- 19 Sep 07, 03:55 PM
Paris - With all 20 teams in this World Cup having played two matches each – before Italy and Portugal kick-off ‘round three’ on Wednesday – how about some ‘halfway through the pool stages’ awards?
Not the snappiest of titles I’ll admit, but we’ll revisit them at the end of the group stages, and again at the end of the tournament.
Do let me know who I’ve missed out, which ones I’ve got wrong, and your own nominations for further awards.
Best individual performance: Fourie du Preez (South Africa v England)
England coach Brian Ashton had warned us the Springboks possessed “one of the most intelligent scrum-halves in world rugby” beforehand. Unfortunately, it didn’t appear he had warned his own team. Du Preez stamped his authority all over his side’s critical pool match with a virtuoso display of tactical kicking, sniping runs, and bullet passes. He started the moves which led to all three Springboks tries, and then gave the scoring pass for each one. If the rest of the world didn’t already know about him, they do now. The 23-year-old is a star in the making.
Worst individual performance: Brian Lima (Samoa v South Africa)
Plenty of competition here, and not just because it would be unfair to single out one Irishman. David Skrela’s opening gambit for France against Argentina deserves a mention, as does Shaun Perry’s nightmare 40 minutes for England against South Africa, after which – as the jargon goes – he ‘failed to reappear for the second half’. But as a way to celebrate becoming the first man to play in five World Cups, Samoan legend Brian Lima got it all wrong. Coming on as a replacement, “The Chiropractor” sought to justify his moniker with a trademark crunching tackle bordering on the reckless, knocked himself out, conceded a penalty, then departed in a haze three minutes after his entrance.
Best team performance: Georgia (10-14 v Ireland)
To put it into some sort of context, Georgia rocked up at the last World Cup and were hammered 84-6 in their opening game by England, then the best team in the northern hemisphere. This time they pressed Argentina hard before conceding a fourth try only in injury-time. On their second outing, the 17th-ranked nation in the world spent the last few minutes hammering away for a try that would have given them victory over Ireland, the second best team in Europe. If it wasn’t for a timely intervention by Denis Leamy, leading to a Georgian try disallowed by the video referee, Bordeaux’s Stade Jacques-Chaban-Delmas would have witnessed the greatest upset in World Cup history. Mention must also go to Argentina for their stunning opening-night win over France.
Worst team performance: England (0-36 v South Africa)
Only four teams in the history of the World Cup had failed to score a point in a game prior to this tournament: Ivory Coast (against Scotland in 1995), Canada (against South Africa, 1995), Spain (against Scotland, 1999) and Namibia (against Australia, 2003). They were all minnows of the game. But we can now add to this inglorious list world champions England, following their execrable 36-0 rout by South Africa. (Romania became the sixth after their 42-0 defeat on Tuesday by Scotland – who have now ‘nilled’ three teams in World Cups.) In terms of a rival for England so far, Ireland’s opening display against Namibia probably runs it closest, although Italy’s lame capitulation at the hands of New Zealand was also a pitiful effort.
Best individual try: Bryan Habana (South Africa v Samoa)
The Springboks wing wasted no time living up to his reputation as the most dangerous wing in world rugby. When he took a routine pass from Jaques Fourie down the blind side of a ruck, with the score still only 9-7, there appeared little on. But the 24-year-old cut inside two players, stepped out of the tackle of a third whereupon he looked about to stumble, only to recover his balance, rapidly switch direction to confuse three other Samoans and then turn on the gas to burst through a gap, holding off another tackler on the line. As a game-breaking effort, it took some beating. A spectacular long-range effort followed in the second half, plus two more for good measure.
Best team try: Rui Cordeiro (Portugal v New Zealand)
The All Blacks opened their World Cup account with 11 tries against Italy, some of them absolute beauties, and stretched their legs further with 16 more against Portugal, ranked 22nd in the world, on their way to the sixth 100-plus points victory in World Cup history. But none of them were celebrated with the unrestrained joy that greeted Portugal’s only try in the same game. Resuming after the interval 52-3 down, “Os Lobos” kept New Zealand out for the first seven minutes of the second half. And then, after a series of drives took them to the All Blacks line, the video referee ruled that replacement prop Cordeiro had touched the ball down under a scrum of bodies. It epitomised what the World Cup is all about, regardless of the final scoreline (108-13).
Worst tackle: Jacques Nieuwenhuis (Namibia v France)
It takes something to stop a marauding Sebastien Chabal in his tracks, and Namibia’s number eight resorted to a swinging arm round the bearded Frenchman’s throat. Having already been warned by referee Alain Rolland minutes earlier for a similarly dangerous tackle on Vincent Clerc, it wasn’t the brightest move right in front of the French-speaking Irish whistler, with the first quarter of the match not even complete. Rolland had no hesitation in brandishing a red card to Nieuwenhuis, who no doubt had some making up to do with his 14 team-mates after they spent the next hour desperately trying to stop France running in tries for fun, to little avail.
Best pre-match motivational tactic:
Samoa coach Michael Jones, speaking after his side’s opening defeat against South Africa, admitted that facing England was the big target for his team now, after the small matter of “getting past our Polynesian cousins” first. Jones meant no disrespect to Tonga, who had not beaten their Pacific Island neighbours for a decade, but it can't have gone unnoticed. Tonga were already working on the philosophy: “Believe and it will probably happen. Don’t believe and it probably won’t.” Samoa gave every impression of believing they only had to turn up at Montpellier’s Stade de la Mosson to win. Tonga, led by the magnificently coiffeured Finau Maka, believed otherwise.
Worst pre-match motivational tactic:
A few hours before France opened the World Cup against Argentina, full-back Clement Poitrenaud, at the behest of the Tricolores coach Bernard Laporte, read out a letter to the rest of the squad written by 17-year-old French Resistance fighter Guy Moquet, composed a few hours before he was killed by the Germans in October 1941. The same letter was read out by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has appointed Laporte his Sports Minister after the World Cup, during his election campaign. Many of the players were said to be deeply moved and distressed by the reading. News of the incident leaked out and provoked a storm of indignation in the French media for several days, following a deeply distressing display by the players on their big night.
Bryn Palmer is the BBC Sport website’s rugby union editor.