Quarterfinalists prepare, 12 teams out
By Maxx Steinmetz
The Tier 2 nations’ time in the limelight is now over, but it certainly not to be forgotten. In the last week of pool play they made sure that they left this year’s tournament as strongly as they came.
USA is out
South African great Bryan Habana scored a hat trick in his game against a USA “B” side, seeing him level legends Jonah Lomu (of New Zealand) and David Campese (of Australia) for most world cup tries and most international tries respectively. Habana’s tries were only three of the ten scored in the thumping the South African Springboks gave the USA Eagles, despite the Americans holding them to 14-0 at the half.
Mike Tolkin intentionally fielded a weak side against those Southern Hemisphere juggernauts to save his top players a four day turn around recovery and to focus on the game against Japan that would end pool play for the tournament.
Sticking to plan was what Tolkin and his boys did, despite Japan showing their growth in the last four years having beaten both South Africa and Samoa in the previous weeks. The two sides met at Kingsholm, known for lacking size in the stands, but also for the fans’ ability to make up for it in noise.
The first half saw Japan continue their crisp, clean passing and fast defensive line. The defensive line speed was also an attribute that the Eagles put on display, though the power in contact was much more apparent when the Americas were in possession of the ball.
The boot of Japanese fullback Ayuma Goromaru was the last to tack points at the end of the half. Kingsholm fell dead silent in respect to the kicker, a tradition that has been sadly (in my opinion) dying out, with the exception of one fan of whom the commentator remarked:
“Goromaru did not listen to one clown who shouted ‘Miss it!’ in an otherwise silent Kingsholm.”
With tries coming from Takudzwa Nqwenya for the Americans and Kotaro Matsushima and Yoshikazu Fujita for the Japanese, the score stood at 8-17 in favor of Japan.
The second half, however, read much the same as the other second halves for the Eagles. Both discipline and a disparity between the skill levels of the starting 15 and the bench were too much, as the Japanese were able to tighten the screw on the Eagles. A yellow card for repeated infringements was given to American prop Eric Fry, giving Japan all they needed to put the game out of reach with a try scored by Amanaki Mafi from an uncontested maul off of a line-out.
A look to what the Americans are capable of was seen as the captain Chris Wyles was able to stroll over the white-wash after cooler heads prevailed as the members of the team who primarily play sevens emptied their tanks and rumbled up the pitch, doling out offload after offload.
When asked of his opinions of the pool matches, Japanese captain Michael Leitch said, “This game was probably – definitely the toughest of the four,” which stood as testament to the efforts against his team. With their win over the Americans, Japan automatically qualified for the next world cup for the first time in their history, which is handy, since they’ll be hosting in 2019. They also became the first team to win three pool matches and not make the quarterfinals.
As it will always happen in a world cup after three and a half weeks, 12 squads needed to go home. Host nation England bowed out of the tournament alongside Fiji, Uruguay, Namibia, Samoa, Japan, USA, Tonga, Georgia, Namibia, Italy, Canada, and Romania.
Despite having to leave, England, Japan, Georgia, and Italy can, however, rest easier. They have automatically qualified for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, each having placed third in their respective pools.
This weekend, the quarterfinalists face off. South Africa will take on an injury-ravaged Wales. A New Zealand side that has been in questionable form goes toe-to-toe with an unpredictable France. A strengthening Argentina side with flair to spare plays against an Ireland who will be missing stalwarts O’Connell, O’Mahoney, Sexton, all to injury as well as O’Brian to discipline. Lastly, the thistle of Scotland will stand against an Australian onslaught.
I foresee all the Southern Hemisphere teams being able to deal with their opponents — with one exception. If New Zealand continues to play as uncharacteristically sloppy as they have been, and if the France that shows up is akin to one that crushed New Zealand in 2007, then the Kiwis could be getting an earful from back home since they are the defending champions from 2011 tournament.
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Maxx Steinmetz is currently the Match Secretary of Rutland Rugby Football Club. A ten year rugby veteran, he captained the Rutland Roosters in 2013.