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World Cup Never Predictable

Sunday Oct 21, 2007 in Main Rugby Site Articles World Cup

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Photos Ian Muir.


October 21, 2007 - A World Cup full of surprises, near-surprises, and massive heartbreaks. A World Cup where teams with a real expectation of winning - New Zealand, France, Ireland - altered at critical moments; a World Cup where, threatened with a culling of their numbers, the Tier II nations stepped up and showed they can compete, ended Saturday night as South Africa defeated England 15-6 in the final at Stade de France.
 South Africa became the second nation to win the championship twice (1995 and 2007), with Australia being the other in 1991 and 1999. England became the second team, following Australia in 2003, to make two finals in a row.
 Reigning champions England came into the match on the back of four impressive victories after a poor start to the tournament but were unable to find a way through a disciplined Springboks outfit who were miserly in defense, dominated the line-outs and kicked five penalties.
 England fly half Jonny Wilkinson, the hero of their 2003 triumph in Sydney, was unable to turn on the magic this time, missing two drop goal attempts and given little chance to impose himself on the match.
 South Africa led England 9-3 at the break after an even first half marked by tactical high kicking and little open play. Both sides sought to flex their muscle and apply pressure with a series of up-and-unders, though to little avail. Percy Montgomery opened the scoring with a three-pointer on seven minutes after centre Mathew Tait had slipped and become isolated in the ruck and England were penalized for failing to release. Wilkinson squared the ledger on 13 minutes after South Africa wing Bryan Habana was called for lying on the tackled player, counterpart Paul Sackey.
 But Montgomery regained the advantage for South Africa three minutes later after team-mate Butch James was adjudged to have been impeded on a kick and chase. Wilkinson tried a quick riposte but pushed his drop goal attempt wide. South Africa twice attacked late in the half but were repelled on the line on both occasions.
 However, they were awarded a penalty for the second drive and Montgomery kicked truly to push the margin out to six points.
 England began the second half in sensational style as Tait cut a swathe through the middle of the South Africa defense with a series of steps and swerves to set Mark Cueto up for a try. But after a long deliberation by the TV match official, the wing was ruled to have been in touch when he crossed over in the corner.
 A Wilkinson penalty kick for an infringement earlier in the movement was some consolation, though.
 England's hopes were hit on 48 minutes when full back Jason Robinson, playing his last match before retirement, left the field with a shoulder injury
 Montgomery squeezed home his fourth penalty from as many kicks on 51 minutes to restore his side's six-point lead (12-6) after England conceded for handling in a ruck.
 Francois Steyn took over the kicking duties on 62 minutes when England were penalized for obstruction and the impressive young centre didn't let his side down, piercing the uprights from 46 meters.
 Few of the South Africa team could adequately describe the elation they were feeling following their world cup victory over England on Saturday.
 Springboks captain John Smit tried to check his emotions after the 15-6 triumph in the final. "I'm sitting here and trying not to cry," he said. "It's a feeling you can't put into words."
 To a man, the players hailed coach Jake White, who has overseen a major turnaround in team fortunes since taking charge in 2004.
 "I must thank my coach. The first time (he spoke to us), he told us, 'We are going to win the world cup', and he's no liar," Smit said.
 White spoke on what the world cup victory would mean to the rugby-mad republic.
 "People ask why we take the world cup so seriously," White said. "It's much bigger than any other event.
 "We've now won a world cup away from home. We had our president (Thabo Mbeki) sitting in the changing room. He was saying how proud he was of being a South African. What do you say when you win a world cup? It's an unbelievable experience so far."
 The Springboks carried out White's instructions with typically ruthless efficiency. They deployed a suffocating, brutal defense and a dominant line-out that virtually shut off one of England's major sources of ball. Indeed, on one of the rare occasions when England found a chink in the defensive armor, it only served to demonstrate how desperate the South Africa cover was.
 Frantic to overturn the 9-3 half-time deficit, England broke clear through rookie outside centre Mathew Tait soon after the resumption. His run set up Mark Cueto to crash over.
 However, after a long consultation the TV match official adjudged Cueto had put his left leg into touch as he was tackled by Danie Rossouw.
 The moment was not lost on White.
 "Danie Rossouw's try-saving tackle on Mark Cueto in the corner sums it all up - a number 8 on a winger. When you get that, that's probably why you coach, because you want 15 guys who are all in it together."
 South Africa's big men – man of the match Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Juan Smith - were imperious in the lineout.
 England second row Ben Kay doffed his hat to his opposites in the crucial set-piece.
 "Their line-out was fantastic and was a major difference between the two teams. They have been the best line-out in the world for many years and gave us enormous problems."
 England coach Brian Ashton bemoaned his team's inability to get out of their own half.
 "There were times tonight when we didn't execute things well enough. I don't think 15-6 on the scoreboard reflects the difference between the sides. We didn't do well enough to get out of our 40-metre zone. But you can't argue with the scoreboard. South Africa won and congratulations to them.
 "We created opportunities in the second half and maybe we should have converted more opportunities."
 "I must be honest, it hasn't sunk in just yet," said Smit. "I think it is one of those things you will only understand what's happened when you get home. Obviously it has been massive winning the world cup and seeing the supporters last night and enjoying it with our families and our friends, I don't think it sinks in till a little bit later."
 White said the win would be a massive boost for South African rugby and the country as a whole.
 "This is much bigger than South Africa rugby. To see our state president on the shoulders of one of the players, with the William Webb Ellis Trophy in his hands, there's no bigger statement in our country than that. What we need as a nation is to understand how big this is. There's no reason why South African rugby and South Africa can't take this as a huge plus and build on it. There's a lot we can draw from this little cup."
 White's coaching contract is due to end on 31 December. The South Africa Rugby Union have not yet asked him to stay on and he said it would be hard to say goodbye to the team.
 "It would be hard to hand the team over to someone else. It's nice when you're world champions and everyone's giving you accolades, but it's a lonely place when you're down. I look around and I think to myself so many things have changed. It's amazing how they say in politics a week is a long time, but in rugby I tell you 80 minutes is a fantastic thing."
 Most successful World Cup Nations:
 South Africa W 21 L 3 Pct .875 Championships: 2 (South Africa did not compete in 1987 and 1991)
 (DNP, DNP, 1st, 3rd, QF, 1st)
 New Zealand W 30 L 6 Pct .833  Championships: 1
 (1st, 3rd, 2nd, 4th, 3rd, QF)
 Australia W 28 L 6   Pct .824  Championships 2
 (4th, 1st, QF, 1st, 2nd, QF)
 France W 26 L 9  Pct .743 Championships 0
 (2nd, QF, 3rd, 2nd, 4th, 4th)
 England W 25 L 10 Pct .714 Championships 1
 (QF, 2nd, 4th, QF, 1st, 2nd)
 The Rest W 103 L 199 Pct .341 Championships 0
 Top 4: Wales 1987, Scotland 1991, Argentina 2007)
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