A look at the best moments from Pool A.
When the World Cup was drawn back in November 2012, everybody knew that the pool containing England, Australia, Fiji, Wales and Uruguay was set to light up the tournament and it didnt disappoint.
A pool dotted with Fijian flair, breakdown excellence and an early exit for England, it truly has been a World Cup to remember so far from this point of view.
Here are my favourite moments from Pool A:
1.The Flying Fijians
The Pacific Nations champions certainly got into the World Cup spirit as they lit up the pool stages with great enterprise in their attack. They only managed to win one game but they kept the trio of Australia, Wales and England very much on their toes.
If Leone Nakarawa wasn’t pulling off outrageous offloads against Australia, Ben Volavola was breaking the line with exemplary footwork. They were just two players who showed skill and class in abundance.
Nemani Nadolo is one of the most imposing specimens in rugby and besides running over players, which he is well accustomed to, he showed unbelievable skill to outjump Watson in the air in the opening game. One can dream about how much of a difference he could have made if he wasn’t banned for the Wales game.
Vereniki Goneva produced one of the great Fijian tries as they ran it from 70 metres out to score against Wales while Metuisela Talebula was always a threat from full back.
The Fiji players certainly left their mark on this World Cup, not least Bath bound Niko Matawalu. Everybody knew about his threat off the back of rucks and scrums and he nearly caught England cold as he raced away to score what would have been one of the tries of the tournament.
John McKee has certainly added shape and discipline to this Fijian side and it paid off tenfold in the Pool of Death.
2. Jack Nowell
The hollowness of the match between England and Uruguay was as clear as day. Tickets for that game were reportedly being sold for £2.50.
However, you have to admire the way Jack Nowell seized the opportunities on his World Cup debut. The Exeter winger raced in to score 3 tries against a tired Uruguayan team. This was a good finish to an otherwise disastrous tournament for the hosts.
3. Sean McMahon and Dean Mumm
Sean McMahon went into this tournament as a wildcard choice in the backrow. The Rebels backrow got his opportunity to start against Uruguay and he left nothing but Uruguay players behind him.
It is frightening to think that this snarling pitbull of a wing forward is only 21 years of age, the confidence and power he played with was unbelievable considering his inexperience. He raced in to score two tries and he got his opportunity to prove that he can mix it with best when he creased Dan Biggar in a tackle during the Australia v Wales later on in the tournament.
Another interesting subplot to the Australia v Uruguay game was Dean Mumm and his dream week. Ahead of the game, Dean Mumm was set to be named the 84th man to captain Australia, but he was by his wife’s side as she gave birth to their son. In the game, Mumm led by example and scored a captain’s try at Villa Park in a 65-3 drubbing of the South Americans.
Not a bad week for the lock.
4.The Ice Man catches England cold
The ‘Ice Man’ Bernard Foley as he is known in New South Wales, was simply stunning as he booted England out of their own tournament. The English backline had no answer as he carved them apart with brutal simplicity and efficiency.
The way he hit the line flat was stark in contrast to Owen Farrell, who sat deep all night. There was only one winner here as Foley’s sidestep for his first try rocked the chariot.
His second try was a thing of beauty; as Australia looked like they were going to go left, Foley switched right. This created space inside for Kurtley Beale, who then returned the ball to Foley to score 7 of his 28 points.
His peerless kicking topped off an unbelievable performance, one that wouldn’t have come to full fruition without the menacing presence of Kane Douglas, David Pocock and Stephen Moore in the Aussie pack. Foley’s master class will go down in World Cup history.
5.Welsh attitude v England
Foley isn’t alone in the out-half-kicking-England-out-of-the-World-Cup department. Dan Biggar was one of many Welsh players who defied all odds and showed composure as they dethorned the Red Rose.
For most of the game nothing went right for Wales. Marler was dismantling Francis, Baldwin was wobbly in the lineout, Dan Lydiate and Scott Williams were largely responsible for the English try while Wales were one injury away from using Justin Tipuric in the backline.
Then all of a sudden, the tide turned. Billy Vunipola departed with a knee injury, Sam Warburton gave the England pack no respite in the breakdown, Samson Lee shored things up in the scrum and England’s discipline and leadership disappeared as the game went on.
What was memorable about the game was the influence of the Welsh players like Gareth Davies, Alun-Wyn Jones, Taulupe Faletau grew as the influence of Chris Robshaw, Brad Barritt and Mike Brown diminished. The two teams were polar opposites at the start in terms of execution and they had traded places by the 80th minute as Dan Biggar kicked Wales into the quarter finals. England’s lack of composure and lack of impact off the bench ultimately cost them.
The moment of the game was when Warburton gave away a penalty and England decided to go for the corner. The defensive maul that followed epitomised the Welsh fighting spirit as they bundled a pack of headless chickens int0 touch.
While all the limelight was on Biggar, Rhys Priestland showed great impact off the bench, timing his pass to perfection in the build-up to Gareth Davies’ try. For all the guff Priestland has received over the last 2 years, it was great to see him play such a big role in such a big game.
6. Uruguay Try
It was a sight to behold during the Uruguay v Fiji match when Uruguay hooker Carlos Arboleya went over for his country’s only try of the tournament. This was Uruguay’s first World Cup try in 12 years.
7. The Great Wall of Cheika
This left many speechless I’m sure. With the match at its most intense, Wales started to bear down on Australia’s six point lead. Will Genia and Dean Mumm were sent to the sin bin within minutes of each other and all-star backrow David Pocock limped towards the sideline.
The unfamiliar sight of Australia’s manic defence and powerful scrum was a spectacle in itself, rather than their usual fluency and zeal in attack. They were forced to batten down the hatches as Wales battered their defensive line for what any Australian would describe as 13 minutes that felt like an eternity.
The likes of Scott Fardy, Kane Douglas, Israel Folau, Matt Giteau and Rob Simmons passed the damage limitation test with flying colours as they conceded not a single point in this stage of numerical disadvantage.
Wales shunned numerous opportunities to go for goal and tried to go for the jugular with a try that would have handed the lead to them. Australia’s titanic defence had other ideas as they smashed them backwards in a manner that could only be described as heroic.
After they restored their numbers, they brushed themselves off, fixed their headgear and worked their way up the field to score a penalty. They have the makings of World Cup winners if this performance was anything to go by.
A mention also has to go to their scrum, the World Cup legacy of Argentine hooker Mario Ledesma lives on as he was the scrum coach behind this brilliant operation.
It was always going to be an entertaining pool and it certainly didn’t disappoint..