The Lineout’s Calls of the Week

Despite all the action going on in the Men’s game last week, there is little doubt that the highlight of the weekend was the Women’s World Cup Final. Quite frankly it was a game for the ages and New Zealand emerged worthy Champions over a brave and resolute English team who remained an exceptionally hard side to beat right to the end. History was made as we witnessed the biggest crowd ever seen for a Women’s game with the legendary Eden Park in Auckland being completely sold out. It was a thrilling final that showcased just how far the Women’s game has come in the last ten years and the promise it holds for the future.

In the Men’s Game, it was a weekend of thrills, spills and a few surprises. Italy made a statement in Florence by snatching a historic victory over Australia. Wales finally got back to winning ways against Argentina and England fixed their wobble against the Pumas by cruising past Japan. The dustup in Marseille between France and South Africa lived up to its billing and was an edge of your seat affair. It was a big physical encounter, complete with some seemingly inevitable controversy and a red card being seen by both sides, with France just squeaking past their bruising visitors. Lastly on Sunday, Scotland looked set at one point to finally break their All Black Hoodoo, but Murrayfield hearts got broken once more as the visitors righted their ship in the final quarter.

So here’s what kept our pints frothy in an action packed weekend!

A glorious tournament ends with a rousing finale leaving the world hungry for more!

New Zealand were crowned World Champions in a thrilling final that will stay on our highlights reel for many years to come!

Wow – what a thriller is all we can say!!!! The Women’s World Cup Final surpassed our expectations and then some. World Cup Finals often tend to be slightly dour and anticlimactic affairs at least in the Men’s Game. Well not so in the Women’s game – the silverware showdown at Auckland’s Eden Park in front of a sellout crowd between hosts New Zealand and England was a genuine spectacle from start to finish. That was some of the most exciting rugby between two teams that we’ve seen in quite some time. In short we were riveted to our televisions screens as a game unfolded that was a fitting finale to six glorious weeks of rugby. The only negative being we have to wait another three years for the next one.

England came into the match on the back of an unprecedented 30 game winning streak, while New Zealand simply shifted it up another gear every game they played. By the time the Black Ferns arrived at Eden Park last Saturday, a season of testing was over and they were in race day form and then some. As predicted England’s rolling maul wreaked havoc and accounted for three of their five tries. Twenty minutes into the first half and English winger Lydia Thompson unfortunately saw red in an awkward tackle on New Zealand’s Portia Woodman. The first half was played at an unbelievable pace with seven tries being scored by the two sides and left us exhausted just watching. The fitness levels of both teams was nothing short of extraordinary.

The second half started with a roar as New Zealand went for a sprint start and scored in the first 30 seconds. The game continued at much the same pace with New Zealand mounting a continuous assault on the English lines ultimately resulting in another try giving them the lead, but England would strike back through their seemingly unstoppable rolling maul and regain control of the scoreboard once more. With fifteen minutes left on the clock, New Zealand would see a yellow card and the teams were even in terms of bodies on the field. However, on the 71st minute a try through an audacious kick squirted through the English defenses showcased New Zealand’s ridiculous skills sets at speed and pace. Winger Ayesha Let-l’iga dotted down the winning try and gave the Black Ferns a slim three point lead. England launched their own final assault on the Black Ferns line for the remainder of the game but their wonder weapon rolling maul was finally undone in the eightieth minute and the rest is history.

But what a history it’s been! Like we say our only regret is that it’s over for another 3 years, until many of these remarkable women meet again in England. However, the good news is that the interest levels in the Women’s game that this tournament has given rise to, look set to continue and grow. Women’s Rugby is now very much on the World Stage and can hold it’s own against the Men’s game in terms of skill and excitement. Many of the players are likely to be snapped up by professional clubs in England and France, meaning that the exposure to professional rugby is likely to grow even more for many of the teams who participated in this year’s tournament. While there were many pitfalls to the the Men’s game turning professional, and the Women’s game is likely to stumble over many of the same speed bumps – the future for Women’s Rugby looks exceptionally bright and rather exciting to say the least!

Not quite the ending Canada wanted, but the challenge is now to seize the momentum that has been created and build on it!

Canada were clearly distraught at their 36-0 loss to France in the bronze medal match, but after the disappointment should come a massive sense of optimism for the future

The image above perhaps sums up what an extraordinary tournament the Women’s World Cup has been, and how rugby’s core values of humility and camaraderie were championed at every twist and turn of a competition that left us all with plenty of feel good factor. As we feared, the sheer enormity both physically and emotionally of Canada having to lift themselves for one more match after giving England such a valiant fight in the semi-finals was going to be a bridge too far. Especially when you consider that it was up against a French side who only lost to the eventual Champions New Zealand by one point.

The semi-final had clearly left Canada’s tank slightly empty, whereas France seemed almost energized by their narrow semi-final loss to New Zealand. Although Canada won the hearts and minds of many at the tournament, France’s fully professional squad looked just that – a side that just doesn’t quit and is surely already striking fear into their Six Nations opponents next year. France clearly had a point to prove that come the next global showdown in three years time, they want to be seen as the side that everyone has to beat. It was a clinical and at times almost effortless performance that left the Canadians without answers.

Once again Canada’s problem with getting their tackle success rate above 80% hurt them, as France constantly put them under pressure physically and out wide on the fringes. A tired but valiant Canadian squad missed 31 tackles compared to France missing only 12, and at this level that can be the kiss of death as France ran in five tries. Add to that France’s rather efficient and effective use of the boot especially when kicking between the posts, and Canada were always going to be playing with one hand tied behind their backs.

While Canada will want and need to put this match behind them, they can reflect on an extraordinary tournament that showcased just what Canada can do if the momentum gained is built on. While Women’s Rugby in this country is unlikely to go professional during the next World Cup cycle, it will be imperative for Rugby Canada to build on the achievements made. Canada will need more regular International games both at home, in order to grow the support for the game, as well as overseas to increase the experience of this exciting group of young players. Support with getting our players professional contracts in Europe also needs to happen, while increasing facilities for training and resources to enable the squad to be together more often need to be made available. Given the success of Major League Rugby, there is a chance that there may be room for expanding it to the Women’s game, but we have a hunch that may be a longer term proposition and in the meantime should not detract from the previously mentioned priorities in the run up to the next World Cup.

In short, from all of us here in Canada, a huge shout out to our Canadian Women and what they have achieved in the last six weeks at the World Cup and to what they can do going forward. Be proud Ladies – you’ve earned it and then some!!!!

Italy’s Child Assassin breaks Australian hearts and in doing so gives the Azurri the faint glimmer of a new dawn

Italy’s sensational fullback Ange Capuozzo is one of the genuine finds of International Rugby this year, but can he and his team really herald a new dawn in Italian Rugby?

Yes we know, it’s customary to talk Italy up ahead of the Six Nations to only see it vaporize by the end of the tournament. However, as jaded as you may be by such statements, there is no denying that, under Coach Kieran Crowley, Italy are humming along rather nicely (imagine what he could have done with Canada had he been given the resources). In short, they are a genuinely exciting team to watch that finally seems to have composure and organization allied to some rather extraordinary individual skill sets. This year has been pretty special for the most part for Crowley and his blue clad charges. Their Six Nations culminated in that famous win over the Welsh in Cardiff, and now there’s an Australian scalp to add to the honors list along with an absolute field day against Samoa.

However, before we all get too carried away, there is one elephant in the room that needs to be mentioned. Many of the players who lit up the Florence pitch last Saturday, unfortunately didn’t have what could be called a pleasant summer vacation. Italy’s summer tour took in the three European contenders for their often disputed place in the Six Nations and it didn’t quite turn out the way they wanted. They struggled against Portugal and only won by a converted try. They then redeemed themselves against Romania but proceeded to implode against the biggest threat to their Six Nations status Georgia.

Italy can take heart in the fact that their remarkable exploits last Saturday were achieved without star kicker and playmaker Paolo Garbisi. A lot of their set piece work was excellent, especially at lineout time and in the scrums and their tackle success rate and overall defense was superior to that of Australia. However, Australia let themselves down and handed Italy endless opportunities with the Wallabies’ ongoing crises with discipline and slightly porous defenses out wide which the Italians exploited to the full. Had Italy had a decent goalkicker last Saturday, given Australia’s disciplinary indiscretions then the score line could have been much more emphatic. As it was Italy missed half of their shots at goal. Australia didn’t fare much better but had the unfortunate Ben Donaldson not been handed the biggest pressure kick possible for the Wallabies on debut at the death, then we would be having a very different conversation.

It was a great result for Italy last weekend even if fortune favored them at the final whistle, but a much sterner Test awaits in Genoa in the shape of a wounded Springbok side reeling from two narrow defeats, and needing a confidence booster ahead of their final Autumn Test against England. It will be hard for Italy to continue to throw the form book out the window this weekend against South Africa, but if they can keep it close and acquit themselves well then there could be reasons to be cheerful this Christmas ahead of the Six Nations for the Azurri and their supporters.

Another one goes awry for South Africa while France continue to surprise but not amaze

So the rumors are true, French lock Sekou Macalou is as much of a threat in the back line as he is in the second row. Macalou impressed in a difficult game for both sides but which saw France do enough to get the better of a Springbok side that looks exceptionally capable yet slightly unsettled.

Remember how last year we were being constantly amazed by France and their exploits on the pitch. We would marvel at some seemingly impossible play executed with almost childlike ease as Les Bleus jostled with Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa for the number one spot in the rankings. Next year’s World Cup hosts are still an awesome unit, make no mistake but somehow they’re just getting the job done as opposed to leaving us speechless. Perhaps in many ways that is exactly what you want a year out from the World Cup.

However, we can’t help feeling that to a certain degree there is a very slight element of luck favoring the French these days. We are not for a minute wanting to get into the post match officiating debates that seem to be plaguing this game. We really do wish South Africa’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus would give his Twitter account a break, even if referee Wayne Barnes who is undoubtedly one of the world’s best, perhaps didn’t have his most stellar performance in Marseille last Saturday. On the plus side in terms of refereeing player welfare, both teams saw red for offences over which there was absolutely no debate whatsoever, as gutted as we were for Springbok back rower Pieter-Steph du Toit who is not by any stretch of the imagination a “dirty’ player. France were in our opinion the marginally better team on the day in a contest between two excellent sides.

France are winning when it matters, but we just don’t feel it’s as emphatic as some of their victories were last year. If anything they seem to prefer leaving it to the death to right the ship this Autumn Nations Series. France were behind against Australia 24-26 until the 74th minute and the exact same scenario unfolded against South Africa, with les Bleus also trailing the Springboks 24-26 until the 74th minute. Whether or not this is some remarkable coincidence or a Coaching ploy by Fabien Galthie and his team to teach France how to dig deep at the death, a skill which has traditionally abandoned them in the past, is debatable. We think not, and somehow France have evolved into efficient tradesmen this year rather than the spectacularly well organized magicians of last year. While many would say that’s the quality you want in the runup to a World Cup, we’d argue that last year’s French wizards were just as adept at their individual trades along with their spell casting skills, making them a lethal and much more fearsome outfit.

Either way it’s all academic now until the Six Nations, as after Japan’s implosion against England last weekend, we doubt we’ll learn much more about France this year when they play their last Test of 2022 against the Brave Blossoms on Sunday in Toulouse. Remember the old adage of “which French team will turn up”? We have a hunch we’ll be revisiting that question a lot more next year than we have recently.

A match that most of the world probably has no idea is happening, but for us here in North America is of crucial importance

Portugal and the USA face off in the deciding game this Friday to determine who gets the last World Cup berth up for grabs

To say that, from a North American perspective, Friday’s final World Cup qualifying game between Portugal and the USA in Dubai is probably THE most important game of this World Cup cycle is the understatement of the year. For the first time since the tournament’s inception in 1987 there is the very real threat that there will be no North American representation at the global showdown next year in France.

Both sides have beaten the other teams vying for that final World Cup berth, Hong Kong and Kenya, and now it’s a clear foot race between the USA and Portugal. They both sit equal on the points table at 10 points each, however Portugal sits atop the table on points difference. Consequently it’s winner takes all tomorrow, with the Portuguese outscoring the Americans in the try department. In short, this game could really go either way, and there is no doubt that Portugal are highly motivated and feeling rather confident. The Americans by contrast don’t seem to be enjoying their day jobs quite as much. On paper you’d think this is a contest the Eagles should be able to edge, but there really are no guarantees.

If the USA fails to qualify then it has enormous implications for rugby as a whole in this hemisphere. Despite the development of the MLR it appears to be operating in a vacuum and has added nothing to the efforts of the Canadian and American national sides, and if anything they have taken a step backwards as a result on the International stage. Some of that may be in part due to the fact that it is still hard to attract domestic based players, with many MLR matchday squads having very high foreign based player contingents. This does wonders for their own national sides but little for Canada or the USA – Chile and Uruguay being a case in point with both having already qualified for the World Cup and many of their players in the MLR. Consequently, Friday’s match has huge bearing on where the game is headed in this part of the world. Although the USA has hosting rights to the 2031 tournament, the next four years could see the game lost in the wilderness in this part of the world if both Canada and the USA have to start from scratch in terms of qualifying for the 2027 tournament in Australia.

We think you may want to glance nervously over your shoulder at events unfolding in Dubai tomorrow. You’ll be able to do so on the Rugby Network for free, see TV page for details. The game kicks off at 1030 AM Eastern, and we think that most of you may have a device surreptitiously streaming somewhere on your desk tomorrow – just don’t tell the boss.

Published by Neil Olsen

Passionate about rugby and trying to promote the global game in Canada and North America.

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