On October 7, 2015

Rugby World Cup picture comes into focus

“Pool of death” solidifies; records set throughout

By Maxx Steinmetz

The second week of Rugby World Cup 2015 has been proving to be as exciting as to be expected, though no major upsets have taken place such as Georgia’s victory over Tonga and — more famously — Japan’s win over South Africa in the first week.

Despite a lack of upsets, to the chagrin of many a neutral fan, several notable records were set.

First, Italy’s Mauro Bergamasco joined Samoa’s Brian Lima as one of two players ever to have played in five world cup tournaments, a time spanning 20 years.

Later it was Samoa who set a record with the Pisi brothers, Ken, Tusi, and George taking the record for most siblings on the pitch at the same time.

In week 3 of the tournament, another record was set — with its loss to Australia, host nation England became the first host ever to fail to exit pool play.

England v. Wales, Sept. 26

The most anticipated match of Pool A (nicknamed the “pool of death”), perhaps even in pool play in general, saw the two Six Nations (an annual tournament between England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy, and France) rivals vie for a what was certainly seen as an all-but-certain berth into the knockout stages.

As was to be expected of the occasion between these perennial contenders, there was an air of pageantry preceding this nighttime game, overlooked by princes Harry (who wore the England jersey) and William (who wore a Wales warmup jacket).

As a Wales supporter (after the USA Eagles, of course), it was really cool to see such such a gesture, even if it was politically driven. The elder son of the Prince of Wales was also seen singing the Welsh anthem, “Mae Hen Wlad” after he and his brother sang “God save the Queen.”

The game itself was an intense affair. Both fly-halves for England and Wales, Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar respectively, were able to put on a kicking clinic. Both had a 100 percent kicking rate on the night- an impressive feat as penalty kicks are taken from the exact point on the field where the opposition infringed on the laws of the sport.

In the second half, during a single passage of play, the plague of injuries in the Welsh camp continued as three players went off due to injury. Despite having men out of position a crucial try came from Welsh scrum-half Gareth Davies. That try, combined with Biggar’s “man-of-the-match” winning performance, won the game 28 to 25 in Wales’ favor, despite having trailed 16 to 9 at half time – the England score was burgeoned by a try from winger, Jonny May.

Scotland v. USA, Sept. 27

Coming off of a 25 to 16 defeat at the hands of Samoa, the USA Eagles set their sights on Six Nation competitor, Scotland. With a plethora of seven-a-side style players on USA’s squad, coach Mike Tolken looked as if he wanted to keep the tempo of the game high for their competitor, the men emblazoned with the thistle of Scotland.

In the first half, that’s exactly what happened. Despite troubles at the line-out (a set piece play used to restart the game when the ball has gone out of bounds), the USA Eagles’ forwards were aggressive at the scrums and rucks, while the backs were elusive and looked to outpace their Scottish adversaries.

Thanks to these efforts, and a try from prop Tito Lamositele and the boot of A.J. McGinty the Eagles led the Scots 13 to 6 at half time.

Scotland’s coach Vern Cotter picked up the gauntlet that the Eagles forwards threw at his feet by replacing the Scottish prop forwards, a move that shows great respect to the opposition.

This change of personnel at the break was evidently what was needed to turn the tides and get Scotland to start playing their game. Patience, grit, and maintaining possession saw Scotland through the test – and to the top of Pool B’s table with a 39 to 16 win over the Eagles.

New Zealand v. Georgia, Oct. 2

In Pool C, New Zealand, ranked number 1 in the world, took to the pitch against tier 2 minnow Georgia. In week one, Georgia took a major scalp by beating Tonga 17-10, though that result was soon overshadowed by the defeat of the rugby juggernaut the Springboks of South Africa to the Japanese.

New Zealand, on the other hand, put down its adversaries Argentina and Namibia with relative ease, though the final half of the Namibia game left much to be desired, as the African team was able to dictate the pace of the game, if not the scoreboard.

The opening 10 minutes of this fixture was great to watch — bruising runs, stout defense, a well taken try by New Zealand that was immediately answered by Georgia off of an interception.

The remainder of the game, however, saw the New Zealand game erode the Georgian defense — despite a lack of momentum, chemistry, and timing that is characteristic of the New Zealand “All-Blacks,” not to mention that fly-half Daniel Carter evidently forgot his kicking boots in the changing room, contributing to his 69 percent accuracy from the kicking tee.

The performance was so uncharacteristic that the “Man-of-the-Match” award was not awarded to a player from the winning team. It was the captain of the Georgian Marmuka “Gorgodzilla” Gorgodze, who deservedly took the award.

Though the scoreboard begged to differ, the result is a huge moral win for Georgia – and extremely worrying for many critics, as the defending champions are not putting in the performances needed to retain their title, especially against the likes of Australia and South Africa.

In the third week of the World Cup, the USA Eagles have their “bye-week.” Their next match is against South Africa. Many a nostalgic fan will remember when, in 2007, Eagle winger (and then no-name) Takudza Ngwenya burned world-renowned speedster Bryan Habana to score what was eventually named “try of the tournament.”

Results Sept. 23 – Oct. 4, 2015

(Home – Away)

Scotland 45 – 10 Japan

Australia 28 – 13 Fiji

France 38 – 11 Romania

New Zealand 58 – 14 Namibia

Argentina 54 – 9 Georgia

Italy 23 – 18 Canada

South Africa 46 – 6 Samoa

England 25 – 28 Wales

Australia 65 – 3 Uruguay

Scotland 39 – 16 USA

Ireland 44 – 10 Romania

Tonga 35 – 21 Namibia

Wales 23 – 13 Fiji

France 41 – 18 Canada

New Zealand 43 – 10 Georgia

Samoa 5 – 26 Japan

South Africa 34 – 16 Scotland

England 13 – 33 Australia

Argentina 45 – 16 Tonga

Ireland 16 – 9 Italy

Maxx Steinmetz is  a 10-year rugby veteran, and is currently the Match Secretary of Rutland Rugby Football Club.

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