Sunday, November 01, 2015

Springboks Claim Bronze As Legends Retire

By Ciarán Duffy

The Match Nobody Wants To Play In Gets A Review Nobody Wants To Read

Game 47.  Is it even one that should be played?  Is it really fair to expect two teams to pick themselves up after suffering such an emotional loss on a big stage and put on another show for the supporters while being overshadowed by a much bigger game?  It does bring in a bit more money, and it does provide another chance to see two of the best one more time at the World Cup, it only comes around once every four years after all.  Regardless of whether it should have been played or not it... it was.  

And it was filled with some memorable moments.  The quality of game wasn’t the highest you'll see, understandably.  Argentina were up for it, winning a turnover at the breakdown within the 1st minute.  But they were clearly shattered.  The injuries had mounted up for them throughout the week and their exhaustion was showing.  Tomas Cubelli was sin binned early for not being back 10 meters and that really took a lot out of this game.  In the time Argentina were down a scrum half JP Pietersen touched down in the corner.  Argentina failed to score in the first half and went in 16-0 down at the break.  An early Sanchez drop goal in the second half seemed like it would give the Pumas hope but an Eben Etzebeth try took the second wind out of their sales (I believe this is the first double-idiom of Harpin’ On Rugby’s World Cup coverage).  

Despite having a healthy lead, the Springboks continued to opt for the posts when given the chance.  Though finishing third place may have meant more to Argentina, the prospect of losing 3 games at a World Cup would have been disastrous for South Africa.   Maybe that defeat to Japan left a scar on the Springboks, they were not going to go for anything too adventurous.  In the 69th minute they were awarded a penalty, Handre Pollard found himself on the end of some vicious booing from the crowd while lining up the kick, which ultimately hit the post.  The fans were not happy to see South Africa just kill the game.  A minute later they were awarded another penalty but this time they gave in to peer pressure, and went for the corner.  Pollard surely thought he’d won the crowd over, but he actually failed to find touch and the ball was cleared.  If it’s not going to be a good game, it may as well have a humorous moment or two.  There were a few scraps late on, tired bodies becoming easily agitated ones.  

Argentina had already exceeded expectations with their performances in the tournament.  It’s hard to view them as the team that one of the Tri-Nation sides play when the other two are busy anymore.  Considering the injuries they had suffered the spirit with which they played the game was admirable.  And despite a win being long out of their grasp, they never stopped playing.  The last five minutes were made up of the Pumas putting phase after phase of attacking play together, one last stand.  They way the South Africans were defending and the Argentines were attacking; both teams clearly saw the significance of this being their last World Cup game for another 4 years.  The clock was red and the Pumas were forced to tap and go when awarded a penalty.  Sanchez came just short of the line, but Juan Pablo Orlandi would not be denied, getting over for his first international try.  It was a great moment and it really did encapsulate the importance of the World Cup.  

For some the significance of this game was made greater by the fact that this would be their last appearance on the international stage.  When Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe was replaced by Facundo Isa in the 53rd minute of the game, there was a realisation that we would not see him in an international match again.  He got a standing ovation, one that was truly deserved, he’s a had such a pivotal role in Argentina’s transformation.  Schalk Burger came off moments later to the same ovation, with this likely to be his last game for South Africa.  Obviously not content with sharing the spotlight with Lobbe he reappeared 8 minutes later only to go off again, wouldn’t begrudge him it, he’s been outstanding this tournament and deserves to bask in it.  While we are on multiple substitutions, Juan Figallo and Lucas Noguera Paz came on and off for each other an impressive four times, that’s got to be some kind of record.  

Victor Matfield left the field at the 63 minute mark with Lood de Jager replacing him.  And just like that, another legend of the game says goodbye, and in his replacement we know the future is in good hands.  Others have not made their intentions clear, Bryan Habana being one, but I doubt we’ll be seeing him play at Japan 2019.  It was somewhat surprising that he was replaced in the 67th minute by Jan Serfontein, needing just one try to break the record.  He had his chances yet again, three clear cut ones in the first-half.  Personally I would have liked to see him do it, records are made to be broken and he would have been a worthy record holder.  But you only get so many chances to make history.  Being tied with one of the all time greats isn’t too bad either.  Besides, it would have been weird to see Jonah Lomu not top of the leader board.  It wasn’t an overly sentimental occasion, the man of the match award was still given out on merit, going to Damian de Allende.  

Ruan Pienaar was the freshest man on the pitch, and thankfully did not add to Ulsters injury woes.  He showed good vision throughout the game.  Handre Pollard showed, at only 21-years of age what a big part he will play in the Springboks future, taking his World Cup points tally up to 93.  He’ll still have to compete with Pat Lambie who earned his 50th cap.  Nicolas Sanchez captained the Pumas and scored 8 points, taking himself up to 97 points for the tournament, finishing as the highest point scorer at RWC 2015.  Surely one of the players of the tournament.

An occasion to remember, which featured a game we may not, it added to the list of memories we can take from this World Cup.  This particular match was really all about saying goodbye to some legends of the game.

Not quite the most significant rugby match we’d see all weekend, I’ll understand if this review is printed off and used as a coaster while you read the final review.  

Ciarán Duffy (@VoiceQuakeDuffy) is a Leinster supporter who would watch any game of rugby while undoubtedly taking it too seriously.  He enjoys over analysing and taking a pessimistic look at the bright side while talking about Irish, European, and World Rugby issues on and off the field. 

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Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019