Book review: Sweet Chariot 2: Heroes and Heartbreaks

Sweet Chariot 2 looks at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Each pool is summarised, with games written about in varying levels in detail. After the summary of each pool, the knockout matches are described individually. After the chapter about the final, statistics for the tournament are given with lineups for each match. An excellent summary of a tournament that saw the recognised nations not have everything their own way.

Rating (out of 5): ****

Book review: Behind The Rose

Behind the Rose is all about playing Rugby for England. It tracks England’s Rugby team from the first Test ever in 1871 up to the summer tour of 2014. Each chapter examines a period of time and as it gets closer to the present, the chapters generally cover shorter periods of time. Each chapter begins with an overview of the time being covered before players and coaches say what it was really like being there. It is a fascinating insight into what it is like to pull on the England jersey and I strongly recommend the book for all lovers of the game who want to know what it’s like at the highest level from the men who have been there.

Rating (out of 5): *****

New Zealand 34-17 Australia

New Zealand beat Australia to become the first team to retain the Webb Ellis Trophy with a strong performance to cement their place as the best in the world. New Zealand opened the scoring with a penalty, which Australia replied to and New Zealand added a couple more penalties before New Zealand scored their opening try at the end of the half. New Zealand looked to have the game secured with a brilliant try from Nonu at the start of the second half, but a yellow card for Smith allowed Australia to score two quick tries and move within four points, before a drop goal, penalty and try secured victory for the All Blacks.

The first half hour was quite nervy with plenty of errors from both sides, but once New Zealand hit their stride, they were the better team. They were able to secure quick ball when required when attacking and limited Australia’s chances – Australia only seemed to be in with a chance when New Zealand were down to 14 men. The victory for New Zealand was well deserved, who were clearly the better team and excellent throughout the knockout stages against France, South Africa and Australia.

South Africa 24-13 Argentina

South Africa secured third place at the World Cup with victory over Argentina at the Olympic Stadium. South Africa started the game well with 10 points in the opening 15 minutes, aided greatly by a yellow card for Cubelli. Whilst Argentina did come back into the game (they finished with 65% possession and 63% territory), they rarely looked like unlocking the South African defence and running in points as they had against Ireland. South Africa looked comfortable with making tackles and waiting for Argentine errors. Argentina did secure a late consolation try in stoppage time, but the game had been over for quite a time and South Africa fully deserved their victory following an impressive opening quarter.

South Africa 18-20 New Zealand

New Zealand recorded a narrow victory over South Africa to book their place in the World Cup Final and continue their quest to retain the Webb Ellis trophy. South Africa started well and were soon in the lead courtesy of a penalty. New Zealand hit back quickly with a try through Kaino that was converted by Carter. New Zealand had plenty of pressure in the first half, but were unable to score further as South Africa’s defence held firm. South Africa enjoyed success with box kicks, claiming many that they used. New Zealand’s discipline was poor and South Africa added three further penalties to give them a half time lead, the third seeing Kaino receive a yellow card for a blatant offside.

New Zealand opened the second half with more pressure despite having a player less and Carter scored a drop goal. They then followed this up with a try when Kaino returned, the try also seeing Habana sent to the sin bin for an offside in the build up. New Zealand kept their lead for the rest of the game, with further scores being added through penalties as the rain increased. New Zealand managed the clock well in the closing minutes to see the game out and record the win.

New Zealand looked less formidable than they did in the previous game against France, which perhaps shows the different intensity levels between the Northern and Southern hemisphere teams. South Africa kicked and chased well and it is surprising that they didn’t look to use the tactic more in the second half. New Zealand’s discipline improved in the second half, denying South Africa the chance to keep the scoreboard moving. New Zealand will need better discipline in the final to give themselves the best chance of winning as I think it will be difficult for them to win again if they concede too many penalties against either Australia or Argentina.

Australia 35-34 Scotland

Australia secured their place in the semi-finals with the narrowest of victories over Scotland. Australia started well and it looked that the game would progress as expected with a routine Australian victory, but Scotland soon got themselves into the game. Australia found success with driving mauls from the lineout, but gave away some soft tries, with Foley in particular having a poor game; he missed many kicks, struggled under the high ball and had a kick charged down that led to a Scottish try. However, he slotted the winning penalty with just under a minute to go.

Australia will play Argentina in the semi-final. After good performances against England and Wales, Australia were expected to secure quite a comfortable victory, but Scotland seemed to cause them problems and did much better at the breakdown than either England or Wales managed; Australia must be hoping that they can name Pocock next week. Argentina have showed that they are a dangerous side and a similar performance from Australia next week would give Argentina a great chance of making the final. For Scotland, this was a performance that they will be hoping to build upon in the Six Nations.

New Zealand 62-13 France

New Zealand brushed France aside and qualified for the quarter finals with ease, scoring nine tries in the process. New Zealand were able to secure quick ball throughout the game and pose a constant threat to the French defence, with powerful runs drawing defenders in and creating space. In contrast, France were unable to secure quick ball and didn’t appear to have a gameplan, trying several different things (although this could have been caused by the unrelenting pressure from New Zealand). Whatever France tried, New Zealand had an answer for and they laid down a big marker for the teams still in the competition and must be seen as the favourites, despite a tough looking semi-final against South Africa next weekend.

France 9-24 Ireland

Ireland claimed victory in Pool D and top spot with a hard fought victory over France. A couple of early penalties were missed by France, whilst Sexton was accurate with his kicking until forced off by injury. Ireland created one good break, but were unable to hold on to the final pass and lost Paul O’Connell to injury on the stroke of half time. In the second half, Ireland were able to score a couple of tries and secure the victory.

Ireland played well and shut France down effectively and will need a similar effort next week against a good Argentine side, although it looks as though they will be without some key players in Sexton and O’Connell if the injuries are as bad as they look and O’Brien could be cited for a punch off the ball. France will have to show a great improvement (especially in securing ball at the breakdown) if they are to challenge New Zealand next weekend.

Italy 32-22 Romania

Italy established enough of a lead to withstand a late flourish from Romania and claim a second victory and third spot in Pool D, guaranteeing automatic qualification for the 2019 World Cup. Italy took a good lead into half time, playing little, but scoring when they did. With time running out, Romania were able to create and score some chances, but had left themselves too much a deficit to make up.

Large parts of the game were forgettable, with Italy seemingly happy to sit back on a comfortable lead they had established. Romania battled on throughout, but didn’t have the creativity to consistently carve open the Italian defence and score points. Italy have recorded 2 losses against Six Nations opponents in the group, whilst gaining 2 unconvincing victories against tier 2 opposition. Although a Six Nations side, Italy are showing few signs of developing as a rugby nation and it is easy to see why the likes of Romania and Georgia are calling for promotion and relegation within the premier European tournament.

England 13-33 Australia

England failed to record the victory needed to remain in the World Cup against an attacking Australian side in Pool A. The teams exchanged early penalties before a couple of well-worked tries from Bernard Foley put Australia in a commanding position at half time. An early Australian penalty in the second half gave Australia a 17 point lead, but a try from Anthony Watson and a penalty resulted in England being just seven points behind and the comeback well and truly on. However, a yellow card to Owen Farrell ended hopes of the comeback and a couple of penalties and a try from Matt Giteau ended any doubt about the result.

England struggled for much of the game, struggling to get quick ball when in attacking situations and being unable to slow Australian ball around the 22. The key to Australia’s success was Pocock and Hooper in the back row, who forced turnovers and penalties when England had the ball, stopping any threats quickly. After having played Fiji and Uruguay in their opening two games, this was seen as Australia’s first real test and they passed it with flying colours. Their scrum was strong and, towards the end of the match, dominant. Australia will be favourites to beat Wales and top the Pool and will be strong contenders for winning the tournament.

Ireland 44-10 Romania

Ireland recorded a bonus point victory over a resolute Romanian side in Pool D. Romania defended and tackled well, with Ireland only securing the bonus point in the final quarter when Romania went down to 14 men and they were able to run in a couple of tries to put some gloss on the score, although Romania scored a late try.

Ireland have secured two bonus point victories from their opening games against the two weakest teams in the group, which they would have expected to do. They will surely be confident about beating Italy and setting up a big final game against France, the winners of whom will surely top the group. Romania have played France and Ireland, two games that they would not have been expecting to get anything out of. They now have games against Italy and Canada, which they will surely have targeted to get something from. Whilst they have impressed with their workrate, it is difficult to see them winning either, although they could achieve a bonus point for losing by less than seven points.

Scotland 39-16 USA

Scotland survived a first half scare and recorded a comfortable win over USA in Pool B to move to the top with the maximum number of points possible. The first half saw USA play physically with some big hits, whilst Scotland lacked precision; this resulted in America leading 13-6. Scotland righted this in the second half and their increased precision saw them run in 5 tries and secure another bonus point victory.

Scotland have achieved exactly what they would have wanted with two bonus point victories over the weakest two teams in the Pool and have put themselves in a good position to qualify for the quarter finals. However, they have a sterner test against South Africa next week and finish with a difficult game against Samoa. For USA, it is difficult to see how they will beat South Africa (when Scotland’s precision increased, USA struggled and South Africa will surely play with precision whilst matching the physicality), but they will be looking for a victory over Japan.

Australia 65-3 Uruguay

Australia cruised to victory over Uruguay in Pool A, running in eleven tries. Australia were in complete control from the first whistle, scoring at will at times whilst defending well when Uruguay got close to the line.

Australia showed the dominance that would have been expected of them in this game and were able to pretty much rest their preferred starting XV ahead of next Saturday’s match against England. They showed that they are dangerous runners and generally make offloads at the right time. Uruguay looked underpowered and it is difficult to see how they will claim a point in the group, let alone a victory.

England 25-28 Wales

Wales gained a valuable victory in Pool A, narrowly beating England. England seemed to be in control for much of the game, but Wales always kept themselves in touch, establishing a lead with 9 minutes to go. England did get a kickable penalty in the last 4 minutes, but kicked for the corner and Wales defended the lineout and claimed the victory.

England appear to have handed the game to Wales; they allowed Wales to keep in touch, made some poor decisions at times and discipline was poor. Too many penalties seemed avoidable and were within range for Wales to keep in touch. England now have a crucial game against Australia, which they must win if they are to qualify for the quarter finals. For Wales, they now have an excellent chance of qualifying for the quarter finals.

South Africa 46-6 Samoa

South Africa claimed their first win of the Rugby World Cup in a convincing manner over Samoa in Pool B. As expected, it was a physical game with some big hits. However, the South Africans generally seemed to get the better of the exchanges and their forwards were able to establish a good platform, especially with mauls, which Samoa seemed to have little answer to. South Africa were able to turn this into a bonus point victory and move top of the Pool.

South Africa’s campaign is now up and running after last week’s shock loss to Japan and they will surely still qualify. However, the Pool is shaping up as the most interesting at the moment and all four other teams will still believe that they can qualify for the quarter finals, meaning that there should be some great games in the coming weeks.

Italy 23-18 Canada

Italy scraped a victory they didn’t really deserve against Canada in Pool D of the World Cup. Canada opened the scoring with a penalty, claimed the kick off from the restart and then scored a try from just inside their 22. Italy soon responded with an excellent try of their own from around the halfway line. The scores remained close, with a Canadian penalty with 10 minutes left narrowing the score to 20-18, but Italy managed the clock and territory well in the final 10 minutes; they didn’t give Canada a chance to score, kicked penalties for lineouts to use up the time and scored a penalty with the last kick of the game.

Italy were quite poor today, but had enough experience to hold on at the end. It is difficult to see how they will progress from Pool D as I would expect Ireland to beat them quite comfortably based on that performance. Canada battled well, made several great line breaks and were full of exciting rugby from their backline. The game against France will be tough for them, but they must stand an excellent chance against Romania.

Argentina 54-9 Georgia

Argentina claimed a bonus point victory over Georgia in Pool C of the Rugby World Cup. The first half was a tight affair, with the score being 14-9 at half time. Argentina had had the better of the game, but made relatively few line breaks and appeared to lack a clinical edge, although they did score one try. The change in the game happened with the yellow carding of Gorgodze; Georgia had been warned that a yellow card had been coming and when it did, Argentina took full advantage by scoring three tries in the ten minutes of having a one-man advantage. With Georgia tiring, Argentina ran in further tries and recorded a convincing victory.

Argentina showed what a good side they are and were able to up their game to take full advantage of an opportunity presented to them. They will surely qualify behind New Zealand in the Pool and provide a tough test to the winners of Pool D. Georgia showed that they are very willing, but currently have a limited, forward-based game plan and no backup plan.

New Zealand 58-14 Namibia

New Zealand cruised to an expected victory over Namibia, scoring 9 tries in the process. New Zealand scored a couple of early tries and it looked as though a large score could be run up. However, after the opening 10 or 15 minutes, New Zealand seemed to play and score whenever they want. The highlight of the game was undoubtedly Namibia scoring their try in the second half.

A tricky game for New Zealand has been completed successfully (they could only struggle and not win by a big margin or conversely put up a big score and be told that it was expected) and they are top of the Pool and in complete control. Namibia lost as expected, but played well in patches and scored a memorable try. Whilst they will not qualify from the Pool, they have shown that they will be able to give the other teams in the Pool a game.

England team annoucement

Stuart Lancaster has named the England team to take on Wales at Twickenham on Saturday in Pool A of the Rugby World Cup. As has been widely reported over the past couple of day, Owen Farrell has replaced George Ford at fly half, whilst Jonathan Joseph’s injury has seen Brad Barritt moved to outside centre, with Sam Burgess coming in at inside centre.

Lancaster has certainly picked a big, strong midfield that looks set to be able to cope with the powerful Welsh centres of Jamie Roberts and Scott Williams. However, Burgess is still new to Rugby Union and when he came on against Fiji, was out of position a couple of times, which I am sure Roberts and Williams will look to exploit. Also, whilst it is a big and powerful midfield, England have picked more creative midfields; go forward, it looks as though it will be making hard yards by looking to smash through the Welsh line.