A curmudgeon's Rugby World Cup diary: Week nine

3:04 pm on 25 September 2019

Opinion - Mark 26 October down in your diaries.

George Bridge (11) of New Zealand tries in the first half during the Pool B match of 2019 Rugby World Cup against South Africa at the International Stadium Yokohama (Nissan Stadium) in Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture on September 21, 2019.

George Bridge on his way to scoring New Zealand's opening try in their win over South Africa at the Rugby World Cup. Photo: AFP

As good as aspects of New Zealand's 23-13 win over South Africa was on Saturday, the team don't play another game of consequence until a month's time.

That's when the All Blacks ought to meet England in the Rugby World Cup semifinals and how on earth are we going to fill the time between now and then?


We've waited months for New Zealand's opening world cup match. Whole competitions have been sacrificed along the way and an incalculable number of words written and said about what might happen and what it would all mean.

In the end, the All Blacks prevailed over South Africa in a game high on intensity but low on sustained quality.

Our reward is yet more weeks of waiting and wondering about how things might go when England become New Zealand's next big opponent.

A few observations

Referee Jerome Garces could have blown New Zealand off the park in Yokohama and didn't. Don't know why but, for a guy who tends to nitpick, Garces let a huge number of indiscretions go unpunished.

South Africa dominated New Zealand's scrum throughout, while the odd lineout was sacked illegally and arms around necks went unpenalised. Even fairly obvious knock ons were let go.

The Springboks got their tactics wrong. Handre Pollard kicked way, way too much. As Australia showed in Perth a few weeks back, if you don't kick the ball to the All Blacks, and control it well when you're in possession, they're highly beatable.

If there's a lingering memory from Saturday's match in Yokohama, it's yet another shallow Pollard kick ending up in New Zealand's hands.

Sam Cane's HIA situation was odd but meant Scott Barrett got a good go at blindside flanker. Barrett was outstanding and New Zealand looked very good with his big body and strong tackling at No.6 and Ardie Savea on the openside.

Cane is a very fine and brave player, but the team might be even more effective if he lost his starting berth.

Ryan Crotty and and Anton Lienert-Brown look a good midfield combination. There's a real comfort that comes from having Crotty in the side, while Lienert-Brown just gets better and better.

It's hard to think of many players enjoying a better 2019 than Lienert-Brown and Savea.

The Richie Mo'unga-Beauden Barrett thing still isn't that great. Barrett's such a good player, and has so much gas, that he's able to make fullback work but, really and truly, the team would be better with him at first five-eighth and not Mo'unga.

Problem is coach Steve Hansen doesn't seem to have much confidence in the other fullback options.

Ben Smith finished the game there, but he's hardly Mr Impact off the bench. Neither is Sonny Bill Williams.

This is where Damian McKenzie's absence is really starting to tell.

Beauden Barrett makes a break with Richie Mo'unga in support.

Has the Richie Mo'unga-Beaduen Barrett experiment worked? Hamish Bidwell doesn't think so. Photo: Photosport

What a find

Not a week goes by when you don't find yourself admiring wing George Bridge.

You really can't stress enough just how impressive he's been and how little Rieko Ioane is being missed.

Well done overall

You can quibble over parts of the win over the Springboks, but you have to praise the result.

We've sat through an increasing number of international friendlies in recent times, with games played for little reason other than fulfilling broadcast agreements.

But this match mattered to the All Blacks and Springboks. A loss wasn't terminal, and there's a fair chance they could meet again in the tournament final, but both teams were desperate to win and played accordingly.

That's all you can ask from high-performance sport.


England were on a hiding to nothing against Tonga, just as New Zealand will be in their remaining round-robin clashes with Canada, Namibia and Italy.

Yes, you would've expected England to easily put 60 or 70 points on Tonga, but at least they won 35-3 and came through the match physically unscathed.

Scotland - or the Scotland Invitation XV as you might call them given how few Scots are in the team - were soundly beaten by Ireland and now appear certain to be New Zealand's quarterfinal opponents.

Good on Ireland for their 27-3 win, but Scotland really weren't up to much.

Reece Hodge probably should've received a red card for a shoulder charge to the head, in Australia's 39-21 win over Fiji.

Ireland's Andrew Conway struggles to keep a ball during the first half of the Pool A match against Scotland in the 2019 Rugby World Cup Japan at International Stadium Yokohama in Yokohama.

The Ireland-Scotland match didn't live up to the hype, according to Hamish Bidwell. Photo: AFP

The All Blacks went for years and years and years with only Cyril Brownlie and Colin Meads being sent off in test matches, before Sonny Bill Williams saw red in the 2017 British and Irish Lions series and then Scott Barrett against Australia a few weeks back.

You can wear the Williams and Barrett decisions so long as the rules are applied across the board. If you don't use your arms, and your shoulder makes significant contact with the head of an opponent, then you deserve to walk.

World Rugby and their referees are either serious about player safety or they're not. Hodge staying on the park suggests not.

And finally Spark

Sorry to disappoint, but Spark's failure to adequately deliver match coverage to subscribers is worthy of a column of its own - check it out here.

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