Rugby World Cup 2011: What to Watch for During Quarterfinals Weekend
This year's Rugby World Cup is nearly five weeks old. We've seen 40 matches played thus far—a number of which will be etched in our minds for quite a while.
Sadly we've now said goodbye to 16 teams, our streets void of the colour these fans brought to our world. Rugby fans across the country are already missing the midweek dosages of our favourite game. But the good news is we're into the quarterfinal stages. There's the huge prospect of four great games to be played this weekend.
Oddly the standings from pool play has resulted in a neat separation of teams into Northern and Southern Hemisphere groupings. The draw ensures that a team from both halves of the world will make it to the grand final (to be played on 23 October).
The draw is as follows:
Ireland vs Wales
England vs France
============ Equator ============
South Africa vs Australia
New Zealand vs Argentina
Q. What do you get when you mix the Irish, Welsh, South African and Australians in New Zealand's capital city of Wellington?
A. One heck of a weekend. Does anyone know a superlative for party?
Wellington is fabled for the social atmosphere their stadium produces and the warmth of its bars following a game. In many respects it plays hosts to the two better quarterfinals.
Big events normally usher in dreadful weather in Wellington, whereas in Auckland big events normally mean dreadful traffic.
So besides wet and windy conditions in Wellington and train breakdowns in Auckland, what are the things to look out for during the quarterfinals? Here's some sardonic pointers for the weekend's action...
How Far Can This Marriage Go? 48 Tests Together for O'Driscoll and D'Arcy
When they take the field against Wales, Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll will be playing their 48th game together as the Irish midfield duo. This is a world record for any international midfield pairing. These two have a mortgage on the second-five and centre positions.
So these two could be celebrating their "golden" anniversary at this year's World Cup, should the Irish make the final (or the 3rd/4th play-off).
D'Arcy and O'Driscoll broke the record previously held by English duo Jeremy Guscott and Will Carling, they achieved this when they played the USA on 9/11. Guscott once said of Carling: "We weren't mates but we weren't enemies. He was just a guy I played rugby with." The Irish pair are probably better friends than the English combo. They also play together for the same Irish club, Leinster.
O'Driscoll Will Face the Young Partner He Touched in South Africa
James Roberts was only a mere lad (well an impressionable 23 year old) when he toured South Africa as a British Lion. While away, he was to form a significant relationship with Brian O'Driscoll (BOD), an older man who offered extensive experience and advice.
Roberts was awarded Man of the Series for his efforts against the Springboks. High praise given the caliber of his touring buddies.
When Ireland plays Wales, it's mentor against apprentice. It'll be interesting to see how Gordon D'Arcy takes to Roberts, the young man that ran interference to the marvellous midfield relationship he had built with BOD.
This will be O'Driscoll's fourth World Cup, Such has been the longevity of O'Driscoll's playing career that his Welsh opponent, James Roberts said that BOD was one of his schoolboy heroes. Roberts' went on to add "that for us young guys he's been pretty inspirational."
Who Will Take Samoa's Place with Twantrums (Twitter Tantrums)
Wales win over Samoa was crucial to their securing a spot in the quarter finals.
The strapping lads from the Pacific felt aggrieved with their defeat. So much so, that the some of the strapping lads took to Twitter to tweet their disappointment with the draw.
Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu has proven himself most adept in getting his message across in 140 characters or less. He chose words like 'slavery' and 'holocaust' to describe the ordeal of having to play two games within four days.
Such was the response received, that Eliota also took to Twitter to tweet his disappointment with the way Welsh referee Nigel Owens officiated the game against the Springboks. The Tweeting Samoan felt Owens was racist, biased, in fact he was a pile of things but certainly not worthy to be an international rugby referee.
Owens response was "I am the last person who would be racist, I am gay and know what its like to be in the minority. So please get your facts right before you comment."
Prior to this tournament, the Samoans had enjoyed two historic world cup wins against the Welsh. The 17-10 loss in Hamilton made it 2-1. Nigel Owens made it 2-2.
To make it worse for the Samoans, it's not just Wales that have made it to the quarter finals but Owens will be reffing the All Blacks versus Argentina game.
England Recovery Period to Be Tested
Scotland's team doctor, James Robson, told the Associated Press last week that he had been observing test rugby for 20 years and believed it took "at least four days to recover from the rigors of an international test match".
So it seems the Tweeting Samoans had legitimate right to be aggrieved.
Not sure if Doctor Robson has completed analysis on how long it would take the England rugby team to recover from one of their preparatory drinking sessions. During the tournament the English have been caught in a number of embarrassing situations.Their press has always been legendary in their ability to run spot the ball features across the sport pages.
Not certain who recommended Queenstown as a training venue for the English. It's certainly not a region the Salvation Army hold a strong grip over. Maybe next time it should be Mosgiel for the fine English fellows?
Anyway, there have been no new reports of English misadventures for a few days now. It will be interesting to see what impact a few quiet nights has on their performance on Saturday.
For the French, Will It Be
The French make the quarter finals despite having lost their last two games. This includes a humiliating loss against a very motivated Tongan team.
Unlike the English, the French are seemingly showing no interesting in sharing a few beers together.These guys are struggling to stomach their own company. Following the Tongan game, coach Marc Lievremont shouted some drinks as a bit of a team building exercise. He was disappointed that most the boys weren't interested in partaking in a few guzzles of healing glue (aka beer).
Obviously the beers weren't Stella Artois.
England record against France in World Cup knock-out games is par excellence.Having won two semis and one quarter final against the French.
Lievremont's English counterpart Martin Johnson has said that it would be folly to underestimate the French. "They are very, very dangerous and more so when they are written off, when they have nothing to lose". New Zealanders totally understand where MJ is coming from, having lost to a totally unfancied French team in the quarter finals of the last World Cup.
France England rugby games are often brutal affairs. None worse than their Parisian quarter final encounter in 1991.The French came out fighting. History would show, that they would have been better served to come out and play rugby.
South Africa Versus Australia. Who Will the Locals Support?
Australia was up in arms when they lost to Ireland. They got over the result, sure enough, but they couldn't fathom why the local crowd took the side of the green machine. This caused them to start a hate campaign in response to the "hate" they perceived they had experienced from New Zealanders at Eden Park.
The Aussie Angels that were in the crowd that night, thought it rude, that taunts were thrown their way. This was picked up on by the Sydney Morning Herald who criticised New Zealanders for their un-Australian behaviour. You'd never get Aussie sport stars or fans "sledging" their opponents. It's never happened. Never will.
Such was the feeling, that many Aussies left comments on the SMH website encouraging New Zealanders living in Australia to go home. Not sure, if that includes Robbie Deans or Quade Cooper?
Action had to be taken to improve TransTasman relations. The mayor of Nelson, organised a hug an Aussie day to welcome Wallaby supporters who were in town to watch their team play Russia.
This initiative helped. Results from a poll conducted by research company UMR show that 63% of New Zealanders want the Wallabies to win. You see Australia, we like you so much we want you to beat South Africa. There's no other motivation but our enduring penchant to see you guys do well in the sporting arena.
Will We Get to See Digby Dance?
New Zealand born Wallaby Digby Ioane is a hot stepper. This boy can dance. But he only dances when he scores a try. Hopefully we get to see Digby's fleet of foot, pre-and-post try.
We've missed Digby. The quarter final clash against the Springboks is only Digby's second match in the tournament. He injured his hand in Australia's opening game against Italy.
Injuries have also impacted on the Springboks. They've lost players from both ends of the spectrum. Francois Steyn, the guy who knocks over penalty kicks and Bekkies Botha, the guy who gives away penalties. So you could argue by losing these guys the Springboks have not actually lost a thing.
When the Wallabies Play South Africa Wll Quade Cooper Be Booed?
Although he was born in New Zealand, Quade Cooper is not popular over here. Even when he's not playing New Zealand, the crowds here are giving him a chorus of boos. After the Ireland game, things got so bad that his Nana was quoted in the media, asking her compatriots to lay-off her grandson.
So even though he's playing the Springboks, it's highly likely the locals will still boo Cooper.
Why is Quade unliked?
For some reason Cooper has taken exception to local hero, All Black captain Richie McCaw. In his last game against the All Blacks, Quade first bitch-slapped McCaw and then later in the game, kneed him in the head.Neither actions were punished by the IRB, the sport's governing body.
Aussie legends Nick Farr-Jones and Mark Ella have in separate interviews strongly encouraged Quade to put such antagonistic behaviour aside and instead focus on his game.
It'll Be a Cold Day in the Tieraa Del Fuego Before Argentina Beat the All Blacks
Even with their highly regarded fans behind them, no one is really giving Argentina a chance to beat the hosts in their Eden Park show down.
New Zealand rugby fans know,
having learnt the hard way,
That when it comes to quarter finals,
any team can win on the day.
The Argentinians have had 13 cracks against the All Blacks. The best result they've managed is a 21-21 draw in Buenos Aires way back in 1985. Although the score could have read All Blacks 21 Hugo Porta 21. The Argentinian generalissimo scored all of the points for the Pumas: four penalties and three drop kicks.
When Will New Zealanders Realise
New Zealanders need to realise there's only one Dan Carter and unfortunately for Dan and his fans, he's injured.
So for the locals the big question is who should play first-five?
Big shoes to fill. Boots the size of the Mangawakas, perhaps?
Be it Colin Slade, Aaron Cruden or Piri Weepu it's time for New Zealanders to realise these players are the guys.These guys are good enough to work with the depth of talent that surrounds them and pilot New Zealand to a rare World Cup victory.