Third Weekend Of RWC 2019 Sees End of Some Teams' Qualification Hopes
Five matches played, two quarterfinalists confirmed, and the host nation is riding a wave of euphoria over its most recent performance. Weekend three of the Rugby World Cup is done and dusted but Pool A remains an open battleground. Which two teams out of Japan, Ireland and Scotland will make it through to the top eight?
With 70% of the pool stages having been completed, only 12 more matches remain before the we get into the meat of the tournament; the knock-out stages.
On Saturday, England became the first team in the tournament to be guaranteed a final-eight place with a win over Argentina (who now almost certainly face an early exit.)
In Pool A, the hosts continued their rich vein of form by beating Samoa and gaining an all-important bonus point.
Japan’s rising World Cup star, Kotaro Matsushima scored the Brave Blossom’s fourth try in the 85th minute, setting up a mouth-watering clash with Scotland next Sunday in Yokohama.
If Japan wins that monumental battle, then the hosts are through to the playoffs for the first time in their history.
Even should Japan falter, a loss by less than seven points coupled with Scotland failing to score four tries, would still see the Brave Blossoms advance (along with Ireland.)
The Scots have a definite edge though, having won all seven previous encounters against Japan, averaging almost 45 points per match to Japan’s paltry 12.
Home advantage has been instrumental so far in this tournament - good luck trying to buy a Brave Blossoms’ jersey anywhere in the country - and it could be the deciding factor in next week’s pivotal showdown.
In the meantime, Australia proved too much for Uruguay to handle, running in seven tries to one in a 45-10 mauling of the South Americans. The Wallabies started slow though and by the final hooter, had conceded 12 penalties to Uruguay’s five.
Australian head coach, Michael Cheika said, "We are giving away too many penalties full stop. You can’t be winning by 45 and still lose the penalty count, we’ve got to stop giving away penalties. We have to tidy that up.”
A brace to both Dane Haylett-Petty and Tevita Kuridrani however, set up the win for Australia although Uruguay never threw in the towel and was rewarded with a late consolation try when No.8 Manual Diana burrowed over three minutes from time, after a sustained onslaught on the Wallaby line.
Cheika acknowledged, “We have not started games well. It’s not that we haven’t played well, we’ve just been a little less consistent in the first 20 minutes and that gets us off on the wrong foot. It’s definitely something we need to address. The rest of it is OK. The scrum is good, the lineout worked OK, the defense is solid."
Next up was England against Argentina at Tokyo Stadium - a must win for the Pumas in order to stay alive in the tournament. In the opening exchanges, England was dominant making the most gain-line, but the Argentinian defense scrambled well.
Towards the end of the first quarter with England leading 5-3 after a Jonny May try, Argentine lock Tomas Lavanini crashed into England center Owen Farrell’s head with his shoulder resulting in a red card and leaving the Pumas down to 14 men with 60 minutes to play. Despite this game changer, England was slow to capitalize and it wasn’t until the second half that the Six Nations side started to exert its dominance.
Further tries to Elliot Daly and Ben Youngs rounded out the first half as England entered the changing sheds 15-3 up. The score could have been a lot higher if weren’t for Farrell’s uncharacteristic misses (three conversions and two penalties) at the tee.
Further tries to flyhalf George Ford, speedster Jack Nowell and replacement hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie saw England comfortably home 39-10, with Farrell finally finding his range, adding three conversions and a penalty.
The Pumas lone try came in the 70th minute after a planned lineout move, winger Matias Moroni cutting inside through the defense to score.
The sending-off offense though had turned the match on its head, and gave Argentina a disadvantage that it could not overcome.
Eddie Jones, head coach of England said, "We are just worried about France next week. It is qualification for the quarterfinals but the emphasis is on getting better each game. That was a tough game for us today and when they went down to 14 men they possibly get a psychological lift and it is only human nature that we drop off a bit because you think you are going to win the game and we probably did that."
The city of Toyota in Aichi prefecture set the stage for Japan’s match Saturday night against a Samoan side ranked 16th in the world. The Samoans came out firing and it was easily their best performance of the tournament, cutting down on errors that had plagued their 34-0 loss to the Scots.
The Brave Blossoms struggled to contain the powerful Pacific Islanders at the breakdown early in the match and only held a slender 9-6 lead after 20 minutes.
Then a yellow to Samoan flanker T J Ioane for a late tackle allowed the home side to strike first.
Samoan-born Timothy Lafaele crashed over for Japan, and Yu Tamura’s conversion gave Japan a 10-point buffer.
One penalty either side of half time by Samoa closed the gap to four, before Tamura’s penalty put Japan 19-12 in front with thirty minutes remaining.
Tries in the 53rd (Kazuki Himeno), 75th (Kenki Fukuoka) and the bonus-point clincher five minutes after the final hooter by Matsushima sent the home crowd into delirium.
Henry Taefu had pulled one back for the Samoans witheight minutes to play but the night belonged to the hosts and they now seek to make the knock-out stages and create history.
The Brave Blossoms’ head coach, Jamie Joseph was full of praise for his charges and said, “Really proud of our team, especially at the end there. That was a never-die attitude. We knew that was going to be a real physical battle, and Samoa never let us down. They were quite impressive, particularly because they played a test four days ago.”
All of Japan’s hopes however, still depend on the result next Sunday when Joseph’s men will face a Scottish side just as hungry as the hosts to reach the quarterfinals.
Joseph added, "Even today, the belief in our team has grown and I guess we'll need it going into next week."
On Sunday afternoon, the All Blacks thumped Namibia 71-9, racking up 11 tries in the process. Winger Sevu Reece picked up a brace along with fullback Ben Smith and man of the match, center Anton Lienert-Brown.
The defending champions didn’t have it all their way though, as Namibia’s forwards dominated the breakdown earlier on and were able to stifle the All Blacks’ attack in the first 30 minutes. Three penalties from Damian Stevens kept the Namibians within one point after two early unconverted tries to Reece and Lienert-Brown. The African nation made several clean line-breaks as well but could not quite capitalize, with the All Blacks covering defense up to the task.
Steve Hansen, head coach of New Zealand explained, “The first half was not the right attitude and we allowed Namibia to partake a lot more than they should have, and that’s not being disrespectful. We came out in the second half with a lot more understanding of what we wanted to do."
Add to that, two yellow cards were issued to the Kiwis, one towards the end of each half, for contact made with the head of opponents.
Hansen said, "The cards were fair but it is tough when you are committed. It is difficult at the moment and the powers-that-be are asking us to tidy it up but there are circumstances when it is just about unavoidable."
Since both Beauden Barrett and Ritchie Mo’unga were rested for this match, the reins of flyhalf were handed to Jordie Barrett, the youngest of the Barrett brothers. After his first two kicks at goal went awry, his next eight were on target and with a five-pointer in the 75th minute, he finished on 21 points.
The second half brought a much more intense performance from the All Blacks as the tries began to flow.
The final try in particular, deserves special mention-one that combined two halfbacks on for New Zealand. With Brad Weber having been brought on to replace Aaron Smith in the 50th minute, 16 minutes later Reece was subbed for TJ Perenara on the wing.
With the last play of the match, Weber surged up the left flank and delivered a wonderful, round the back offload that found Perenara.
With two defenders to beat, Perenara managed to plant the ball in the corner, full-dive, before being bundled into touch.
Assistant coach Ian Foster said of that last score, “It's our fault as coaches. Play two No.9s and mayhem was always going to happen."
France held off a spirited Tongan fightback to scrape through 23-21 and is the second team through to the quarterfinals. In a game reminiscent of the opening match against Argentina, Les Bleus raced out to a 17-0 lead after 33 minutes. A penalty to no.10 Romain Ntamack preceded two tries; one to center Virimi Vakatawa and the other to winger Alivereti Raka (who also had a hand in France’s first.)
Tonga struck back however, through Sonatane Takulua when the scrumhalf dummied close to the line and snuck through the defense to touch down on the whitewash.
Jacques Brunei, head coach of France, said, "I'm not worried but unsatisfied. The players are frustrated. They attacked the game well and had good opportunities to score in the first half. But they made mistakes by rushing and by poor handling. We had wanted to play a better game. There is still work to do."
Second half, Tonga came roaring back with two more tries scored as a result of kicks downfield. The French defenders hesitant under the high ball allowed no.12 Malietoa Hingano to crash through and reduce the deficit to two with the conversion.
But two more penalties by Ntamack put the score out to 23-14 with 20 minutes to play. A converted try by flanker Zane Kapeli in the 78th minute gave Tonga some hope to cause another major upset over the French but it wasn’t to be.
Next Saturday Le Blues will take on England to decide the winner of Pool C and undoubtedly, have a lot to work on if they are to seriously challenge Eddie Jones’ men.
Brunei said, "Of course, this is a formidable opponent. We have followed their path through the tournament and we know the difficulties that await us. But I believe that it will be a good match ahead of our quarter-final."
- Todd Phillips: Sept 30, 2019