2007: Boks hold nerve in a Cup of big upsets

By Peter White

Argentina's victory over France in the opening match set the scene for a World Cup full of gritty and often surprising matches.
Photo / Getty Images
Argentina's victory over France in the opening match set the scene for a World Cup full of gritty and often surprising matches. Photo / Getty Images

France had promised much at the previous five Rugby World Cups, so as principal hosts of the 2007 tournament, expectations were high they would be contenders.

They played the opening match against Argentina in front of 79,000 fans packed into the splendid Stade de France in Paris. This was no easy draw for France, as Argentina had won four of the last five games between the evenly matched sides. Argentina fielded a powerful pack, mostly groomed in the tough French club system, and world class operators in halfback August Pichot and first five-eighths Juan-Martin Hernandez. France had the better of the game but could not overcome a first-half deficit of 17-9, after a try to Argentina's fullback Ignacio Corletto.

Argentina went on to beat Georgia and Namibia easily, before knocking Ireland out with a 30-15 win highlighted by three dropped goals kicked by the flamboyant Hernandez. In the same group Ireland nearly gave Georgia their greatest rugby moment, only narrowly beating the tenacious minnows 14-10.

The South Africans were highly regarded and their form in pool play only emphasised their title credentials. They crushed a strong England team 36-0, with halfback Fourie du Preez putting in a masterful performance. The Springboks were also impressed in a 59-7 demolition of Samoa, with flying winger Bryan Habana taking four tries.

The All Blacks are perennial World Cup favourites and although they easily topped their pool, the lack of tough games was to prove their undoing in the quarter-final against France. Winger Doug Howlett scored three tries in a 76-14 win over Italy and two more in the 108-13 romp over Portugal, while the six-try 40-0 victory over a disappointing Scotland was error-ridden and indecisive.

Australia had a solid run through pool play, without ever looking convincing. They easily dispatched Japan, struggled to see off an average Welsh outfit by 32-20, before beating an under-strength Fiji 55-12 with winger Drew Mitchell scoring thrice.

Fiji were the darlings of the tournament from a neutral's perspective with their invigorating brand of running rugby. They had fine wins over Japan and Canada, but the 38-34 win over Wales will be remembered for all time in Fiji, just as Samoa's two previous World Cup triumphs over the Welsh are still revered. Fiji got off to a flier with three tries in 10 minutes, including a spectacular solo effort from winger Vilimoni Delasau, to lead 25-3. A costly yellow card awarded against flanker Akapusi Qera enabled Wales to dominate, and they scored three quick tries to go in front 29-25. Fiji's record point scorer Nicky Little kicked his team back in front before Wales scored through Martyn Williams with six minutes to play. Fiji threw one last attack at the Welsh and prop Graham Dewes crashed over to seal the heroic win.

The remarkable victory ended Wales' tournament and booked Fiji their second quarter-finals berth. Their Pacific neighbours had their moments, particularly Tonga in pushing the Springboks all the way before succumbing 30-25. Samoa had a disappointing tournament with just one win, over the United States.

Play Offs
The England side thrashed 36-0 by South Africa in pool play bore no resemblance to the highly efficient unit which ground out a 12-10 win over Australia in the opening quarter-final in Marseilles. England's mighty forward pack and Jonny Wilkinson's unerring boot proved too much for the Wallabies, whose only consolation was to score the only try to winger Lote Tuqiri.

Later on the same day in Cardiff, the All Blacks and France met in a match expected to be won convincingly by the New Zealanders. But as if the dour grey jerseys affected their mood, the All Blacks never got out of first gear. They seemed to have no idea how to win the game towards the end without injured first five-eighths Dan Carter and Nick Evans.

Much has been made of the role played by 28-year-old English referee Wayne Barnes, particularly in awarding a yellow card against Luke McAlister and missing a forward pass in the brilliant sweeping move that led to France's match-winning try to Yannick Jauzion. But the All Blacks should have won this match, especially after leading 13-3 at the break through a try to McAlister and Carter's accurate goalkicking.

Who would have thought both the All Blacks and Wallabies would be knocked out at the quarter-finals stage. Few picked that scenario and it was the first time the All Blacks had failed to reach the World Cup semifinals.

Fiji and South Africa produced a cracking game in Marseille with seven tries scored in all. The Springboks showed plenty of attacking flair, scoring five tries to Jacque Fourie, John Smit, JP Pietersen, Juan Smith and Butch James despite the aggressive Fijian defence.

Scotland were hoping to make their first semifinal at a World Cup and fancied their chances against Argentina in Paris. But the South Americans held on despite a late fight-back from Scotland, after first five-eighths Hernandez kicked his fourth drop goal of the tournament for Argentina to lead 19-6 with 20 minutes to play.

The semifinals produced two distinctly different games. England and France got stuck into a war of attrition, finally won by England 14-9, while South Africa scored four tries in a free-flowing 37-13 victory over Argentina.

The final was set then for a clash of distinctive styles and rugby cultures, with the only question remaining whether the Springboks would chance their arm and run the ball at England.

But first the losing semifinalists played off for the bronze medals. Argentina wiped the Parc des Princes pitch with the disinterested French players, a resounding 34-10 win their finest rugby achievement.

Over 80,000 were inside the Stade de France for the final which was a disappointing spectacle, failing to produce many memorable moments. But the Springboks and their delirious supporters were not bothered about any lack of style, as they celebrated winning 15-6 to claim their second World Cup title.

The South Africans had the better set pieces, particularly in the lineouts where Victor Matfield reigned supreme, and the superb tactical kicking from halfback du Preez and first five-eighths Butch James kept England pinned in their own half.

There was one moment of brilliance in the second spell that proved to be the decisive moment of the game. With the Springboks leading 9-3, England's centre Mathew Tait made a brilliant run to set up winger Mark Cueto for what looked a try in the corner. But after an agonising wait, Australian television match official Stuart Dickinson ruled Cueto was in touch when he crossed in the corner. The Boks' young star Francois Steyn later kicked a long-range penalty to seal the win and give South Africa bragging rights until they defend their crown in New Zealand.

Poor play only reason NZ lost on that day
The outcome: The All Blacks lost their quarter-final 20-18 to France at Cardiff

Oh dear. Just when the fans thought it could get no worse, the All Blacks were turned over before even reaching their regulation last-four stage.

Among the outcomes was a first: another four years for coach Graham Henry and his cohorts Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen despite producing the All Blacks' worst World Cup result.

Let's fast-forward to the denouement at Cardiff. All Blacks quickly 10-0 ahead and 13-3 at halftime, and all seemed pretty straightforward.

Unlike the French of 1999, this was a strictly limited side, but like 1999, they proved that once they got the whiff of battle and worked out the All Blacks weren't playing particularly good - or smart - football, they grew in self-belief.

So Yannick Jauzion's try may have come from a forward pass to Frederic Michalak. Big deal. These things happen, they cut both ways and, in the assess-ments that followed, far too much was made of that moment.

The All Blacks had tries by Luke McAlister and Rodney So'oialo and even though France weren't far behind, all seemed okay - until Jauzion's try which, with Lionel Beauxis' conversion, put France two points clear.

As all attempts to get across the French line were stymied at each point, the situation cried out for a dropped goal.

It never came, until a desperate late effort by McAlister from long range. If a strategy wasn't working - and well before the end there was a sense of heads banging a brick wall - where was plan B?

The All Blacks had lost Dan Carter to injury, and his replacement Nick Evans. That hurt.

Not receiving a second-half penalty from English referee Wayne Barnes didn't help either. The French were far from sinless.

But there's no point blaming France or Barnes. The All Blacks were poor that day, no mistake.

The Breakdown
Pool C
Stade Velodrome, Marseille, France, 8 September
New Zealand v Italy: 76-14
Referee: W. Barnes, England
Half-time score: 43-7
For New Zealand
Tries: J. Collins (2), D. C. Howlett (3), C. R. Jack (1), R. H. McCaw (2), J. M. Muliaina (1), S.W. Sivivatu (2)
Conversions: D. W. Carter (7), C. L. McAlister (2)
Penalties: D. W. Carter (1)
For Italy
Tries: M. Bergamasco (1), M. P. Stanojevic (1)
Conversions: D. Bortolussi (1), R. J. de Marigny (1)
Stade de Gerland, Lyon, France, 15 September
New Zealand v Portugal: 108-13
Referee: C. White, England
Half-time score: 52-3
For New Zealand
Tries: J. Collins (1), A. M. Ellis (1), N. J. Evans (1), C. J. Hayman (1), A. K. Hore (1), B. G. Leonard (1), L. R. MacDonald (1), M. C. Maoe (1), A. J. D. Mauger (2), J. T. Rokocoko (2), C. G. Smith (2), I. Toeava (1), A. J. Williams (1)
Conversions: N. J. Evans (14)
For Portugal
Tries: R. Cordeiro (1)
Conversions: D. C. Pinto (1)
Penalties: D. C. Pinto (1)
Drop Goals: G. Malheiro (1)
Murrayfield, Edinburgh, Scotland, 23 September
New Zealand v Scotland: 40-0
Referee: M. Jonker, South Africa
Half-time score: 20-0
For New Zealand
Tres: D. W. Carter (1), D. C. Howlett (2), B. T. Kelleher (1), R. H. McCaw (1), A. J. Williams (1)
Conversions: D. W. Carter (2)
Penalties: D. W. Carter (2)
Stade Municipal, Toulouse, France, 29 September
New Zealand v Romania: 85-8
Referee: J. Jutge, France
Half-time score: 36-5
For New Zealand
Tries: N. J. Evans (1), A. K. Hore (1), D. C. Howlett (1), M. C. Masoe (1), A. J. D. Mauger (1),J. T. Rokocoko (3), S. W. Sivivatu (2), C. G. Smith (1), I. Toeava (2)
Conversions: N. J. Evans (6), C. L. McAlister (4)
For Romania
Tries: M. Tincu (1)
Penalties: F. Vlaicu (1)
Quarter-Final, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, October 6
France v New Zealand: 20-18
Referee: W. Barnes, England
Half-time score: 3-13
For New Zealand
Tries: C. L. McAlister (1), R. So'oialo (1)
Conversions: D. W. Carter (1)
Penalties: D. W. Carter (2)
For France
Tries: T. Dusautoir (1), Y. Jauzion (1)
Conversions: L. Beauxis (2)
Penalties: L. Beauxis (1), J-B. Elissalde (1)

2003
Video: Great World Cup moments - 2003

How we won it: England - A bloody-minded band of brothers

Setting the scene: Mitchell at the helm as England rises

Tournament action: Four more years - the tournament goes on

Tournament star: Martin Johnson - Hard leader of the pack

ABs memories: 'Danger of World Cups is they mean so much'

2007
Video:Great World Cup moments - 2003

How we won it: South Africa - Python applies squeeze

Setting the scene: Henry gets his (first) go at the title

Ref's contentious calls leave nation seething

Tournament action: Boks hold nerve in a Cup of big upsets

Tournament star: Agustin Pichot - Skipper who shamed IRB

ABs memories: 'It was like slow strangulation'

2011
Looking ahead:High stakes in road to redemption

Hold heads high whatever the result

World Cup highlights

The greatest upsets

The greatest RWC tries

- NZ Herald

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