Rugby World Cup: Hung, drawn and quartered
PUBLISHED: 09:30 12 October 2015
PA/Press Association Images
Goodbye group phase, hello knockout rounds
And then there were eight. Eight teams, eight matches.
The pool phase of the 2015 Rugby World Cup is over, so far 40 matches have been played, a whopping 2,020 points scored and 12 nations eliminated.
Hosts England, sadly, are among those packing their bags, bowing out with a 10-try romp against Pool A minnows Uruguay.
Embarrassingly they fell behind inside 90 seconds to a penalty from in front of the posts, but there was never any chance of a seismic giantkilling.
Veteran number eight Nick Easter, 37, called into the squad when Billy Vunipola was injured, rumbled over for a hat-trick in Manchester to become the oldest player to score three tries in a Test, and is a Nottingham Trent University old boy like myself.
Young Cornish winger Jack Nowell, 22, ran in a treble of his own, but it was hard to get excited with England’s elimination at the hands of Australia and Wales already confirmed.
So who to support now?
Well, I’ve got Australian rellies, but I can’t jump on the Wallabies bandwagon. Wouldn’t feel right.
No, it’s got to be one of the British teams.
I know former Romford Raiders defenceman and coach Shaun McFadyen will be highly delighted to see the boys in blue progressing to the knockout stages while England miss out.
Fair play to them for battling past Samoa, Japan and the USA, but up against Australia? I’m not feeling it.
I love their passion for the game, their national anthem and I’ve enjoyed watching some of their games in the past with John Evans, former manager of Barking and Ilford Football Clubs, in our village local.
But do they really have a chance against South Africa?
The Welsh squad has been decimated by injury and, although they still managed to edge past England, they could not get over the line against 13-man Australia at the weekend.
I expect the Springboks machine will prove too strong, although I sincerely hope I’m proved wrong.
Although unconfirmed, I believe I have Irish ancestry.
I already liked folk music, Guinness and whiskey before I began taking a more genuine interest in genealogy and I felt comfortable while walking around Dublin’s Temple Bar on a weekend away.
And the men in green have been steadily growing into this tournament, with wins over Canada, Romania and Italy setting up their group decider with France.
I cheered Johnny Sexton’s two first-half penalties against the French before he limped off, and replacement Ian Madigan’s nerveless nudge straight off the bench to make it 9-6.
And I cursed as loudly as any true Irishman I’m sure when Keith Earls dropped a pass from Tommy Bowe on the 22 after his great break, while urging Ireland’s defence to keep tackling as France tried to find a way through before the break.
Having winced at the injury suffered by captain Paul O’Connell, I almost spilt my Magners as Rob Kearney forced his way over to give Ireland an eight-point cushion early in the second half.
And when Conor Murray, the Irish scrum-half I had seen knocked out cold at Twickenham a month ago, touched the ball against the foot of the post with eight minutes left for a second try, converted by Madigan for a 21-9 lead, I knew I was going to be cheering the Irish all the way from now on in.
Pool A: Australia 17 Wales 13 England 11 Fiji 5 Uruguay 0.
Pool B: South Africa 16 Scotland 14 Japan 12 Samoa 6 USA 0.
Pool C: New Zealand 19 Argentina 15 Georgia 8 Tonga 6 Namibia 1.
Pool D: Ireland 18 France 14 Italy 10 Romania 4 Canada 2.
October 17: South Africa v Wales (Twickenham, 4pm)
October 17: New Zealand v France (Millennium Stadium, 8pm)
October 18: Ireland v Argentina (Millennium Stadium, 1pm)
October 18: Australia v Scotland (Twickenham, 4pm)
October 24/25: Semi-finals x 2 (Twickenham, 4pm)
October 30: Bronze final (Olympic Stadium, 8pm)
October 31: Final (Twickenham, 4pm)