by allyn freeman

The reigning champions, South Africa, celebrate after defeating the host nation, France

Like Haley’s Comet that blazes across the sky every 75 to 79 years, so did the past October weekend RWC quarterfinals feature four contests of rare and shining brilliance. It is doubtful that any future RWC will ever witness such two-day, epic match outcomes all decided in the last ten-minutes, and (subtracting one, last second interception for a try), totaled a mere sixteen points difference across the four close games.

            South Africa 29 – France 28

            England 30 – Fiji 24

            New Zealand 28 – Ireland 24

            Argentina 29 – Wales 17

            A record one-billion global television viewers were treated to the pinnacle of rugby union play in larger-than-life battles where the four top ranked nations (i.e.; Ireland, South Africa France, and New Zealand) clashed in nail baiting quarter finals rounds. Also, last minute derring-do among the other four finalists filled out the two winning fifteens (England and Argentina) that will advance to face the Springboks and All Blacks in the semi-finals next weekend in France.   

            England remained the only European fifteen left in the semi-finals. Again, as in nine past RWCs, the southern hemisphere sides of New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, and Australia will dominate the semi-final contests.

            It was a grand day for world rugby, fulfilling the anticipated promise that this quadrennial tournament of twenty nations would pack plenty of thrills and excitement into the multi-week event. Everyone who follows rugby can be proud that the RWC delivered on that promise.

Argentina 29 – Wales 17

            Wales went out to a ten-point lead followed by four penalties from the Pumas Emiliano Boffelli, which made it 12-10. Wales scored an unconverted try to make it 17-12. Argentina responded for seven points to go into the lead at 19-17. With minutes remaining, Welsh backs made an open break setting up the winger near the try line. He dove in for the try only to be stopped one meter short by a game saving tackle from Matias Moron that would have given Wales the lead and the win at 22-19. A last second interception added seven more points to Argentina’s victory margin. William, Prince of Wales, attended with son George.

England 30 – Fiji 24

            England waltzed through its pool having faced midland opposition. Fiji upset Australia but lost to lower ranking Portugal. Six weeks ago, the Islanders defeated England 30-22 at Twickenham in a major setback. England assumed a 21-10 lead at the break. Up 14 points with 15 minutes remaining, the Fijians plowed through two tries to even the score at 24-24. England’s Owen Farrell kicked a drop goal and a penalty. Fiji had earlier missed three penalty kicks, a glaring deficit in its game. In the stands was Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.

New Zealand 28 – Ireland 24

            Irish eyes were not smiling. The XV did not advance into the semi-final round for the ninth RWC occasion in ten contests. This was supposed to be the tournament that changed all that, especially, after Ireland succeeded with a 19-match winning streak. Also, the revered All Blacks seemed vulnerable with earlier losses in the year to South Africa and France. But the Kiwis excel at winning, and that is what they did.

South Africa 25 – France 24

            The Springboks dashed the hopes of the home nation in a game that that rose to legend. These heavyweights battled tooth and nail until the last seconds. When, ten-meters from the try line, the desperate French player knocked on with seconds left on the clock, the whole of France groaned in collective anguish. In the first period, South Africa scored on two different cross field kicks, catching France off guard both times.

Current Odds To Win the RWC

            South Africa  10/11                England 12/1

            New Zealand   6/5                  Argentina 20/1

Historic Results Between Competitors      

            South Africa v. England: 45 matches. Springboks 29 wins, England 16

            New Zealand v. Argentina: 36 matches. All Blacks 33 wins, Pumas 2, 1 draw

Concerns About the Draw

            The RWC draw for places occurred in December 2020, allowing two-years for fans to book ticket dates and travel arrangements to one if the nine French cities. The four pool placement was predicted on World Rugby’s global rankings at that December date. However, two years later, these rankings changed as follows:

2020 – SA, NZ, England, Wales, Ireland, Australia, France, Japan, Scotland, Argentina, Fiji

2023 – NZ, SA, Ireland, France, England, Scotland, Argentina, Wales, Australia, Fiji, Italy

            In two-years time, right before the start if the RWC, both Ireland and France vaulted to the top of the rankings, while England dropped a few places. These ups and downs resulted in the top four 2023 teams appearing in the same two pools, their meetings in the quarter-finals, and not these top four meeting each other in the semis.  

Final Note – Schedule (Peacock TV)

            Friday, October 20: Argentina v, New Zealand at 3 p.m. EST

            Saturday, October 21: England v. South Africa at 3 p.m. EST

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