Now we come to the business end of the pool matches. The top sides are playing to decide who finishes first or second in their group and thus who their quarter final opponents will be. Below the ‘top tier’ sides, the smaller rugby nations are getting the chance to take home a win from the tournament. Sides like Georgia and Namibia stood no chance against the might of the All Blacks or the Argentinians, but in facing each other they had a chance to be heroes and one day tell their grandchildren all about the game they won at the England world cup. For Georgia there was a little more at stake. Having already beaten Tonga, a win would see them finish third in their group and thus qualify for the next world cup in Japan.
The match was played at a frenetic pace and with tension high Georgia made mistake after mistake. When they needed composure they hurried and fumbled and had two ‘tries’ chalked off in the first half for forward passes. The Namibians kept to a simple game plan, kicking ahead and then rushing up like men possessed to try and tackle their opponents and win the ball back or force errors and win penalties in kicking range. It paid off to an extent. They led 6 -0 at half time but had two players sent to the sin bin in the final minutes of the half after a series of scrum infringements. As the second half got underway Georgia took advantage of their numerical advantage. They scored two tries and kicked a penalty to gain, what seemed to be a commanding 17 – 6 lead. However Namibia had different ideas and with a full complement back on the pitch they cranked up the pace and went hell for leather for a win. Another penalty and a converted try saw the score at 17 -16 for the last few minutes but try as they might the South West Africans couldn’t force the issue and Georgia hung on.
Elsewhere Fiji had a comfortable 47 -15 win over the semi-pro Uruguayans. Uruguay’s two tries were the first they had scored at the world cup since 2003, a cause of great delight for them and their voluble supporters. South Africa ran out easy 64- 0 winners over the USA. The Americans selected a second string side for this fixture. They reasoned that they were going to lose anyway and wanted to save the legs of their better players for their game against the Japanese at the weekend. Time will tell if the ploy works. It’s possible that the blow to morale from a defeat like this might outweigh any physical advantages which might have been gained.
Finally the most disappointed side at this world cup must be Canada. They have played fast, dynamic rugby throughout and delighted the crowds with their approach. They should have beaten Italy but a lack of composure saw chances wasted and the game slipped away from them. Their final group game was against Romania and they took the same approach into the match. They played with a pace and intensity which saw them 15 – 0 ahead early in the second half but then it all started to go wrong again. Players charged off without support and lost the ball. Passes were hurled at each other at 100mph, balls were dropped, good possession kicked away and Romania clawed their way back in. As they closed the gap, the Canadians crumbled, and with 17 unanswered points in the last half hour the Romanians stole what had seemed a most unlikely victory.
So to the weekend. Wales face Australia for the top two spots in group A the winner will face either Scotland or Japan, the loser gets the Springboks in the quarter final. Scotland must beat Samoa to qualify. Ireland and France battle it out to discover whether they will face the All Blacks, or Argentina. Things are starting to warm up!