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Saturday October 08 2011

Well, I’m watching England go out of the World Cup to France.  At present it’s 16-0 to France, and who saw that coming?  Not me.  The French team seem to have decided that it’s time they started playing, and they have.

Earlier, Wales beat Ireland.  Who saw that coming?  Again, not me.

Earlier in the week, Michael Jennings recorded a conversation between him, me, Patrick Crozier and Antoine Clarke.  Antoine, like everyone, was pretty unimpressed by France, and in particular by Marc Lievremont.  But if France win this, as they look like doing, and if they then beat Wales (as they are also entirely capable of doing) and if they then upset the All Blacks in the final (ditto), will the Lievremont method be enthroned in rugby fan esteem?  Coaches everywhere will play totally different teams from one match to the next, and make a point of playing non-fly-halfs at fly-half, trying it first in a World Cup game against the All Blacks.

England have just scored a try.  I was just about to put that England are attacking, but look laboured.  This conversion has to go over.  It does.  In the first half, France scored two tries, but only kicked two kicks out of quite a few more than that.  Will this return to bite them?  Probably not.

In that recorded conversation, the most eloquent points were made by Antoine, not about the actual games in this tournament, but concerning the process of qualification.  He said something like: “The Christmas Islands had to play about thirty games over four years to qualify.  Wales had to play no games at all.  This is obscene.” He didn’t use the word “cartel”, but he easily might have.  Good that the most important thing that got said will outlast any silly guesses we made about who would win the actual World Cup.  I guessed Ireland to win it all, and said Wales would be the most surprising winners other than Argentina.  We all agreed that NZ were looking unbeatable, but would find a way to be beaten.

France, stung by that England try, are looking to finish this off.  Less than twenty minutes to go.

Tuilagi - is that how he’s spelt? (it certainly isn’t how he’s pronounced) - has looked good all tournament.

France scrum looks well on top.  Shots of insanely dressed French fans celebrating.  Well, they deserve to be happy, after all the misery Lievremont has put them through.  France attacking again, with just ten minutes to go.  If England can’t scamper to the other end and score this will soon be over.  Oh.  France seem to have scored another three points, some way or another, and now lead 19-7.  A drop goal by Frenchman number 20.  That means England have to get two tries.  No chance.  England bashing away but it’s too much.  Or is it?  Have England scored?  I think yes.  Video refs confer.  Try.  This also has to go over.  No.  19-12.  “What a come back it would be”, says a commentator.  Indeed.

I’ve spent most of the game resigned to England losing, and still am resigned, so am not now suffering that much.  I still think it’s all done.  Seconds left.  But, I fancy Wales to beat France.  England retreating.  80 minutes up.  Penalty France, and they win.  Final twist of the dagger.  It hit the post and bounced out, but might have bounced into an England hand, at which point England would have tried to score a converted try at the other end.  Only a bounce off the post could have had that outcome.

Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 08 October 2011

Twitter can be a merciless medium: http://twitter.com/#!/antoineclarke/status/122605915718426625

verification code: “problems61”

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 08 October 2011

I cut a short paragraph from my posting where I said Youngs scored a try.  It was Foden.  Sorry world.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 08 October 2011

This tournament has certainly made me miss Clive Woodward, with his emphasis on everyone behaving well and not making so many mistakes.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 08 October 2011

I watched the French commentary.

There’s something funny about hearing retired French props giggling in the first half about “discipline” and “patience” (the absence of for England and the presence of for France).

But this has been a problem for England from the moment Woodward left and has improved for France since Villepreux.

The real mystery for me was why the England back row never seemed to attack Parra or Yachvili. Parra is out of position and should not be given time to think about plays. Most of the time England looked slow, even the odd break had little support suggesting mental or physical tiredness. Contrast with the number of times one of the French forwards was first to arrive at the point of contact.

Final point. When you know that Thierry Dusautoir was a junior Judo champion, you can understand why he rarely misses tackles, rarely gets injured in a tackle and is using the other player’s movement without wasting energy. That’s how he lasts 80 minutes. France gave away 50kg in the scrum (like having half a player short) but made up in agility and speed.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 08 October 2011

Pienaar has been going on all tournament about England lacking leadership on the field.  I wonder, does the Lievremont method, which basically leaves it to the players on the day, grow better leaders on the field than the highly “prepared” England way?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 08 October 2011

A quite telling comment during the match was that the players asked for none of the coaching staff to be present when they had their last pre-match briefing session (including Lièvremont).

This was seen as a team-building exercise.

I had forgotten how mediocre England’s forwards are. Not great at set pieces, not great at supporting runs, lacking in discipline, liable to panic when the team is behind (a bit of the “we won the World Cup once so we deserve to win” problem of the soccer team?). Good at bullying weak opposition, not much else. France and Wales do not have this problem.

Verification code “girl57"… Where’s Brian Moore?

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 08 October 2011

’Ang on a bloody minute by yer yew buggers! A word of congratulations for a great Wales performance wouldn’t go amiss.

Commiserations to you England fans, but the team was it’s usual stolid laclustre self, and never looking like it was in with a chance of getting to the final.

Wales can take France, you know we can, that’s a bloody good team in depth we have there, and our forwards will marmalise them.

Ahem, who will you be cheering for Antoine, domiciled as you are, just outside Paris?

Posted by RAB on 08 October 2011

Welsh are Irish that couldn’t swim.

France will test that theory.

:-p

Only team we fear is Argentina.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 08 October 2011

I had my fun in the summer, with England smashing India at that other game I like.

After the 2003 World Cup win, Woodward thought the England rugby fraternity would get all excited about winning the World Cup and try even harder to win it next time.  Which basically meant England players spending more time together, and being less under the control of their clubs.  Didn’t happen, which is why Woodward jacked it in.

Will there now be a clamour for England central contracts in rugby, like there already are in cricket, and which is credited with England getting so good at cricket lately?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 08 October 2011

RAB

Agreed about the Welsh, based on what little I have so far seen of their game against Ireland.  They used to be small and skillful, then they became big and clumsy.  Now they are big and skillful.

Looking forward to Wales France.  Looking forward to all of them, frankly.  Wales anybody or France anybody in the final will also be very enticing.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 08 October 2011

Money will decide.

There will be clamours about “they didn’t want it badly enough” etc.

I disagree.

I always thought Martin Johnson (and Marc Lièvremont) were too inexperienced as coaches to have the national job.

Bringing back Andy Robinson might make sense. I thought he was too green before, but having spent a while coaching Scotland, his credentials are better than in 2004.

Unlike county cricket, I don’t think there’s evidence that premiership rugby and the Heineken Cup fail to provide high-level competition. The pool of players is large and the youngsters are coming through.

Management and tactics seem to be the problem, possibly preparation. Centralizing will tend to make these deficiencies worse, not better.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 08 October 2011

Antoine

I wasn’t saying central contracts would necessarily help, merely that there might now be a clamour for them.

Take your point about both Johnson and Lievremont being too inexperienced.

Interesting that Johnson has presided over a bad pack of forwards.  Often happens that what you were good at, you are bad at teaching.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 08 October 2011

And talking of cricket, go Somerset!  Today is their semi final in the Champions League, against somebody Indian.  Starts in ten minutes as I type this, i.e. at 3.30 pm (given that my comments don’t seem to have automatic times attached to them).

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 08 October 2011

I’m sure there will be a clamour for central contracts. The idea has been considered for years and I’m sure Woodward would favour them.

But there is a world of difference between Clive Woodward being the dictator of English rugby and, say rugby’s equivalent of Graham Taylor getting the job.

The format of the world cup that would suit English rugby best would be an annual championship with about 16 teams playing home and away. England would often fail to beat some of the top five but would always beat the others, home and away, rugby’s answer to Chelsea. France wouldn’t win it, ever (Spurs or Arsenal).

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 08 October 2011

Actually, I think that central contracts might still help, in the sense that if a good man is in charge, central contracts will enable him to do more.  But I agree, there’s no substitute for someone good being in charge.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 08 October 2011

Somerset lost to Mumbai, but only because Malinga was brilliant. And New South Wales lost to Bangalore yesterday because Gayle was brilliant. So we have two Indian teams in the final, but in both cases due to having a wonderful non-Indian player. Malinga to bowl to Gayle tomorrow, hopefully.

And I am glad my attempt to get Antoine to trash the French team in that conversation was successful. I will be particularly glad if France goes on to win the tournament. Australia v South Africa at 6am. I am going to have to get up for that.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 08 October 2011

Michael, I will eat as much humble pie as it takes if France win it.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 09 October 2011

Australia leading 8-3 at half time. My turn to be nervous

Posted by Michael Jennings on 09 October 2011

Well I just watched the second half of Australia RSA, and I can’t believe Australia won.  The score is rather boring, but the tackle score, something like 150-40, is amazing.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 09 October 2011

And Australia win, despite being unable to win lineouts or even keep possession of the ball for any significant period of time. I can’t see them going much further unless they can play a lot better. On the other hand, they beat New Zealand in the Tri-Nations not much more than a month ago.

Interesting stat: Australia have never lost a World Cup knock-out match against a southern hemisphere side. 

I am very much hoping you can be wrong on all four matches, Antoine, because Australia would then (extraordinarily) be clear favourites for the tournament. I am not holding my breath, however.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 09 October 2011

Argentina 7 - New Zealand 6 after 33 minutes. This cannot possibly last.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 09 October 2011

Nice try by Argentina, but non-existent defence outside.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 09 October 2011

In the end, though, I think New Zealand will be fairly happy with that. They remained solid, kept their nerve, and won it easily enough in the end. The match was tight for most of the 80 minutes, but a lot of that was due to the fact that Argentina simply played well.

Weepu demonstrated the benefits of a goalkicker keeping his wits and just slotting them over, too. I would have been amused if New Zealand had remained tryless but won, however. That would have been so, well, English of them.

An Englishman, and Irishman, and a Scotsman walk into a bar. A Welshman does not - he is still in New Zealand.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 09 October 2011