What a weekend of rugby! I said it was a funny weekend for the tournament but not even I could see the things that prevailed coming!
First off, well done Italy, they have finally beaten one the world’s top sides. And they more than deserved their win. They denied the French any ball, disrupted their flow and amazingly they have started to pass out of contact. This was despite their set scrum which is usually a strength being beaten up badly by a ferocious French scrum, the only bit of France’s game that was ferocious in all fairness and Italy’s set plays and set defence still as wobbly as any I’ve seen in international rugby.
But let’s not get all rugby technical, this game was about passion and commitment and to see a stuttering Italian kicker in the shape of Mauro Begomasco have the chance to win it at the death with an awkward kick was brilliant. He held his nerve and the ball sailed over. It was a nail biting 2 minutes that the Italian defence had to survive, and survive they did to scenes of pandemonium on the pitch and a tearful Nick Mallet their coach trying and failing to put into words just what this win meant to Italian Rugby after the final whistle. Just brilliant!
Where now for France. If Marc Leivramont’s post match interview is anything to go by, they are in disarray and something now has to change.
Some quotes from his interview:
“In an intemperate outburst yesterday, he accused his players of cowardice, and complained that their inadequacies had left his World Cup planning “at a dead end”.
I feel like I’m responsible for this, but the players are lacking courage. There is a certain cowardice. When I speak with them, nothing happens. Some of the players maybe wore the France jersey for the last time”
I think he has now lost the dressing room don’t you? I coached adult league rugby for a number of years and have had quite a few interviews from local sports reporters and even I know you don’t criticise your players in public. Dead bat everything. Save your wrath for behind closed doors.
The game in Cardiff between Wales and Ireland was a dire affair. A kick fest of epic proportions that was decided by and descended into farce by the inadequacies of the officials. Rugby can be a complicated game and it is a game that has “Laws” not “Rules”. This is for a good reason. Laws have to be interpreted, rules have to be obeyed. This is why you can have different refereering interpretations especially at the breakdown and scrum and can be a massive bone of contention for teams, coaches and spectators alike.
Some laws though are black and white, I won’t bore you with quoting the exact law but to precis it here it is:
If the ball goes out of play the side throwing the ball back in can only do it quickly and immediately if they use the same ball that has not been touched by any other person.
Ireland kicked the ball into into the crowd (badly as it happened) the crowd handled the ball (a person has touched it so no quick line out is allowed) a ball boy gave a different ball (not the same ball so no quick line out is allowed) to the Welsh hooker who carried out a quick line out by passing the wrong ball to Mike Phillips the Welsh scrum half who ran in and scored a try.
Quite rightly the Irish team was incensed and explained their concerns to Jonathan Kaplan the South African referee. He then asked the Scottish Touch Judge was the correct ball used. The Touch Judge incorrectly said yes. Kaplan awarded the try that effectively decided the game in Welsh favour. That law is not open to interpretation. Same ball, no-one else can touch it. Simple.
I’m a neutral for games where Wales and Ireland play, I favour neither of them so I can say this with impartiality. I totally accept that in games of rugby you have calls go for you and against you. It’s all part of the game and in the end I believe it equals out and officials are only human after all.
But, this is the killer for me, this was a massive international game that could have decided a Championship. The officials had the means using available technology to check the lawfulness of the Welsh try. They should have asked for video replay and a desicion by the Third match official at his bank of screens. They didn’t. That was the big mistake. I don’t blame the Welsh players Rees or Phillips at all, they saw an advantage, took it and won. In situations like this, the only blame can be layed at the officials door and it cost Ireland a possible win. I would be very angry if I was them! it was still an awful game though.
Onto Twickenham yesterday. England scraped a win against determined and dogged scottish side, who were brilliantly coached in their patterns of play by Andy Robinson. Robinson in my opinion is one of the best forward coaches in the world and his clear analysis of what England do at the breakdown was fantastically countered by him and his team and disrupted Englands desire to play with pace and width. At every breakdown the Scottish forwards tore into the contact area in high numbers and using technically perfect body positions that slowed English ball down and created any number of turn overs for them. And they were stretching the interpretation of the laws to the limit.
But, as they did against France, England somehow solved the problems and manufactured an ugly win. But the important word there, is a win. If you’re not playing well and still winning then that’s a good sign.
Onto Dublin next week to face a more than disgruntled Ireland side who enjoy playing the English. Massive game and a possible Grand Slam. The press will go into hyper mode this week. Watch out for the hysteria!