This past weekend’s quarter-final matches were some of the most intense games I have seen in years! There were unexpected results, joy, and heartbreak all around.
It was the end of an era for a number of legends of the game most notably Johnny Sexton (Ireland) and Dan Biggar (Wales). The victories were hard-fought and set up two incredible semi-finals.
Wales vs. Argentina – if I were a betting man, I would immediately have gone for Wales, but there were a couple of things that clearly went wrong in this game and I feel Wales didn’t do themselves any favors in their team selections.
When Dan Biggar and Liam Williams are in good nick, they are both game-changers for Wales. They were, quite clearly not playing at their best and not yet back to full fitness, despite their valiant efforts. One could see that they weren’t able to play at the required level.
The first half contained a lot of chaos with a constantly changing momentum. Argentina grew in strength and confidence as the game wore on and when their own legend, Augustine Creevy, stepped onto the field, things finally just went one way.
Ireland vs. New Zealand – the game was an amazing game of test match rugby. The Irish team displayed their technical and well-disciplined brilliance. New Zealand displayed their match-breaking prowess. For the vast majority of the game, there was absolutely nothing in it.
The only difference for me was the one moment where Ireland’s defense left a gap and Mo’unga split them open and put Will Jordan up for his try.
It showed just how little New Zealand needs to pull off a match-winning play.
The Irish team deserved to be in a semi-final at least and to have equaled the 18-match winning streak. Sadly, the cruelness of the draw left them with yet another quarter-final exit.
England vs. Fiji – I do have a lot of criticism for some of the things that England did during the game that I feel wasn’t done in the spirit of the game and I stand by that.
That being said, they faced an absolute onslaught from Fiji and they found a way not only to weather the storm but put the needed points on the board to get them through to a semi-final.
Fiji played brilliantly at times but when it mattered they lost their structure. Had they been able to stick with it the outcome might have been different. It was clear that this way of playing is still not ingrained in them and a clear indication of the lack of high-level test matches for this team. I hope this changes in years to come.
England were able to pull off the win and made the right decisions at the right time. The Farrell drop goal to make it 27-24 was a pivotal moment and put the scoreboard pressure on the Fijians.
You only needed to look at Marcus Smith’s face during and after the game to clearly see how much this English team wanted it
France vs South Africa – If ever there was a game of inches, this was it.
The South African team played a hard-hitting game with moments of finesse weaved in between. This variation was a bit surprising to see as was the 5/3 split on the bench.
The French matched the South African team and clearly outplayed them with some of their deft touches.
The French carried the weight of a nation on their shoulders and I think Dupont unfairly carried most of that. Although he was on the field, he wasn’t his usual confident and game-dominating self.
In retrospect, the difference was a charge-down conversion attempt by Cheslin Kolbe, which set up a juice semi-final encounter between the 2019 finalists.
Losers of the Weekend
Officiating in test matches has to be extremely hard because you know you will get heat from somewhere. Doing so at a World Cup during quarter-final matches, especially ones as close as we saw, even more so.
Not passing judgment on any of these calls but definitely something that needs to be looked at moving forward.
Aaron Smith got a yellow card for his deliberate knockdown, while Farrell didn’t.
In the Wales vs Argentina game there were two head contact incidents that were sensibly not turned into yellow cards for Habosi and Etzebeth where it could have been adjudigated differently.
Yet, no sanction for Tom Curry for his no-arms chop tackle, which could have been a career-ender for Tuisova. Tuisova also landed on his head and neck.
That left there. We need consistency!
The second loser of the week is the pool draws. The draw was done in 2020 already resulting in the top 5 teams located in 2 Pools.
Based on recent form, Scotland should have been in a quarterfinal and the semis should have been contested between New Zealand, France, Ireland, and South Africa.
This needs to be relooked.
Winners of the weekend
In terms of winners, I am not going to highlight teams as every team gave their all. I am going to mention 3 players that I feel were exceptional.
In third place, I have to mention Cheslin Kolbe. He put in everything into every play where he could possibly be involved in. He made his tackles and made some telling runs to go over 120 running meters for the game. His try was a beautiful one but he showed a hunger for absolutely every opportunity to influence the game.
With Pollard’s kick to make it 29-25 from halfway, He chased down the kick all the way until it landed just in case. The charge down of Ramos’ conversion attempt was the 1-point difference the Springboks needed.
In second place, have to mention Ardie Savea. He was an absolute behemoth for the All Blacks. The whole team was impressive but no one came close to him.
He put in the tackles, made his bullocking piercing runs, and scored spectacularly. He also competed fiercely and accurately at a number of rucks to force the turnovers. In many respects, his performance drove the New Zealand team to victory.
In the first place, I have to put Ben Earl. In England’s first game of the World Cup against Argentina, he was immense. I was shocked to hear that he wasn’t going to make it into the squad originally!
When you look at how he played that game and how he performed against Fiji, you have to wonder why.
He was an absolute rockstar loose forward on Saturday.
England was taking a physical beating at ruck time from Fiji but he stood strong turning the ball over a couple of times and securing it for his team at other times.
He was a ball of energy on attack and defense with repeated tackles and impressive carries.
Overall, just an amazing weekend of rugby, and I for one salute all the teams.