Best of RWC #21 - 2019 Classics

2019 in Japan was generally an entertaining chapter in the annals of RWC. I suspect this was down to good weather (Typhoon Hagibis not withstanding), great crowds, resulting in entertaining rugby.

We’ve already looked at the upsets, so now enjoy with me those other games that didn’t flip the table as we round out our retrospective, only days out from RWC X's kick-off, by remembering the best of the less surprising RWC IX results.

Based on an individuals personal memories, it's worth noting that recollections may vary, but my opinions are the correct ones.

France 23 vs Argentina 21

21 September 2019 (Pool C)

I have this impression that France versus Argentina seems to have become a bit of a rivalry in recent RWCs.

But that seems to be a function of me remembering 2007 when the South Americans knocked off the Froggies twice.

That was 12 years ago, and my memory starts..., ok, continues, to betray me, as it’s not exactly the case.

But as more and more countries look capable of making the knockout rounds the greater the importance of the games that the 3rd seeds in a given pool take on, and this was one of those.

Argentina had real designs on getting past England and/or France (and Tonga) in 2019, having made the semi-finals in 2007 and 2015, and the quarters in 2011 (I still have PTSD about that Kaino pass to Read that I swear was being intercepted...).

France were France, ranked as low as 8th. Argentina 11th.

The Frogs had a habit in this tournament of getting out of the blocks early, then allowing the other guys back in.

Starting with this game.

A 17 point lead got hauled in on the back of the Argentine lineout maul as Los Punas took the lead. The lead changed back through a droppy with 10 to go, but with time (essentially) up on the clock Argentina were left with a potential match winning kick that just fell wide.

New Zealand 23 vs South Africa 13

21 September 2019 (Pool B)

There’s an accepted “fact” in the rugby world that New Zealand are always favourites for World Cups. It’s not always correct, and it’s not always deserved, but as two-time defending champions, and by way of being, well, the All Blacks, the team from the two poxy South Pacific islands probably held the mantle leading into RWC IX.

Nobody really felt New Zealand were clear favourites though. A number of teams had very real designs on winning this tournament, not least of all South Africa, having held the ABs to a 16-all draw in their last meeting in Wellington in July.

The much-anticipated opening match for two of the tournament favourites delivered the expected clash of the Titans, as the All Blacks held off the Bokke by 10 points.

But what did this win actually achieve?

Both teams were gunning to avoid Ireland, the Number One ranked country at the commencement of the tournament, in a quarter-final.

But fate is what it is, and Japan's win in Shuzuoka shifted the axis slightly, although not necessarily seismically.

After trading early penalties the ABs burst away ... a little ... notching two long range tries.

First George Bridge crossed off a Beauden Barrett pass at the at the line following a Sevu Reece inspired break down the right, with subsequent quick repeat phases.

The second came after multiple probes going nowhere around halfway, when the SA defence opened just a crack and Anton Lienert-Brown found space to run Scott Barrett in under the posts for a fourteen point lead.

The Bokke came back after the break following a remarkable period of play where Cheslin Kolbe all but scored, but was run down by Richie Mo'unga, the ball and possession then bouncing between the teams inside the ABs’ 22 (and after I'm pretty sure at least two if not three unsanctioned Bokke offences), when Peter Steph du Toit wandered through an unguarded ruck to get his team within four.

3-pointers of various forms rounded out the scoring, with New Zealand notching two more than the Africans and the upshot was a 10 point All Black in.

The win didn’t achieve what was expected, as the ABs ended up playing the Paddies in the knockouts after all, and South Africa got the Pool A winners in their QF. Just on paper Japan looked the weaker opponent.

You can’t pick and choose who you win or lose against. You take the win, and roll on to the next game which you try to win.

The ABs moved on to a QF against the opposition they’d tried to avoid (see below). And the Bokke did what they do in World Cups: get bullshit opponents to play and roll on through without effort.

France 23 vs Tonga 21

6 October 2019 (Pool C)

Tonga were trying to replicate their result of eight years previous, and went way closer than expected.

Expectation was that perennial contenders France would win with a degree of comfort, and in similar fashion to their earlier game versus Argentina they scored early and registered a good 17-nil lead in the shadows of half-time.

Tonga snuck one back as the hooter went but were still behind the 8-ball.

France’s two first half tries were the only two they managed, having one overruled by the TMO, as Tonga took their chances from long distance. France padded their small lead off the kicking tee.

Unfortunately Tonga were battling the clock as well as the scoreboard. Their try near the death after a sustained period of pressure only left enough time for the re-start, which France snaffled and then snuffed out the game.

On the back of two scratchy wins and their “nil-all draw” versus England, France went through to the knockouts at Argentina's and Tonga’s, expense.

New Zealand 46 v Ireland 14

19 October 2019 (Quarter Final 2)

Back into your Irish shaped box, Paddy.

Ireland’s confidence was riding high. They’d beaten New Zealand for the first time ever in Chicago in 2016 (which was Ian Foster’s fault despite Steve Hansen being the coach), repeated the dose at home in 2018, and headed into this tournament as world number 1.

But this was a thumping win.

Aaron Smith remembered he was Aaron Smith as the All Blacks flew out to a huge lead, and pretty much had the match won at 22-nil by halftime.

A couple of tries late in the game saved the Irish some face, but this was one of the best AB QF performances in their RWC history.

Unfortunately I can't bring myself to give this match much more attention, which it probably deserves because umm ...

but for now, onwards to the semi-final for New Zealand. Homewards for the Irish.

Wales 20 vs France 19

20 October 2019 (Quarter Final 3)

France were an odd outfit in 2019. As mentioned above they had a habit of looking a un million Francs early in their matches but letting leads slip.

They did that again in the QF.

It didn’t help that second rower Sebastìen Vahaamahina lost his nut, after earlier scoring the first French try, as he tried to take out some Taff maul defender with the Spanish Archer. Most likely this was the turning point.

Wales getting a late chance, pressuring the seven man Frog scrum (surely you stick a back on your own defensive scrum?), and benefitting from the 50-50est of 50-50 calls Tomas Williams strip was ruled inconclusive and allowed to stand (reckon it was forward meself) Ross Moriarty scored the winner late. France unable to hold on to their lead, unlike in pool play.

It was a good young French team though, and much is expected of the hosts of 2023.

Wales rocked on to the Semi-finals.

England 19 vs New Zealand 7

26 October 2019 (Semi Final 1)

Here we go again. Was this an upset though?

Well, we had put to bed the choking reputation in the previous two tournaments. 24 years just waiting for the chance, we'd marched in to the final and then we’d just scraped through past France. And then belted Australia four years later.

In that interim period between 1987 and 2011 there were five World Cup tournaments. Aside from the iconic 1995 final, each of New Zealand's (consequential) losses has featured in this series in their respective year's "Upsets" instalment (bronze final versing Seffrica in ’99 the non-consequential loss).

That's because New Zealand don't lose much and are therefore often favourites.

This time around I have considered carefully which category this game fits into, and I have settled on placing it here, the Not-Upsets.

Why? Weren't the ABs favourites to win their third cup in a row? Yeah, nah. If they were, it wasn't really clear cut. A number of teams had real chances and cluttered other teams chances by clumsily throwing up road blocks in both the group stages and the knockout rounds. Consider top ranked Ireland, SA, France, Wales (who everybody keeps forgetting about, but were Six Nations/Grand Slam champs) and of course, that man Eddie Jones’s England.

Whilst we always fully expect the All Blacks to win, this match was always seen to be a 50:50 proposition. Hence we're talking about it in the Classics.

Despite the press buying into Eddie’s now clichéd comedy routine in the week leading up, the big controversy in New Zealand was the selection.

The lack of Ben Smith raised eye-brows, but the selection of Scott Barrett on the side if the scrum raised protests.

Frankly I was quietly supportive of the rationale. A bigger body and additional lineout forward made sense.

But it didn’t work. It became clear early on that the expected attack on England’s lineout did not eventuate, or was nullified, and Eddie had found a way to breach the AB advantage line far too easily.

Manu Tuilagi’s early try came on the back of a ridiculously easy drive (to use an NFL term).

Surprisingly, England were only 10 points up at halftime. It felt so much more.

And as the second half ran on NZ looked less and less likely, despite a 56th minute try to Ardie Savea.

England managed to keep NZ at arms reach, even though halfback Youngs was denied a try for a miniscule knock on.

The NZ resistance was eventually extinguished after an out of character reaction by big Sam Whitelock chasing the ball for a quick penalty.

Eddie had done it again (he shows up a lot doesn’t he?) NZ’s eight years as champs was over.

I wasn’t sure where to drop this observation in but further to the selection discussion above I throw in my tuppence and mention that I felt Hansen had stuffed up his midfield selection and should have picked Sonny Bill Williams at 12 to provide midfield muscle. Not a popular position, but the correct one.

As much as you can make amends by winning the “bronze final” New Zealand did so a few days later, beating Wales in similar fashion and style to their earlier quarter-final win over Ireland.

Wales 16 vs South Africa 19

27 October 2019 (Semi Final 2)

Both sides tried desperately not to play any rugby in this match, and damned nearly succeeded.

Apart from a brief period in the middle of the second half when each side forgot they didn’t know how to pass and they accidentally shuffled over for a try apiece, they did their best to cure the insomnia of the watching public.

The game gets a mention here because a, it was close, and b, it was a semi-final.

For a some reason I recall the Welsh weren’t happy about something about this result. But it may be my memory playing up. Or it may more likely be the Gatland effect.

South Africa would rock back to the same ground in a week’s time for a repeat of the 2007 final versus England.

England 12 vs South Africa 32

2 November 2019 (Final)

Well, it was the final. So makes it because reasons.

Not to my mind a riveting game of footy, although I do remember the tries, which were quite good.

Was once again very much a case of hoping they both lose, but perhaps a little less so for South Africa.

A battle of attrition, as you would expect from these two teams, began with the clichéd trading of penalties. South Africa making slightly more profit in the exchanges with a small 12-6 advantage at the half, but the match was still very much in the balance.

The same battle continued into the second half, with the score edging up in threes to 18-12.

The combination between Lukanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi to put the latter over and give the Bokke some breathing space was better than I remember, which is only a partial compliment.

Kolbe’s step and speed to score and seal the win was not quite as good as I recall, which similarly is only a partial criticism.

South Africa became the first country to lose a match in the tournament to win the whole lot, besting those other historical finalists with less than 100% records (France in ’87 and ’11, England in ’91 and ’07).

Sayonara. Vive la France!

The sun set on the Land of the Rising Sun with the Bokke back in charge for the third time, equalling NZ’s total of titles and arguably bettering it on countback.

Our world, and therefore all our sporting competitions, was about to be disrupted in the weirdest way. COVID messed with the inter-tournament years. But wasn’t a factor in completing the draw far too early.

The concept of making the draw based on the World Rankings is great, but the folly of doing it so early has been badly exposed with the top four teams (top five actually) for 2023 locked in two pools and the same side of the knockouts. The unnecessary double rankings points in World Cups was also likely still a factor in skewing the draw, as normal trading of points hadn’t managed to cancel out this effect.

But we have what we have. We are about to enter the competition kicking off next week with new favourites, World Number 1 Ireland and hosts France.

But the All Blacks have performed well in the mid-year tests so our hopes are again raised. Kinda lowered a touch again by our last outing.

Here’s hoping the good guys don’t feature in the Upsets instalment due to be published in four years time... yes, I'm an All Blacks fan and I still always expect us to win so any loss is an upset, despite what I may have said above ...

Hope you’ve enjoyed the re-run of our re-run through history. And I’m sure you’ll join me in hoping that the best team both wins, and is the All Blacks.

September 4, 9:04pm

Outside of the AB games and the final I struggled to remember much about this RWC for some reason. I was reading through booboos articles and getting surprised by results/scores

September 4, 10:54pm

@Duluth said in Best of RWC 2019:

Outside of the AB games and the final I struggled to remember much about this RWC for some reason. I was reading through booboos articles and getting surprised by results/scores

just thinking the same thing. i had forgotten our game got called off. I had even forgotten the flogging we gave the Irish

I only half watched the semi, it was on at a party i was at, but when ever i looked it seemed we were under the pump. Winning 2 in a row really changes the perspective a bit.

September 4, 11:19pm


I think it's because I checked out of giving a shit about AB's results halfway through the Hanson regime. That spread to Test rugby in general

September 5, 12:12am

@mariner4life said in Best of RWC 2019:

i had forgotten our game got called off.

Frankly, me too.

Only games I remember at all are us v SA, Ireland & England, Japan v Ireland, Uruguay v Fiji, parts of the final, and the Frog lock being sent off.

All the rest was google and youtube.

But I did have the impression that it was overall enjoyable, apart from, you know, the result.

September 5, 7:24am

I can remember ranting like a mofo on here when Scooter was selected at 6 and Cane was benched. And then covering up my disappointment (well trying to) at the result for a week by lauding over the place with "I fucking told you so". Funnily enough, now, with a choice between the Tongan named after a shit Manawatu town and Scooter I'm 100% behind the card magnet.

I too forgot about the cancelled match, but was amped to get revenge over the Irish in the 1/4 final.

September 5, 7:33am
September 5, 7:35am

@Duluth said in Best of RWC 2019:

Here’s the semi final match thread:

Where's the trigger warning!? sblock that shit

September 5, 8:34am

@Duluth not going near that ...

September 5, 8:34am

@Nepia said in Best of RWC 2019:

a shit Manawatu town

Where is Frizzell?

September 5, 9:05am

@booboo said in Best of RWC 2019:

@Nepia said in Best of RWC 2019:

a shit Manawatu town

Where is Frizzell?

Twizel is somewhere down south?

September 5, 10:14am

Sitting in a tiny bar in Japan somewhere, watching Japan vs Scotland... fucking magic. I've got a video somewhere of the last minute, and reaction of the bar.
Sitting in the stadium watching England vs New Zealand - not so much fun. I walked out of there numb (and quite smashed)... had some english people clap me on shoulder and try to console me. Fuck them. I wandered towards hotel/hostel... sat in a park somewhere drinking beers from a Lawsons. A gang of about half-a-dozen teens rocked up, sat at next table - made a bit of a mess, leaving fast-food rubbish all over the ground. They were about to leave, but I was spoiling to have injury added to insult - so yelled at them, pointed at their litter, scowled. They all politely picked up their shit and left. Fucking japanese... even the unruly youths are polite.

September 6, 10:13am

Not sure where to put this so this will do ...

Listening to the Rugby Direct podcast while driving to site today and host Elliot Smith says he's born in 1988 ...

... then Liam Napier says he's born in 1990.

Both say their earliest rugby memories are of the '95 RWC.

I've always enjoyed listening to them, but somehow I now equate their opinions with those of teenagers...

... I've seen Memes about the 80s being like 20 years ago ...

I feel old ...

September 6, 2:17pm

@Duluth said in Best of RWC 2019:

Outside of the AB games and the final I struggled to remember much about this RWC for some reason. I was reading through booboos articles and getting surprised by results/scores

I daresay Covid coming right on the heels of the tournament makes 2019 quickly forgotten.

September 6, 5:07pm

Right. Here we go.

Flew into Tokyo night before the opener. Chopped two perfect beers in the Ginza, savaged some overly pampered beef, smashed too many too complicated cocktails.

Woke up. Shook the cobwebs out in the arcades of Shinjuku then hit the opener.

Just a great vibe around the stadium. Russians doing boat races in a cardboard rocket. Loads of local fans mingling with rugby lovers from all over. Special mention to the two awesome frog lads in Asterix & Obelix gear.

As luck would have it, as we’re walking up the stairs into the stadium along with the throng of excited rugby fans the great Noddy himself [that’s Helmet, you helmet. Noddy’s Linagh - ed] comes down the stairs escorted by a phalanx of officials.

As Mr. Horan slowly pushed against the tide of supporters, I yelled out:

Look everybody: it’s former player of the Tournament, Tim Horan!

Leaving Timothy a half-beat to graciously acknowledge the rumble of approval with a shy wave of his hand, I naturally followed this up with a shout of: MASTER OF THE MARGINALLY FORWARD PASS!

Queue uproarious laughter as the little magician shuffled off, hopefully suitably chastened for dumping us out of the 99 semis.

(So if you happen to see Monsieur Horan in France, you know what to do.)

Top night in Golden Gai, trading yarns with Wallaby hookers, belting out Karoake and trying to teach a marriage ruining troop of Dutch dancers the intricacies of taking a tighthead.

Back to Tokyo stadium for the good guys v the forces of evil. Great Haka, better chat with the kiwis behind us, could feel the game turn when we didn’t get any reward for the first twenty minutes of dominance. Tried and failed to meet up with @gt12

Locals were so moved by my anguish at the final whistle that they gave me a baby. Must’ve gone off, smelt terrible, so I gave it back.

Back to Golden Gai. Sadly no dancers. But here are the indomitable Gauls. So drink our pain away in a Shibuya dive until dawn. Needing a slash I wander up to the roof to watch the sunrise against the odds.

What’s this? Young Japanese kid right on the edge. Shame so thick you can see it. So I wander over and tell him it can’t be that bad - he could be Australian or worse, English. Whether he understood or whether he was appalled by a drunk saffir pissing on his town from a great height, he turned around in a hurry.

When I got back to the bar the cops were busy trying to drag Obelix away for helping himself to the top shelf.

Nothing for it but to get some shuteye before heading out to Yokohama to smash a few frothies with two Valley RFC legends before a truly dire game of rugby.

24 hours later was back home with the glory of the next six weeks ahead of us all.