A very lucky Australia squeezed into the semi-finals of the 2015 Rugby World Cup after a mighty Scotland came within a controversial referee decision of a huge upset. But the Wallabies are through to face a jubilant and dangerous Argentina.
Wallabies break Bravehearts
Fittingly, the Scots and the Wallabies rounded off a cracking set of quarter-finals with a breathtaking contest which left even the most ardent Australian fan sympathetic to a broken Scotland team. We will get to the extraordinary display of cowardness by referee Craig Joubert in a minute, but this quarter-final needs to be remembered for the right reasons – namely, the quality of rugby on show from both teams.
Aussie coach Michael Cheika will just be relieved to be through for another week, knowing how fortunate they are to be facing a resurgent Argentinian team in the semi-finals. Scotland quite simply refused to be the bridesmaids for this match, with the wonderfully combative Scottish captain Greig Laidlaw snapping and cajoling his troops, never allowing the Wallabies to settle.
This was a terrific match that pushed and pulled everyone who was privileged enough to be present at Twickenham. Australia displayed their usual sharpness in attack throughout the game but could not shake off the Scots sufficiently to close the match out. Vern Cotter`s team more resembled a pack of dogs, scrapping for limited amounts of possession and never allowing Bernard Foley, in particular, time to settle. It could be argued that if Foley had had his kicking boots on then this game might not have been so dramatic but that would be disrespectful to the Scots who equally had opportunities to put this match to bed.
J.P Nel, one of a number of kilted South Africans in the pack, destroyed the hapless Scott Sio at scrum time ensuring that the Australians would struggle for decent set piece possession. Michael Hooper was his usual excellent self but struggled without his buddy David Pocock at the breakdown where the Scottish backrow were magnificent. Led by the imperiously powerful David Denton, who made God knows how many carries during the match, never allowed Hooper to get dominance at the breakdown. Finn Russell at fly half went through his repertoire of tricks as part of a hugely improved Scottish backline.
One always felt that as long as Scotland were in touch in the final quarter then they had a chance. A previously calm Wallabies outfit panicked with kicks charged down and props standing at fly half deep in the Aussie 22 tying to distribute.
And then to that infamous lineout…
There are many schools of thought to this fatal Scottish lineout, but surely if there was a need for the TMO it would have been for the last 2 minutes of one the all time great rugby Test matches?
Scotland will be kicking themselves for fumbling the lineout in the first place. Why throw to the back of the lineout in pouring rain when a simple ball in to the 6ft10 Richie Gray at the front would have sufficed?
Referee Craig Joubert will be even more vilified north of the border than any Englishman for a gross mistake, which must surely be looked into post this tournament and his career in general. On such decisions can careers be made and broken. To sprint off as soon as he blew the final whistle shocked everyone and was a massive insult to the two sets of players who had given absolutely everything to the cause. At least face the music and front up. Instead it looked like a man who knew he made the biggest mistake of his career.
Of course, the Wallabies won’t mind and they will move on to another massive battle next weekend against a very dangerous Argentinian side.
How well the Pumas played against an injury stricken Ireland side.
Crucially, the Argentinians have added Latin flair to their impressive pack and are clearly showing the benefits of being part of the Rugby Championship in the southern hemisphere. They have unearthed some gems out wide with Juan Imhoff a clinical presence to complement the genius of Juan Martin Hernandez in the centers. They were a delight to watch, showing fantastic fitness to constantly support the ball runners and clearly showed what a united team they are.
In the end, the win was comfortable which says something when playing the champions of Europe and dark horses for the tournament. There is, of course, a touch of sympathy for Ireland, shorn of some their warriors, including Paul O`Connell and Jonny Sexton. Even if they had been present I don`t think the result who would have been different, though.
French fried by All Blacks onslaught
Hats off to New Zealand. They were brilliant and we should be applauding them for their unbelievable skills rather than bemoaning the lackluster performance of the French.
If you think England have problems then just wait until you hear the ramifications from the French press, with a clearly divided team walking around to boos post the final whistle. Saint Andre has had a troubled time in the coach`s chair and they were always going to get found out in the latter stages of the World Cup. Ask any French coach or neutral and they will say that not picking Francois Trinh-Duc was a complete disaster. This guy is definitely the best fly half in France and why he was not in there remains a travesty.
Saffas slay the dragon
Wales and South Africa played out a cracker as well, and one could not help but feel desperately sorry for the Welsh; another heroic performance with no reward.
They were often the best team in this pulsating encounter but could not keep out the Springboks whose Fourie Du Preez showed why he is the best tactical number 9 in the business. The South African forwards eventually weathered the Welsh storm and they continue their resurgence with a fascinating semi to come against the All Blacks.
Having got most of my predictions wrong for the quarters, the semi-finals won`t be any easier to call. On paper, New Zealand should beat South Africa and the Wallabies should beat Argentina.
That said, a Springbok likes nothing better than seeing an All Black in their sights and the Bok pack is brewing nicely to the boil, led by their brutal young locks Etzebeth and De Jager. The form of Vermeulen is significant as well and they will throw everything at Riche McCaw`s team. If they can dominate the set piece then Messrs. Savea, Carter and Nonu will not have it all their own way. Personally, I just cannot see the Springboks hurting New Zealand out wide and I think the All Blacks will come through by 7-10 points at the end.
If the Argentinians produce anything similar to their win against the Irish then the Wallabies are going to be in for a very difficult time. Much will depend on Pocock and Folau being fit. If they are, then I think the Australians will shade a tight one as per the formbook for a Wallabies/New Zealand finale. They will have to improve though, particularly in the scrums. Fittingly, Mario Ledesma, who has done so much to tighten the Wallaby front five, will be charged with the responsibility of fixing Sunday`s problem to topple his countrymen for a place in the final.
Rugby World Cup 2015 semi-finals schedule
First Semi-final: South Africa v New Zealand at Twickenham (London), Saturday 24 Oct @ 4pm GMT
Second Semi-final: Australia v Argentina at Twickenham (London), Sunday 25 Oct @ 4pm GMT
IMAGE: Tevita Kuridrani of Australia during their 35-34 quarter-final win against Scotland in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. (Dan Mullan/Getty Images)