Monday 19th Oct - 09:30
Let me start by congratulating my nephew Daniel on his marriage to Clare on Saturday and wish them well for the future. A great long weekend with family: lots and lots of laughs.
One down side was the wedding breakfast starting at 4pm exactly as Wales v South Africa kicked off.
So here we are Southern Hemisphere FOUR Northern Hemisphere NIL but what a weekend of international rugby.
In chronological order Wales finally ran out of steam against the Boks. The boys in red can walk away with their heads high and proud of their achievements and even prouder that not one of them has blamed the long list of injuries for their losses. With just three minutes gone Wales highlighted the difference between North and South. If Gethin Jenkins and Tyler Morgan were wearing the black of New Zealand that pass on the 3 minute mark would have gone to hand and Morgan would have scored in the corner. If, buts and maybes......... a score then could have changed the game.
Let us not make excuses the Boks were the better side and on balance deserved to win. The tackle count and penalties conceded by Wales stand testimony to this view. Cuthbert has taken some flak for charging in and freeing up the space for Fourie du Preez to score in the corner. Nonsense. Damned if you, damned if you don't. If he had been a fraction quicker he could have bottled up Duane Vermeulen and been a hero.
Wales, take a bow. You gave it all and whilst you won't say it I will; the injury list hurt us and hurt us hard.
There is not much more that can be said about New Zealand vs France that hasn't already be said; remarkable, incredible, ruthless. The complete performance, although Hansen and co say there is still much to work on. The abject French display had nothing to do with coaching, selection or commitment. It has everything to do with French club rugby and the enormous bags of cash the French clubs have to entice ageing FOREIGN stars to fill their teams at the expense of young French talent. Let me throw some names out there; Giteau, Charteris, Lobbe, Mitchell, Gray, and soon Matfield, Carter, O'Connell. Need I say more. French rugby is no longer concerned about international rugby.
Moving on to Sunday. Argentina did to Ireland what Wales failed to do to South Africa and that is score a try early. The Pumas speed of thought and action took the Irish by surprise. Throughout the side the passing was precise and it didn't matter whether you were labelled a back or forward the support play excellent. The second try really put Ireland on the back foot and from then on the men in green were always playing catch up. Strangely the injury to Tommy Bowe was another psychological blow to the Irish. 'Oh wow is me, no Sexton, no O'Mahoney, no O,Brien, no O'Connell and now no Bowe'. The hoards of travelling fans kept up the noise and the Irish rode this to fight back with two good tries. Sadly it wasn't to be as Argentina took the Irish apart in the last quarter and secured a well deserved semi final spot.
So to 4pm Sunday. Scotland with no chance of victory, Australia with an excellent chance of going all the way and one of the best referees in the world the stage was set for an Australian masterclass. Oh how wrong we all were. Scotland were magnificent playing an expansive game and taking the battle to the gold and green. To a man the men from north of Hadrian's Wall (and of course the high veld, the South Island and Zimbabwe) stood and were counted. Laidlaw was the ring master and Finn Russell purred at outside half. The Gray boys and Denton were like wildebeests on heat. Tremendous stuff.
Let us take a step back and say that Foley at #10 for Australia was off colour and his kicking was poor. The scrum was shaky as opposed to the dominant force was saw against Wales and England. Australia also scored three tries against Scotland's two.
Fast forward to the closing minutes and one of the 'best' referees in the world; Craig Joubert. Up until THAT moment I thought he had had a good game and then calamity. He got it horribly wrong so now all the vitriol is being targeted at him. The Ozzies touched the ball so it was not a penalty. Referees make mistakes BUT throughout this tournament there has been one feature that has given rise to comment: the TMO. It is no excuse that he couldn't have gone upstairs for a second opinion. We have TMOs chirping in referees ears about all matters, including the occasional well done for a decision. It is ridiculous that this was missed. Scotland were robbed. (For the record I give him the benefit of the doubt with regard to the deliberate knock on)
This wasn't the worst of it. The fact Joubert legged it like a petty thief caught shoplifting at Poundstretchers. A coward and an embarrassment. I hope his World Cup is well and truly over....... not for the mistake but for insulting the great work referees do throughout our game.
Ok a couple of comments to ponder. During the tournament there were many references to players from around the world joining English clubs once RWC 2015 is over. The RFU and English rugby need to be aware that they are drifting very rapidly towards the situation France find themselves in.
Of the 6 Nations here is the order in which I think they have 'finished': 1. Wales, 2. Scotland, 3. Ireland, 4. England, 5. Italy, 6. France. Wales have snuck it on the basis they had the tougher group and they were not able to rest any of their players in big games unlike Scotland who sacrificed the South Africa group game. England are lucky to make spot #4 because Italy and France were pretty awful.
What a weekend.