Rugby World Cup: What a weekend!
08:54 21 September 2015
PA/Press Association Images
Japan shock Boks, All Blacks tame Pumas
Brighton: South Africa 32 Japan 34. The biggest shock in rugby history.
It was unquestionably the highlight of a fascinating weekend of action that included seven matches over the course of two days, with a total of 336 points scored, and whetted the appetite for lots more to come.
It began at Gloucester’s Kingsholm Stadium, where Georgia fielded the youngest player in the competition’s history (Vasil Lobzhandidze, 18 years 340 days) and caused an upset of their own with a 17-10 victory over Tonga, and ended with the reigning champions New Zealand coming from behind to beat a dogged Argentina in front of a competition record 89.019 crowd at Wembley Stadium.
Ireland ran in seven tries in a 50-7 win over Canada in the second game of the weekend, before the Springboks named the most experienced starting XV, with a combined 851 caps, in their history to take on a Japan side, coached by Eddie Jones and rated 66-1 shots by the bookmakers.
But South Africa, two-time winners of the Webb Ellis Cup, suffered the most gigantic of giantkillings when the 30-year-old New Zealand-born Karne Hesketh dived in at the corner to go down in folklore.
After all, it was only 20 years ago that Japan were on the wrong end of a 145-17 defeat against the All Blacks, conceding 21 tries and a record 45 points to Simon Culhane.
A meeting between Six Nations rivals France and Italy was always going to be an anti-climax after that, but Les Bleus – wearing red – were worth their 32-10 success.
Sunday’s action started up with Samoa and the United States meeting at the scene of Saturday’s great story, where Tim Nanai-Williams – a cousin of All Blacks star Sonny Bill – impressed and scored a try for the islanders.
Saracens’ Chris Wyles touched down for the Americans, but former Southend centre Mike Stanley kicked a penalty after coming off the bench to seal a 25-16 win for Samoa, whose fifth successive victory over their rivals was by their biggest margin yet.
Then Wales fell 6-0 behind agains Uruguay in Cardiff, before Cory Allen’s hat-trick led them to a 50-7 triumph, albeit at the cost of more injuries to Warren Gatland’s squad.
And so to the 2011 champions, beginning the defence of their title at the home of football, Wembley.
I had always been intrigued by the mystique of the All Blacks as a youngster, with their pre-match haka and free-flowing style of play.
They were boasting more than 1,000 caps in their line-up, including the highest scorer in history in Dan Carter, and were all in black, including boots, with not a white, yellow or pink pair to be seen.
And they were 9-0 up courtesy of three Carter penalties inside 20 minutes.
But they were facing arguably the toughest opening fixture of all the leading contenders at this tournament and the Pumas, having beaten South Africa in Durban this year, hit back with a try from second-row forward Guido Petti, with Nicolas Sanchez adding the conversion and a penalty after All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was shown only the third yellow card in his 143-Test career for a cheeky trip on halfway.
A 10-9 Argentina lead after 30 minutes was enough to get the commentators excited, and Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero interested as he began to offer his thoughts on Twitter.
Saracens’ Marcelo Bosch put in a crunching tackle in the centres and, we were told, “plays his club rugby not far from here” in reference to the 7.5-mile journey from Wembley to Allianz Park.
A yellow card to Conrad Smith left the All Blacks down to 13 men and Sanchez stroked another penalty over for a 13-9 lead, only for Carter to hit back right on the stroke of half time to cut the gap to one.
Sanchez made it 16-12 two minutes after the restart and when replacement Sonny Bill Williams offloaded to Nehe Milner-Skudder, who dropped the ball virtually on the line, you started to wonder “could they?”
But another fairytale was asking too much. New Zealand have NEVER lost a group match at the World Cup and usually win by double figures, apart from one time against Will Carling’s England.
And they got their noses in front just before the hour when five foot seven inch scrum-half Aaron Smith dummied his way over, after good work from Williams, and Carter converted to make it 19-16.
The Pumas kept putting their bodies on the line in the final quarter, but Sam Cane went over on the left for the All Blacks and ran under the posts to set up another simple conversion which completed the scoring.
There might not have been a bonus point for New Zealand, but they had got a tough job done.
Now we’ve got to wait until Wednesday for the next block of fixtures....