Ye olde selection below is based on the relative importance of the players to their respective team and the individual's impact on the tournament as a whole
1. Rodrigo Roncero (Argentina)
2. Mario Ledesma (Argentina)
3. CJ Van Der Linde (South Africa)
4. Ali Williams (New Zealand)
5. Victor Matfield (South Africa)
6. Jerry Collins (New Zealand)
7. Juan Smith (South Africa)
8. Finau Maka (Tonga)
9. Mosese Rauluni (Fiji)
10.Juan-Martin Hernandez (Argentina)
11.Bryan Habana (South Africa)
12.Felipe Contopomi (Argentina)
13.Seru Rabeni (Fiji)
14.Vilimoni Delasau (Fiji)
15.Jason Robinson (England)
Honourable mention: Marius Tincu (Hooker, Romania), Sebastien Chabal (Lock, France), Simon Shaw (Lock, England), Thierry Dusautoir (Flanker, France), Nili Latu (Flanker, Tonga), Vasco Uva (Number Eight, Portugal), Agustin Pichot (Scrum-half, Argentina), Fourie du Preez (Scrum-half, South Africa), Jonny Wilkinson (Out-half, England), Stirling Mortlock (Centre, Australia), Drew Mitchell (Wing, Australia), Doug Howlett (Wing, New Zealand), Sitivini Sivivatu (Wing, New Zealand), Ignacio Corleto (Full-back, Argentina), Percy Montgomery (Full-back, South Africa)
Sunday 21 October 2007
South Africa 15-6 England
Justice. Sweet merciful justice. The Boks turned out to be one mountain too high for the sweet chariot to conquer. In a surprisingly close game South Africa managed to edge ze Eng-u-lish out of contention through the boot of their outstanding full-back, Percy Montgomery. The Springbok fifteen was given a solid platform to operate from his pack, Matfield in particular was immense. The two second rows, the gruesome twosome, abused the English lineout all day long. Between them Matfield and second row partner Bakkies Botha had stolen on average 7 lineouts a game in the tournament and last night it showed.
England's only chance of winning the game lay in their own monstrous pack. But after an initial show of strength shoving South Africa backwards on the first scrum the English Rose wilted spectacularly. The lineout was a shambles, the rucking was slow with poor ball presented to the backs and whenever they tried to attack around the fringes the English were faced with an implacable wall of green and gold. The Springboks were not going to be denied and their defence was ferocious.
The English may feel hard done by the video ref who denied Mark Cueto what appeared to be a legitimate score in the corner that with the conversion would have put England ahead 10-9. Though to be honest, bar that one incident the English never looked as though they were going to conjure a score to bring them back from the brink. For South Africa it was a simple case of beating England at their own game. Once they had established their lead the Boks just sat back and absorbed the English attacks, punishing England whenever they committed a mistake. Jonny Wilkinson's late attempt to drop a goal when the English were behind by 9 was a testament to the Springboks defence and typical of England's lack of creativity.
For the South Africans the joyous celebration of four years planning was uncontainable at the final whistle. All credit to the geriatric English team, Dad's Army had an unbelievable journey through the World Cup but if they had won it would've been the greatest injustice in the sporting world ever. Ever
Argentina 34-10 France
Argentina. The team of the world cup. Bar the French for obvious reasons, who doesn't love the Pumas? A team of ex-pat professionals with a splattering of amateurs, recruited weeks before the world cup to a hastily constructed training camp. They don't have the same top of the range facilities as the Australians or the large, fanatical player base of New Zealand. Yet a country were football is sporting religion has shook the rugby world for the last four weeks.
With so many veterans playing their last world cup the Argentines played with such an intense passion that they had seemingly exhausted themselves by the time they lost to the Boks in the semi-finals. The Pumas were defiant to the end however. Rallying around the grizzled veteran pack the Argentine backline cut loose in the third place game. After an initial French blitz in the opening twenty minutes the Argentines replied in kind with a quick brace of tries inside 5 minutes. Suddenly the French found themselves 17-3 down despite the fact that they had been dominating the game so far.
The French tried to fight back but the Argentines fought tooth and nail every step of the way. Around the fringes the French forwards were met with a stubborn resistance by the men in blue and white hoops. Ball was slow coming back, the Argentine pack slowing the ball up at every given opportunity and frustrating their French counterparts. So great was the Argentine pressure at the breakdown that the French backline never got any good go forward ball and found themselves constantly on the back foot.
The Pumas for their part were completely ruthless. They didn't simply sit back and absorb the French attack, they struck back with scores of their own. In a display of attacking rugby sorely missing in this world cup the Argentines ran in 5 scores, including one pitch long effort by Ignacio Corleto while Argentina were down a man. France were completely dominated. They simply had no answer to the Pumas ferocious defence and opportunistic attacking play.
Argy Bargy were a joy to watch in their final game, Contopomi and Hernandez were back to their glorious best after stuttering somewhat in the earlier knockout stages. With the pressure off them the Pumas unleashed their full bag of tricks and playmakers. Fittingly, Contopomi nabbed two tries himself and the veteran prop Omar Hasan scored in his final game for Los Pumas. Third place, after beating the French in Paris, the best result an Argentine rugby team has ever enjoyed in a world cup, its not a bad way to go out at all. We should salute the latino flair of Los Pumas, many of whom we will not see playing in the blue and white of their country again. They came to this tournament as a family and played in the true spirit of the game, enjoying every minute, and although they didn't reach the final they thoroughly deserve everything they've achieved in this tournament. Not enough praise can be heaped upon Argentina, the heart of France 2007.
Argentina 17-12 France
Argentina 33-03 Georgia
Argentina 63-03 Namibia
Argentina 30-15 Ireland
Argentina 19-12 Scotland
Argentina 13-37 South Africa
Argentina 34-10 France
Wednesday 10 October 2007
Richie McCaw's hand is the only hand that can beat a royal flush
Richie McCaw can slam a revolving door
Richie McCaw can kill two stones with one bird
Richie McCaw never wears a condom, because there is no protection from Richie McCaw
The eternal conundrum "what would happen when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object" was finally solved when Richie McCaw punched himself in the face
Richie McCaw beat the black out of Michael Jackson
The grass is always greener on the other side, unless Richie McCaw has been there, in which case the grass will be splattered with blood and tears
If you google 'Richie McCaw missing a tackle' you will generate zero results. It just doesn't happen
Tuesday 9 October 2007
Argentina 19-13 Scotland
Soooo tired mang. Four weeks of world cup rugby has seemingly aged an already veteran Argentina team another ten years. The Pumas, who were so devastatingly thorough in the group stages, lookded fatgiued against the Scots yesterday. Scotland were average, but were it not by an atrocious game for both of the Lamont brothers the Kilted ones could be in a semi-final right now
Argentina should have won this game comfortably but they were pedestrian to the point of warranting an Asbo for loitering. Their dangerously lazy policy of doing just enough to keep the Scots at a safe distance came perilously close to backfiring in the dying moments as the Scots pressed the Argentine line in search of a winning try and the upset of the year.
Scotland could find no way through a determined Argy defence however, a desperation cross-field kick for a woeful Sean Lamont was hideously overcooked and Argentina advance to the semis. Whilt they unquestinably deserved to be in the final four on the basis of their spectacular group form Argentina need to rediscover their earlier fire and passion or they could get a hiding from the Boks in a weeks time. And for god's sake get some sleep...
South Africa 37-20 Fiji
Take a bow Fiji, the great entertainers took their exit from Rugby's greatest stage to rapturous applause from both Springbok and Fiji supporters alike. Throughout the tournament Fiji, along with their Pacific island neighbours Samoa and Tonga have the respect and affection of anyone who has had the pleasure of watching them do their islander thing. In the tense cauldron of rugby world cup game play that sees s many teams go all conservative for fear of making costly mistakes, Fiji dared to be audacious. They threw the ball around with joyful abandon, displaying wonderful handling and attacking ability throughout the tournament producing several highlight reels worth of trys.
The difference this year was the superior Fijian organisation. For a team that has traditionally simply 'played what was in front of them' the islanders showed the benefits of increased IRB funding with a more professional ethos to their play. No longer were they completely blown out at the breakdown, or failed to compete at the set-piece. Fiji, and all the islanders for that matter, have now combined their considerably impressive natural game with structure. This new solid forward base, whilst not the greatest in the world obviously, has more than stood up to the challenge in this world cup, going toe to toe with the Boks and giving those devastating backs a platform to work from.
With the Welsh dispatched in stunning circumstances 38-34 to put the islanders into their first quarter final since 1987, there were still few who believed that they could seriously trouble the Boks. Especially without their talismanic out-half Nikki Little, who tore ligaments in his knee at the end of the Welsh game. But stand to the Springbok challenge they did, defiant little Fiji fronting up to the might of powerful South Africa. However the Fijians slipped to a 20-6 deficit with half an hour to go and with Rabeni in the bin, the floodgates looked set to burst.
The South Africans were relying on their monstrous pack to win the game for them by bullying their Fijian counterparts around the park but the Boks were struggling to contain the Fijians out wide. Delasau chipping head and winning the foot race to bring Fiji back to within a try. Then the madness began, regathering the kickoff Fiji ran it from inside their own 22. Tearing the South African defence to shreds they went 100 metres in a minute and had scored again, 20-20.
For the next ten minutes Fiji put the Boks under siege in their 22 but were unable to score. South Africa eventually scrambled out of their hole, nudging ahead with a Montgomery penalty before two late trys orchestrated by the Boks' pack sealed Fiji's fate.
Allez Les Bleus!!
France 20-18 New Zealand
Glancing up at the big screen at half-time in the Millennium stadium the scoreline read 13-3 to the Blackness. An ominous 10 point lead it looked as well. Although New Zealand had not dominated the French as many may have expected they had looked comfortable for the majority of the opening forty minutes. They were winning French lineout ball, dealing comfortably with the French counter-rucking and defence, McAlister scything through the line of blue defenders more than once. The Kiwis had engineered the only try of the match so far, McAlister touching down after a rampaging Jerry Collins had rumbled forward taking several defenders with him. The Blacks took their chances methodically and professionally, the French bottled two early kicks and a drop goal attempt before finally getting on the board just before half with a Lionel Beauxais penalty.
With things looking potentially disastrous the French came out in the second half with a new approach. Taking a leaf from the All Blacks' book they ran everything right back a New Zealand and caught the Kiwis unprepared. The French revival was ferocious, the tempo they kept the game at was too much for the All Blacks. Their golden boy in the first half McAlister was sin-binned early on for desperately tying to slow the French down. Shortly afterwards the usually infallible Dan Carter missed with a penalty attempt of his own, the perfect Blacks were making mistakes and the French smelt blood.
Led by new arrival on the paddock, one Monsieur Sebastien Chabal, the French attacked mercilessly pressing the Kiwis into their own half and eventually generating enough of an overlap for Dusautoir to slip through for the try. At 13-13 Graham Henry seemed to panic. Mass New Zealand subs after the try saw Dan Carter, Byron Kelleher and Anton Oliver leave the field. The shot of the dejected trio in the stands looking positively shell-shocked went up on the big screen. The roar from the French support inside the Millennium stadium was deafening. The All Blacks were broken.
New Zealand, badly shaken by the expansive French play came on all conservative after the Dusautoir try using their forwards to pound the ball into the French 22 were Rodney So'ialo touched down for a second All Blacks try which McAlister failed to convert. Trailing 18-13 with fifteen minutes to go, Bernard Laporte played his trump card, the mercurial joker of the pack, Frederic Michalek. With almost his first touch of the ball the enigmatic Frenchman was streaking down the wing. With New Zealand defenders rushing across to close him off the break appeared to be about to come to naught. Michalek went to ground, looking for support runners. He delayed his pass waiting for fellow-Toulouse player Yannick Jauzion to cut the line that would break Kiwi hearts. The big centre crashed over and Elliasade added the two to leave France 20-18 up with ten minutes to go.
What followed was a Herculean effort by both teams. With the Blackness pressing hard for a game winning try (apparently they don't know what a drop-goal is in New Zealand) the French tackled themselves to a stand still (178 tackles to New Zealand's 36 in the game) and a lame attempt by McAlister at a drop goal drifted embarrassingly wide. At the final whistle, joy was unconfined for the French who march on to meet an average English team in the semi-finals.
Allez Les Bleus!!
England 12-10 Australia
*Yaawwwwwwwwn* As expected the Poms bored the Criminal Element into submission at Marseille on Saturday. Led by the boot of good aul' Jonny the Eng-u-lish once again proved that they are completely incapable of producing any kind of creative play to produce trys but were more than happy to subject the crowd in the stadium and the millions around the world to a thorough presentation on 'how to win at rugby when you're big, but not very good.'
Taking advantage of the fact that the Wallabies don't have the greatest pack in world rugby, the Poms set about bullying the Crooks' tight five off the park. The unsportsmanlike English refused to let the poor Aussies play. As if this was all some kind of twisted conspiracy referee Alain Rolland compounded the Wallabies misery by seeing fit to constantly penalise the belated Australians.
Despite the considerable obstacles amassed against them, the Aussies were able to navigate mount Sheridan and grab the games only try through Lote Tuquri. But with the English completely smothering the Aussie pack there was little the stifled Australian backline could accomplish with such meagre possession. The Poms turned the screw, Jonny kicked the goals and all of a sudden the Crooks were out.
As one happy (wasted) English fan I met in Cardiff said: 'After the game the most surprised guys were the 22 boys in white'
Tuesday 2 October 2007
Canada 12-12 Japan
Romania 14-10 Portugal
Georgia 30-0 Namibia
Samoa 25-21 USA
England 36-20 Tonga
New Zealand 85-8 Romania
Australia 37-6 Canada
Wales 34-38 Fiji
Scotland 18-16 Italy
France 64-7 Georgia
Argentina 30-15 Ireland
South Africa 64-15
With the last round of group matches over and done with the eight teams left standing are an odd mixture of the blindingly predictable (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland and France), the random (Argentina) and the glaringly unpredictable (Fiji). The Boks, Crooks and especially the Blackness arrive in the knockout stages having cruised through their respective groups (bar a near slip-up by a second-string Boks team against the mighty kingdom of Tonga). The English scrape through by the boot of Prince Wilko after boring the Samoans and Tongans into submission. France progressed after their initial shock defeat to the Argies by thumping the other unfortunates in Group D and finishing in second place behiond Argentina who put the Irish out of their misery with a convincing 30-15 win. Scotland kicked the Italians to death, Chris Paterson having yet to miss a kick in this world cup. But the shock (and the most fantastic) result of this round came from the final pool game in Group B as Wales fell to proud Fiji in an epic struggle that only decided in the last 5 minutes as the Islanders found the try line again having just moments earlier surrendered their lead to a Martyn Williams intercept try.
Having lost their talisman and out-half Nikki Little to a presumed ACL tear things look bleak for the tournaments arch-entertainers as they bring their sexy rugby roadshow to bear against the might and power of Afrique du Sud. In much the same way I expect Argentina to smash a 'spirited' Scottish effort I reckon South Africa may be a step too far for the intrepid Fijians. I'm genuinely worried that the Poms could beat the Criminals too. With Wilkinson back England at least have a plan 'A'. This new found organisation may be enough to confuse and batter the convicts into defeat. Expect a lot of kicking for the corners, and the posts and.. kicking in general. The quarter final has to the Blackness againast the host's France. Being played in Cardiff (take that cocky French organisers) the French have been steadily improving whilst the Kiwis are yet to be challenged seriously (though they have dispatched all opponents with ann eerie efficiency). The best thing about this match is.. THAT I'M GOING! Mwahahaha