History to repeat after Rugby World Cup semis

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    In hindsight, It probably was my fault. Just prior to kickoff in Saturday’s first Rugby World Cup Semi-Final between Wales and France, I commented via Twitter: “Whatever result comes from either #RWC2011 semi tonight and tomorrow, I just hope we’re talking about the rugby and not the refs on Monday..”

    As Sam Warburton was dragging his stunned face off Eden Park, and with Alain Rolland’s red card still aloft behind him, sometime Roarer Westius came back swiftly with, “took all of 10 mins to ruin that idea!”

    Though the talk has somewhat died down three days later, I maintain Rolland got it right. Whatever you think of the decision itself, and what effect the decision had on the game, one thing remains unarguable: Warburton lifted French winger Vincent Clerc above the horizontal and ultimately dropped him on his shoulders and neck.

    And the IRB’s directive on this matter, first issued in 2009 and reiterated several times since by referee’s boss Paddy O’Brien, is quite clear about possible scenarios regarding lifting tackles, including:

    “The player is lifted and then forced or “speared” into the ground. A red card should be issued for this type of tackle.”

    When the Warburton’s tackle is looked at, and this directive is applied, it’s clear that Rolland didn’t have a whole lot of choice. Warburton had to go.

    What ensued for the remaining 61 minutes was a team performance for the RWC annals. With only 14 men, Wales pushed France until the very end, and it is still hard to argue with Welsh defence Coach Shaun Edwards’ blunt post-match offering, “The team that should be in the World Cup final on Sunday won’t be.”

    The loss of Rhys Priestland before the match really hurt Wales’ chances of stretching France, even with a full complement of players. James Hook started well enough, and kicked smartly at stages during the first half, but as the game went on, he seemed to panic and lose his way.

    During the half time break, Queensland Reds coach Ewen McKenzie offered his typically astute thoughts, saying via Twitter, “If I was Wales I would not kick the ball at all – multiple phases – simple focus on ball retention – France will stress without the ball”.

    Minutes after the break, McKenzie followed up with “Hook is killing me. Stop kicking away front foot ball in particular”. Now, I’m not sure if Welsh coach Warren Gatland is a follower, but not a minute later Hook was … well, you know. Stephen Jones went on, but nothing really improved.

    Now yes, Mike Phillips would score his second brilliant blindside sniping try in a week, and you’d have been excused for thinking Eden Park had been temporarily relocated to Cardiff for the night, such was the noise as the Welsh were urged home. But in the end, they just couldn’t land the killer blow.

    The last period of play probably highlights Wales’ night perfectly. 26 phases of possession just inside the French half, and with Jones standing deep in the pocket for a good chunk of them, yet the Welsh couldn’t get themselves any closer. In fact, for the last ten phases they lost ground, which forced Jones to spread the ball wide in desperation, only to see Jamie Roberts cough the ball up in the scramble. France were through to their second RWC Final at Eden Park.

    My point in all this is that France proved the old scoring adage that “you don’t have to draw a picture”. They won through to another crack at lifting “Bill” by doing the simple things right, just as they did in their Quarter Final against England. Thought at times they didn’t look like they wanted to play much rugby, at the times they had to, they did it very, very well.

    Their scrum was solid all night, their defence in the second half – and the last twenty minutes especially – was from the top shelf, and their dual scrumhalves, Dimitry Yachvili and Morgan Parra, kicked superbly for territory all game. They did precisely what they needed to do to win, and nothing more. You don’t have to draw a picture.

    We’re now left with a repeat of the inaugural RWC Final, and though France will obviously be hoping for a different result from 1987, I don’t like their chances.

    New Zealand are through to a third RWC final, and the surprise is perhaps not they beat Australia as clinically as they did (and do, it seems), but that there were people outside patriotic lines giving the Wallabies a chance in the first place.

    The All Blacks were always going to be up for this game, and when Quade Cooper kicked off straight into touch, you just had a bad feeling about how the night might turn out for the Wallabies. The old line, “started off s#$%house and went downhill from there” instantly sprang to mind.

    And that would turn out to be a fair assessment of the Wallabies’ performance.

    On full time, Richie McCaw had the satisfied look of a satisfied captain, and he was walking remarkably freely for a man whose foot injury was supposedly on the verge of requiring amputation. He wasn’t quite at his peak, but he still held his own in the company of New Zealand’s outstanding backrow for the whole 80 minutes.

    Of course, they weren’t the only black-clad trio to run amok. Cory Jane was the official Man of the Match, but it could just as easily have been Israel Dagg or even Israel Dagg’s prodigious right boot. These two (three) and back three partner Richard Kahui made sure the aerial game was a virtual no-contest, and I lost count of the number of times they made something from nothing from a kick-return and clever offload.

    On the other side of the ledger, if there’s a word to describe the Wallabies in general play, it’s ‘panicked’. As the night went on and time got away, the panic only seemed to intensify. Passes were pushed. Ruck ball wasn’t released. Runners became isolated. Footing was lost. At one stage, skipper James Horwill’s errant touch on a descending bomb sent the ball cannoning forward straight into the hands of an offside Adam Ashley-Cooper. It was that sort of night.

    Wallaby fans – me included – had a bit of fun with the #HandsOffSevenBlack hash tag over the weekend, but it might have had the opposite effect from that desired. “7 Gold” seemed to feature in Craig Joubert’s game commentary fairly regularly. Try as he might, David Pocock just didn’t have the same effectiveness as he did in the Quarters, although given what he got away with against South Africa, it’s probably a case of things evening out, as they tend to.

    And before anyone assumes anything, that’s not a slight on Joubert’s refereeing at all. He had an excellent game with the whistle, and the Final will be a fitting reward.

    In the end, the best team on the night – if not of the tournament – won comfortably, even though 17 points were left on the field, generally to the right of the uprights.

    If I’m honest, I always imagined New Zealand would bring about Australia’s Rugby World Cup demise in 2011. This might have happened a game earlier than forecast (or hoped), but it has happened anyway. We all like to joke about the All Blacks past penchants for falling at the second- or third-last hurdle, but I didn’t believe it would happen this time.

    A second possession of the William Webb Ellis trophy would be apt for what has clearly been the best rugby team in the world for some time.

    With another New Zealand-France RWC final, and again at Eden Park, it seems Split Enz might have got it wrong all those years ago. I’m quite sure history will repeat next Sunday night in Auckland.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (63)

    • October 18th 2011 @ 7:09am
      Moaman said | October 18th 2011 @ 7:09am | ! Report

      Very nice Brett.I was just reflecting that the buzz of the weekend is starting to wane and we are now entering that lull period,almost one of anti-climax.I hope the ABs aren’t feeling like I am because the French side is still chock full of good players and a lot of experience.I can’t help thinking though that the ‘final’ has been played…hope I am right because a stumble now would be very painful!

      • October 18th 2011 @ 9:10am
        Brett McKay said | October 18th 2011 @ 9:10am | ! Report

        Moa, all the reports coming out of NZ over the last few days have referred to this, this overwhelming sense of relief that the last hurdle is done, and now it’s just a dash for the line and glory. Complacancy won’t affect the team, I’m sure, but there’s plenty of hints of it within “the people”.

        And I can understand why they might think this way, but gee, what if … well, you know…

        • October 18th 2011 @ 9:58am
          Snobby Deans said | October 18th 2011 @ 9:58am | ! Report

          Any Kiwi who presumes to write off the French is an idiot, plain and simple. As long as the All Blacks show the French the respect they deserve, and they will, then it’ll be okay for us All Black fans.

          • October 18th 2011 @ 3:07pm
            Brad said | October 18th 2011 @ 3:07pm | ! Report

            As long as the team doesn’t write the French off (which they won’t), the public can think what they want. But going on past results I don’t think the public will be counting their chickens or roosters…
            I personally feel very nervous because I have been waiting 24 hard years, but I have faith in this team and as long as they leave nothing in the tank this weekend I will proud of them!

            • October 18th 2011 @ 3:24pm
              Brett McKay said | October 18th 2011 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

              go with the nerves Brad, they make victory all the more satisfying…

              • October 18th 2011 @ 3:29pm
                Brad said | October 18th 2011 @ 3:29pm | ! Report

                They did on Sunday!

              • October 18th 2011 @ 3:38pm
                Brett McKay said | October 18th 2011 @ 3:38pm | ! Report

                OK, you can stop posting now… 😉

    • October 18th 2011 @ 8:00am
      Jason Cave said | October 18th 2011 @ 8:00am | ! Report

      Although you just don’t know which French side will show up on Sunday-the ones that play brilliant rugby, scoring end-to-end tries, or the team that likes to be undisciplined and starts all-in brawls all the time. Ask any of the All Blacks who were there in 1994 when they suffered a unpredictable 2-0 series loss to France or the ones who played in the 1999 & the 2007 losses in the Rugby World Cup that year. Funny & strange things happen when the All Blacks play France. Write off the French team at your own peril.

      • October 18th 2011 @ 9:13am
        Brett McKay said | October 18th 2011 @ 9:13am | ! Report

        yep, it’s a fair point Jason. Even the French team and supporters shrug their shoulders and mutter “we are French, we don’t even know..”, so while you certainly can’t discount it fully, it still seems unlikely…

        • Roar Guru

          October 18th 2011 @ 2:45pm
          Hoy said | October 18th 2011 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

          I find it amazing.

          The French team are famous for being the French team I guess. So do their fans get disgruntled when they lose because they just have a famous French team off day? It infuriates me that the Wallabies have such poor consistency. Yet the French have been like this for years, and their fans still seem to love their team.

          I can’t figure it out. I am on the verge of throwing the towel in (which would never happen really) because we were so ordinary over the last 6 weeks. Even when we won, we looked ordinary, and that is the most frustrating thing I have ever known. The fact I know we could be so much better is dong my head in. How do the French fans put up with it?

          If we turn into the French, I just don’t know what I will do with myself. Take some medication I guess. French cheese and some wine?

          • October 18th 2011 @ 3:39pm
            Brett McKay said | October 18th 2011 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

            maybe that’s the answer Hoy, some mercurial yet brilliant players, and a coach constantly annoyed by them and questioning their commitment. Hang on….

    • October 18th 2011 @ 8:18am
      sixo_clock said | October 18th 2011 @ 8:18am | ! Report

      Hey Brett, good read,

      I would be gutted for Sam Warburton, he will be playing all kinds of scenes in his head for his reception back in Wales. He needn’t worry though, what he did was just a foolish bit of hotheadedness from trying to lead from the front and the majority of Rugby people will see it that way. Of course he had to get the red card, we do not ever want to compromise the long term health of our young players for mere sport.

      The Kiwis breathed a huge sigh of relief at the end, we were a threat and it took their ‘A’ game to beat us. that is respect and we should acknowledge it.

      We did not bring our ‘A’ game, players underperformed and the lack of energetic fast-thinking accurate forwards was finally exposed. All coaches in Australia should recognise this and get to work on ball retention and breakdown tactics. The useless chip and box kicks should be seen and dealt with as signs of leadership and imagination failure. We need more depth, more Rugby brains coming through and although Dingo has had some influence on that process he just hasn’t had enough support or time to get the job done. He has yet to realise the full damaging effect of tribalist politics in Oz.

      I had hoped along with everyone else for a better outcome but Rugby always has been a man’s game and the boys just didn’t have enough. The standouts like BamBam, McCabe, O’Connor, Dan, Sharpie, James, Digby, Radike, AAC were left stranded by others who could not step up, played within themselves and that result was all we could ever expect.

      • October 18th 2011 @ 9:17am
        Brett McKay said | October 18th 2011 @ 9:17am | ! Report

        Sixo, you’re on the money here. Even looking at those names you mention, if you take out Sharpe, Vickerman and Samo, you’re left with what will essentially be the core of the team going forward. It’s a bit of a cliche that they’ll “be better for the run”, but I think that’s a fair assessment as sights get realligned for 2015..

      • Roar Guru

        October 18th 2011 @ 2:48pm
        Hoy said | October 18th 2011 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

        I also notice recently the Kiwis have used their throat slitting haka for us and not too many other teams. I think it shows they are serious when they play us now. Without being an idiot about it, we are a threat to them, and they recognise us now. Only 2 years ago, we never got the “Kapa O Pango”, only the Saffas did.

        • October 18th 2011 @ 3:44pm
          Brett McKay said | October 18th 2011 @ 3:44pm | ! Report

          Hoy, it seems Kapo O Panga comes out for games they really want to win, and I think the Frenchies might have even got it during the pool stages..

          • October 18th 2011 @ 3:49pm
            the other Steve - and AB fan said | October 18th 2011 @ 3:49pm | ! Report

            they did get the Kapo O Panga

    • October 18th 2011 @ 8:49am
      Tony said | October 18th 2011 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      New Zealand can’t lose Sunday. They had one hand on the trophy when the world cup got awarded to New Zealand and they put the other on when Nonu dived over early v the Wallabies. As a neutral I just hope France play some rugby and make some sort of spectacle. All blacks by 20.

      • October 18th 2011 @ 9:15am
        ChrisT said | October 18th 2011 @ 9:15am | ! Report

        More

      • October 18th 2011 @ 9:17am
        Brett McKay said | October 18th 2011 @ 9:17am | ! Report

        Tony, they can, but I don’t think they will. 20 might be a good call…

      • October 18th 2011 @ 8:14pm
        HunterS said | October 18th 2011 @ 8:14pm | ! Report

        Paddy OBrian has his other hand on it. It was safe before the start.

    • October 18th 2011 @ 9:14am
      Handles O Love said | October 18th 2011 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      I can’t believe that the French can turn their form around. I don’t think they have produced anything so far this tournament that would lead you to think the are anything but a rabble. They hit the front against England early, and then extended their lead through a comical series of English defensive blunders. I have no doubt a 15 man Wales would have murdered them. Link might have been frustrated by Hook’s kicking, but I thought the French tactics, against a short handed opposition, were close to imbecilic. Phase play would have inevitably lead to gaps, but they continued to put the ball up high.

      Australia were disappointing, but I can’t cop this story that we were smashed. NZ are deserved winners, but I don’t think there was anything wrong with us that a fit Horne, Barnes, Beale, wouldn’t fix. Next year we should see continued growth from Ben Tapuai and Mike Harris which may put them in the picture. I am a big fan of AF, and think McCabe has done a good job, but playing them both together is simply dumb, and puts incredible pressure on Quade, which he did not handle well. Rocky is done, too.

      • October 18th 2011 @ 9:42am
        Brett McKay said | October 18th 2011 @ 9:42am | ! Report

        Handles, I guess we can’t rule out that because the French haven’t produced anything so far this tournament, that perhaps we should believe that they can turn their form around!!

        Agree with your thoughts on the Wallabies, and I do think a lot of the errors came on the back of the immense ABs pressure. In short, we played about as well as New Zealand allowed us to. And yeah, there’s no shame in getting beaten by a superior team..

        • October 18th 2011 @ 11:56am
          Jeb said | October 18th 2011 @ 11:56am | ! Report

          France has produced at this world cup which is why they can’t possibly win the final. They played their ubiquitous one good game against England. I’d love to see them make a game of it but definately feel they’ll be smashed by a big margin.

        • October 18th 2011 @ 3:56pm
          the other Steve - and AB fan said | October 18th 2011 @ 3:56pm | ! Report

          The French got rattled and then knocked over by Tonga, so their mental state and confidence can be knocked around within a game.

          Now Tonga is good, but they are not the All Blacks. If the All Balcks play their high tempo, pressure game from the beginning (as they did against the Wallabies), then France will never get the chance or the self-belief to get the ‘French Fury’ going.

          In the NZ – France pool game, the French kicked off and had the initiative for that first 10 minutes of high pressure rugby. The All Blacks defence held and hit back, and the French never really got going again.

    • Roar Guru

      October 18th 2011 @ 9:16am
      Seiran said | October 18th 2011 @ 9:16am | ! Report

      Hi Brett, Nice article

      Lookiing at the issued directive I think the ruling could have been a bit harsh

      a. “The player is lifted and then forced or ‘speared” into the ground. A red card should be issued for this type of tackle”
      b. The lifted player is dropped to the ground from a height with no regard to the player’s safety. A red card should be issued for this type of tackle.
      c. For all other types of dangerous lifting tackle it may be considered a penalty or yellow card is sufficient.”

      The winger was not speared. He was dropped. So option A should be ruled out automatically and you move to the other options. How high was he dropped from? Waist height? What constitutes ‘a height’ from option B? Was there ‘no regard to the players safety’? Hard to say, it certainly wasn’t done with any malice.

      I think option C would have been sufficient. A dangerous lifting tackle leading to a yellow card.

      • October 18th 2011 @ 9:48am
        Brett McKay said | October 18th 2011 @ 9:48am | ! Report

        Cheers Seiran, I’ve just had a similar conversation with a mate via email, so here’s a cut & pasted reply:

        “there’s another scenario in that IRB directive [point B, above], which I didn’t mention, and it says something along the line of if they player is dropped with no regard to their well being, that’s also a red card. I didn’t mention this scenario, because I don’t believe Warburton dropped him until well after the lifting and driving action, probably at the point where he realised what he’d done. He has lifted, he has driven over the top, and he did drop at the last moment. All those fit into the red card scenarios…”

        And maybe the Yellow might have been the safer option on the night, but now that Warburton has copped another 3 weeks, the tackle obviously warranted further action, and hence my thoughts that Rolland got it right..

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