The scene was set at Chichibunomiya Stadium in central Tokyo for two hum dinger match ups: Australia versus last year’s champs New Zealand, and South Africa versus last year’s runners up, England. The four powerhouses of world rugby in a junior edition with all teams looking to win and go on to the Grand Final held at the same venue Sunday.
Weather conditions were cool and still with mild humidity. Ground conditions looked to be perfect though a little greasy once the players took the field. A good crowd was in attendance but it must be noted that close to half the crowd was made up of school kids who had been given free tickets (and time off classes?) to attend. Nonetheless it was a good atmosphere with plenty of Black, Yellow, Green and White shirts in the audience.
Big Game #1: Aussie and the Kiwi’s.
First up Australia who had flogged all and sundry in a fairly easy pool series taking on the Kiwi’s who had struggled somewhat against a determined Irish side. The Kiwi Tokyo Gaijin, trying to demonstrate ability to see clearly through both eyes, backed the Aussies at the betting table, even while the New Zealanders dominated possession and territory through the first half. When Australia had the ball through the first spell they looked by far the more determined side, with a sense of urgency to their game. Defensively they kept the Kiwi’s at bay and let them kick possession away all too often. New Zealand were managing to throw away all of their line outs early on, mostly through overthrows from Southland Bogan Brayden Mitchell trying to find fellow mullet-man and Southlander Alex Ryan. Farmer Bogans have long been a core part of the Kiwi game and with the return of the Bogans, the mongrel may be back!
It was the Kiwi’s who opened the scoring with a big break up the middle, some quick recycling of the ball from the ruck putting winger Zac Guildford (‘Canes) into space for a race to the try line. Guildford was active all day and in fact both Kiwi wingers were coming into the line on both sides of the park nicely.
The Aussies came close through halfback Richard Kingi (Reds) but only really threatened the New Zealand line on a few occasions through the first half. They eventually did level the scores at 7-a-piece through with a rubbish try that we forgot to write notes on as we were too busy bagging the referee. It was decided by the Sarfie, the Kiwi and the Irishman that he was a rubbish referee; Mr. Small from England was to be defended only by the Poms in the panel. The try stuck however it was scored and the game went into a long spell of Kiwi possession and garbage attack (if you can call it that) in the Aussie half. [Ed. Judging by the post-match scorecard, the try was apparently scored by hooker and Captain Damian Fitzpatrick of the ‘Tahs.]
The Kiwi’s had a big front row and skinny bogan second row but showed the ability to match the big Aussie tight five, spread the ball and support well out wide. Manawatu Bogan, Captain and First-Five Aaron Cruden was having a shocker by missing tackles and kicking poorly from hand as well as at goal. Before looking at the team sheet it was decided by the panel that Cruden must be the Coach’s son, otherwise we could not fathom what he was doing in this squad. All in all it was a first half of lost opportunities for the Kiwi’s and the Aussies looked by far the calmer and cooler of the two sides.
Enter the second half with the scores locked at 7-a-piece and it was the Aussies who scored first after a terrible decision to run off his try line by Coaches Kid Cruden that resulted in a shocker of a clearance kick (bomb?) by halfback Frae Wilson (Wellington) bounced backward straight into the hands of Aussie Ben Tapuai (Reds) for an easy stroll back over the line. The conversion from wide out was good and the Aussies took the lead 14-7.
It was not long after though that the Kiwi’s decided to step it up a gear. After a pretty poor performance all round they were suddenly much more aggressive in the tackle and faster with the ball in hand. Aaron Cruden took note of our raging criticism and picked up his game, starting to slip the first tackler and find his support runners with ease. Halfback Frae Wilson made a monster tackle on Aussie center Afusipa Taumoepeau (Brumbies) to certify the change in heart and a few minutes later the Kiwi’s had a try from a charge down by the Coaches Son on Kingi for center Shaun Treeby (Wellington) to score.
Within another 2 minutes the Kiwi’s scored again from a fantastic kick and take by wing Zac Guildford (‘Canes) and the momentum had very clearly swung in New Zealand’s favour. They closed out the game with a fine try to another Southland Bogan, Full-back Robbie Robinson who was selected as Man of the Match by the Bokke Wife, stating: “he’s the only one I noticed and he’s not even good looking!” Fair enough as we all agreed that he was a cut above the rest and the only Southlander we’ve seen without a Farmer Bogan Mullet. Kiwi’s won 31-17 and head to Finals to defend their crown.
Big Game #2. South Africa took on England.
This game started with a long period of back and forth kicking. South Africa were infringing repeatedly at the ruck and were lucky not to be carded (we felt). Stupid Hair Man Tom Homer gave the English a nice early lead through three penalties and it was clear that the Bokke Boys were in for a serious match. The English – all of them professionally contracted – were clearly physically superior to the Bokke’s who had a few genuine school boys amongst them. The Pom’s were far more organized on attack and their defensive line looked solid across the park. The benefits of being contracted and being able to spend their days in the gym was plain to see, as the English boys in their tight fitting costumes look more like your stereotype roid-abused Bok international, than English public school boys. Anyways, it was a boring first half and we had to get beer replacements.
South Africa came back at the English somewhere during the half through a great block by Number 8 on halfback Ben Youngs' chip kick on his 10 meter line. The Number 8 was fast enough and skilled enough to chase down the awkwardly bouncing ball, pick up and drive over the line in the tackle.
All in all though it was a pretty boring match until the second half when England stepped it up a gear. They converted this to points with a nice line break from the 22 by Youngs (Leicester) who came through the middle of a line out into open space. The look on his face was one of confusing as to what to do as he looked around himself for support, of which there was none and he thence stepped and twisted his way through the cover defense to score a good try.
The Bokke came back through their outside center Nicolas Hanekom (Western Province) who grabbed a nice bounce (of a grubber by his inside man Captain Robert Ebersohn, Free State) to split the English defense and extend the Sarfie lead. The English increased the intensity at this point and the Bokke openside (Rynhard Elstadt, Western Province) gathered a red card (second of the tournament) for what was really not a full blown spear tackle on the gangly James Gaskell (a lock from Sale), but enough to set off the alarms at Under 20 grade.
The Sarfies were suddenly down to 7 forwards and what was already a struggling ruck and maul scenario for them got worse. England started to pour on the domination through their loosies (Calum Clark and Roid Man #1), were securing all of their own ball and freely taking a fair amount of the Bokke’s. Roid Man #2 (Graham Kitchener, Worcester) imposed himself at the rucks and also made a number of big hit ups to stand out as one of the leading English forwards.
The Gangly One Gaskell ran in a nice try late in the game as the English were finding all sorts of holes around the ruck fringes and he went through not one but two tackles and reached over the line to score a good individual try. The dour Kiwi’s on the panel thought the throwing the ball and acting like he had individually won the whole tournament was a bit over the top and he was labeled according with a big W.
We may have missed a few other good plays in there but there was increased chatter and refreshment on the sidelines making it hard to keep up with details. End result: England into Finals to face the Kiwi’s and set up a rematch of 2008’s final. This time the Kiwi’s will be lucky to win by such a flattering margin as the English, the panel concedes, are a well drilled and professional looking outfit, literally and figuratively speaking.
In other news…
Scotland managed to beat Fiji, 39-26 thanks to a pair of tried to hooker Finlay Gillies. Much to the joy of our drunken Scot and the disappointment of our resident Fijians (whose mood was severely enhanced by the free beers provided by the drunken Scot).
The Welsh beat the Irish 19-17 in a match sealed by the conversion by Mathew Jarvis in the 22nd minute. The rest of the game was made up of penalty goals in true Northern Hemisphere rugby tradition. No Welshmen on the panel today and the Irishman was pretending to be English.
Argentina went down to Tonga, 17-26 and 4 tries to 3. This was much to the disappointment of our resident Argie who had his father with him all the way from Buenoe’s Aires.
Canada beat Uruguay unsurprisingly and unflatteringly, 29-11.
But who really cares. The big Finale is on Sunday and will include the Farmer Bogans against the Public School Boy Contractees. Fair to say this will be a great match up. Will the mongrel of the Mulleted Ones be enough to hold off the strength and power of the Public School Gym Bunny’s? Time will tell.