There were some disappointing aspects of Pool B at this year’s World Cup; Jean De Villiers’ enforced retirement, Alesana Tuilagi’s five-week ban and the pitch invader during South Africa’s win over Samoa being chief amongst them.
Equally, there were some moments of absolute brilliance and all those months of waiting paid off when we saw rugby’s global showpiece unfold in Pool B.
Here are some of our favourite moments from Pool B:
1. This is not soccer
The Welsh referee did a fine job at officiating an entertaining game at St. James’ Park between Scotland and South Africa. The crux of that entertainment came when Stuart Hogg went down like he had been shot following a nudge from Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira.
With a slight element of diving and conning referees creeping into rugby over the last year, Nigel Owens was characteristically quick to warn the Scottish fullback as he quipped:
“If you want to do that come back again in two weeks’ time.”
It is clear to see that Owens isn’t a fan of the theatrics on display.
Could we see Stuart Hogg at St.James’ Park again?
2. Scotland vs Samoa
What a game. This ferociously contested battle had everything; open running, turnovers, niggles, individual brilliance, physicality and tries galore.
On the Samoan side, Tim Nanai-Williams’ zippy running, Rey Lee-Lo’s line breaking ability, Maurie Faasavalu’s leadership, that was punctuated with an outrageous offload, and Tusi Pisi’s all-round performance were all spectacles in themselves.
It was an unbelievable response to the loss of their linchpin Alesana Tuilagi, who picked up a five-week ban in what was one of the most controversial talking points of this World Cup. He would have provided a huge difference in this try-fest had he been there.
Scotland’s John Hardie, WP Nel and Ross Ford were all immensely physical in the Scottish pack, while Richie Gray got better and better as the game went on.
This tournament has been blessed with some high quality kicking displays and Laidlaw’s performance from the tee was no exception. He kicked nine from eleven and wriggled over for a decisive try. The marksmanship and accuracy he showed in a game as tight as this was a joy to watch.
It proved to be all the difference as Scotland held on to qualify for the knockout stages.
3. Bryan Habana equals Jonah Lomu’s record
Jonah Lomu, a true great of the game and a World Cup legend, had his record of 15 World Cup tries equalled when Bryan Habana scored a memorable second half hat-trick in a crushing defeat of the USA.
While Habana modestly claims not to be anywhere near Lomu’s status, his try-scoring prowess would suggest otherwise. With eight tries in 2007, two in 2011 and five in this tournament already, Habana could overtake the All Blacks legend as the ‘Boks look to progress to their third World Cup final.
4. Tommy Seymour try
This was a great spectacle, and even better support from Seymour, as he threw Scotland a lifeline against the Springboks.
Duncan Weir intercepted a pass from Handre Pollard and scampered 60 metres up the pitch, side stepping two Springboks on the way. Pietersen managed to haul him down but didn’t stop Weir getting a pass away to Tim Visser who then threw an overhead pass for Seymour to score a try.
Beautiful in its simplicity and the hard graft players put in prior to the World Cup paid off when the three Scotsmen had to bust their lungs to create this try.
5. Siva Tau
Manu Samoa are a team that is founded on good values and sportsmanship. They often form a large circle with the opposition to symbolise the togetherness and unity of rugby.
If Samoa weren’t entertaining in matches through the Pisi’s and Tim Nanai-Williams, they were entertaining before the matches with their traditional war dance, the Siva Tau.
After their defeat at the hands of Scotland, they performed the Siva Tau in front of a packed St.James’ Park. This was met with a warm reception by a predominantly Scottish crowd.
Even after a physically and emotionally draining match, the Samoans had the energy to acknowledge the crowd with this incredibly powerful war dance.
Thanks for the memories, Samoa.
6. Japan: Brave by name, brave by nature
Nobody could have expected this, even with the poor form that the Springboks carried into this tournament. This writer is of course talking about Japan versus South Africa, everybody’s moment of the World Cup.
In this game, Japan announced themselves on the world stage. An incredibly well drilled side, their fluency in attack was great to watch, especially the beautifully executed set-piece move for Ayumu Gormaru’s try. Fans and pundits alike thought the game was beyond them when Lood De Jager waltz in for a soft try. The likes of Michael Broadhurst, Luke Thompson and Hendrik Tui had other ideas as they fought tooth and nail, taking the ‘Boks on in all facets of the game, even their world-renowned set-pieces.
It was just rewards for evergreen veterans like Hitoshi Ono while Tatekawa excelled against Jean De Villiers and Highlanders’ diminutive scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka picked up the Man of the Match award. The front row of Mikami, Horie and Hatakeyama manned up admirably against one of the most feared front rows in world rugby while the star of the show, Goromaru, built on this match to become the outstanding full back of the tournament.
Although the South Africans have long since put this 34-32 defeat behind them, they were stark in contrast that day. A palpable lack of intensity allowed Japan to make big yardage, particularly in the wider channels.
Pieter-Steph Du Toit was a failed experiment in the backrow, Zane Kirchner had a night to forget at full back, Pat Lambie offered no control at fly half and all but Schalk Burger looked a little bit disinterested as the game went on.
The net result of this was the Blossoms turning down three points to draw the game as they surged forward in the scrum and the powerful Lelei Mafi offloaded to Kene Hesketh who dotted down in the corner to record the biggest upset in World Cup history.
7. Goromaru tears
It would be remiss not to mention this man in more detail. After his silky running, peerless kicking and heroic 24-point haul against the Springboks, the Japanese full back is a household name amongst rugby fans.
He continued this rich vein of form as he made one of the tackles of the tournament against Scotland before picking up Man of the Match awards against Samoa and the USA, thanks to his rugby intelligence and dead-eye kicking.
As one of the standout players in rugby’s global showpiece, Goromaru can be proud of his efforts despite his team coming agonisingly close to an unprecedented quarter-final spot.
After the 28-18 win over the USA, the occasion got to the Japanese linchpin as he broke down in tears. He certainly showed his pride in this post-match interview and you can guarantee that teams across the world will be looking to poach this sensational player from Yamaha Jubilo.
Coach Eddie Jones is largely responsible for this Japanese landmark campaign but the Brave Blossoms wouldn’t have tasted such success without their full back.
Gavin Spillane, Pundit Arena