Rugby World Cup 2011

Wales show why they jolted SA

2011-10-08 14:19
George North and Sam Warburton (Gallo Images)

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - You could argue, if you take cheeky and convenient advantage of statistics, that the portents for a Springbok victory over Australia in their World Cup quarter-final on Sunday look rosier and rosier.

If only things were this simple in the oval-ball game: but the fact remains that the Wallabies lost to Ireland, who lost to Wales, who in turn lost to South Africa at this tournament!

It is something for Bok fans to optimistically chew on, if they wish, ahead of the second Wellington-hosted showdown of the weekend (07:00, SA time).

I thought Wales - who I had tipped to beat the Irish, even if not quite as emphatically as they did on Saturday - were terrific in “QF 1”, and served further indication of why they had come so very close to beating the defending champions in Pool D, before eventually settling for second behind John Smit’s outfit on the table.

Clearly after many, many years (with sporadic, Six Nations-winning exceptions) something is genuinely brewing anew in the valleys; something to even excite those with sentimental recollections of the heyday of Barry John, JPR Williams, Phil Bennett and Gareth Edwards.

This is a young and ambitious Welsh side already punching encouragingly a wee bit above their weight, and now installed in a World Cup semi-final for the first time since the inaugural event of 1987 when their run was rather abruptly halted by a John Kirwan-inspired New Zealand 49-6 in Brisbane.

Despite what happened between the two in Paris at the business end of the last Six Nations earlier this year, I am already beginning to lean toward Sam Warburton’s team seeing off France to go a maiden step further, and into the coveted Auckland showpiece on October 23.

The French, who downed cross-channel enemies England in a mild upset at Eden Park in Saturday’s second quarter-final, will probably take heart from the 28-9 scoreline in their favour then – Wales had needed to win by 27 points to improbably snatch the northern hemisphere title but instead were thumped by three tries to nil on the day.

But you also sense that this increasingly steely Welsh RWC team won’t be too put off by events in recent history; they are well and truly on a roll with an ever-strengthening all-round game to boast.

Their pack was cohesive, mobile and utterly determined not to give an inch to a renowned Irish eight that had so shaken up the Wallabies during pool play, whilst there were several Welsh backline stand-outs in the 22-10 triumph.

A big turning point in the match, which had been locked at 10-10 at that stage, was scrumhalf Mike Phillips’ magical moment of awareness and instinct to burst from a ruck fairly early in the second half and squeeze over at the blindside corner.

Phillips, remember, is the man who claims Bakkies Botha, no less, unusually complimented him on his “sexy blue eyes” during the Boks v Lions series two years ago; here he confirmed that at least one of those of eyes is good for spotting a crucial little hole in defence.

The No 9 is near-freakishly big for his position: someone like our own Fourie du Preez at 1.82m and 90kg is no midget either, but even he is dwarfed physically by the 1.91m and 104kg Phillips who is probably able to disguise himself quite nicely as a forward when it suits his quest for deception.

Another chunky Welsh backline element, the inside centre Jamie Roberts, was a massive presence as well - “the alarm bells ring whenever he has the ball,” enthused commentator Tony Johnson - whilst by nice contrast “little guys” like Shane Williams and the aptly-named Leigh Halfpenny were exemplary for defensive nous and commitment in the typically stiff Wellington wind.

France, it must be said, were full value for their win against England, who had a nightmare first half and were always going to struggle to claw back from a 0-16 deficit, given their tourney-long lack of real attacking oomph.

But for all their welcome show of desire after weeks of mostly bumbling disinterest at the RWC, the blue-jerseyed winners still looked a tad short of the panache French teams of old were famous for - and may well have now produced the “one big effort” they tend to offer up at World Cups.

Certainly many New Zealanders, dreaming already of the All Blacks’ installation in the final, will be clinging to that hope, given the mounting possibility that France – a bogey side of note – go on to meet them in the final.

As for South Africa, it’s a slightly daunting thought that even if they can manage to see off Australia on Sunday and very probably the host nation thereafter, they might then have to “get up” for a third massive weekend on the trot for a final against those emerging Welshmen.

If the Boks win this World Cup ... wow, they’ll have taken a high road, eh?


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