Two days and two matches that for many provided very few surprises. New Zealand and Argentina calmly and efficiently cemented their hold on the top two positions in Pool C as they took on brave challenges from Namibia and Georgia. We already knew the class New Zealand has to offer but Argentina were a real revelation on Friday and are already looking exceptionally dangerous, giving their potential Quarter Final opponents France and Ireland plenty to think about.
New Zealand vs Namibia
Final Score – New Zealand 54/Namibia 14
New Zealand – 8/10
Clinical and efficient were the two adjectives that best came to mind in a convincing win by the All Blacks over the lowest ranked team in the competition Namibia. There were unlikely to be any surprises in this match and New Zealand were keen to avoid injury in a match that would have little consequence on their journey to the World Cup. Having said that they still paid respect to their Namibian opponents who never looked intimidated by the world’s best team and even managed to score an excellent try of their own. Nevertheless it was New Zealand’s day as they cemented their grip on the top spot in Pool C.
With five tries to their name by half-time New Zealand were clearly in the driving seat with Sonny Bill Williams at centre showcasing his full range of talents, and winger Nehe Milner-Skudder demonstrating that his fumble against Argentina a few days earlier was simply an uncharacteristic one-off mistake. Williams was the offload king of the night, while Milner-Skudder in getting two tries of his own showed that he is going to be complete handful for opposition defences once New Zealand get to the business end of the tournament. New Zealand will also be pleased to see winger Julian Savea finally start to make the scoring headlines after a very quiet year so far by his standards, though whether or not he will be able to replicate this against tougher opposition remains to be seen.
Occasional lapses in discipline by New Zealand would ensure that Namibia could at least get some points on the board including their only try, and All Black coach Steve Hansen will no doubt be mindful of this as New Zealand heads into the knockout stages, especially given the fact that it proved costly to them in the match against Argentina. Namibia were able to compete regularly with New Zealand in the physical aspects of the game and force New Zealand to give away unnecessary penalties. The All Blacks in their two final pool games will have an excellent opportunity to tighten this area of their game up, as both Tonga and Georgia offer significant challenges in the forward battles.
Despite the scoreline, I can’t really say that we have seen a performance by the All Blacks yet that convinces me that it is the Men from New Zealand who will be lifting the Webb Ellis trophy on October 31st. Yes they look sharp, but with the job done by the hour mark in this match they clearly took their foot off the gas and almost appeared lazy at times. Given that they have a relatively easy ride for the Pool stages of this tournament I can only assume that we will see the real threat this New Zealand side poses once we get to the knockout stages, where intensity and ruthlessness coupled with strong finishing will be the order of the day. Hard to beat yes! But right now invincible? Not quite!
Namibia – 7/10
You have to take your hat off to Namibia for putting up a brave display that showed that despite going up against the best team in the world they were not intimidated by the challenge. Instead Namibia put in a very solid and respectable effort which really got the crowd behind them, especially when they scored a well deserved try. It must always be hard to run onto the pitch knowing that a win is pretty much out of the question, but Namibia must be commended for playing this game at full throttle. The pride in the shirt was there for all to see and they gained the respect of the crowd and New Zealand in a courageous display which showed some real resilience at times.
Namibia often looked good in the breakdown situations and maintained some good composure to earn them some decent penalties which Theuns Kotzè did a good job of converting into points on the board. However, it was the centre Johan Deysel who would get the real moment of magic for Namibia in the second half. It was a really well-worked team effort from the lineout that saw Namibia move the ball through a number of phases, with Deysel finishing off in a superb show of strength to spin free from two tackles and get Namibia a try which was a just reflection of the effort they put in all night. Namibia were not exactly the pushover that perhaps New Zealand expected them to be, and they can feel justifiably proud of their efforts. With their hardest game out of the way, it is hoped that Namibia can take the positives out of their showing against New Zealand and apply them to their match with Tonga. Given their focus against the All Blacks, Namibia should certainly be able to consider their upcoming match with Tonga as one in which they will be serious competitors and may even be capable of causing an upset.
Argentina vs Georgia
Final Score – Argentina 54/Georgia 9
Argentina – 9/10
Although we all expected Argentina to win this match, I for one was not expecting them to do it in such an impressive fashion. To say that Argentina looked sharp was an understatement. On the basis of this performance, their possible quarter-final opponents France or Ireland, must be feeling slightly concerned. Argentina are looking very much a complete team and barring any injuries could easily go a long way in this World Cup. However, having said that Argentina were up against it in the first half and it was only in the second half that they really put the shine into this performance. As good as the Pumas were in this match, to progress beyond the quarter finals they will have to apply the killer instinct they showed in the second half for a full eighty minutes.
What really shone in this match for Argentina, was their defence coupled with some real attacking prowess in the second half. They were being pushed hard by Georgia in the first half and the fact that barring some disciplinary errors, they managed to prevent Georgia from scoring any tries was no small feat. If this remarkable defensive structure and ability of the Pumas as seen against the All Blacks continues to improve then they could go far in this World Cup. Match that to the attacking flair and prowess they showed in the second half and this is a very well-drilled Pumas side.
For me though the real revelation this year for Argentina has been winger Santiago Cordero. Blessed with a remarkable burst of speed and a sidestep that is going to fox defences all tournament, the Pumas winger will be someone to watch over the coming weeks. Both of Cordero’s tries were excellent value for money and his efforts were backed up by the proven prowess of Juan Imhoff as he too scored two tries. Argentina were completely dominant in the second half, and despite a brave challenge from Georgia, as I predicted the depth and pace Argentina have in their current crop of backs would simply be too much for a clearly fatigued Georgian side after their exploits against Tonga. The Pumas are looking a real threat in this year’s World Cup and you know they are only going to get better as it progresses. France and Ireland will have to watch the Pumas performances very closely indeed.
Georgia – 6/10
Georgia were valiant competitors in the first half, but the loss of inspirational Captain and number eight Mamuka Gorgodze early in the second half would prove too costly to a Georgian team that were clearly showing the side effects of less than a week’s turnaround after their heroics against Tonga. Georgia played a solid first half that kept a powerful Argentinian side at bay and saw them trailing the Pumas by only five points at half time.
Argentina were clearly frustrated by the solidity and physicality of the Georgian defence, but were able to find another gear in the second half that Georgia couldn’t match. Georgia were tired and just didn’t have the same resources or depth as their South American rivals. Georgian Captain Mamuka Gorgodze had yet another inspirational game for his country and the penalty that resulted in perhaps an unfair yellow card against him, sapped Georgia of some critical energy and motivation. As predicted Georgia put in a massive shift in the forward battles, but as the second half clearly showed, while they can compete with the world’s best up front, they lack the depth and skill in their back line that is needed at this level. Given the progress that Georgia has made in recent years, I fully expect them to have addressed this by the time of the next World Cup. However, for this World Cup this weakness may well be their Achilles heel which prevents them getting anything better than as I am predicting a third place finish in Pool C. Nevertheless this will be a major achievement for a country as passionate about their rugby as Georgia is, and guarantees them automatic qualification for the global showdown in Japan in 2019 and fitting reward for a little country with big rugby ambitions.