Rugby World Cup will be remembered for bunkers, poor pool picks and that Ireland-South Africa match

Whatever happens from now on, it seems likely that one subtitle to a review of this World Cup will be “The Year of the Bunker”, with traffics lights moving from yellow to red.
Damian Willemse of South Africa is held back by team-mate Pieter-Steph Du Toit during the match against Ireland.Damian Willemse of South Africa is held back by team-mate Pieter-Steph Du Toit during the match against Ireland.
Damian Willemse of South Africa is held back by team-mate Pieter-Steph Du Toit during the match against Ireland.

So far Scotland have been well behaved, as indeed have Ireland. Some apparently guilty of making head contact in a tackle have escaped punishment; nevertheless the referees’ readiness to go to the pocket may be having a deterrent effect. I say “may be” because it is still clear that high tackling is still more common than classical tackles around the thighs or ankles, and, while this remains the case, there will always be some dangerous head-high tackles and in some of these there will be head contact.

I don’t see how it can be otherwise as long as the laws relating to what happens after the tackle remain as they are. The high tackle prevents off-loads and if the ball-carrier is held up and prevented from going to ground, the put-in at the subsequent scrum will go to the tackling side. In contrast, the classical low tackle below the waist allows highly-skilled professional players to pass out of the tackle, and retaining possession if the player is brought to ground, even if alert jackals may win an occasional turnover.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The laws being as they are, any defence coach is foolish if he doesn’t encourage his players to tackle well above the waist so that the ball is imprisoned, and it will often be the case that the tackle slips higher and head contact is made. It is the likely position of the ball – where the ball is after the tackle – that determines the height of the tackle – and, unless the law-makers recognise this and start from this point, above the waist – often well above the waist – tackles will remain the norm. They will do so because it makes sense.

Meanwhile, nothing that has happened does anything to change one’s opinion of World Rugby’s idiotically early composition of the pools for this cup. But there it is; you have to play the cards dealt to you. The Ireland-South Africa match was enthralling. We may imagine that it would have been better for us if the Springboks had won, but this of course is mere speculation. What one can say is that Ireland played wonderfully well to deserve their victory while also recognising that it was a game that South Africa probably should have won.

They had three or four chances to score a try from very close to the Irish line, and each time Ireland’s defence held firm or, if you prefer, the Springboks mucked it up. Moreover, they paid for the over-confidence which had them go in to such an important match without a reliable goal-kicker. I don’t think a World Cup has ever been won by a team without one, and I suppose they will find a place for Handre Pollard in the quarter-final. That said, Manie Libbok is a lovely fly-half who has added something to the Springbok attack.

Gregor Townsend’s selection for tonight’s match against Romania will have surprised few. It is sensible to have picked players who have scarcely featured in the Cup so far. Few will expect – though they may hope – to start against Ireland next week. Yet the run-up to the World Cup has been so well managed that less impressive teams have often been selected for Scotland in the past. There is plenty of experience in the starting XV, with Chris Harris and Ali Price in the back division and Grant Gilchrist and Hamish Watson up-front. Meanwhile Darcy Graham and Kyle Steyn on the wings are both racing, just behind Duhan van der Merwe in the race to surpass Stuart Hogg’s record of Scotland tries.

Have we ever had three such Scotland wings at the same time? Still, to quote Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, “nobody’s perfect”. I hope that van der Merwe takes a look at his try against Tonga and Matt Hansen’s for Ireland against South Africa. Hansen troubled to get closer to the posts; Van der Merwe dotted the ball down as soon as he had crossed the try line. Sexton kicked a not very difficult conversion made easier by Hansen.