My rugby over nighter was a huge disappointment

The rugby all nighter turned out to be a disappointment. It started at 9:30 PDT Friday night with the kick off of the Australia-Fiji match in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Then on to the France-Argentina game and finally the belle of the evening: New Zealand vs. South Africa. Actually, the belle of the morning as it started at 2:30.

What I was looking for was disruption in one of the four pools in which the 20 teams had been organized. An upset. Argentina over France (that’s happened before). Fiji over Australia (could happen). South Africa and New Zealand? Could go either way, but as much as I like rooting for the Kiwis – great country, great haka and greatest rugby – it would be nice to give others a chance. New Zealand has won three of the eight Rugby World Cups, including the last two. South Africa has won twice.

It would be nice if someone besides Tier One nations won this thing – or at least threw in some mystery on where this would all end up on Nov. 2, the day of the championship game.

Fiji could create some mystery in Pool D if they knocked off Australia. Not to be. Fiji made a good run in the first half, but the Wallabies settled down in the second half, got stingy with possession of the ball, and Fiji got tired, frustrated and resorted to reaching in to grab the ball out of rucks and mauls, resulting in penalties and then, a yellow card. Australia won 39-21 and picked up a bonus point for scoring four tries. And Wales and the Wallabies will probably go on to the quarter finals out of Pool D.

Argentina gave the most exciting game of the evening/morning. The Pumas were down 17-3 at half time but scored 18 points to get to a 21-20 lead over France, who had a three point penalty kick to get to 20. France needed a drop goal in the last few minutes to regain the lead at 23-21. A last minute penalty kick to Argentina wandered left of the posts, and they will have to settle for one bonus point for finishing within seven of the winner.

Only the United States and Tonga are left to keep the predictable England and France from moving forward out of Pool C. The USA Eagles get their chance against England on Thursday, Sept. 26, at 3:45 a.m. PDT. Another early day to rise.

Which leads me to my biggest disappointment of the rugby all nighter. The New Zealand-South Africa game displayed superb rugby skills, great runs, good defense and gritty scrummaging – what you expect from these top teams. The Kiwis prevailed 23-13 over the Springboks, and I can’t tell you much about how they did that because I woke up with my iPad on my chest with Kieran Read, the Kiwi captain, giving an interview on how they held off South Africa.

Narcolepsy may be common in baseball stadiums, and it is increasingly reported in the stands of America’s brand of slow football, but no one – no one – falls asleep during a rugby game, even after six hours of middle-of-the-night viewing. Could be the strength of my coffee. It could be from squinting at a small screen. It could be, I can barely stand to say this . . . It could be age. No, no. Lack of exercise. Too much heavy food. Up the night before for the Japan-Russia game? Maybe.

Only one way to find out what is up with my sleep patterns, or lack of them. The Ireland-Scotland game starts Sunday morning at 12:45 PDT. Ireland may have the best chance of breaking the chain of usual suspects. I’ll be on the couch.

 

Japan, this is no time to follow England

CoffeeJapan’  rugby team looked like it was headed in the same direction as the last country to host the Rugby World Cup: Not finding its way out of pool play and into the quarter finals. The “Cherry Blossoms” (trying to make that name fit into the game of rugby) let Russia’s high kicks fall to the ground, and one of them into the hands of a Russian back who scored the first points of the 2019 RWC.

Cherry Blossoms got over their nervous start in a stadium mostly filled with their countrymen and bloomed later in the game to win 30-10 in the first of 48 games in the tournament. But they will have lots to work on if they don’t want to end up like England, the 2015 host, who failed to advance into the playoff round of the tourney. That was especially embarrassing to England, where rugby got its start. However, England has been in the playoffs before and won the RWC in 2003.

Japan has never advanced out of pool play even though they won three matches, including an upset of South Africa and beating the United States, in 2015. They did not collect enough bonus points then to advance.

Last night — oops, make that this morning at 3:30 — Japan picked up one bonus point for scoring four tries in the match. Bonus points are also awarded to losers who stay within seven points of the winning team. No bonus points for Russia.

To advance, Japan has to pile up bonus points and find a way to beat those in their pool: Ireland, ranked No. 1 in the RWC; Scotland (a chance of an upset) and Samoa (betting on Japan).

Australia vs. Fiji is tonight at a decent time here in Seattle — 9:30, and then I will fill my coffee cup and get into my favorite sweater, blankies and my couch for early morning viewing for the New Zealand-South Africa game at 2:30 Saturday morning. Could be the best game of the tournament.

Now, time for a nap.

Australia vs. Scotland the match of the RWC tournament

NZ with ball
Off they go again. The New Zealand All Blacks cut through the Australia defense in the Rugby World Cup Final. One thing that struck me as I edited my photos from this match: Richie McCaw, the New Zealand captain, is in almost all of them, always around the ball. He is reaching over an Aussie player in this picture, looking up at the ball carrier.

Before we left London, Kathy asked if going to the Rugby World Cup measured up to all my expectations — a question that surprised me since I thought the giddy smile on my face for eight weeks made my delight obvious.

Let me count the way, m’lady. Thirteen international rugby matches. Theater seats for London and Stratford-upon-Avon shows. Hiking the hills, punting the river, browsing through every sort of attraction covering history, art, religion, architecture and others realms of human achievement.

Yes, a definite success and then some.

Then we decided over a restaurant meal to break it down: list the top five favorite things we did while in England. We both ticked off five before the waiter got the first glass of water to the table. We were approaching more than 10 favorites apiece before our order was taken.

In keeping within the rules of naming only five, I tried to do categories, so that one of my five choices was “the rugby games,” another was “Oxford colleges,” another “plays.” Cheater, cheater, Kathy protested.

My answer to this was to offer to list five choices within each category, and of course I started with the rugby games I saw. My five favorites:

  1. Scotland vs. Australia in the quarter final: If you take the measure of excitement generated in a game by how many times the lead changes, this match goes right to the top of the list. Four lead changes. Australia took an early lead, but Scotland took over for most of the first half and was ahead by one point at the break, 16-15. The teams were never more than eight points apart and most of the time were within three points of each other. Australia got up early in the second half until Scotland climbed back up to a 34-32 lead with under seven minutes to go in the game. Then came the bad call from the ref, a three-point penalty kick by Australia with less than two minutes left and that was the end of the tournament for Scotland.
  2. New Zealand vs. Australia in the final: How can the culminating game of the tournament not be No. 1 on this list? It probably would be if the Scotland-Australia match hadn’t been one that had me jumping out of my seat and endangering my laptop on the media table in front of me. The final threatened to be a boring, let’s-play-it-safe, penalty- kicking affair through most of the first half. It wasn’t until the clock had ticked off more than 38 minutes that New Zealand put together a thriller try from the back of a loose ruck with Aaron Smith getting two touches and then skipping a pass to “he’s everywhere!” Richie McCaw, who made one more pass to put Nehe Milner-Skudder in for the score. The All Blacks got up 21-3 and it was starting to look like a rout until Australia put together two converted tries and pulled within four points. All Black Dan Carter stomped on the Aussie momentum with a drop goal at 69 minutes. Every winning team needs a player who can perform this score-from-anywhere-inside-the-50 tactic. Nothing is so soul-killing for a team to be scored against this way. And Carter wasn’t done. He added a penalty kick at 73 minutes and all that was left to complete the game was a mishandle by Australia, kicked ahead by Ben Smith and a bounce up into the hands of Beauden Barrett for one more New Zealand score and a conversion by Carter. 34-17 All Blacks.
  3. The other quarterfinal — South Africa vs. Wales: Another close one. Most of the scoring came on penalty kicks, but the tries turned the fortunes of the game for both Wales and the Republic of South Africa. It went like this: 3-0 RSA, 6-0 RSA, 6-3 RSA, 9-3 RSA, 10-9 Wales (nothing like seven points from a converted try to get you back in the game), 12-10 RSA, 13-12 Wales (drop goal by Dan Biggar gave the Welsh the halftime lead), 16-12 Wales, 16-15 Wales, 18-16 RSA, 19-18 Wales, 23-19 RSA (nothing like five points from a try to get you the win). RSA 23, Wales 19.
  4. Canada vs. Italy: Canada got up 10-0 to start the game, which included a try by DTH van der Merwe, who scored in all four of Canada’s losses. Owen Slot, chief rugby correspondent for The London Times, named him to his all-tournament team this week saying “his try-a-game tally showed consistency and the try he started and finished against Italy was outstanding.” Yeah-yeah, as the English say when in agreement. Too bad Canada couldn’t finish one more of some great movements. That would have given them at least a tie. But Italy won, 23-18.
  5. Canada vs. Romania: Canada again? Yep. For an exciting game, it’s hard to beat a 15-point comeback. Just too bad that it was Romania coming back for a 17-15 win. You can’t look away from the train wreck and you don’t want it to happen, but you have say afterwards that it was exciting.

    The All Blacks spread the field in defense, and Australia seldom got through it.
    The All Blacks spread the field in defense, and Australia seldom got through it. And once again, McCaw is right there, in front of the tackle being made by Brodie Retallick (No. 4)

Australia moves ahead to RWC Final against New Zealand

Drew Mitchell wound his way through the Argentina defense, breaking tackles and sending a pass out to Adam Ashley-Cooper for his third try of the game.
Drew Mitchell, No. 11, wound his way through the Argentina defense, breaking tackles and sending a pass out to Adam Ashley-Cooper for his third try of the game.

Penalty kicks aren’t enough.  Six of them didn’t do it  for South Africa against New Zealand Saturday, and five didn’t work for Argentina on Sunday against Australia.

Ashley-Cooper scores his third try of the game.
Ashley-Cooper scores his third try of the game.

A team needs tries to win, and Australia had plenty of them — three from Adam Ashley-Cooper alone and another from Rob Simmons, who started the scoring for Australia with an intercepted pass and a gallop in for a try just more than a minute into the game. Bernard Foley converted three of those tries for another six points and added a penalty kick for three more, giving Australia a 29-15 win.

Argentina had trouble moving the ball into Australian territory and could only collect penalty points on five kicks by Nicolas Sanchez.

Australia will play New Zealand on Saturday, Oct. 31, in the finals of the Rugby World Cup 2015. That Southern Hemisphere showdown will be back here at Twickenham.

Argentina will meet South Africa, who lost to New Zealand 20-18, in the Bronze Final on Friday night at the Olympic Stadium in London.

New Zealand adds a drop kick, a converted try and a penalty to win 20-18

New Zealand kept South Africa far away from their try line. The Springboks only socring came on six penalty kicks.
New Zealand kept South Africa far away from their try line. The Springboks only socring came on six penalty kicks.

New Zealand had to use all ways of scoring to get ahead of South Africa early in the second half and then gradually inch just ahead of them to full time for a 20-18 win in the first semi final match of the Rugby World Cup 2015.

That puts the All Blacks in the finals against the winner of tomorrow’s game between Australia and Argentina.

All of South Africa’s scoring came on penalty kicks, five by Handre Pollard and one by Patrick Lambie.

South Africa has the halftime lead over New Zealand, 12-7

South Africa has good ball out from their scrum.
South Africa has good ball out from their scrum.

Early in this Rugby World Cup 2015, New Zealand blemished their wins with mishandles, some penalties and a very few missed tackles. But it hardly mattered as the All-Blacks swept away the competition in Pool C and then destroyed France in their quarterfinal game, 62-13.

But it matters today, especially the penalties: four of them that resulted in kicks by South Africa’s Handre Pollard to take a 12-7 lead.

The game has been a choppy sort of affair, not the smooth running dominance the All Blacks have shown in previous games — when they weren’t mishandling. Today’s game has been interrupted by NZ miscues, most of them at the loose play although they have also been guilty of collapsing a scrum.

The penalty with the most potential for damage came within two minutes of halftime when Jerome Kaino, trying to get on sides at a loose scrum played the ball from an offsides position. The referee ruled it a deliberate kick and served Kaino with a yellow card.

The All Blacks will be without him for about eight minutes in the second half. He scored the only try in the game, converted by Dan Carter for New Zealnd’s 7seven points.

Early in the first semi-final game, South Africa ahead 9-7

Three penalty kicks by South Africa for infringements by New Zealand, but the All-Blacks have the only try and a conversion.

Scored by Jerome Kaino, a wing forward, after what the radio announcer called a “basketball pass” over the head of South African defenders.

New Zealand guilty of more penalties in this game than would have been expected and their defense has been suspect at time. Most of the penalties have come at the loose play — offsides in most cases.

Rugby World Cup: Who can complain? Unless you’re from Scotland, of course

What a weekend of rugby at Twickenham Stadium.

One hundred and eleven points scored in two games and a difference of only five between the winners (South Africa and Australia) and the losers (Wales and Scotland). Both of these quarter-final games in the Rugby World Cup were decided in the final five minutes. (Not so in the other two quarter finals: New Zealand disposed of France 62-13, and Argentina had a surprisingly easy time against Ireland, 43-20)

South Africa was down 19-18 with five minutes to go when a try by Fourie du Preez gave the Springboks the margin they needed to beat Wales on Saturday.

Bear with me while I relive it:

Statue of a lineout at the entrance to Twickenham Stadium.
Statue of a lineout at the entrance to Twickenham Stadium.

Time: 7:45 Penalty kick by Handre Pollard. Score 3-0 South Africa

11:03 Penalty kick by Pollard. 6-0 South Africa

13:52 Penalty kick by Dan Biggar. 6-3 South Africa

15:35 Penalty kick by Pollard. 9-3 South Africa

17:37 Try by Gareth Davies, conversion by Biggar. 10-9 Wales

19:31 Penalty kick by Pollard. 12-10 South Africa

41:12 Drop goal by Biggar. 13-12 Wales

HALF

47:00 Penalty kick by Biggar. 16-12 Wales

51:45 Drop goal by Pollard. 16-15 Wales

60:26 Penalty by Pollard. 18-16 South Africa

63:25 Penalty kick by Biggar 19-18 Wales

74:25 Try by Fourie du Preez. 23-19 South Africa wins

Obviously helps to have a high-percentage kicker on the field. Pollard missed two penalty kicks, and Biggar had one hit the upright and fall back into play. In between all the scoring by kicks, there was some furious loose play and some exciting runs. Both tries scored came from remarkable ball handling, especially the Wales try after Biggar gathered in his own kick and made the pass to Davies as he was tackled.

Both teams played hard; the clock ran out with South Africa ahead.

No complaints.

Plenty for Scotland. Papers Monday morning screaming about how the Scots were robbed “at the death” and bringing special attention to the post-game dash into the tunnel and out of the public eye by referee Craig Joubert.

Scotland had the lead over Australia, 34-32, with less than two minutes left in the game when Joubert called Scotland’s Jon Welsh for being offsides. At worse, it looked like accidental offsides to me, which would have been a scrum to Australia. Mick Cleary in The Daily Telegraph on Monday dissects the play this way:

Scotland throws to the back of a lineout but David Denton can’t handle it. My friend Eddie, who went to the game with me, points out that had Scotland secured the ball in the lineout and kept possession for less than two minutes, they would have won.

But they didn’t. Instead, the ball was knocked forward by Scot wing forward John Hardie. The ball careens into Australian Nick Phipps and then to the ground. Welsh falls on the ball and is called for being in an offside position. As Cleary says in his report, “Joubert ruled that . . . Welsh was in an offside position following the initial knock-on by John Hardie.” But if Phipps was intentionally trying to play the ball — after the match he said he was — and then knocks it forward, that puts Welsh onsides — he’s in front of the Australian player.

To me, it looked like the ball bounced off Phipps and went to the side of Welsh, who turned and fell on the ball from the Australian side of the play. But after Phipps touches the ball, it’s in open play and Welsh can play a loose ball from any direction.

Robbed at the death, I say.

Indulge me now while I relive it:

Time 8:29 Try by Adam Ashley-Cooper. Score 5-0 Australia

12:51 Penalty kick by Greig Laidlaw 5-3 Australia

18:00 Try by Peter Horne, conversion by Laidlaw. 10-5 Scotland

20:12 Penalty kick by Laidlaw. 13-5 Scotland

29:36 Try by Drew Mitchell. 13-10 Scotland

32:21 Penalty kick by Laidlaw 16-10 Scotland

38:36 Try by Michael Hooper. 16-15 Scotland

HALF

42:00 Sean Maitland is called for intentionally knocking the ball forward. Scotland playing with 14 men for 10 minutes.

43:00 Try by Mitchell, conversion by Bernard Foley. 22-16 Australia

47:00 Penalty kick by Laidlaw. 22-19 Australia

53:12 Penalty kick by Foley. 25-19 Australia

58:12 Try by Tommy Seymour. 25-24 Australia

64:16 Try by Tevita Kuridrani, conversion by Foley. 32-24 Australia

67:48 Penalty kick by Laidlaw. 32-27 Australia

73:21 Try by Mark Bennett, conversion by Laidlaw. 34-32 Scotland

78:10 Penalty kick by Foley. 35-34 Australia wins.

Besides the bad call at the end of the game that gave the win to Australia, I think that all yellow cards given for an intentional knock on are too harsh. Even if the player knocks the ball forward intentionally, I think it should be a penalty kick only. For one thing, that would take refs off the hook in deciding whether the play was an intentional foul. And yellow cards should be reserved for dangerous play, not mishandling.

You have to love tries that pop up out of nowhere, usually the result of an alert player taking advantage of the other teams’ mistakes or capitalizing on their own good play. That was the case for two Scotland tries. Finn Russel gathered in an Australian kick he blocked and then tossed the ball up to Tommy Seymour who was in good support and went in for the try.

Mark Bennett scored his try by stepping in front of an Australian back, intercepting the intended pass to that back and dashing in for a score under the post.

Worth the price of admission, robbery and all.

What's rugby without rain? It fell at Twickenham on Sunday 71 minutes into the game.
What’s rugby without rain? It fell at Twickenham on Sunday 71 minutes into the game.

United States has one last chance to show improvement and win a game

The United State rugby team gets its last chance to win a game in the 2015 Rugby World Cup when they take on Japan at Kingsholm Stadium in Gloucester on Sunday.

For Japan, a win would make their third place finish in Pool B look a bit healthier, but even with a five-point bonus win they would fall a point short of taking the runner-up spot from Scotland.

It could have been much more meaningful if on Saturday Samoa had defeated Scotland. Then a win by Japan over the United States would have put Japan through to the quarter finals. Or, the U.S. Eagles could have played spoiler to Japan and helped the Scots through. But Samoa couldn’t quite get it done, losing 36-33.

In the quarter finals, Scotland will play Australia, the winner of Pool A after defeating Wales Saturday 15-9. South Africa gets Wales in the quarter finals.

New Zealand and Argentina advance from Pool C, but won’t know their quarter final opponents until after the Franc-Ireland game on Sunday.

A win by the Eagles on Sunday would do a lot to restore some belief in the outlook by U.S. Coach Mike Tolkin that things are headed in the right direction for U.S. rugby. After the 64-0 drubbing by South Africa, fans could rightfully be skeptical of Tolkin’s optimism.

As he says in the video above, the U.S. did pretty well in the first half (as they did against Samoa and Scotland), holding a full Springbok team to 14 points from two tries that came only after they had to “work their way down the field.” Then, as he says, South Africa got going in the second half, scoring 50 points.

Tolkin sees the problem correctly — many young players in the lineup with little experience at the international or World Cup level. He saw good performance by individuals but not as a team.

For the game on Sunday, Tolkin is starting 13 players who were not in the South Africa starting 15. Only Samu Manoa at No. 8 and Zack Test, a winger, remain from the game played on Wednesday.

Tolkin said he was also frustrated with the four-day turnaround between the two matches and said he “was not alone in that.”

“I’m sure the Rugby World Cup will look at that.”

As for U.S. rugby, he says things will get better.

“Four years down the road, it will be interesting to see what happens in the game,” Tolkin said in calling for international rugby to continue investing in “tier two” nations.

As he said after the Scotland game, the U.S. side would improve with more professional experience.

“Half my guys will have to go to work on Monday,” Tolkin said, and that will not mean going back to play on professional teams in top tier nations. It will mean resuming jobs as plumbers, fitness trainers, etc.

But Tolkin says he thinks that is about to change and predicted professional rugby union competition in the Untied States “soon.”

I like the idea, but I remain skeptical.

Bryan Habana delivers a pass in the game against the United States. He scored three tries in the game to tie Jonah Lomu's record of most tries scored in the World Cup (15).
Bryan Habana delivers a pass in the game against the United States. He scored three tries in the game to tie Jonah Lomu’s record of most tries scored in the World Cup (15).

Hard not to call it an embarrassment: U.S. loses to South Africa, 64-0

Two South African players scored five of the team’s 10 tries, and the Springboks took complete control of the second half and buried the U.S. Eagles 64-0 in the Rugby World Cup.

Bryan Habana, a South African back, scored three tries and Francois Louw, a forward, also put in two five-point tries.

A Springbok forward pushes U.S. defenders back.
A Springbok forward pushes U.S. defenders back.

Four other Springboks collected tries with the 10th one coming from a penalty try awarded for the U.S. team collapsing the scrum. The Springbok dominated in all phases of the game, and the Eagles rarely had possession of the ball and never produced anything from it.

A last-minue spurt by the U.S. ended with Lwazi Mvovo kicking a dropped U.S. pass into open space and going 70 yards for one more horror in a house of them for the Eagles.

South Africa easily picked up the bonus point for scoring four tries and will finish as the winners in Pool B over Scotland, who play Samoa on Saturday. Even with a bonus point on Saturday for Scotland, it would fall a point short of South Africa’s total.

The Springboks will have to wait until the Australia-Wales games on Saturday to see which one finishes as Pool A runner-up and will meet the Springboks in the quarter finals.

The U.S will have one more chance to win a game in this World Cup when they meet Japan on Sunday in Gloucester