Wallabies set to carve path to final
It’s official: the Wallabies are the form team of the World Cup. Doomsayers were predicting Australia would struggle to get out of the much talked about ‘group of death’, but Pool A eventually proved fatal for England, who were unceremoniously dumped out of tournament by a blistering Wallabies performance.
Bernard Foley, David Pocock and Michael Hooper were the standouts in a magnificent team display as the Wallabies dismantled the desperate hosts 33-13 at Twickenham.
The oft-maligned Australian side has now surged to the second line of favouritism behind New Zealand. And with the All Blacks misfiring, the Springboks suffering a loss to Japan, England out and the other contenders meandering through the group stage, the Wallabies are suddenly the most feared team at the RWC.
A win over Wales this weekend – which has been made more difficult by a one-game ban to Hooper for overzealous ruck play and an ankle injury to Israel Folau – would see Australia finish at the top of the pool, pitching them into a quarter-final date with Scotland (most likely) or Japan. From there, they would take on the winner of the France/Ireland v Argentina quarter-final match-up.
It’s all falling into place for Michael Cheika and co. at present.
Israel Folau is an injury worry for the Wallabies against Wales having turned his ankle & failed to train this week. pic.twitter.com/KFT1hhzmqP
— EatSleepRugby (@eatsleeprugby) October 6, 2015
After an up-and-down season that has seen him repeatedly pushed aside to give the erratic Quade Cooper multiple chances, Bernard Foley has an iron-clad grip on the Wallabies No.10 jumper after one of the great Test performances against England.
The Waratahs linchpin scored two sensational tries, produced a flawless goalkicking exhibition and was astute and decisive in general play, easing coach Michael Cheika’s biggest line-up worry and relieving him of the ridiculous charade of persevering with Cooper.
Foley had a monopoly on the Wallabies’ scoresheet until Matt Giteau’s late try, eventually finishing with a mammoth 28-point haul from two tries, three conversions and four penalties. An area of weakness now shapes as one of the resurgent Australians’ trump cards.
All Blacks ‘foxing’?
Nervous New Zealanders are in a frenzy back home, bewildered by the All Blacks’ lacklustre showings against some of the least heralded teams at the tournament. Fresh from the second-stringers’ scrappy 58-14 defeat of Namibia, a virtual full-strength New Zealand side bumbled their way to a 43-10 win over Georgia.
All this after having to recover from a halftime deficit to down Argentina 26-16 in their first outing. But All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, in his trademark laconic style, declared there was absolutely nothing to worry about, and that his charges are merely saving themselves for the bigger games.
That doesn’t quite explain the spate of dropped ball, turnovers, poor execution and errant goalkicking, but Hansen’s relaxed attitude must offer anxious Kiwi fans a tiny bit of confidence as archrivals Australia blast their way through the pool stage.
Japan fairytale stays alive
After recording just one win in seven previous World Cups, Japan have two major scalps in their keeping from their 2015 campaign, trouncing Samoa 26-5 in the wake of their watershed defeat of South Africa.
A quarter-final berth is unlikely, but still possible. If Samoa beats Scotland – who overwhelmed Japan 45-10 with a second-half blitz – then the Cherry Blossoms will progress…provided they take care of USA in their final pool game.
It’s heady times for the code in Japan, with the Tokyo-announced Sunwolves officially unveiled as a new entrant in the 2016 Super Rugby competition earlier this week, following on from record viewing numbers for their nation’s World Cup fixtures.
— EatSleepRugby (@eatsleeprugby) October 5, 2015
Boks back on track
South Africa have quietly gone about atoning for the humiliation of their defeat to Japan, wiping the floor with Samoa and then Scotland to all but confirm their place at the top of Pool B. Assuming they beat USA, the Springboks will be the first qualifier from their group and face off against the loser of the Wales-Australia blockbuster in the quarter-finals.
There won’t be too many sides looking forward to meeting the two-time champs in the knockout phase, least of all their likely semi-final opponents, New Zealand. The mood has certainly improved since that shock result in Brighton.
— South African Rugby (@Springboks) October 6, 2015
Hailed as a dark-horse for the final, Ireland are on a quarter-final collision course with the All Blacks unless they can undergo a significant transformation ahead of the crunch Pool D showdown with France.
Ireland was given an almighty fright by Italy, eking out a 16-9 win after the gutsy Azzuri pulled to within one point midway through the second half.
If they can pull off a win over Les Bleus to finish atop their group, Ireland would face a tricky quarter-final assignment against Argentina – and on current form, we’d back the Pumas.
— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) October 6, 2015
Fiji end brave campaign in style
Fiji drew the short straw big time by being put in the same pool as England, Australia and Wales, but they’ve been easily the most impressive Pacific nation at the tournament so far.
While Tonga crashed to defeat against Georgia and Samoa were stunned by Japan, Fiji were gallant in their three losses to the heavyweight nations, holding England to a tenuous seven-point lead until the latter stages of the World Cup opener and preventing Australia and Wales from picking up a four-try bonus.
They received a chance to flex their muscles against minnows Uruguay, and recorded a 47-15 win featuring seven tries to finish with a flourish.
Romania create history
Romania has provided another reminder that World Cups aren’t just about the heavyweight showdowns and the eventual winners, earning a euphoric 17-15 victory over Canada after trailing 15-0 early in the second half. The wild celebrations of The Oaks’ maiden victory at the 2015 tournament – achieved via a 77th-minute penalty goal by centre Florin Vlaicu – were as fervent as anything we’ll see after the final.
RUGBY WORLD CUP RESULTS
Tonga 35 d. Namibia 21
Wales 23 d. Fiji 13
France 41 d. Canada 18
New Zealand 43 d. Georgia 10
Japan 26 d. Samoa 5
South Africa 34 d. Scotland 16
Australia 33 d. England 13
Argentina 45 d. Tonga 16
Ireland 16 d. Italy 9
Romania 17 d. Canada 15
Fiji 47 d. Uruguay 15