And yet. While Englandâ00s form had been poor, the memory of seeing Sheridan and co. pulverise Australiaâ00s scrum in November 2005 should have offered some caution. True, John Connolly had appeared to stiffen the Wallabies in this area, but without ever making them look like they saw the scrum as anything other than a device to restart the game without shipping too much pain.
Speaking of pundits on a bad run of form, youâ00d nearly feel sorry for Franno at this stage. Even at half-time in the England v Australia, he was typically dismissive of Englandâ00s hopes despite the fact that they were clearly right in the match at just 10-6 down and playing well. He even went so far as to say that even though England were on top in the scrum, it didnâ00t really amount to a whole hill of beans in the modern game. It was as though Sheridan could hear him.
England deserved everything they got in the end and I have to say I canâ00t think of another occasion when I cheered them on so lustily (my kids will welcome the end of this World Cup â00 itâ00s not very edifying to see your old man roaring at the telly).
Itâ00s not quite like the GAA with its parish mentality (support your local hemisphere, anyone?), but it still did the heart good to see the remaining 6 Nations teams restore the reputation of the event.
While that has been heartening, the sheer amount of ball being kicked in this World Cup has been anything but. Itâ00s not sour grapes because they beat us (at least I donâ00t think it is), but I canâ00t get excited by watching Argentina. The media has been falling over themselves in showering them with bouquets, but I just canâ00t share it. Yes, Hernandez is a quality footballer, and yes, they have tremendous spirit. But the combination of endless Garryowens married to interminable picking and driving leaves me cold.
Watching Argentina v Scotland was like watching varnish drying â00 there was only ever a thin veneer of skill mixed in with it. Scotland will forever be kicking themselves over this one. If they do, letâ00s just hope the Lamonts arenâ00t taking the catch. Much like France, they only started to play once they looked like they were kippered, but in their case it proved too late.
At the risk of going the way of Franno, I canâ00t see Argentina beating the Springboks in the semi-final. I think South Africa will match their forward physicality and will have enough behind to see them through. Nor do I see the South Africans being suckered into playing the game at the Pumas preferred tempo or making the same number of errors as Scotland, France and Ireland have made against them.
None of this should be taken to suggest that South Africa were any great shakes over the weekend themselves. As we watched Fiji score two unanswered tries while down to 14 players to draw level at 20-20 after an hour, it truly looked as though the rugby world had gone stark raving bonkers. However, South Africa, principally in the person of Butch James, showed enough nous to draw clear and get home with some comfort in the end.
And as for France? â00Chacun bijouâ00 (as the more erudite/poncey of my old UCD team used to say - thatâ00s bleedinâ00 students for you). I reckon Laporte dodged a bullet with this one. He clearly sent his team out to take a leaf out of the Argentina playbook with Beauxis and co. just belting the leather off the ball. Once their initial adrenaline had worn off it was patently not working. It was only when the French cast off this straitjacket and held on to the ball that they began to profit. Hopefully the lesson wonâ00t have been lost on them. And once they did, aahh â0¦
Matt Williams got it right in advance (letâ00s hear it for one pundit, at least) when he pointed out that all the great World Cup matches have involved France (v Australia in 1987, v New Zealand in 1999) and now we have another one to qualify for that distinction. Which wasnâ00t to say that he reckoned they had much chance â00 he didnâ00t.
Franno had once again nailed his colours to the mast. The omission of Aaron Mauger from the 22 was a critical error borne of hubris. Naturally, Luke McAllister went on to give a virtuoso performance, making two classic breaks, one of which resulted in a try for him.
The icing on the cake was that the â00much-maligned-as-mentally-suspectâ00 Freddy Michalak came off the bench and within a minute played a key part in the decisive score. Thereâ00s nothing like a little personal redemption seeded into a plotline. At this point, you could see the terror on the faces of the All Blacks/Silvers as the unthinkable became the unavoidable.
The best chance they had to avoid it came with a couple of glorious opportunities to drop into the pocket and drop the match-winning goal. That they didnâ00t do so gave Franno his lifeline as he resolved that they would have done had Mauger been on the pitch. Which was nice. Everyone should have a little something to take out of a weekend like that one. Though I wouldnâ00t try that out on Graham Henry any time soon.
In fairness, while many seem to be rejoicing in the ABsâ00 demise, I have a fair amount of sympathy. I know that there has been a lot of â00lazy runningâ00 in this tournament, I donâ00t think it was 100% apparent that McAllister deliberately took Jauzion out â00 he didnâ00t alter his line of running, nor did he look to see where Jauzion was. In these circumstances, yellow was a touch harsh. Also, referee Barnes held his arm out for advantage in the dying moments and when McAllister attempted the drop goal (hmm, what was that about Frannoâ00s point?), he never came back for the advantage.
Quite apart from that, in a tournament when so many teams have not tried to play rugby, itâ00s a pity that the one team that has done nothing but over the past four years should fall to a sucker punch.
Oh well. Câ00est la vie, apparently.