Sins of Commission

We could (and maybe should) be sitting here today talking about how Ireland had just become the 3rd team to win a series in South Africa, joining a pantheon that include the 1974 Lions and the 1996 BNZ-ers, but we fell agonisingly short up in Jo’burg. Going into the game, we thought we had a fantastic chance to seal the series, but that managing the altitude would be the biggest challenge.

And so it proved. We were 16 points ahead with 20 minutes to go but lost by 6, utterly decimated in the last quarter by the rampaging Springboks. It had began to feel ropey when Ruan Combrinck scored – it was the beginning of tired tackling (and non-tackling) and would not have surprised someone aware a sea level team were playing at 1800m. We scored again of course, but the frustration was we were unable to stem the tide. Could we have done anything about it? Well yes, but there are sins of omission and sins of commission.

When we saw the Ireland 23, we said that the starters would give us a great opportunity to win this game, but we had concerns about the low octane bench. This was the sin of omission. Whatever the altitude, you are going to use your 5 replacement forwards – if our gameplan was to get ahead of SA and hang on, you want to see some forwards on your bench who can come in and go mad for 20 minutes, hit everything and maybe crash into some Springboks too. In recent times, two of our most effective impact replacements have been Nugget and Ultan Dillane – but we picked neither. Instead we had Strauss, who on all known form offered less than Cronin, and Donnacha Ryan, who is a super player, but no Dillane off the bench. Maybe a better option as a starter than Dillane, but wearing 19 is a different task. In the event, every one of our forward replacements had little, if not negative, impact (except maybe Flashheart).

That’s the piano shifters. In the ranks of the piano players the selection was fine (albeit with very little alternatives in the case of 21 and 22) but our non-use of the bench was perplexing – five collective minutes for the 3 of them, with O’Halloran riding the pine for the whole game. In Ellis Park, with the Boks rampant from minute 60, that’s unforgivable. What was required from 60 onwards was simply to tackle – our starting backs had gone from making, to soaking, to missing and they were spent. No-one expected Madigan and O’Halloran to come in and run length of the field tries, but merely to make a couple of tackles and offer some respite. Both are actually good defenders as well – no Jonny Wilkinsons but no iHumphs either.

You’ll have to forgive the negative tone because we’re still so frustrated at the missed opportunity, but it needs to be pointed out how excellent Ireland were in the first half. The major impact of the lack of oxygen seemed to be dozy decision-making from the South Africans, who gave Ireland cheap penalties by the sackful (which should have been punished by a yellow by half time) and Ireland made them pay. Paddy Jackson had a great first half, and Furlong’s destruction of the Beast was incredible. This felt like the day Furlong truly arrived as a test rugby player.  We almost – almost! – put them away, and each of the two missed penalties to get to 22-3 may have sealed the deal. It was a truly excellent display, until the environmental constraints got us.

Problem is now, Coetzee has maybe stumbled upon his best team – expect Warren Whitely and Ruan Combrinck to start in PE, and Damian de Allende and maybe even le Roux have been successfully played into form. We’ll have Stander back, but we’re down Henshaw and another backline rejig is in prospect. Although a centre partnership of Olding and Marshall looks light, we’d prefer that to moving Payne from the 15 shirt. If Schmidt is true to his word of giving everyone gametime, we’ll see Healy and O’Halloran as well. It would have been a nice luxury to be able to start them in a dead rubber Test, but it ain’t the case. Which is frustrating.

New Faces, Old Problems

Egg was excited and full of anticipation all day Saturday and on his way to the Palindrome – Deccie had picked a side in good form, South Africa were injury-hit and the 5:30 kickoff is very much conducive to pints and atmosphere. By two minutes into the second half, all the hope started to die – the Springboks had gotten over a listless and indisciplined first half and had decided to play like men. And Ireland had no answer. It ended up as a quiet whacking and bagging.

There were definite pluses in some individual performances, but the biggest issue with the current coaching ticket re-asserted itself – Ireland appeared to have no plan to actually win the game, and were devoid of cohesiveness and unresponsive when the stakes were raised. The familiar shuffling of the ball across the back line re-appeared, which South Africa easily defended until the inevitable mistake.  With the ball, they took the short-side option too often and found themselves getting isolated regularly.  They lacked the ball-carrying heft to get through South Africa, and never looked like they had the smarts to get around them.  With a defence coach in charge of attack, little wonder.

First the positives – Chris Henry and Mike McCarthy carried their provincial form into the international stage – both looked comfortable on the biggest stage and were Ireland’s most influential players. We’ve been hugely critical of their non-selection in the past, and this was why – McCarthy tackled himself to a standstill, and Henry’s breakdown work was quality. Both should now be treated as incumbents and allowed to hold on to the shirt against the Pumas – McCarthy alongside O’Connell should he be back, and Henry at openside in Sean O’Brien’s continued absence.

Simon Zebo did well at full-back – his boot wasn’t as consistently accurate as Bob’s (whose is?) but he was safe under the high ball and threatening in possession – he looked hungry and ran hard lines. Necessity was the mother of this invention, but he passed a tough test. New boy and gaelgoir Risteard O hOstrais had a good debut – he didn’t see the space he routinely finds in the HEC/Pro12, but he threw reasonably well, and was a nuisance at ruck time.

On the other side of the ledger, the major problem is Ireland’s gameplan, or lack thereof. The positive and purposeful way the Pumas beat Wales yesterday does not augur well for the next big assignment – Argentina will be confident and will feel if they can impose their set piece on Ireland, we may not have an answer. We saw this aspect of our play improve during the Six Nations, so we can only hope that will be the case again, and we will approach the Argentina game with something less muddled.  Best prepare for a repeat of the edgy, nervy abomination of a game exactly four years ago, only with a better Argentina.

On the personnel front, Jamie Heaslip will be disappointed with his first day as captain – his yellow card topped off a tough day at the office. The bench had virtually no impact – Reddan was powerless to speed things up behind a going-nowhere pack and Donncha’s frantic windmilling on the sideline was merely a prelude to a decimated scrum in his first action, and the O’Gara to 10/Sexton to 12 play is predictable and pointless.

In spite of the positive displays and close scoreboard, the buzzards seem to be circling around the carcass of the team right now – if we don’t beat the Pumas, Deccie will be the lamest of lame ducks and a 2012 that has been so positive for the provinces will end as a proper annus horribilis for the national side.

Ireland v South Africa: Teamtalk

Deccie named his team for the South Africa game yesterday, and given we are missing 6 of our best players, all possible Lions (Best, O’Connell, Ferris, O’Brien, O’Driscoll, Kearney), it was pretty much the best we could do under the circumstances. Credit is due to Deccie here – we have given him stick in the past for excessive loyalty to particular players, but this XV is largely in-form and its exciting and refreshing, and is absent of the slightly stodgy feel of recent Ireland teams. Let’s hope its a (much belated) new leaf and not another example of injury being our best selector.

At full-back, its Simon Zebo who gets the nod – we’re pretty much ok with it – there aren’t too many better options, and it allows an experienced and in-form three-quarter line of Bowe-Earls-D’Arcy-Skrela to be picked. If Earls (say) had gone to 15, that would probably have resulted in that line looking like Bowe-Cave-D’Arcy-Zebo, which, while being equally hot, is much less experienced. The backline looks like it might have tries in it too, which, if it does not win us the game, should at least help to sell a few more tickets for the Pumas game. The halves pick themselves at this stage – we have to accept Eoin Reddan is just not going to be first choice, but Murray is in good form and his breaking threat could be a crucial factor.

In the backrow, Chris Henry finally gets recognition for his 18 months of excellence at openside flanker, Jamie Heaslip captains the side from 8, and Peter O’Mahony steps into the immense shoes of Fez on the blindside. For all Ireland’s army of blindsides, the only realistic alternative to this selection was throwing baby-faced NWJMB in – the bench will do for him, and those present in the Palindrome should note the “I was here when…” moment of his debut.

We touted Mike McCarthy as the horse for the Springbok course a few weeks ago, and Deccie’s refreshing break with Connacht-ignoring tradition should be widely applauded – McCarthy has been in great form for the Westerners and fully deserves his call-up – he has the type of meat we traditionally lack in that division and which is an essential of beating the Boks. He’ll be partnered by the worryingly out-of-form, but international revelation of last year, Donnacha Ryan – its a mean-looking second row, and it will need to be – Etzebeth and Kruger are simply monstrous.

Risteard O hOstrais will face off against his cousin Adriaan after kissing the blarney stone, drinking a pint of Guinness, repressing his emotions and completing the 3 year residency qualification – some have proclaimed it the end of days, but is he really any less deserving than the likes of Dion O Cuinneagean, who got shoehorned in on the Granny rule? Thankfully, both first choice props are fit, or even John Knox would be getting out the rosary beads.

The bench is pretty uninspiring, which isn’t that shocking given the injury list. Only Eoin Reddan looks capable of making an impact, and its sad Deccie hasn’t thrown caution completely to the wind – Dan Tuohy or Ryan Caldwell would assuredly offer more from the bench than O’Callaghan, and surely the ship has sailed on Ronan O’Gara’s international usefulness – blooding Paddy Jackson might have been the better option. [Note: Meyer’s preference for Morne ahead of Elton Jantjes has a similar feel]

And what of the Springboks? No surprise, its a beastly-looking pack that will be put in the right places by Ruan Pienaar, whose dual with Johnny Sexton for most influential player in Europe moves to the international stage. Looking at the beef quotient, there are significant Springbok advantages in the second row and the flanks – Alberts and Etzebeth are particularly huge. If the Bok bosh merchants get their bosh and boot game going, and the forwards start making holes, its difficult to see Ireland’s superior looking outside backs being the position to take advantage.

Like Ireland, South Africa are injury hit, low on confidence and in experimentation mode. The Boks aren’t quite there for the taking, but with a full-strength Irish side, you might be quietly confident. As it is, we have our best side possible on the pitch, but we feel the unrelenting physicality needed for this assignment might just be beyond a pack with a pretty green tinge to it. We’ll travel in hope on Saturday, but expect a Boks victory by between 7 and 10.

Ireland: S Zebo; T Bowe, K Earls, G D’Arcy, A Trimble; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; D Ryan, M McCarthy; P O’Mahony, C Henry, J Heaslip (capt).

Replacements: D Kilcoyne, M Bent, S Cronin, D O’Callaghan, I Henderson, E Reddan, R O’Gara, F McFadden.

South Africa: Z Kirchner, JP Pietersen, J Taute, J de Villiers (capt), F Hougaard, P Lambie, R Pienaar; T Mtawarira, A Strauss, J du Plessis, E Etzebeth, J Kruger, F Louw, W Alberts, D Vermeulen.

Replacements: S Brits, CJ van der Linde, P Cilliers, F van der Merwe, M Coetzee, M Steyn, J de Jongh, L Mvovo.

What If … Wales had beaten South Africa?

So … that was the World Cup that was. New Zealand, the best team in the tournament, won it, but lost the final. A monumental choke didn’t cost them because of an absolutely shameful performance from Joubert. Example: on 76 minutes, the following happened:
  • Jerome Kaino leaps over a ruck and grabs the ball. Cue French demands for a penalty
  • Joubert: Leave it!
  • Kaino throws the ball back on the French side
  • Joubert: Ball is out!
  • NZ compete and ultimately force a knock on
Appalling. We have no desire to harp on about refereeing, but its really not acceptable. Anyway, we aren’t here to talk about Craig Joubert, we are here to talk about New Zealand.
So, they are a brilliant side, but they aren’t that good when forced to manage with Andy Ellis and Beaver at half-back – not that surprising – how would Ireland fare with Isaac Boss and Niall O’Connor pulling the reins?
Here at Whiff of Cordite, we think there was only one other side apart from France capable of beating the Blacks – the mighty Springboks. The rest of the Northern Hemisphere sides would have supinely surrendered, and we saw how easily the Wallabies were swatted aside in the semi-final.
With South Africa, you can be assured of 80 minutes of high intensity and physicality. You can also be certain that, like France, they genuinely believe they can beat New Zealand, and will plan accordingly.
“What If?” scenario 1 is an obvious one, that South Africa managed to turn territory into points against Australia, and go through to a semi-final, but we thinking the more interesting one is below, as later was better to play New Zealand.
This scenario goes back over 6 weeks, to September 11, when a late Francois Hougaard try helped the Boks squeeze out Wales 17-16. We’re not sure if we can get it down to one moment – P Divvy deciding to keep faith with the underperforming Bryan Habana maybe – but lets say Wales managed to close out the game – how would the tournament have panned out?
On the Kiwi side of the draw, we don’t see much impact – even if Wales managed to beat Australia (which they didn’t last Friday), they would not have beaten New Zealand. In the top half, South Africa would have been pitted against Ireland. There is a reasonable chance Ireland would not have been as sloppy as they were against Wales if faced by dark green jerseys, but the performance was way below what was required to beat the Boks – SA victory.
Next round, its France. And it isn’t France of the final, its France of the semi-final – who, to be brutally fair, were desperate. Save Heinrich Broussow being rightly red carded for a tip tackle on Vincent Clerc in the 17th minute by the half-French and arrogant (copyright Barnesy) Alain Rolland, the Boks would have done it.
Now it’s the final – and the New Zealand nerves are starting to jangle. Your average South African rugby man does not have an inferiority complex regarding anyone, never mind the black shirt, and the ferocity and clarity of purpose shown by France would most likely have been replicated.
On the other hand, France have dimensions that South Africa don’t – you don’t need to worry about Morne Steyn breaking the line and looking to offload the way Francois Trinh-Duc did – but the manner of the New Zealand collective panic gives South Africa a chance.
And, finally, the trump card. Picture the scene – 76 minutes have gone, New Zealand are a point up but South Africa have possession, it’s a ruck about 35 metres from the NZ posts. Jermone Kaino leaps over the ruck and grabs the ball. Instead of “Leave It”, you hear “Penalty Green”. Craig Joubert, watching in the stand, leaps up and cheers – Alain Rolland has just awarded his fellow countrymen a penalty 35 metres out, with 4 minutes to go, and the most reliable goal-kicker in the world has the ball in his hands……

Whiff of Cordite Team of RWC11

Here in Cordite Towers, we are getting our retaliation in first, and presenting our Dream Team of the RWC. Obviously, in some positions, there is potential for us to have our angelic faces covered in egg, but we are willing to risk that. Next week, we will be revealing our Nightmare Team of the Tournament, consisting of players who covered themselves in embarrassment and shame during the competition.

The 4 best teams in the tournament; New Zealand, France, Wales and South Africa dominate the selection as expected, with only 1 player from outside this group – the immense Gorgodzilla.

1. Jean-Baptiste Poux (France) – Destructive in the scrum and an effective operator in the loose – unlikely to be going on barnstorming (Ooooooh) Tonga’uiha esque runs, but his power has given France a real platform.
Honourable mention: Guthro Steenkamp (South Africa), Cian Healy (Ireland). Steenkamp is a big man, and was the pick of the rest. Healy had a very good group stage, but learned a lesson against Adam Jones

2. William Servat (France) – An excellent open-field runner whose darts are accurate and secure and who can scrummage- Servat has every attribute a modern hooker requires, and he has shown them all in this tournament.
Honourable mention: Mario Ledesma (Argentina), Rory Best (Ireland). Best is playing the best rugby of his career right now and Ledesma oozes desire and class

3. Owen Franks (New Zealand) – The NZ scrum has been solid against 2 of the strongest units around, and dominant against Australia. Ben’s understated yet crucial contribution to the cause may be yet to reach its zenich, if NZ decide to Munster it on Sunday.
Honourable mention: Adam Jones (Wales), Nicolas Mas (France), Jannie du Plessis (South Africa). A lot of tight heads were embarrassing, like Ben Alexander and Dan Cole, but these 3 were solid and gave their teams a real platform

4. Danie Roussow (South Africa) – Gave away the decisive penalty against the Wallabies, but had a storming tournament aside from that – seemed to get over the gainline every carry and was rock solid in the set piece.
Honourable mention: Luke Charteris (Wales), Patricio Albacete (Argentina). Albacete dominated the lineout in all his sides big games, and Charteris showed all lanky light locks that the future can be bright

5. Lionel Nallet (France) – France have had the best lineout in the tournament (particularly defensively) and Nallet has been at the heart of that. His aggression in the loose has been notable as well.
Honourable mention: Brad Thorn (New Zealand). Dominant presence in the NZ engine room, brings real power and agressive rucking to the table

6. Schalk Burger (South Africa) – The Boks tame inability to get on the scoreboard was nothing to do with Shalk, whose physical ruck work and tackling were of the highest order. With Roussow, the standout forward in the best unit.
Honourable mention: Jerome Kaino (New Zealand) Sean O’Brien (Ireland). Kaino is now a team leader, and potentially Ruchie’s successor and O’Brien carried on his HEC form into the tournament

7. Ruchie McCaw (New Zealand) – Jokes about his invisibility to Joubert aside, Ruchie has shown real skill and leadership, and tore David Pocock a new one in the semi-final. The best openside in the tournament, and the world.
Honourable mention: David Pocock (Australia). Aus would have been on the easier side of the draw had he been playing against Ireland, and how differently it might have turned out. Utterly omnipotent against the Boks

8. Mamuka Gorgodze (Georgia) – The only player from outside the semi-finalists to make this team, and its easy to see why. Despite being the only threatening ball carrier in a heavy and immobile team, he made huge yardage every game, which was complemented by an obscene amount of tackles. A revelation.
Honourable mention: Imanol Harinordoquoy (France). Top line-out operator and wrecking ball off the back of the scrum with very soft hands. A class above Louis Picamoles, who was responsible for 2 of the NZ tries in the group stages

9. Mike Phillips (Wales): One of several Welshmen to shrug of a couple of seasons’ indifferent form and find his best again.  Passing remains no better than B-, but his strength and ability to break are key to the Welsh game.  Came up with game-changing try against Ireland and should-have-been-game-changing try against France.

Honourable mention: Kahn Fotuali’i (Samoa): The man brought to Ospreys to replace Philips.  Fast, clever and a good passer, he directed the Samoan attack superbly, especially against the Boks.

10. Rhys Priestland (Wales): Strangely, not a vintage competition for 10s, with Carter injured, France going so far as playing without a natural fly-half, and several others out of form.  But Priestland was the find of the tournament, graduating from Magners League class to test level seemingly overnight.  Has the look of a young ROG, right down to the apple cheeks.
Honourable mention: Aaron Cruden (New Zealand): From skateboarding with his mates to directing the world’s best team’s attack.  Things looked better for the Kiwis once Colin ‘Spooked’ Slade exited stage left.

11. Vincent Clerc (France): Even in the group stages he was good for France.  Master poacher whose sniffer’s instincts for where the ball is going to go enable him to get on the end of countless try-scoring passes.  Outstanding individual try against England, too.
Honourble mention: Richard Kahui (New Zealand): Relatively unheralded by Kiwi back-three standards, but Kahui has played his way into the first team.  Underrated performer.

12. Ma’a Nonu (New Zealand): Superb form has kept cult hero Sunny Bull out of the first team.  Ma’a Nonu’s line breaks from the inside centre channel have given New Zealand a key launchpad for their attacking game.  Once a straight-line bosher, now Ma’a has the all round game to beat all-comers.
Honourable mention: Sunny Bull Wulliams (New Zealand): Restricted largely to cameos off the bench, but the offloads are breathtaking.  The world’s best reserve.

13. Jamie Roberts (Wales): Okay, so it’s a fudge to put him at 13, but he’s been so good we had to get him in.  Played so well it’s strange to think that he looked so laborious for the last two seasons: how can he not get over the gainline?  The key has been the depth and speed with which he has come on to the ball.
Honourable mention: Manu Tuilagi (England), Jacque Fourie (South Africa): Harbour-jumping aside, Tuilagi was a rare bright spot for England, and lead the partial fightback against France.

14. Cory Jane (New Zealand): Could play full-back he’s so good under the high ball.  Tall, but with a fairly rangy physique, Jane is also surprisingly strong.  More easily forgiven than, say, Mike Tindall for boozy indiscresions because he’s so damn good.
Honourable mention: James O’Connor (Australia) and George North (Wales): O’Connor looked threatening every time he got the ball, which was not half often enough.  George North is big, but no flat-track bully – he has an array of skills to his game.

15. Israel Dagg (New Zealand): Player of the tournament?  Probably.  Graham Henry showed his ability to make the big calls in playing him ahead of a Kiwi legend on his way out.  He has been handsomely rewarded by Dagg’s brillliance.  Supreme runner with incredible balance and hands.  A star is born.
Honourable mention: Kurtley Beale (Australia): Sorely missed by the Aussies in their semi-final.  With Cooper in melt-down mode, Beale was the one who brough the genius to the Aussie attack, albeit too sparingly.

Dwarf throwing, Retirements, Eye-Gouges and Fudged Drop Goals: We rate your World Cup

We’ve pored over Ireland’s exit in some detail.  Here’s a run through the other nations who’ll have fancied their chances to do well.

Scotland: Failed to Qualify from Group
Poor wee Scotland.  Pipped by both England and Argentina by last-gasp tries.  Against Argentina they managed to work a drop goal opportunity to win it, but hurried the kick.  Against England they probably would have won had they not needed to win by more than seven and seek a try themselves when in front on the scoreboard.  They manned up impressively in both games, but the reason they failed to qualify is available in just one statistic: no tries in their final three group games.  They have plenty of grunt in the pack and can keep teams like England on the back foot for long periods, but they just can’t buy a try.  Their backs moving the ball look slower and less accurate than most AIL teams.

Mike Tindall Dwarf Rating: Sleepy. Time to wake up and learn to catch and pass the ball properly.


Argentina: Quarter Final exit to New Zealand
Worthy recipients of the medal for bravery and courage in the face of unlikely odds.  A shadow of the force of 2007, but their great warriors Ledesma, Albacete and Contepomi refused to go quietly, even if they couldn’t conjure up the same quality as four years ago, with Juan Matin Hernandez a notable absentee.  Should have beaten England and squeezed through against Scotland at the death, and can take real pride in their showing against New Zealand.  They came up with the try of the tournament, with Conters showing a touch of his fading genius, and held the Kiwis tryless for three quarters of the game.  Not bad considering Lobbe was injured and Nigel Owens was shafting them at every opportunity.

Mike Tindall Dwarf Rating: Happy. Can go home knowing the left nothing behind them.


Italy:  Failed to Qualify from Group
Italy have become an obstinate side at the Flaminio, but the task for the next coach will be getting them to perform on the road.  Showed up well against Russia with slick hands and fast-paced attack, but in their final win-or-bust pool game, their surrender to Ireland was meek and indisciplined.  They talked a good game, with Castro declaring himself ‘ready for war’, but when the moment came they were blown away by Ireland’s greater arsenal.  Somehow, somewhere, a 10 has to be found who can organise their backs and dictate the play.  Until then, they’ll continue to struggle.

Mike Tindall Dwarf Rating: Grumpy.  Need to keep composure when things go awry.

South Africa: Quarter-final exit to Australia 
Rather unlucky to lose to Australia, but they couldn’t cross the whitewash and paid the price. They brought physicality and certainty to the tournament, and in Francois Steyn, had perhaps the player of the group stages. The problem was, without him, they really showed their limitations. Short of the ability to kick penalties from the halfway line, and without his creativity at 12, they ended up spending 75 minutes camped in the Aussie 22 and losing 11-9. Schalk Burger was immense all tournament, and they played better against Oz than Wales or Samoa, but when you can’t score you can’t win.
Mike Tindall Dwarf Rating: Bosh-ful – kicking, no creativity, physicality – they are England with discipline basically

England: Quarter-final exit to France 
Where do we start? The scarcely-deserved victories over Scotland and Argentina?  The late and nasty tackles?  The lack of ambition? The stupidity of some of the penalties they gave away? The chambermaid incident? A huge pity that Johnno bottled it and let the running game of last November fade into nothingness, for there are some quality players in this side. It may sound harsh, but they brought nothing to the tournament. It appears Johnno has taken them as far as he can, perhaps its time for a new beginning?
Mike Tindall Dwarf Rating: Sleazy Sneezy – go home unlamented
Samoa: Failed to qualify from group
After beating the Wallabies during the summer/winter, Samoa went into the tournament very much on the Welsh and Saffa radar, and any chance of being taken lightly was gone. And they duly weren’t, with both sides playing very sensibly against the Islanders and winning. Samoa themselves rarely took the handbrake off and paid the price. Having said that, they didn’t exactly get the rub of the refereeing green, and generally played well – for example, they might have won Group B (the group of dearth). And although Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu might have a point about IRB bias, he didn’t exactly make it very well, did he?
Mike Tindall Dwarf Rating: Dopey – had the talent to go further, but go home frustrated

World Cup Quarter Finals 2: Squeaky-bum time

Okay, so we;re nought from two after this morning’s matches, but that’s not going to stop us having another go at it for tomorrow’s gmaes.

The top half of the draw is giving us a sneak preview of next years Quilmes/Castle/Fosters/Steinlager Quad-Nations (or whatever its going to be called) – although South Africa won’t usually play Australia in weather this bad, and Argentina won’t have as short a journey next time.

South Africa-Australia:

The clash of the kind-of titans – two teams that should stand to benefit from Dan Carter’s injury, but that have enough weaknesses to make you think twice about actually backing them. South Africa topped Pool D with a 100% record, but didn’t really convince against either Wales or Samoa, scraping wins with experience and self-belief as much as anything. Australia flashed against Italy, but then got beaten up by Ireland, and cruised past the minnows.

The Boks were quite content to let Wales and Samoa have the ball and contest the tackle furiously in their own 22 and defend aggressively and physically. In the last ten minutes of both games, they looked strong and confident. But we aren’t quite sure that will work against the best backline in the tournament (by far, now that Carter is injured). Australia will look to David Pocock to snaffle some ball, and try to bring Beale and O’Connor into the line to work their magic.

When Berrick Barnes was being pencilled into the Wallaby team, we were feeling good about predicting them to edge it, but its Pat McCabe, so we aren’t as sure. We think the Boks are going to miss Frans Steyn, especially for his long-range goal threat, and if Schalk Burger isn’t the most visible forward on the field, Australia should have enough to score 2 tries and scrape home. Wallabies by two. Maybe.

New Zealand-Argentina:

Panic stations – its here! The Rugby World Cup knock-out stages. Sans Dan Carter – disaster. Consequently, there are 3 things New Zealand want from this game:

  • Colin Slade needs to start looking world-class, very quickly. There is huge pressure on the young lad, and this is going to be the easiest game of the remainder of the competition – anything sub-par and it could be Weepu at 10 for the semi
  • Ruchie and Kieran Read to get 60 high intensity minutes and avoid aggravating their injuries – without these two, NZ aren’t going to win
  • No more casualties, especially to the centres – Ma’a Nonu has been one of the players of the tournament up to now, and Smuddy and SBW have shown real class

Now, they obviously need a win too. That’s pretty much guaranteed, but don’t expect a blow-out – New Zealand aren’t familiar with the knock-out format, and they will be content to feel their way back post-Carter and professionally put away the Pumas. Paradoxically, fireworks and a stroll will make them more nervous than an up-the-jumper mudfest. Argentina will savour the stage, but without Fernandez Lobbe and Hernandez, and with their gnarled front-rowers beginning to look their age, it is a step too far. NZ by 20.

PS. we’re one step closer to a France v New Zealand final, with New Zealand missing Ruchie and Dan Carter.  We’re expecting the host nation to implode with anxiety if such an eventuality comes to pass.

RWC: Anthemwatch

With Egg and Mini Egg having sat through multiple anthems (and enjoyed some of them), it got us thinking – if the match ended after the music stopped (and, mercifully, before the Haki (plural) begin), who would take home Bill?

Let’s preview:

Favourites:

France: The clear favourite. La Marseillaise is, without any doubt, the best national anthem in the world. Even for non-Frenchies, it makes the spine tingle, and is so republican, it would induce Mike Tindall to start sharpening the guillotine for Granny-in-law. And then induce the rest of les proles rosbifs to start sharpening it for Mike Tindall. Here is a SPECTACULAR rendition, one night in Cardiff in 2007.

Italy: Some anthems seem very much appropriate for their country. For example, Deutschlandleit seems rich, confident and suave, just like the denizens of Munich, Stuttgart and Berlin. In the same vein, Il Canto Degli Italiani seems jaunty, cool, but slightly unreliable (whats with the oom-pah bit?), and is an appropriate combination of boring Milan, dangerous Naples and sexy Rome. Altogether now: bom-bom-be-bom, bom-bom-be-bom, bom-BOM-be-bom, bom-bom-be-bom!!

USA: The best thing about the the Star Spangled Banner is that Americans positively encourage involvement and interpretation, as befits a nation which defines itself by its ability to assimilate. Can you imagine any other country allowing noted rock or rap stars the option of doing their “version” of the anthem at the country’s biggest sporting event every year? Unlikely. Yet the Yanks can’t wait for the anthem before the Superbowl. It’s optimistic, emotional and adaptable – and very hard to dislike.


Contenders:

Russia: Now, Egg Chaser is no flaming Commie, far from it. But there is something powerful about the old Soviet anthem, now adapted for Russia. It’s not without its controversy, as many Russians rightly remember the murder and explotation of their countrymen and women by psychopathic leaders, and refuse to sing along. For most, perhaps, its the perverse pride in remembering when Russia mattered. Anyway, check out the Paul Robeson version from the 1940s and at least appreciate the idealism. And here’s a flavour of what non-Russian former Soviets think of the anthem.


Wales: As befits a nation of choirboys choristers, Land of My Fathers is tuneful, musically sound and enjoyable. The impenetrable Welsh tongue makes this local anthem very much exotic. Maybe its stereotypical, but the Welsh players also seem like better singers than other nations. Or maybe its just the magic atmosphere in the Millennium. Either way, its a dark horse for the title.

South Africa: Like Ireland, the South African ditty is a prisoner of history and politics. The anthem shares the distinction (with the Italian one) of being in 2 keys, although the South African one is in 2 keys essentially because it is 2 songs merged together – Nkosi Sikelil iAfrica and Die Stem. The current anthem contains 5 languages and tries manfully to knit together a desperately fractured country. In spite of the grim music (particularly in the second half), a national anthem is about much more than that, and the sight of 15 proud South Africans singing every word in 1995 was simply incredible, and lifts this to contender status.

Going home early:

England: An absolute dirge. God Save the Queen has bored generations of Englishmen and antagonized generations of foreigners, which is perhaps part of its ongoing appeal at home. In true British fashion however, it has a great backstory. Firstly, no-one actually knows who wrote the song, and there is disagreement over what key it hould be played in. Secondly, it has been continually re-written, and current and former colonies continue to drop it (including England themselves for the Commonwealth games!). According to “protocol”, the Queen doesn’t sing it, we wonder does she just think its shite.

Ireland: Once again, the Irish manage to out-do the English on the rugby field by having not one, but two dirges. The much and rightly-maligned Ireland’s Call is virtually unsalvageable, but Amhran na bFhiann isn’t a whole lot better. Now, Egg Chaser is as patriotic as the next man and sings it with as much gusto as anyone else, that is a medium murmur, but it’s all pretty uninspiring, which is disappointing from a nation which has some cracking old tunes – some close to Egg’s heart are here and here, although Tommy Bowe’s version of one old favourite was fairly … errrrr … average. Despite all that though, this was amazing.

Scotland: Flower of Scotland is so dull that this is generally accepted to be the most rousing version ever performed. The most rousing! Ever!! It’s a pity, because the lyrics very much appeal to the Braveheart Scottish self-image, although it can seem a little incongruous when being sung by Alasdair, Hugo and Hamish the Tartan Tories in Murrayfield, Edinburgh, the most British city in the UK. Scotland deserves much much better.

World Cup Preview: South Africa

Group D Opposition: Wales, Samoa, Fiji, Namibia

Pedigree: Very impressive. Not invited to the first two tournaments because of the whole apartheid thing, they promptly and memorably won it all at the first attempt (with a little help from Suzie) and repeated the trick in France in 2007. Two wins from four is the best hit ratio of them all.

Players to watch: He might be behind Moondust Steyn and Spear James in the reckoning for the 10 shirt, but Patrick Lambie is the most exciting youngster in South African rugby right now, and if the Bokke look more one dimensional than usual, he could make an impact from the bench. Jean de Villiers might not have impressed Mick O’Driscoll much, but he is half of one of the best centre partnerships in the world, and will be anxious to impress after missing the 2003 edition, and most of 2007 one, through injury. In 2009, Heinrich Brussouw tortured the Lions and has been laid up since – if he hits form, he will create the breakdown mayhem Saracens South Africa will need to progress. Bismarck du Plessis is the best hooker in the world (sorry, Sean Cronin fans).

Good tournament: With their pedigree, signing off a great team by retaining the trophy would be nice.

Bad tournament: Ireland have a decent record against the Boks of late, and losing to Paddy Wallace and co. in the quarter final won’t go down well in the highveldt.

Prospects: It may seem astonishing now, but in the run up to the 2007 tournament, the general feeling was the Springboks were a bit too callow and inconsistent to take home the trophy. In the event, the side, suberbly marshalled by John Smit with a little help from Botha, Matfield and du Preez, steamed home. Only England in the final gave them a game, although the Tongans gave their reserves a few dicey moments.

That set forth a 3 year domination of world rugby, encompassing 3 Super Rugby titles (including the Bulls just before RWC07), a Tri-Nations and a Lions tour victory. 2009 was their peak, when they followed the Lions win by beating the All Blacks 3 times.

However, since then, they have gradually ran out of puff, and are facing down the barrel of a first ever Tri-Nations whitewash. Their old guard are looking less durable than ever, and the younger men aren’t demanding to step into the shirt. The team is backboned by triple Super Rugby winners the Blue Bulls, who put together a defiant run in the latter stages of this years Super Rugby, but then failed to make the play-offs with a limp loss at home to the Sharks in the last day of the regular season.

Ironically then, its a Sharks player who is the biggest problem – the captain John Smit. Due to Bismarck’s consistent excellence, Smit is being shoe-horned into the team at tight-head, but to the detriment of the scrum. As evidenced by the humiliation of being shoved around Durban by the Australian pack.

Ally this to the comically mis-named Beast, injured stalwarts like Juan Smith and Fourie du Preez, no defined 10, and a far-from-intimidating collection of outside backs, and things do not look rosey. They still hit the rucks harder than any other team and will play a tactically simple but very effective bosh and boot game, aiming to contest the breakdown agressively and grind teams down, but it’s exhausting, and you must wonder are the bodies still able.

Verdict: The pool is likely to be about as dangerous as an Ian Humphreys tackle. The talented Samoans will fancy taking one of the big guns, but muscle memory and physical power alone should get the Boks through with 4 wins. After that, it’s going to be Ireland in a quarter-final. That is going to be one of the best games of the tournament, but without pre-empting our Ireland preview, whoever wins will be swatted aside by New Zealand. One way or another, this great Springbok team is going to run out of road. We’ll always have the Second Lions Test in 2009 – the team’s zenith, and one of the best games of all time.

Don’t walk away Ruan-nee

Rumours are circulating that Ruan Pienaar, Ulster’s favourite of their many South African sons, will be heading back home with a view to playing out-half in the World Cup (and presumably the Tri-Nations as well). It seems there’s a bit of a crisis at 10 for the Bokke, as management have finally realised that being an international playmaker requires more than simply kicking the ball really high into the air, which is bad news for Morne Steyn.

If the rumours are true, we’ll be pretty upset here at Cordite Towers. Pienaar’s canny game management and slick distribution have helped spark a young Ulster backline, and his last-minute match-winning penalties have propelled his team to the Magners League playoffs. Indeed, he was honoured with the ML Player of the Year Award this week.

But we can see why chief headbanger Pieter de Villiers would have his beady eye on Pienaar, because none of the alternatives are really braai-ing our biltong. We would think about throwing in Patrick Lambie, a young player of huge quality, but it is maybe a year too early, and PdV is not known for his enterprising selections. Peter Grant is having huge difficulty sparking the Stormers stellar backline (de Villiers-Fourie-Habana) into action, and the less said about the Naas Olivier’s of this world the better.

Don’t break our hearts Ruan, and give us another year.