After the wait and expectation, and with surprises a real possibility, the Rugby World Cup’s first two quarterfinals on Saturday were rather disappointing.
Both quarters ended in one-sided victories for the pre-match favourites who were however both expected to be pushed to the limit to win. A tight contest always proivides that little extra in uncertainty and joy or despair.
But is wasn’t to be, and England ran out convincing winners against Australia, scoring four tries to one in their 40-16 win; and in Tokyo Ireland, after trailing 0-22 at halftime, were beaten 46-14 by the All Blacks. New Zealand scored seven tries, and Ireland added a late penalty try to their try in the 70th minute.
Common features of both matches were the near faultless defence of the two winning sides, the better cohesion from both the combinations and a greater resolve to win.
In the case of England, they also had a game plan that was absent on the Wallabies side.
England beat sloppy Wallabies
Australia dominated possession with 64% of the ball to play with. They were in the England half for 62% of the 80 minutes, did most of the playing and ran 568 metres to 273 and also carried 151 times to England’s 71.
But Australia failed to control the game and made too many handling errors when it counted. Two intercept tries gifted to England because of the Wallabies the near-compulsive running didn’t help their cause.
Despite controlling territory and possession, Australia were 9-17 behind at the break with England cranking it up in the last 40 minutes.
The Wallabies have the personnel, but the time has surely come for them to be gelled into a unit with a game plan not built solely on handling attacks for 80 minutes. At least not with their poor handling…
England 40 (17): Tries: Jonny May (2), Kyle Sinckler, Anthony Watson. Conversions: Owen Farrell (3). Penalties: Farrell (4).
Australia 16 (9): Try: Marika Koroibete. Conversion: Christian Lealiifano.
Penalties: Lealiifano (3)
All Blacks skin lethargic Ireland
Highriding Ireland, who have scalped the All Blacks twice in their last three matches in recent seasons and as lately as a year ago, looked lethargic and undecisive with ball in hand.
Ranked number one in the world shortly before the Rugby World Cup, they have disappointed in the tournament itself. They went down to Japan in one of the surprises of the WRC and Saturday’s display was their worst of the tournament.
Could it be that the impending retirement of iconic captain Rory Best played a role, as it often does when top players say goodbye? Or are the Irish stars perhaps past their sell-by dates?
Having said that, the All Blacks were focused, ran and handled with confidence, tackled outstandingly well with only two tackles from 102 attempts missed in the first 60 minutes and were clinical in execution.
It was a clinical New Zealand side, and they were on top of their form. The controlled matters up front with the forwards linking impressively. Ardie Savea worked hard and Kieran Read was everywhere to carry on the moves, and behind the scrum fullback Beaumont Barrett and scrumhalf Aaron Smith were outstanding among the many co-stars.
They looked like the real product, as did England. But with the disappointing display by both winning teams’ opponents, it is difficult to judge whether the latter were that poor or if the winners were that good.
They certainly looked the part!
New Zealand (22) 44: Tries: Aaron Smith (2), Beauden Barrett, Codie Taylor, Matt Todd, George Bridge, Jordie Barrett. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (4). Penalty: Mo’unga.
Ireland (0) 14: Tries