Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

Rugby World Cup 2019: a call for green cards, All Black brilliance and the Gallic flair from Fiji

With the knockout stages fast approaching, we pick out the main talking points from Japan

Duane Vermeulen of South Africa is spear-tackled by Italy's Andrea Lovotti and Nicola Quaglio at the Rugby World Cup on Friday. The two props have each been given three-game bans. Reuters
Duane Vermeulen of South Africa is spear-tackled by Italy's Andrea Lovotti and Nicola Quaglio at the Rugby World Cup on Friday. The two props have each been given three-game bans. Reuters

The Rugby World Cup is speeding towards the knockout stage. There is even a danger that the players might start being spoken about even more than the officials. Although not quite yet

New cards?

This is the World Cup of “mitigating factors”. Namely, are there any when contact is made with a player’s head during a collision? If not, it usually means game over as a spectacle.

Even when a decision has been clearly thought through and entirely fair, it can totally ruin a game.

Like when Tomas Lavanini was sent off in the 18th minute of a tussle between England and Argentina that had been brewing nicely. From that point on, Argentina had no hope.

Might there be a case for a new card system – green if needs be – where the offending player is jettisoned from the game for good, but after 10 minutes a replacement player can enter? Like a basketball player fouling out, but being permitted a replacement.

Referees have a difficult enough job as it is, and ruling on an extra layer of foul play might be impossible.

But if the double spear tackle on Duane Vermeulen in the South Africa v Italy game represents the definitive red, might it be possible to work on a scale of infringements beneath that where the team of the offending player are not cut totally adrift?

Perfect planning

Even the very best are struggling to get a handle on the interpretation of the laws at the moment.

New Zealand’s game with Namibia was thought to be such a mismatch that local television did not even cut to live coverage until the score was 5-3 to the All Blacks, preferring to focus on Major League Baseball instead.

Predictably, the world’s No 1 side were comfortable 71-9 winners in the end, but they had moments of stress.

Front-row forwards Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi were each shown yellow cards for getting tackles wrong.

New Zealand were well prepared for being shorthanded, though. They had played the last 15 minutes of their final warm-up match before the tournament against Tonga with 14 men out of choice.

New Zealand scrum-half TJ Perenara battles through two Namibian tackles to score a brilliant late try in the Rugby World Cup on Sunday. AFP
New Zealand scrum-half TJ Perenara battles through two Namibian tackles to score a brilliant late try in the Rugby World Cup on Sunday. AFP

Try of the tournament?

Steve Hansen might be the coach of the world’s best team, and have been involved in two World Cup wins already. But he remains difficult to please.

His post-match eulogies about his team do not tend to stray too far between “pretty happy” and “a little bit to work on”.

Even he was moved to fist-pumping the air by the quality of TJ Perenara’s sensational late try against Namibia.

OK, so it was only Namibia, New Zealand were miles ahead, and they are pretty tasty at the best of times. But this was something else.

Perenara first played a deft pass while falling. The ball found its way to Brad Weber. He played a round-the-back pass on the run to Perenara, who was back up supporting the attack, and who somehow tiptoed his way down the touchline and managed to ground the ball on the tryline while being bundled into touch. It was spellbinding.

Magic Kolbe

No side – bar perhaps Fiji – can match the excellence of New Zealand’s collective attacking skills.

But if there is one individual who has the most enviable running skills, it is surely Cheslin Kolbe of South Africa.

Saying an attacker can beat a defender in a phone box is hyperbole designed to talk up their stepping abilities.

But in Kolbe’s case, it might actually be true. Take the example of his sixth minute try that opened the scoring in the Springboks’ 49-3 win over Italy.

With barely any space to work with, the sevens convert managed to beat two Italian defenders, with them barely even laying a hand on him.

South Africa's Cheslin Kolbe ghosts past Michele Campagnaro of Italy to score a try during the Rugby World Cup match in Shizuoka on Friday. EPA
South Africa's Cheslin Kolbe ghosts past Michele Campagnaro of Italy to score a try in Shizuoka on Friday. EPA

Mr Rugby

There was plenty of flair on show in the first half of France’s win over Tonga. Whether it was particularly Gallic is questionable.

Virimi Vakatawa, the New Zealand-born Fijian centre, scored the first try, from a pass by Alivereti Raka – whose surname means “rugby” in Fijian.

In his post-match TV interview, Vakatawa was prompted to speak in French. When he was done, he asked if he could say something in Fijian, too, and promptly did so with a broad smile.

Raka, too, had the chance to speak having been named player of the match. He said he was “happy playing next to another Fijian”.

Sometimes in this World Cup it has felt like a contest to see which side has the best Fijians.

Australia probably edge it, but France’s are decent, too. Pity, though, that Fiji themselves are heading out.

Virimi Vakatawa, the New Zealand-born Fijian centre, right, scores a try for France against Tonga at the Kumamoto Stadium on Sunday. AFP
Virimi Vakatawa, the New Zealand-born Fijian centre, right, scores a try for France against Tonga at the Kumamoto Stadium on Sunday. AFP

Updated: October 6, 2019 04:19 PM

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