By Adrian Porter
TWICKENHAM, ENGLAND, 14 October 1999 - Each of the
ten matches in the second round games of the rugby World Cup last
weekend had its own importance but only one held the promise of a
defining clash of some kind - the game between England and New Zealand
at Twickenham; both of them fancying their chances for an appearance
at the final next month.
In the event, New Zealand won by a
big margin - 30 to 16 - and the symbol of their victory was the
massive figure of their winger, Jonah Lomu, crashing through the
tackles of four England players as if he were tripping through a field
of dandelion puffballs; and then gently touching the ball down for the
try of the match.
It was, as the man said, "a case of
deja vu all over again", for it took us back to the 1995 World
Cup match in South Africa when Lomu, seen for the first time by
English opponents, picked up the ball, saw some space on the left wing
and accelerated through the defence with opponents lying impotently on
the ground in his wake - a tableau depicted on a recent cover of Time
Most opposing sides have tried to counter the Lomu
juggernaut by squeezing his running space as tight as the tiny wisp of
forelock on his shaven head and having him shadowed by at least three
defenders. His try against England, however, was a replica of his 1995
Also in evidence again was the strong New Zealand
line of defence against English attacks.
The New Zealanders
are called the All Blacks because of their kit - black shorts, black
stockings, black shirt with only the silver fern of their country on
the chest. The ultimate act of power dressing has to be the donning of
an All Black outfit.
It seemed, then, that whenever the
English got the ball, they ran into a solid black wall of Kiwis lined
up abreast, waiting to stop them, to blunt every incipient foray. Time
and again, the English players were stopped in their tracks, prevented
from mounting or maintaining the momentum of an incisive attack.
Engalnd was forced to kick over the black bafflements and, of course,
to surrender posession of the ball.
The final score
reflected the New Zealanders' superiority, particularly in the second
half when debilitated Englishmen, weakened by frustration in attack
and impotence in defence were finally overwhelmed by All Black attacks
which produced 14 points in the second half.
In fact, England
was overcome not only by the power play of the New Zealanders but by
the inspiration they derive from the All Blacks' sense of heritage -
the aura, the mystique and pride of being a member of the team. The
All Blacks are, after all, the most successful international side in
the history of rugby, winning three out of four of some 330 matches.
These rugby players have given their small homeland a giant
presence in sport. Their style of rugby is seen to embody the
country's rugged, pioneering past along with its manly virtues of
strength, courage and team spirit.
To be an All Black is the
pinnacle of most young, sporting New Zealanders' ambitions. The sense
of awe that comes from pulling on an All Black shirt springs from a
special spirit which makes the players all too aware of the saying: "The
team's legacy is more intimidating than any opposition".
intimidation takes on a recognisable form in the "haka", the
Maori war chant challenging a foe to battle. Before a match begins,
the All Blacks form a semi-circle facing their opponents and,
supporting their cries with aggressive fist and arm gestures, they
roll their eyes and tongues before finally leaping in the air. With
repetition, it may have lost some of its power to intimidate these
days, but spectators love it and its symbolism.
So much for
the main bout. There were nine other matches in the second round of
the tournament but they either came up to expectations by seeing the
easy defeat of minor countries by major players or fell below
expectations in lacklustre performances.
Scotland failed to
impress in its defeat of lowly Uruguay and France, once the team of
scintillating speed and spontaneity still seems to have lost its way
despite its 47 - 13 victory over Namibia. The Ireland - Australia
encounter, which the Aussies won 23 - 3, was the worst tounrnament so
far. The verdict can only be that the side which won merely committed
the fewer of a fiasco-full of errors.
Among the errors were
those committed by the Irish flank forward, Trevor Brennan and the
Australian No. 8 forward, Toutai Kefu, who were caught having a
private punch up. In accord with the determination of the authorities
to stamp out foul play, Brennan and Kefu were suspended for the
matches to join two earlier players in the sin bin.
South Africans - still second favourites to win the Cup - had a hard
time of it against Spain. The agressive attacking spirit and
determination of the Spaniards pushed the game. But Spain was,
inevitably, crushed by the weight of professionalism - and the
panic-induced replacement of some inexperienced South African players
who started the game, by regular stalwarts in the second-half.
notable exception to the lack of drama in the games was the match
between Romania and the United States. In an exciting highly
competitive game, Romania won by two points - thanks to a last minute
tackle by the Romanian full back on the American winger, Vaca Anitoni.
A yard further and the U.S. would have won.
The third and
final round of the preliminary games begins on October 14th as
follows: New Zealand v Italy, Wales v Samoa, Australia v U.S.A.,
Canada v Namibia, England v Tonga, South Africa v Uruguay, Ireland v
Romania, France v Fiji, Scotland v Spain and Argentina v Japan.