Rugby World Cup 2011
Pocock policed, Oz to gallows
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
David Pocock (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Many South Africans will feel some sense of justice with Australia’s semi-final exit from the World Cup at the hands of trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand in Auckland on Sunday.
There were suggestions before the game, deservedly won 20-6 by the All Blacks, that the still fairly massed ranks of travelling Springbok supporters glumly seeing out the tournament were transferring their weight behind Richie McCaw’s troops after
the Boks were “Bryce Lawrenced” by the Wallabies in last week’s quarter-final.
And if that was indeed the case, then they got the tonic they’d wanted as the world’s No 1-ranked team powered their way into the final against surprise packages (albeit notably uninspiring ones) France next Sunday.
Quite clearly, considering the hoo-ha that followed the Wellington heartbreak for South Africa, there was going to be a strong spotlight both on the follow-up refereeing of one of our own sons Craig Joubert and how ace Wallaby fetcher David Pocock would be policed after the perceived illegality of much of his influence against the Boks.
The answer was not very long in coming: the Durban-born official “pinged” Pocock for off-his-feet offences at the breakdown in both the eighth and 11th minutes.
Piri Weepu, in demonstration of his erratic night off the tee while performing the chore in the absence of Dan Carter, duly smacked the right upright with the first penalty but goaled the second as the All Blacks, who had already dotted a majestic try through Ma’a Nonu, opened up a handy 8-0 lead to put them well on their way.
The Zimbabwean-born Pocock is too classy a competitor to get overly rattled by such rapid setbacks to him and his broader cause ... a lot of what he does is within the bounds of the laws and always has been.
But when you are correctly, it must be said, blown up twice in such quick succession and with the game still at a virgin stage, it rather condemns to you tweaking your individual goals for the contest and having to tread rather more carefully.
Pocock did his level best to stay in All Black faces and his turnover battle with old master Richie McCaw still made for intriguing viewing, even if the latter overwhelmingly had the advantage of front-foot status and won some especially golden ones for the host nation.
The television statistics displayed afterwards suggested that New Zealand had dominated the breakdown poaches by a clear 9-4 margin.
Towards the end, the Australian No 7 became as tetchy and frustrated as the rest of his forwards during an effective All Black shut-out job whenever the Wallabies did get remotely within range of the try-line.
On one occasion, indeed, Pocock escaped censure for what looked a fairly blatant slap in the face on New Zealand’s replacement hooker Andrew Hore - although perhaps it was a reaction, in fairness, to the amount of hair-ruffling and goading he got from All Black players whenever he transgressed.
Was that borderline unsporting practice, in itself, simply a further reflection of just how highly the All Blacks valued neutralising Pocock after his massive influence in the Bok demise?
Whatever the case, the Aussies are out – save for the “hangover” playoff for third against Wales --sparking a sea of delirium in Auckland as the host nation get truly to within touching distance of the Webb Ellis Cup.
All that can stop them, you would think, is a quite astonishing extension of their World Cup “France jinx” ... but a broader school of thought will suggest, I’m sure, that the hoodoo is on the brink of being not just broken but genuinely buried.
The dynamics and pressures of a final are unlike any other match, of course, but when you consider that the All Blacks have already seen off the French by 20 points – and five tries to two – in pool play, the scene seems tantalisingly set for New Zealand to lift the spoils for the first time in 24 years.
“It might even be a big, big score,” warned retiring Springbok legend Victor Matfield from the SuperSport studio.
Whether it eclipses the record margin for a RWC final of 23 points (Australia 35 France 12 in 1999) remains to be seen, but a few days out from the showpiece, I’m just a bit inclined to agree with Big Vic ...