Man of the match - Piri Weepu
New Zealand 33 - 10 Argentina
If you have ever wanted to witness a woman having a nervous breakdown, then you should have had front row seats in my lounge here in Whitechapel this morning. A fired up Argentina made New Zealand dig deep for a good 70 minutes before the All Blacks were able to lift themselves and book themselves into a semi-final. It's been 8 long years coming. And after Julio Farias Cabello fired across for a try in the first half, I thought we were looking at another potential inglorious upset. Cue more nail biting and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Argentina came out and played so well. Strong defensively, holding the ABs tryless in the first half, the Pumas executed their game plan, slowing down the ball and throwing themselves into rucks. But what I took heart from in this New Zealand performance was the way the All Blacks absorbed the pressure and kept their shape. With patience they continued to niggle (god, I hate that word this week) away on attack and were finally rewarded with a Read try in the second half.
What were the good points of this game? The man of the match was most definitely Piri Weepu who announced on the world stage that he is now the new heartbeat of a team still grimacing from Carter's absence. His kicking in hand and at goal were top drawer. Not so promising was Colin Slade who had yet another shaky start, but what about Cruden?! Two weeks ago he was watching the tournament on television with a cup of a tea and a biscuit. Would he then in his wildest dreams have imagined that tonight he would be thrust into the thick of a quarter final. And boy, he played well, trying things on the gainline, chancing his arm and executing with confidence. Could this still turn out to be a fairytale for a boy who has already in his life had to beat cancer and all the other demons that go along with that terrible disease.
This was New Zealand's first proper test at the world cup. It may not have been the thrashing that some people were predicting, but it is better Argentina put the All Blacks under pressure and gave them a game. Honourable mentions: Brad 'the engine room' Thorne. 37 years old (my age!). He gives us all hope and he did if often with a smile on his face. Cory Jane has magic, even if he has been a bit *ahem* naughty this week. Sonny Bill - he has to be in the starting 15 somewhere next week. Mario Ledesma - subbed with ten minutes to go, a Puma that has played four world cups walked off the rugby pitch one final time as an international. Tears in his eyes, looking to the heavens, the image of this emotional hardened warrior will stay with me for a long time. This is why I love rugby.
Australia 11 - South Africa 9
I didn't know who I'd rather NZ face next week. But now it is Australia, the All Blacks main foe and banana skin when it comes to world cups, I feel slightly (ok more than slightly) worried. Cue endless column inches and tireless cliches for the next week about the Dingo Deans/Graham Henry rivalry from our ever unoriginal New Zealand rugby journos.
Australia did not have the territory or possession but it didn't matter, because the Springboks could not muster a way of scoring a try. Like England, they have been left behind. I think the right four teams have made it through to the semi finals. Four teams that are not afraid to play some decent, attacking rugby. The Springboks and their supporters will be mightily disappointed and I feel for them, but heck and hey, they won the world cup last time, it's nice to share things around.
Australia are now almost back to full strength with an on fire Pocock leading the charge. Is it a coincidence or something more that the four teams that have made it through all have exceptional players at number 7? So, this time next week we will know who will be in the final. I am not making any more predictions as I failed so miserably this week (only picking the ABs to overtake Argentina). This world cup could be anyone's, and at least it will be won by a team that is prepared to play with some inventiveness (as long as that team is not Australia).