- 11 Oct 07, 11:24 AM
Swansea - Sorry for the delay guys, it's taken me this long to recover from the weekend!
Moral of the week: don’t come to me for your betting tips! Two out of four isn’t bad but it isn’t exactly good either.
Humble pie time first to the legions of England fans who so promptly let me know that my tip, the Australians, were on their way home and their team that I had "written off’" were marching on through.
Fair play, England came away with one hell of a result in that game and their tactics were spot on.
Where I did get it completely wrong was in saying that I thought the Australian pack had improved sufficiently to compete for parity with the English… it quite evidently hadn’t. England’s forwards identified the weakness, got into their groove and just kept turning the screw.
They also managed to stop Australia playing so the ball they did get was somewhat laboured and that negated the talent they have behind.
It could have all been different had Stirling Mortlock held his nerve for that final kick, but he missed and England are in with a big shout at the tournament now.
They have the experience not to let anybody look ahead to the final, and they will have their sights set on France in the semi where it’s all about what happens on the day.
The biggest shock had to be in Cardiff, though, where the French showed just what this tournament is all about.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at all that the All Blacks have left without the trophy as they have made a habit of coming in with the best team and then choking it.
But I honestly thought this group of players and management would be different. Not so.
The French were aided by New Zealand losing key players at key times, and when it came round to going out and getting that result in the final periods, it seemed that everyone was looking for someone else to do it in the absence of go-to man Dan Carter.
Take nothing away from France though, their defensive effort in that period was awesome - not so much for huge hits or multiple turn-overs but just for sheer patience and discipline. There was one stage where the All Blacks had had the ball inside the French half for over twenty phases but Les Blues did not give them an inch.
It’ll be interesting to see how, after a victory like that, the French team cope with the pressure of going back in front of their home crowd against England. They will have learned lessons about that kind of pressure form the Argentina game and that should stand them in good stead.
I felt very sorry for Fiji who were once again magnificent against South Africa and nearly pulled off the mother-of-all-shocks for the second game in succession.
Their showing against the Springboks certainly put Wales’ loss into perspective and showed that Fiji are a team to be reckoned with on the world stage now. It would be nice to see them getting the backing to develop the sport even further in their country.
South Africa had the juggernaut pack to call on though and were able to change the course of the game and squeeze out the win. It reminded me a little of England’s quarter-final against Wales in Brisbane in 2003 where, after having the kitchen sink thrown at them by Wales, England went back to a kicking game and the strength of their pack to close out the tie and walk off the field counting their blessings.
Should South Africa go on to win the trophy like England did then I think they’ll look back on their tie with Fiji as crucial as far as grinding out a victory in tough circumstances.
A huge pat on the back also goes to the Pumas who have qualified for their first World Cup semi-final and have every chance of going further.
Having come through to this stage with the draw that they had is a remarkable achievement, and they’ll have no thoughts about going home as a bridesmaid.
Scotland will be disappointed in their performance though having come up with too little too late.
The Argentines were not playing at the same level as they had done against Ireland and had they been attacked earlier could really have been given a run for their money.
Hindsight is a luxury though and as it was the Scots who chose to play tight until late on when they managed to cross for a try. I’m sure they will be viewing the match as a missed opportunity but looking forward to challenges ahead.
In conclusion, and regardless of my predictions or anything else, it was a marvellous weekend of World Cup rugby and showed the world what our game is all about - tough hard-fought games with the outcome always in doubt.
If the remaining three matches of the tournament can live up to the weekend just gone we’ll all be in for a real treat.
Ryan Jones plays number eight for Wales but misses the World Cup through injury.