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David Does RWC – Semi Finals

The semi finals are now in the books, with both New Zealand and France facing off for the greatest prize in world rugby. But how did they each perform in the match that got them to this stage? David Shipton picks apart both semi finals in this great edition of David Does RWC.


France 9 – 8 Wales

The French had to call on all their experience and were reliant on the boot of Morgan Parra to see off an emotional 14-man Wales, 9-8. They built their game on some obdurate defence that allowed them to progress to their first final in 12 years. Interestingly they seem to get in the final every 12 years (1987, 1999 and 2011)

Wales, despite having captain Sam Warburton sent off in the 18th minute, were in sight of the winning points with the clock running down. France was forced to defend in their own half for 27 phases without giving their desperate opponents a chance to sneak through. Wales were repeatedly driven back in the tackle, their kickers were pushed out of drop-goal range and their hopes of a remarkable comeback were snuffed out.

The match swung firmly in France’s favour between the 10th and 18th minutes. First, Welsh prop Adam Jones was forced off with an ankle injury, then Warburton was sent off for a dangerous tackle on French winger Vincent Clerc. It meant that Warren Gatland’s team were forced to play for more than an hour with 14 men, and while they fought back in the second half through a Mike Phillips try, when it came down to the wire Wales did not have quite enough energy left to find a way through the French defence for a second time.

Parra’s kicking display contrasted sharply with his Welsh counterpart James Hook, who was given the nod over veteran Stephen Jones when first-choice fly half Rhys Priestland was forced out with a shoulder injury.

Hook was on the mark with his first from out on the left touchline to open the scoring, but he missed two more direct kicks later in the first half that would have put Wales in front at half-time.

Ultimately these proved costly, as did misses by Jones and Halfpenny. Wales were disproportionally affected by the red card, but cannot lay the blame for their loss on this. Some are saying that they deserved to win, but they kicked too badly to do so. France deserved to win this one as they scored more points and WON the game.

 

New Zealand 20 – 6

The All Blacks gained a chance to repeat history and to break a 24 year hoodoo following their dominant 20-6 semi-final victory over Australia. A try by centre Ma’a Nonu, four penalties by Piri Weepu and a cool drop goal from Aaron Cruden secured New Zealand a place in the Rugby World Cup 2011 final against France, the team they beat the last time they lifted the Webb Ellis Cup, in 1987.

New Zealand’s ferocious play left the Australians scrambling to respond for much of the match, with the Wallabies now set to face Wales in the play-off for bronze. They set the pace early by playing with tempo and the early charge forward paid dividends in the sixth minute when Nonu crossed the line after good work by Israel Dagg.

As Cooper struggled to find his rhythm, the pressure of the famous All Blacks number 10 jersey did not get to young fly half Cruden, who joined the New Zealand squad two weeks ago following Dan Carter’s exit from the tournament through injury. Australia’s best chance came late in the match but the All Blacks defence stood firm in the final minutes, despite being reduced to 14 men after replacement Sonny Bill Williams was sent to the sin bin for a shoulder charge on Cooper.

As the clock wound down, chants of “four more years” rang out around Eden Park with the bulk of the 60,087 crowd revelling in the chance to finally return Australian legend George Gregan’s famous taunt from RWC 2003.

For me though, and Matt mentioned this in his Monday Wrap, Australia  were not prepared to through caution to the wind and go for the win. They didn’t seem to want to go all out, and this was typified by their play towards the end of the game. Playing on the All Blacks line, they refused to give the ball to their backs. Instead they went straight for the All Blacks’ strength and tried to hold the ball, as opposed to taking a risk and spreading it wide.

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