a shocking spear tackle by Italian props Andrea Lovotti and Nicola Quaglio.
Lovotti was red-carded, and while Quaglio was extraordinarily lucky to stay on the field, both players were subsequently been banned for 3 games.
The red card came early in the second half, effectively extinguishing Azzuri hopes.
The game was unusual for having uncontested scrums for the majority of the match as both tighthead props Simone Ferrari (first minute) and then Marco Riccioni (18th minute) suffered injuries. With no reserves capable of playing the position, the referee had no other option than to order uncontested scrums – something that helped the Italians greatly as South Africa's dominant pack was neutralized. Despite that though South Africa ran in five second-half tries to run out 49-3 winners.
- Dean Gutberlet: Oct 5, 2019