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AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR

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AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR

AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR

RWC2019_AllBlacksvIreland_primary
World Cup Power Rankings: Down to Four
 
1) New Zealand: A brilliant performance. Used their week off wisely to work on the detail of their game, tempering the risk factor with a quite amazing level of precision.
 
None of their razzle dazzle would be possible without the effort of a forward pack that got most of its set piece right, tackled everything Ireland threw at them, and generated lightening quick ruck ball. 
 
2) England:  Will be another step up in opposition for the All Blacks after a comprehensive win over Australia.
 
Did it on just over a third share of possession, and fell off 21 tackles, which they won’t get away with against New Zealand, while its fair to say at least two of their four tries were gift wrapped by an Aussie team playing crazy catch up rugby long before they needed to.
 
However, they have a crafty schemer of a coach, and a quality, muscular and deep squad with high efficiency and few weaknesses.
 
3) South Africa: Strangled the life out of the gallant Japanese.
 
Got lucky when Beast Mtawarira was shown only yellow and not red for a nasty looking tackle, although Japan did get a lot of sympathy elsewhere from Wayne Barnes.
 
You know exactly what you’re going to get from the Boks, but that doesn’t make them any easier to beat.
 
4) Wales: Karma does the round trip eight years later and this time it’s Wales who are lucky to be there.
 
France had the game in their hands when Sebastian Vahaamahina did one of the dumbest things in French rugby history, and it’s a pretty thick book.
 
Even with fourteen France looked capable of hanging on but blew it with a scrum five metres from the Welsh line. All they had to do was put a back in at flanker and set up for a drop goal and it would have been out of Wales reach.
 
Credit to Wales for doing enough but they’ll need much more than this to beat South Africa.
 
The Departed
 
Japan: Were never likely to repeat the Miracle of Brighton in the quarters but could not have done more to light up their own tournament.
 
They didn’t get into the top eight through luck, or catching teams on a bad day, they deserved it, engaging the nation, and filling it with pride.
Big question now is what happens next?
 
This tournament aside, they are notorious for a lack of ambition beyond their own shores, and it’s time that changed.
 
Entry to the Rugby Championship would be a great start, and far more likely to be embraced by their powerful stake holders that the ill-fated Sunwolves venture.
 
France: Blew it. Pure and simple. Had it, gave it away. Merci Big Seb, merci beaucoup.
 
Ireland:  Even before the tournament, the suspicion was they’d reached their mountain top a year ago, and regardless of a promising start against a woeful Scotland, were slip sliding their way down. 
 
It was good to see Rory Best get a fitting farewell from his legion of followers, and from the All Blacks, but a sad way to end it for him and for Joe Schmidt
 
We will miss the Irish fans, but we won’t miss the garbage spewed on a regular basis by the likes of Neil Francis and Ewen McKenna in the Irish Independent, a newspaper that hardly waited for the game to end before turning its spiteful guns on Schmidt.
 
Australia: The lack of clarity in their approach, the lack of smart leadership was spelled out the way they all too quickly resorted to mad, catch-up tactics when they were able to chip away at England’s lead.
 
All it did was make the score blow out to an embarrassing degree.
 
Michael Cheika walks before he is pushed, his outstanding achievement of getting the team to the final four years ago now to be forgotten.
He can clearly coach a rugby team, and his willingness to take the flak for his players is to be respected, but mostly we will remember him for the potty mouth stuff in the coaches’ box and the petulant exchanges with the media post-match.
 
The Aussie now find themselves without a coach, without a marquee player, and a CEO and chairman who will surely be next in the firing line. 
Does Dave Rennie really want to walk into this mess?
 
The Refs:
 
Mixed, again.
 
Kiwis were happy to have Nigel Owens, and will still be thinking that way, although, and not wanting to kick them when they’re down, he could have been a lot tougher on Ireland than he was. The Matt Todd yellow was wrong in the sense that he was not offside, but a fair enough outcome, but Ireland were lucky not to be carded at least twice. 
 
Jerome Garces was actually pretty good in the England Aussie game. Still not sure we’d want him for what’s left. I’m picking the ABs will get his mate.
 
Jaco Peyper and his crew had no choice but to red card Vahaamahina, and later had to make a line ball call for the defining Welsh try. Could have gone either way, but they probably got it right. People complaining about him posing for a photo with Welsh fans afterwards need to find something more worthy of concern.
 
And that leaves our old mate Barnsey. Not his best work, he riled South African fans with some fairly benevolent stuff towards the Japanese, but ironically may have to answer to not red carding Beast Mtawarira for a tip tackle.
 
Back Home
 
Auckland put up a great fight in Blenheim against the heavily favoured Mako, who got home in the end, but have lost two key players for the final in Ethan Blackadder and Jordan Taufua.
 
Wellington played some great footy against Canterbury and are more than a starter’s chance for their first premier title since 2000. 
 
Promotion awaits one of the Bays, the Steamers having too many guns for a depleted Manawatu, and Hawkes Bay having to play 100 minutes to see off a feisty Otago in a Napier epic. Has that taken just a little bit more out of the Magpies?
 
Auckland and Canterbury will contest the Farah Palmer Cup women’s premiership final, Hawkes Bay and Otago the championship decider in Dunners, while in the Heartland, we’ll look forward to bringing you the finals action from Oamaru and Greymouth
It should be a great weekend