There were few if any surprises on Day Eight, especially after the high drama of the previous day and headline stealing showdown between England and Wales. Australia put a brave but ineffectual Uruguayan side to the sword, while despite struggling at times, Scotland ultimately finished with a clinical display against the United States. Meanwhile, as expected Ireland ironed out the last of their kinks against Romania with an emphatic win in readiness for getting the business end of their World Cup started this weekend against Italy.
Australia vs Uruguay
Final Score – Australia 65/Uruguay 3
Australia – 8/10
Against a significantly weaker opposition, it was hard to judge Australia’s performance on Sunday. It was a convincing and emphatic win, but one that surprised few while perhaps not convincing many that we know what we can expect from Australia once the tournament really starts to heat up.
Australia got the job done against a valiant but completely outclassed Uruguayan side. Australia looked good for the most part, but nagging questions still remain. Quade Cooper continued his erratic form, brilliant one minute but then careless and sloppy the next. It was a good outing for Dean Mumm on his first Captaincy and like many of his colleagues he put in a good performance.
Australia were effective and at times clinically ruthless in the way they dispatched Uruguay, and Sean McMahon was one of the real standout performers in this match and must surely give Coach Michael Cheika some breathing room should he lose either of his two first choice flankers, David Pocock and Michael Hooper, to injury as the tournament progresses. Ben MacCalman on the other flank also put in a solid effort all afternoon.
In short, there was little to criticise in this Australian performance which for the most part ran to script. The only real variables for me were Quade Cooper and to a certain extent Drew Mitchell. Cooper although showing some real flashes of brilliance at flyhalf showed that for the big pressure games he is likely to be far too much of a liability for the Wallabies. Poor discipline and a 50/50 success rate with the boot means he is unlikely to get too much match time in the two must win Wallaby matches against England and Wales. Plenty of scope for him as a substitute impact player but for the full eighty minutes in two high pressure games he is simply too much of a wild card. Secondly, I thought winger Drew Mitchell, despite his two excellent tries, often lacks the ability to see the game as a whole as it unfolds around him, and tends to suffer from white line fiver resulting in him missing opportunities for the rest of his teammates. This slightly blinkered vision could be a liability causing points to go begging for Australia when up against tougher opposition.
Nevertheless, as Australia approach the real business end of their Pool they surely must feel pretty confident of a spot in the quarter finals. All that remains to be seen is whether or not they emerge from the Pool in first or second place. This Saturday against England will be the decider. Barring any Quade Cooper wobble moments, this Wallaby team really does look exceptionally focused and are going to prove very difficult to beat.
Uruguay – 7/10
Even though they knew that the likelihood of them pulling off an upset was about as likely as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin having a civilized tea party, Uruguay came into this match with their heads held high and were valiant competitors for a full eighty minutes. However, at times the gulf in quality and experience between the two sides was painfully obvious. Despite that Uruguay played with plenty of heart and courage even though it was for all intents and purposes a one-way Wallaby road show.
There were glimmers of hope for the Uruguayans and a few try scoring opportunities did present themselves but the lack of finishing skills by the South Americans was painfully obvious at times. Furthermore, although they were courageous in the contact areas and on several occasions held their own against the Wallabies, their defence found it hard to really plug the continuous gaps that Australia managed to find.
In short, a team that unfortunately found it hard to shake off its minnow status all afternoon came to this match full of intent and certainly put their hearts and souls into everything they did. They never looked like quitting despite the scoreline and for that we have to salute them. It is unfortunate that they have been drawn in such an overwhelmingly difficult Pool, but they clearly are enjoying the opportunity of showing the rest of the world that they are at this tournament for a reason and not just to make up the numbers. Like many in the stands last Sunday we all hope that they continue to acquit themselves with pride for the remainder of this tournament and that it ends up being a positive experience for the players and the future of rugby in Uruguay. I am pretty sure we will be seeing Uruguay again in Japan in 2019.
Scotland vs USA
Final Score – Scotland 39/USA 16
Scotland – 8/10
Another really solid performance from Scotland on Sunday in the second half showed that Scotland’s chances of reaching at least the quarter-finals look exceptionally strong. Composed and efficient and able to cope with some significant pressure from the USA at times, Scotland look solid up front and devastatingly quick with ball in hand. There is no doubt Scotland are building nicely for their all important last two matches with South Africa and Samoa to determine the pecking order of Pool B and who their quarter-final opponents will be.
Scotland won this game comprehensively but a shaky start to proceedings in the first half will concern Coach Vern Cotter as his side despite numerous penalties awarded to them, failed to really assert any kind of authority over a very motivated American team. Given the physical authority of the Springboks, Scotland cannot afford a similar shaky start this weekend against the South Africans. Indeed had the Americans been blessed with better discipline and stronger execution then Scotland would have had to work much harder in the second half than the scoreline would suggest. Nevertheless it is the second half on which I am primarily judging Scotland as they came from behind and clearly took the match by the jugular in a masterful display of composure and authority. This is a talented side that has plenty of potential to really make a statement of how far Scottish rugby has come in the last year.
In many ways Scotland muddled their way through the first half, and often seemed surprised at the speed and ferocity of the American rush defence, with Eagles players putting in some massive hits on their Scottish opponents. The Eagles were looking good for their lead at half-time with a well-earned try. Scotland had challenged well for the most part but their execution was letting them down hampered by the odd lapses in discipline. Stuart Hogg at fullback was doing plenty of work and constantly sparking Scottish attacks but his passing and accuracy were falling short of the mark.
No doubt a fairly serious tongue lashing was doled out by Coach Vern Cotter in the dressing room, and the Scotland that emerged onto the field looked a very different side. Within minutes they had hit back and quickly began to get themselves in the driving seat with a brilliant try from winger Tim Visser, after that man Hogg had started the movement and found the accuracy in his offloads once more. Sean Maitland would follow with a second try and Scotland were back in the lead and charging hard. Scotland would experience a brief scare from the Americans midway through the second half but solid Scottish defence would see the Eagles’ handling and execution fall apart. From here on, it was all about Scotland till the final whistle, as the Americans exhausted from their earlier heroics rapidly began to fade despite a raft of substitutions. The only blemish to the Scottish performance was the loss of Finn Russell due to injury.
Put aside the inability to find the right gears in the first half, and the Scottish resurgence in the second half and the intensity at which they played gives them a solid score in my opinion. By the end of the second half it was clear that this Scottish team have figured out the way they want to play, and the execution was there for all to see. They will still need to review that first half, and make sure that against South Africa we see eighty minutes of what they are clearly capable of delivering. How far they can ultimately go in this year’s World Cup remains to be seen, but they are surely guaranteed a quarter-final spot unless it all goes horribly wrong against South Africa and more importantly Samoa. In the case of the latter match against Samoa, I have a hunch that it will be Scotland’s day. Nevertheless, Pool B surely still has some twists left in its plot, and Scotland will need to be on their guard as the job is far from done yet.
USA – 7/10
You have to hand it to the Eagles for putting up some bruising resistance that really made it hard for the Scots to find any kind of rhythm in the first half. However, as we have seen time and again from the Eagles they really do have some serious discipline issues which ultimately mar what could have been some outstanding performances and possibly even cause the odd upset. Furthermore, as the pressure starts mounting against them and the discipline starts to crack so too does the handling and execution. In short, a side with some serious promise but lacking the necessary finesse at the moment to really compete and hold their own at this level.
The Americans played a solid first half, which barring some costly disciplinary lapses left them with a deserved 13-6 lead at half time. Fly half AJ MacGinty was providing some solid work with the boot as well as often finding holes in the Scottish defence, which centre Seamus Kelly was able to exploit and turn into some good metres for the Americans. The American forwards were putting in some huge hits on the Scots, and even winger Takudzwa Ngewnya showed that he is not just one of rugby’s fastest men but is also not shy of the odd monster tackle as he flattened Scottish centre Peter Horne. Flanker Andrew Durutalo was having a particularly bruising afternoon on attack as well as pushing Scotland hard at the breakdown. The Americans were quickly up in defense and it was causing Scotland great difficulty in establishing any kind of pattern to their game.
However, it was the second half and a disintegrating display of discipline and execution by the Americans which let them down and surely must be frustrating for their supporters as they have seen this all too often. Even though the Americans briefly rallied midway through the second half, it was cold comfort for their supporters who had rightly believed after the first half that their team was about to deliver so much more. With two games left the Americans will really need to find those finishing touches as they face first a bruising encounter with South Africa and then the Cinderella story of the tournament Japan. This is a gutsy and talented Eagles side but they will have to dig very deep for the remainder of the tournament and their final match with Japan should be a classic.
Ireland vs Romania
Final Score – Ireland 44/Romania 10
Ireland – 9/10
Ruthless and with some dazzling displays of flair, this was a very good-looking Irish performance. How good Ireland are at this stage is still hard to tell as with no disrespect to Canada or Romania, they have yet to be really tested. Nevertheless this was a sound performance from Ireland against a plucky but clearly tired Romanian side still reeling from their efforts against France a few days earlier.
Few doubted Ireland’s ability to win the match but were perhaps surprised to see it take as long as it did for Ireland to notch up the all important bonus point. Nevertheless, Ireland got the job done and in the process produced some real class with Simon Zebo stealing much of the limelight at times. Tommy Bowe on the wing stormed back to form after the question marks raised about him during the summer’s warm-up games and Keith Earls on the opposite wing is really starting to show some form and consistency. Ireland effectively neutralised Romania’s traditional strengths in the scrum and Devin Toner answered his critics by having a standout game especially in the lineouts. Flanker Chris Henry continues to impress for Ireland and really shows how much depth Ireland has managed to develop in their squad in the last two years. Meanwhile although looking slightly rusty at times, Cian Healy is coming back into the Irish fold after his injury layoff at speed and is likely to be at his fighting best come the critical match-up with France.
Calm and efficient but with the ability to give the noisy crowd plenty to cheer about, it was a polished Irish display which should set them up nicely for their last two games where the real work of this Rugby World Cup begins for Ireland.
Romania – 7/10
Romania were always going to be up against it for this match, as reeling from their impressive encounter with the French only a few days earlier, they were now faced with the task of taking on Pool favourites Ireland. To give Romania full credit, they gave it everything they had and although outclassed by Ireland, they were worthy competitors who often made Ireland work hard. Their never say die attitude resulted in a well-earned try late in the match and merited them a lap of honor around Wembley stadium at the end of the match, with the Kodak moment of Romanian scrum half Florin Surugiu proposing to his girlfriend on the pitch.
Romania showed some real pace in winger Adrian Apostol which almost resulted in a try for Romania and managed to set up a lengthy passage of play for them in Ireland’s 22 at one point. Furthermore, despite the ferocity of the Irish attack particularly in the second half, the Romanians managed to get some significant turnover ball at key moments, once again proving that when it comes to a work rate at the breakdown they are no slackers despite some clearly fatigued bodies. It was unfortunate that a lack of discipline towards the end would see Romania the recipient of the match’s only yellow card, but they can still take heart in a well worked consolation try through lock Ovidiu Tonita in an exhausting final quarter.
With the benefit of some decent rest ahead of them before their next encounter with Canada, I fully expect to see Romania give the Canucks a serious run for their money as these two teams battle it out for fourth place. While Canada may have the edge in their backs they are going to have to work hard to create space for them when up against a very physical and effective Romanian forward pack. Romania are still here to make a statement and Canada and Italy will need to be wise to the real threat this team poses.