World Cup Round Up: Semi-Finals

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Rugby is a game of passion and this simple fact was never more apparent than in the weekend’s semi-final clashes. Four million New Zealanders expected to beat their near-neighbours and pull of the sweetest of all victories. 60,000 Welsh fans packed out the Millenium stadium 11,000 miles away in the hope of seeing their side reach their first ever final and one referee came under the spotlight for making one of the most controversial decisions in the history of the tournament. The stage was set!

Wales 8 France 9

The first of the two semi-finals started frenetically with 100% commitment from both sides. Wales showed all the swagger of the young team that had performed so well throughout the tournament, whilst France looked determined not to bow out at the penultimate hurdle once again.

Wales were given the opening opportunity as their replacement number ten kicked for goal after the French conceded a penalty at the set-piece. Rain prior to kick-off created a slippery surface under foot and put off the Welsh kicker who missed the first chance on 8 minutes.

The Welsh then lost their tighthead prop to injury a minute later who was replaced by PUMA’s Paul James, asked to play out of his normal loosehead role in the scrum. It was on 18 minutes when the game was well and truly turned “on its head” as the Welsh captain was sent off for a dangerous tackle and the Eden Park crowd were shocked into silence. So stunned were they that it actually took a minute or so for T.V cameras and commentators to work out what had happened.

Boos rang around intermittently for at least ten minutes as Wales battled on with 14 men. Some brave defending kept the French out, but the pressure mounted and inevitable penalties were conceded as a result of the handicap leaving France with a three point advantage at halftime.

Much of the second half was played in the Welsh 22 as they tackled wave after wave of French attacks remaining organised in defence. Ryan Jones entered the fray on 55 minutes to add some muscle in the forwards and there was a glimmer of hope when the Welsh scrum-half pulled a try out of nothing through a great dummy, hand off and score to take Wales to within a point. It was clearly not to be for the Welsh as evidenced by a penalty attempt from the halfway line on 75 minutes that drifted agonisingly under the bar.

Australia 6 New Zealand 20

New Zealand were close to their brilliant best yesterday and needed to be against the always dangerous Australians. The All Blacks were all over the Wallabies in the initial exchanges playing fast-paced, expansive rugby that ended in a beautiful dummy run and an even better offload for a score in the corner on 6 minutes.

For the most part, Australia simply couldn’t cope with the sheer physicality of New Zealand across the field. The All Blacks were not going to lose this time round and their desire for victory was felt in every crunching tackle and every breakdown.

Were it not for some average penalty kicking from the All Blacks number 9 the winning margin could have been greater, but never seemed in great doubt. Australia’s best spell came soon after the break as they enjoyed ten minutes of sustained pressure and some fancy footwork from PUMA’s James O’Connor.

Still, the New Zealand line could not be breached and the All Blacks progress to a repeat of the 1987 final with France in a week’s time – you wouldn’t bet against a similar result either!

What did you think of the sending off? Did it kill the spectacle of the game?

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