By Adrian Porter
TWICKENHAM, ENGLAND, 22 October 1999 - It was always
predicted that there would be an upset of some kind in this World cup
tournament with a team of outsiders beating one of the major players.
So it's hardly spurprising that some savants of the rugby world have
chosen Argentina's victory over Ireland in the play-offs for the
quarter finals as that defining occasion.
For me, that
grossly underrates the Argentine side with its patriotic will to win
allied to a great deal of skill and courage. Argentina was regarded as
one of the "medium grade" participants while Ireland, with
its high profile role in European rugby, was seen aas one of the "majors".
What was overlooked in the forecasts was the visible decline
in Ireland's abilities over the past few years plus what one
commentator rightly described as "its inglorious Cup campaign".
Ireland went down 24 to 28 in a game that saw them squander chances
and resort to a tight but featureless game-plan of kicking. It might
have been successful but time and again the Irish lost their
concentration and gave away penalties. Although, this is not to
overlook Argentina's incredible defence under tremendous pressure in
the closing minutes of the game.
It was, however, a game of
kicking rather than of exciting open play. Ireland scored their points
from seven penalty goals and a dropped goal. Argentina's outstanding
fly-half, Gonzalo Quesada, also scored seven penalty goals and
clinched the victory with his conversion of the only try of the match.
now faces France in the quarter finals and with France playing almost
as badly as the Irish at the moment, the chances are that the South
Americans will, achieve their highest point in international rugby by
making the semi-finals.
The two other winners of the
play-offs were England who beat Fiji 42 - 24 and Scotland who beat
Samoa 35 - 20. Both these games were closer and tougher than the score
lines suggest and it was a measure of the winners towards the losers
that both the Pacific Island sides were given ovations as they left
The Fijians, in fact, were invited at the end of
the game to do a lap of honour round Twickenham, the home of English
rugby, to huge cheers and applause from a sporting crowd which casts
aside natural partisanship when it recognises great performance.
islanders played good, fast, open rugby which opened up England's
defences at times and only poor and unlucky finishing prevented the
Fijians from scoring at least two tries which might have turned the
In the end, the English tactical ploys proved their
superiority. These included a magnificent, hanging punt by fly-ball,
Johnny Wilkinson, which flank forward, Neil Back, caught on the Fijian
try line to touch down for a stupendous score.
expected fornm the Scotalnd-Samoa game with players of both teams
known for their open, running game. The first half, particularly with
It picked up in the second half asa game of
contrasting styles. Scotland saw its strength in the forwards and they
were used as a battering ram to push through Samoan lines while Gregor
Townsend, the star fly-half who is mostly known for his mercurial
running, chose instead to go in for tactical kicking to force the
Samoans back into their own half.
When possible, the Samoans
chose the open game with their sturdy, fleet-footed runners trying
relentlessly to break through the Scottish defence. It was
exhilirating and they showed they are world-class players.
now, the Pacific Islanders go home facing debts and overdrafts for, as
amateurs, they financed their tour from their own money. Not for them
the rich sponsored deals and fast cars of the professional players in
other parts of the world. Instead they have only rugby balls - plus
pride and toatal commitment
In the meantime, the teams which
have made it through the quarter finals have a few days to lick their
wounds. The casuality list is critical for some sides. After some of
the games, dressing amenities of soft, inflatable chairs to rest weary
limbs, elasticised bandages, rows of bottles of salve and masseurs and
- for some lucky guys - masseuses.
If they can manage to get
full teams together, the following will contest the quarter finals:
Wales v Australia, South Africa v England, France v Argentina, and New
Zealand v Scotland. Some great days should lie ahead.