Ireland upset the apple cart

2011-09-22 09:16
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
Alan Solomons

For me the biggest story from the tournament thus far is that the minnows have made their mark. It’s a tribute to all the nations concerned and to the IRB’s high performance initiative. 

Canada’s victory over Tonga was certainly the first big upset of the Rugby World Cup. They have done really well and also gave a good account of themselves against France.

As I predicted pre-tournament, the French have been a real mixed bag. France have tremendous strength in depth and after South Africa, have arguably the best player depth in world rugby.

However, Marc Lievremont has selected so many players over the last few years, that there has been no stability or consistency of selection. The players have not been afforded the opportunity to build up any telling combinations and I believe the French are now paying the price.

The other real surprise of the round, was Ireland’s win over Australia. No one really saw that coming, myself included, but the Wallaby pack was destabilised a great deal by the injury to hooker Stephen Moore. He is a much better set-piece player than Tatafu Polota-Nau, and is generally more effective around the park.

The Irish won the game upfront, thanks to the front five laying a platform. The front five win the game for you, and the backs decide by how much. With the Wallabies taking a beating at the set-pieces, the loose forwards and halfbacks were taken out of the contest.

That result has turned the World Cup on its head. Now one side of the draw is likely to have all the northern hemisphere sides drawn together, and the Tri-Nations teams on the other end. There are pros and cons, but it’s a bit of a pity as there is always a bite to the North/South derbies.

Many pundits contemplated an Australia/New Zealand final, which would have been a great contest. The Irish win, now makes South Africa’s task that much harder - as they will most likely have to beat both of their Tri-Nations foes to win the Webb Ellis.

The Springboks’ win over Fiji, was an impressive performance. All the players deserve credit, but Danie Rossouw’s display at lock was superb. He is a dynamic ball carrier, mobile and athletic.

Francois Steyn’s physical presence at inside centre was equally notable.

There is no doubt Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield are still very good players, but Rossouw and Steyn have really stepped up to the plate.

Although the Boks made 124 tackles and missed 26 - I though their defence was sound. When you play a side like Fiji, you can expect to make plenty of tackles. The fact that the Springboks kept them try-less is significant. 

I’m hoping as the tournament progresses South Africa will continue to grow. They held onto the ball more, and kicked a lot less against Fiji. I think this is an area they can continue to build on.

I read Heinrich Brussow was fined for his chip kick despite it leading to a try. I’m not sure if that was a joke. I think that in today’s game, you have multi-skilled athletes. The top players have a variety of skills in their arsenal, and I wouldn’t have a problem if my players wished to express themselves.

Another point of debate has been the short turn around for a few of the smaller nations. There is no doubt this is an issue, but Canada’s Kieran Crowley has the right attitude when he said there is no use complaining.

However, I think the IRB need to have a look at the seeding of things for future tournaments as it does make it difficult for some of the smaller nations.

I read about the controversy with the some of the England players enjoying a night out in Queenstown a little too much. Professional rugby players have to understand as well-known personalities they have to be very careful.

There is nothing wrong with the guys going out post-match and enjoying a few drinks, but as a coach, you have to set boundaries for players. If they overstep the mark, they need be aware there will be consequences. 

Looking at the All Blacks, at the moment there is competition for places and Henry has rotated. However, I think the team that plays France will take them through the rest of the tournament, barring injuries or significant loss of form.

I may be proven wrong, but I don’t think this French side will trouble the All Blacks. In spite of their unpredictability, I think the All Blacks will win comfortably.

I would back Samoa to beat Fiji. While they are similar sides on attack, the Samoans are much better set-piece players.

The Argentina v Scotland game is going to be a very close-fought encounter. The Scots are a brave side, but lack a cutting edge out wide. Argentina have more flair, are a far better attacking side and I would tip them to nudge it.

The Boks’ clash against Namibia is a last chance to rotate and give some key players a rest. The Boks will have no problem putting them away. Peter de Villiers could pick any side from his 30-man squad and they would win.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

Read more on:    rwc

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