Even ‘Invincibles’ flounder in Rugby World Cup

johan jaafarjohan jaafarSPORTS can be cruel. And unfair. Even merciless. In sports even those labelled ‘Invincibles’ floundered.All Blacks – the world’s best known rugby team – can lose.

They have lost in the first round, the quarter-finals, the semi-finals and succumbed to bad strategy and pure hubris in the final of the World Cup.

But it is the manner that they lost (11-12) to South Africa at Stade de France last Saturday that will enter the annals of rugby as the saddest and the most unbelievable defeat.

Don’t blame the Springboks. They played well. They were determined and spirited. They played short passes to deprive All Blacks of speed, tempo and style. They played defensive rugby knowing what All Blacks can do if they have the chance and space.

All Blacks are all about elegance, nuance and flow. They made rugby pretty to watch and mesmerising to comprehend. It is almost like poetry in brutality, even hard knock tackles looked like a tapestry of motions.

But they are too predictable at times.

Springboks however played to win at all cost. They are indeed the rightful champions of the Webb Ellis Cup.

And they made history for winning it four times, more than anyone else, even the All Blacks (thrice).

The first time they were champions was in 1995 when the then President Nelson Mandela wanted a win to unite a fractured nation. They defeated New Zealand in the final. They won it again in 2007 and the win in France was a repeat of what happened in Japan.

Springboks’ Siya Kolisi is only the second captain to lift the Cup twice, the other being Ritchie MacCaw of All Blacks.

All Blacks started badly when they lost to host nation France (13-27) in the opening game on Sept 8. It was an eye-opener for them. They did well after that, even edging top-rated Ireland in the quarter-finals. Argentina were a walk in the park in the semis. Some argued they were not the best team ever assembled. And they were rumours about disciplinary issues among some of the players.

But no team are perfect.

In that finale, All Blacks fans knew something was amiss when flanker Shannon Frizell was shown the first yellow card in the third minute.

Then captain Sam Cane was handed a red card, a call that would be debated for a long time. He is the only player in the Rugby World Cup seasons who had been sent off on a red card. In the last nine finals, only one yellow card was given. This time three yellow cards were issued.

In the case of Cane, it was undeniably a high tackle but was it worthy of a red card? Kolisi’s tackle on Ardie Savea in the 46th minute was worse but he survived with only a yellow.

It’s hard to imagine what was playing in Cane’s mind. He is no Dan Carter or Ritchie McCaw but still he is a talisman, a pace-setter and more importantly an inspiring leader.

There were times when All Blacks had 13 players on the field. I support checkdowns on foul play but referee Wayne Barnes’ decision on Cane was a wrong one.

The standard of refereeing at the final was off the mark. And TMO (television match official) did not help either.

Luck too was not on their side. Had Richie Mo’unga and Jordie Barrett converted their kicks respectively, or had Aaron Smith’s try was allowed, the results would have been different. On the other hand Henre Pollard of South Africa as always was perfect on his kicks.

It was a pulsating game indeed. Despite South Africa leading at half time, many wanted to believe that the spell about no team ever recovered from a half-time deficit to win would not apply.

We hoped that a 14-men All Blacks could pull a miracle. They almost did. It was painful for Cane, and more painful to millions of All Blacks fans the world over.

We were gutted but still proud of them.

The writer watches only rugby. The last full football game he watched was 25 years ago. He is a hardcore All Blacks fan.

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Rugby , World Cup


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