RWC: Mid-week fatigue and intrigue
The World Cup organizers have done some unfortunate souls no favours whatsoever scheduling several teams only three days rest before their second Pool stage matches. The fatigue is showing on the field with some comically ragged play from players who should know better, and yet at the same time, ironically, keeping matches tightly competitive and highly entertaining.
On Tuesday, ARGENTINA came off their high of Friday upsetting host nation France and had to lift themselves after a very short recovery to face GEORGIA at Lyon. The match turned out to be an enthralling game of stone-age battering ram rugby. As expected, the Pumas prevailed, but were made to work extremely hard and were only rewarded with a 4th-try bonus-point at the games' last minute. Where the Pumas 1-15 looked oversized a few days ago, against Georgia they appeared creaky, tired and lethargic, particularly during the games' first half, where they crawled to the sheds leading only 6-3. Georgia, playing their first match of the tournament, were inspired, but weary legs and lack of polish let the game slip away from them in the last quarter. FT: Argentina 33 vs. Georgia 3.
Wednesday's first match saw the USA likewise having to pick themselves up from a huge effort against England on Saturday and face TONGA's opening match on three days rest. The Eagles were hurting in more ways than one, having lost centre Paul Emerick to suspension for five weeks after a dangerous tackle on England's Olly Barkley. The match was scrappy and featured many mistakes, but also featured many spectacular moments, including Viliami Vaki's Blanco-esque try (Serge was seated in the stands watching) under the sticks at 70 minutes to put the game away against the run of play. The United States should be kicking themselves for allowing a game they could have won - and indeed, having controlled most of the game, probably should have won - slip away. FT: Tonga 25 vs. USA 15.
Japanese coach John Kirwan was bitching for months about the short stick some teams were dealt by IRB schedule-makers. Kirwan started an entirely different JAPAN XV from the side that was slaughtered by the Wallabies to face FIJI in Fiji's opening match. Sadly for the rugby world, Fijian flier Rupeni Caucaunibuca is ineligible, serving a suspension for an unspecified drug offense, supposedly recreational drugs and rumoured to be Marijuana. Why the IRB and WADA even tests for that non-performance-enhancing substance is a mystery. In any event, Caucau's jersey on the wing was covered by Vilimoni Delasau who is lucky he's not serving a suspension for own dangerous tackles. This game was a firecracker. Half-time Fiji led by a single point, 10-9. The game came right down to the wire, Japan trailing 35-31 and playing a FULL FIVE MINUTES extra-time after the 80-minute conclusion by keeping possession and recycling. The Fijians got their hands on the pigskin twice, and either didn't know the time elapsed on the clock or can't kick straight, because twice they immediately turned ball over to Japan via the kick instead of ending the game by booting it across the touchline. It was breathtaking stuff, and Japan ran themselves off their feet and did everything they could except score the winning try. Amazing stuff! FT: Fiji 35 vs. Japan 31.
In the evenings' final match, a stiff and sore ITALY, who were spanked by the All Blacks on Saturday, had great difficulty getting the measure of ROMANIA, who were playing their opening match and looked clueless about the laws governing the breakdown. Italy looked like they should have been up by many points, but leading only 8-0 at the break, allowed Romania to grab a pair of tries from nowehere, take an inexplicable 12-8 lead, before the humiliated Italians reasserted themselves, gave themselves some daylight, then allowed Romania to claw back some respect. The less said about this error-prone comedic abomination, the better. FT: Italy 24 vs. Romania 18.
The RWC organizers had better rethink their schedule in a big way for 2011. John Kirwan has a dead serious point, where the playing fields are tilted against teams with minimal depth.
Related: CITINGS FIGHTING & BITINGS.
Tomorrow's fixture is a HUGE one:
ENGLAND vs. SOUTH AFRICA
ENGLAND: 1. Andrew Sheridan, 2. Mark Regan, 3. Matt Stevens, 4. Simon Shaw, 5. Ben Kay, 6. Martin Corry (c), 7. Tom Rees, 8. Nick Easter, 9. Shaun Perry, 10. Mike Catt, 11. Paul Sackey, 12. Andy Farrell, 13. Jamie Noon, 14. Josh Lewsey, 15. Jason Robinson. RESERVES: Replacements: 16. George Chuter, 17. Perry Freshwater, 18. Steve Borthwick, 19. Lewis Moody, 20. Andy Gomarsall, 21. Peter Richards, 22. Mathew Tait.
SOUTH AFRICA: 1. Os du Randt, 2. John Smit (c), 3. Brendon Botha, 4. Bakkies Botha, 5. Victor Matfield, 6. Wikus van Heerden, 7. Juan Smith, 8. Danie Rossouw, 9. Fourie du Preez, 10. Butch James, 11. Bryan Habana, 12. Francois Steyn, 13. Jaque Fourie, 14. J.P. Pietersen, 15. Percy Montgomery. RESERVES: 16. Bismarck du Plessis, 17. CJ van der Linde, 18. Johann Muller, 19. Bob Skinstad, 20. Ruan Pienaar, 21. André Pretorius, 22. Wynand Olivier.
Date: Friday, 14 September
Venue: Stade de France, Saint Denis
Kick-off: 21.00 local, 3 PM ET (Toronto, New York)
Referee: Joël Jutge
Touch judges: Kelvin Deaker, Carlo Damasco
Television match official: Simon McDowell
Assessor: Ian Scotney
Rugby Planet preview click here.