England vs. Scotland
Scotland was a mixed bag in the backs but their forwards played solid rugby. They looked handy on attack through the first quarter hour until an overlap on the left wing broke down and provided English winger Charles Sharples with an intercept. Sharples (Gloucester) showed good strength to break out of Scottish Number 8 Stuart McInally’s jersey pull (poor effort at the tackle) and race off to the corner to open the try count. Again, as they did against Japan, the English loosies were quick to stamp their mark on the game both at the break down and in the loose. Their forwards work so well with the backs to apply an across field blanket defense that is hard to penetrate.
Roid Man #1 (aka Courtney Lawes from Northhampton) looked the goods as he demonstrated some fine touches with the ball, quick legs and solid running. A fine specimen, he played well but for one glaring balls up in the second half where he failed to pass to the man outside him and promptly lost the ball in the tackle. The English second row looked solid and did all the things you could ask of them, while the tight head Shaun Knight (Gloucester) played well all day.
Players showing nice skills in the Scottish camp included halfback Henry Pyrgos and Number 8 McInally who has a mean sidestep, even if he can’t tackle quite as skillfully. Scotland were dominating territory through the first half but England came away with points every time they went down to the Scottish end. Tries to Sharples (13 min) and Gloucesterman Henry “Pose Man” Trinder (36 min) had the Scots down 20-zip at the end of the half. Trinder’s try in particular was nice as the flyhalf Bob Miller (Newcastle) put down a perfectly weighted kick through for Trinder to burst on to behind the posts and do his little hand-in-face dance for the cameras like a true super star. Thomas “Stupid Hair Man” Homer (London Irish) picked up the rest of the conversions and penalties: his hair was atrocious but his boot was hard core.
It looked like Scotland were about to face the full fury of this well drilled England side when they let the Poms in for another try 2 minutes in to the second spell. Attacking left of the posts, Shaun Knight went through his tackler to pass inside to his Captain Luke Eves (Bristol), cutting a nice angle to score. It took until the 37th minute for the Poms to score another try though as Scotland put up a fight. Carl “Wannabe a Kiwi” Fearns (Number 8 off the bench) bashed his way through after a line out, ruck and pick and go for the big lad who plays for Sale.
At 30-nil, Scotland then came back with a well worked try of their own to break the duck. Earlier they had a sniff as center Ashleah McCulloch broke the tackle to go between the posts only for a desperate ankle tap by an Englishman to put him down with the ball spilling from his grasp. They got their try though after the replacement halfback (a feisty looking guy that you would likely want to punch if you met him – a lot like all those other classy half backs around the scene), Peter Jericevich injected a huge amount of energy into the match after entering at the 55 minute mark. He was indeed feisty, strong and fast of feet, with a beautiful pass on him, featuring three times to set up the last minute try that saved Scotland a night of shame. As I was thinking “kick and at least get 3 points for the sake of pride” the feisty one tapped and blasted off down the left side of the field, passing to his winger who set the ruck for the halfback to pop the ball back up to one of the forwards; another ruck, then pick and go to crash over and earn the team some last minute respect. It was a great try and the speed at which it happened made for good watching.
Certainly the Scottish backs looked more calm and controlled than they did against Samoa but they really couldn’t do much damage to a well drilled defensive team like England. My bet is that we see England in the Finals.
On to the main event of the evening (in Tokyo at least): Japan vs. Samoa. The Samoans had been a bit lucky after kicking all their possession away and being able to snaffle the winning drop goal in the final seconds of their game against Scotland and Japan had looked utterly out of their element against England, so this match would be an interesting test.
From the outset it looked like Japan were in trouble, as it was said by one of our commentary members as Samoa ran in a nice try in the 4th minute: “aahh, Japan are pretty much f%#$%d”. Maybe so. The try was a nice quick tap and run by left winger Tito Sufia, though the classy looking halfback Auvasa Faleali (who was the only stand out in their first match) and fullback Rayhan Laulala featured well in the build up to winning the penalty. Japan to their credit started to pick up the pace and early on their game plan appeared to be to run and run some more to tire the Samoan boys out. The Japanese fullback picked up a try after a nice sequence of quick ball recycling just a few minutes after looking to be doomed (by the commentary team).
The game a fairly high error count but the Samoans looked dominant with their aggressive running attack. Even the man-mountain tight head Uini Atonio got in on the running action and showed some good skills in traffic to offload and set up inside center Iafeta Laau for another try. Atonio was listed at 198cm/163kg in the program today, slimmed down from the 168 listed Friday, though the papers listed him at 152kg. Whatever the numbers are, the reality is that he is a monster and a crowd favourite with ball in hand. Laau though, was the key man to help right wing Taupo Sefo score the next try for Samoa as they looked to be taking charge.
Down but not out, the Japanese played for territory and despite the size difference matched the Samoans up front. In particular the Japanese hooker looked solid and was everywhere on the park – even switching to Number 8 through the second half. Their Tongan-born center Aisea Havea looked solid and made a lot of tackles through the game. The local boys were showing just how forwards should play the game as they used their line out maul to great effect to pick up 3 tries in the second half and bring the score to 20-17 with time ticking down. Again though Samoa pulled out a try to extend the lead and this time it was openside Falamiga Selesele who crossed. Japan scored another try to bring the game closer and they attacked and attacked through the final minutes but could not get closer. It was an exciting game and certainly the Japanese looked better than in their effort against the Poms. Samoa will be fun to watch against England but you have to wonder if the hugely organized English lads will have much trouble.
Other game on the program were as follows:
The Argies beat the Uraguyans 33-15 to show that even a small rugby nation like Uraguay can be competitive. It was 15-10 at the half but the Argentinean lads started to dominate from late in the first half. Most interesting of all, on the program, the Argies had 3 Tomas’ and 4 Joaquin’s in the First XV - though when quizzed, an Englishman in our panel felt Diego was the most common name in South America. Their tries were mostly from the backs while the Uruguyans scored through Number 8 and the half back, whatever that means.
The Aussies took out Tonga in Fukuoka by 40-6 with tries to Reds winger Rodney Davies (2) on the left wing, Hooker Nathan Charles (Brumbies), flanker Thomas Murday (Force), center Afusipa Taumoepeau (Brumbies), and fullback and South African escapee Mark Swanepoel (Force). Tonga were out after the 24th minute and their second penalty of the game.
Canada looked better against Wales but still appear a tad lame according to our man in Fukuoka. They were smashed 55-15 by the Welshmen and their stand out players included Harry Jones (Captain and flyhalf), and Jordan Wilson-Ross (fullback) according to our man in the stand. For the Welshmen it appeared a good overall team effort and tries were had by prop Simon Gardener, flanker and Captain Justin Tupiric (3), wing James Loxton (in the 2nd minute no less and another early in the second half) and replacement halfback Ryhs Downes, who all stood out. Flanker Seb Pearson scored Canada’s first try of the tournament and Number 8 Andrew Crow picked up another late in the match from a well worked line out maul. Wales will go up against Australia in what should be a very interesting match between two of the tournament strongmen.
In other news, France beat Fiji 48-25 in what must have been an entertaining match 31-25 with 30 minutes on the clock, but the Frogs ran away with it and the island boys apparently coughed the ball up far too often over the final stage.
Finally, South Africa pummeled Italy 65-3 and look to be a solid outfit come the Knock Out rounds but we don’t know much about the French as yet, except that they are really problematic for Kiwi teams post-pool play!
Our bet for Semi-Finals: Aussies-Kiwi’s, Poms-Bokkes.
The Tokyo Gaijin