Jacob Whitehead reflects on the good, the bad and the downright ugly from the weekend’s last-eight ties

What’s Hot and What’s Not from the World Cup Quarter-finals

Jacob Whitehead reflects on the good, the bad and the downright ugly from the weekend’s last-eight ties


England’s ‘injured’ contingent

The vultures were circling Eddie Jones before England’s quarter-final against Australia kicked off. “Why drop form man George Ford?!” they cried. “Marler is better scrum ballast than Vunipola!” they insisted.

However, both Henry Slade and Mako Vunipola were key men in England’s 40-16 triumph. Slade’s intercept, sprint and brilliantly judged grubber set up Jonny May’s second try, while Vunipola made 18 tackles – the second most in the England team.

What’s Hot and What’s Not from the World Cup Quarter-finals

Round of applause: Mako Vunipola impressed on his return from injury (Getty Images)

The two had both returned from injury lay-offs. Vunipola hadn’t played all tournament and Slade looked slightly off the boil against Tonga.

Yet on Saturday in Oita, Jones’s bold selection ploy was vindicated entirely. Aside from his try assist, Slade largely kept dangerman Samu Kerevi quiet and Australia’s scrum, excellent for most of the World Cup, could not make inroads against England’s pack.

With Slade and Vunipola reintegrated into the match-day 23, could we see fellow long-term absentee Jack Nowell play a role in the remainder of the tournament?

Japan coach Jamie Joseph

Japan’s performances lit up the tournament. Their results against Ireland and Scotland ensured they could not only leave filled with pride but with the knowledge they’ve smashed the glass ceiling often placed on Tier Two nations.

Bearing this in mind, it could be argued that Jamie Joseph has done an even more impressive job than Eddie Jones in 2015. Four years ago there was no pressure on the Brave Blossoms, this year the world was watching.

Their triumphs over Ireland – the number one team in the world for a brief period a few weeks ago – and a Scottish side scrapping for survival were achieved by playing a swashbuckling style, which revealed their core skills to be as good as any side on the planet. Joseph’s team showed coherency, courage and class.

Welsh super-sub Tomos Williams

Tomos Williams’s fast feet shone in Wales’ win over Fiji, but the replacement scrum-half made an even bigger impact on Sunday against France. Not content with stepping five defenders in a space the size of a garden shed, his crowning glory came with five minutes of the game remaining.

France struggled with seven men in the scrum after Sebastien Vahaamahina’s sending off and the otherwise impressive Charles Ollivon was forced to fill in at the back in a vital scrum. He tried to corral the ball from the base but was immediately set upon by the rabid Williams.

What’s Hot and What’s Not from the World Cup Quarter-finals

Fast feet: Tomos Williams tries to outfox the French defence (Getty Images)

The ball popped out like a champagne cork and Wales duly celebrated Ross Moriarty’s try, putting them into their third World Cup semi-final.

Gareth Davies has an iron-cast grip on the No 9 shirt, but if Wales are down on the scoreboard again, don’t discount Warren Gatland putting his in-form back-up on early – and expect him to make an impact.

New Zealand’s Mo’unga-Barrett combination

Back in early August, in the last round of the Rugby Championship, New Zealand fell to their joint-record loss, a 47-26 defeat by a rampant Australia. They had drawn the game before with South Africa and questions about the All Black back-line were flying around the streets of Auckland and Wellington.

These games were significant because they marked the first time Crusaders fly-half Richie Mo’unga had combined with Beauden Barrett, World Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017. Barrett – one of the most dynamic fly-halves the game has ever seen – was moved to full-back to accommodate Mo’unga.

It was a big call, and one that didn’t seem to work for the majority of the summer, but it has clicked this World Cup. Excellent against South Africa, the pair were sumptuous in New Zealand’s 46-14 win over Ireland.

Mo’unga was a puppet-master extraordinaire, driving the All Blacks around the field to set Barrett free in dangerous areas. His range of kicking is simply wonderful and seems to have removed the yoke from Barrett, who is looking more dangerous than ever in his free role. England watch out.


Joe Schmidt’s All Blacks coaching chances

A year ago Ireland seemed to be the best team in world rugby. They were Grand Slam champions having humbled England at Twickenham, had won an away Test series in Australia and defeated New Zealand in Dublin.

When in December Steve Hansen announced he’d step down as New Zealand coach after the World Cup, Joe Schmidt was one of the first names on observers’ lips. Schmidt himself had announced he’d leave Ireland after the World Cup and it seemed a marriage made in heaven.

What’s Hot and What’s Not from the World Cup Quarter-finals

Two wise men: Coaches Steve Hansen and Joe Schmidt (Getty Images)

However, Ireland’s stuttering Six Nations, shock loss to Japan and cataclysmic defeat by New Zealand has taken just a little shine of Schmidt’s reign. To put it bluntly, will a team with such a habit of winning as the All Blacks take what now represents a chance on Schmidt?

Surely assistant Ian Foster, in the New Zealand set-up for seven years, or Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, who has now won three straight Super Rugby titles, are now the favourites for the job.

Schmidt has done an incredible job over his six years in charge of Ireland. He has taken Irish rugby to places it has never been before. But after this loss, it is hard to know what the future holds for him.

France lock Sebastien Vahaamahina

Some red cards are forgiven quickly, if not forgotten. Ask Sam Warburton, who was sent off against France in an eerily reversed version of Sunday’s game back in 2011.

Rugby is a physical and fast game. It is inevitable that high tackles will sometimes arise from instinctive reaction, tip tackles may happen from a loss of balance and tackles in the air could result from a momentary loss of concentration.

But other red cards, like Sebastien Vahaamahina’s moment of madness on Aaron Wainwright, are unforgivable. It was violent, dangerous and unnecessary.

2019 Rugby World Cup Quarter-final: Wales v France

Seeing red: Sebastien Vahaamahina after being sent off in the quarter-final (Getty Images)

Vahaamahina may have thought his year had reached a trough when he threw a madcap pass to George North to seal France’s defeat against Wales in the Six Nations. This is a far deeper ditch.

He will be remembered in the footnotes of World Cup trivia for his thuggish act. His team-mates defended valiantly, but ultimately Vahaamahina’s absence was to blame for the final Welsh try.

Australia’s old guard

Australia never looked like a side capable of winning this World Cup, but there are a few glimmers of hope they can take from the tournament. Their scrummaging is the best it’s been in 20 years, Marika Koroibete and Samu Kerevi look genuinely world-class, and Jordan Petaia provided a glimpse of the future with his poise (and wonderful shoulder sway). These are the things Australia need to hold on to.

However, their early exit provides them with the opportunity to scrap a lot of the rest. This tournament appeared to be a goodbye to Australia’s ageing half-backs, with the Wallabies never able to pick a consistent combination from Nic White, Will Genia, Bernard Foley, Christian Lealiifano and Matt Toomua.

What’s Hot and What’s Not from the World Cup Quarter-finals

Bowing out: David Pocock said he would retire from Test rugby after RWC 2019 (Getty Images)

It will be tough saying goodbye to David Pocock, but at least Australia have a readymade leader waiting in the wings, in the form of charismatic Australia U20 captain Fraser McReight.

McReight is just one of an extremely talented group currently emerging at the Queensland Reds, under the tutelage of Brad Thorn.

Scrum-half Tate McDermott will likely become the incumbent of the famous Australia No 9 shirt, but the most exciting of the current crop is full-back Isaac Lucas, who shone in this year’s World U20 Championship. It’s likely to be a long rebuilding project, but if they can find a fly-half, watch out in 2023.

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