Ahead of Scotland v Japan, Jacob Whitehead recalls a handful of other crucial final group-stage games
Five of the best decisive World Cup pool matches
Typhoon Hagibis has put tomorrow’s crucial Rugby World Cup match between Sctoland and Japan in doubt, but should it go ahead it will not be the first time quarter-final qualification has come down to a team’s final match. Here’s a rundown of five of the best decisive World Cup pool matches…
Scotland’s qualification always seems to go to the wire and their game against Fiji in 2003 was the best of the lot. The equation was simple: the winner would advance to face Australia in the quarter-final.
Rupeni Caucaunibuca scored a double, the second a glorious 50m gallop down the left wing, but Chris Paterson’s boot kept his side in the hunt.
Fiji fly-half Nicky Little put his side 20-15 in front, slotting a penalty to stretch the lead after some earlier indiscipline from his team had narrowed the gap.
And then – heartbreak for Fiji. Api Naevo was sin-binned and veteran prop Tom Smith burrowed over from centimetres out to tie the scores. Chris Paterson stood over the ball with the chance to send his side into the knockouts and made no mistake.
England’s game against Tonga in 2007 marked the turning point of what had been a traumatic tournament to date. They’d struggled to a win over the USA, been pummelled 36-0 by South Africa and then conceded 22 points in beating Samoa. Meanwhile, Tonga had beaten Pacific neighbours Samoa by four points and pushed South Africa close, only losing by five points.
Tonga would be formidable opponents, in a large part thanks to their inspirational back row of Hale T Pole, captain Nili Latu and No 8 Finau Maka.
Tongan centre Sukanaivalu Hufanga crossed after glorious hands, but two Paul Sackey tries saw England sensationally reply. The first occurred after Tongan inattention: Sackey was left alone on the wing after a penalty and Jonny Wilkinson’s quick-thinking cross-kick found him. Just before half-time, the Wasps wing then scooped up a loose pass from his laces and raced in to score, making the score 19-10.
Mathew Tait slalomed through a tiring Tongan defence in the second half, whilst Andy Farrell also powered over as England triumphed.
Wales 34-38 Fiji, Nantes 2007
Vilimoni Delasau, Moses Rauluni and Graham Dewes were all heroes, as Welsh rugby reached its nadir and failed to reach the knockout stages.
Gloucester flanker Akapusi Qera had put the islanders ahead, but the pick of the tries was from winger Delasau. He picked up a bouncing ball around halfway, raced past Tom Shanklin, chipped over Gareth Thomas, pirouetted and dotted the ball down just inside the in-goal for a sensational try.
Kele Leawere extended the Fijian lead before tries from Alix Popham and a classic side-stepping score from Shane Williams brought the Welsh back into the game. Then Thomas dived over to narrow the gap to three points. Mark Jones then put his side ahead after a glorious pass from James Hook, but two Nicky Little penalties put the islanders back in the lead 31-29.
A Martyn Williams intercept in the 72nd minute seemed to have sealed the game for Wales, but three minutes later Fiji launched a desperate final attack. Delasau went close, before Dewes ground his way over the line.
Wales had lost and coach Gareth Jenkins paid with his job. Fiji nearly shocked eventual champions South Africa in the quarter-final, but could take solace from the loss by the memory of that incredible victory in Nantes.
Scotland 18-16 Italy, St Etienne 2007
Scotland were at a low ebb before the 2007 World Cup. They had been summarily demolished by Italy at Murrayfield in February, as the Azzurri raced into a 0-21 lead after six minutes before eventually triumphing 17-37.
They then faced the Italians in a do-or-die final pool match. Each side had already lost to the All Blacks, but the chance to qualify for a quarter-final with Argentina remained.
Scotland atoned for their Six Nations capitulation in St Etienne thanks to the consistency of Chris Paterson’s boot. He quickly knocked over two penalties for the Scots to lead 6-0, before Italy landed their own counterpunch.
Ramiro Pez dispensed a giant up-and-under, which was claimed by Mirco Bergamasco, who took out the referee in the process. From the resulting ruck Alessandro Troncon battled and the Italian lead briefly stretched to 6-10.
However, the ever dependable Paterson slotted two penalties before half-time to give Scotland a narrow lead. The second half was bruising and bloody, with the two sides each swapping two penalties. David Bortolussi stepped up with five minutes left with a chance to win it with a long-range penalty for his side, but it missed.
England 16-12 Scotland, Auckland 2011
Four years later, Scotland faced another decisive pool game. Again it would be settled by late drama. England had stumbled to a late victory over Argentina, winning 13-9 thanks to a late Ben Youngs try.
Meanwhile, Scotland had lost 13-12 to the Pumas, conceding a try in the 73rd minute to threaten their passage to the last eight. They needed to beat England by eight points to make it to the knockout stages.
England struggled early, conceding five penalties in 15 minutes, and fell 6-0 behind early on. A long-range Dan Parks drop-goal meant Scotland led 9-3 at half-time.
Wilkinson struggled with the boot, but at 12-3 down with 20 minutes to go, he finally found his mark, first slapping over a drop-goal and then a penalty.
Then, with three minutes left, the ball found its way to England’s dead-eyed finisher, Chris Ashton. Toby Flood’s miss-pass found the winger and he dove over in the corner to send Scotland home.
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