By Adrian Porter
EDINBURGH, 26 October 1999 - There was never much
doubt that teams from the southern hemisphere would dominate the rugby
World Cup. And, so it has been. Australia, New Zealand and South
Africa clobbered Wales, Scotland and England respectively in the
quarter finals and only France, among the European sides, will now go
to the semi-finals.
It must be mentioned, of course, that
France did not have to play any of the "Big Southern Three"
in the opening rounds and, as sure as God made little green apples,
then so New Zealand will make apple sauce of the Frenchmen when they
meet; simply because the French think that erecting a solid defence is
a dull ploy.
That will be a pity becaue France, which won 47
- 26 in its quarter-final tussle with Argentina, played some of the
fastest, most open and most exciting rugby of the tournament
was able to do so because Argentina decided to play the same game - in
the way that rugby is meant to be played. The scoreline gives no
indication of the pluck and flair of both sides and the Argentines'
bravery and physical commitment. There wasn't a weak link anywhere.
Wales nor Scotland were expected to win but higher hopes rested with
England in the tussle with South Africa. In the event, it turned out
that there was more excitement in the minds of spectators before the
game than actually took place on the pitch.
Apart from a few
bright spots of play, it was a leaden affair with strength of defence
rather than spirit of attack uppermost in the tactical performances of
both sides. It speaks volumes about the game to learn that the
accolade went to the five dropped goals by the South African fly-half,
Jannie de Beer, rather than to any match-winning try.
not to gainsay De Beer's excellence - he scored 32 points from his
boot - but it must be said that most of any movement towards the try
lines came, not from sprints down the touchline, but from a series of
ping-pong exchanges of long punts.
It was hardly nail-biting
drama. All of England's 21 points were slotted in from long-range
penalty goals. Whenever the Englishmen actually tried to carry the
ball forward they ran hard up against a wall of green-shirted
musclemen and were pushed back from whence they came.
was simply that they began running from shallow positions and had no
room or time to accelerate and burst their way through the defence.
South Africa, at least, managed to score two tries in their
score of 44 points but even one of these was a fortuitous one, coming
from the lucky bounce of a ball kicked towards the try line and then
back into the arms of winger Piet Rossouw.
There was better
action in the game between Scotland and New Zealand in Edinburgh
despite torrential rain which made the ball greasy and the grass
slippery. The Scots went down 30 - 18 but some measure of their grit
and determination can be judged from the fact that they scored 15
points in the second half to 5 points by the All Blacks.
Scotland were almost always outmanoeuvred by the superb tactical
kicking of the New Zealand fly-half, Andrew Mehrtens. He was able to
excercise the option of running because of the fast ball he received
from the scrums and rucks. He was often on the move before the
Scottish players were fully aware that he even had the ball.
a couple of occasions the ball made its way into the grateful arms of
winger, Jonah Lomu - 240 pounds and 6 ft - 6 ins of full tilt sprint
by a man who can cover 100 metres in 13 seconds.
had planned their counter to him and two or three of them hanging
round his ankles, knees and waist managed to stop him most of the
time. Finally, he found space to run and he went over for his
inevitable try to make up for some earlier fumbles.
bullocked his way over, the New Zealand centre, Tana Umaga - he of the
tangled rastafarian locks - slid like a wraith past Scottish defenders
to score two tries. He outshone his partner, Christian Cullen, who had
been given the star billing before the tournament began. Although
Cullen has played well, he never attained the glory predicted for him.
the Scottish side, the usual magic of fly-half Gregor Townsend turned
into a misery of errors in taking passes and kicking. Luckily his
teammates - particulalry his captain, scrum-half, Gary Armstrong, and
winger Cammie Murray - played above themseleves to ensure that
Scotland, far from being disgraced, ended on a high note.
Wales - Australia match was a doleful affair on a pitch which heavy
rain had turned into glutinous mud. This was something of a surprise
in a brand-new, 150 million pound stadium which has a retractable roof
supposed to keep out the rain.
Australia eventually won 24 -
9 and, although the Aussies' score did contain three tries, the gluey
conditions meant that kicking was preferred to handling. Scrums and
rucks were disorderly affairs, thanks to a referee who seemed unmaware
of thre complicated rules of the game. The less said the better.
the semi-finals: South Africa v Australia and New Zealand v France.
The clever money is still on New Zealand to book a special seat for
the golden World Cup on the plane home.