In what has been an exhilarating Rugby World Cup so far, here’s a look at five memorable moments from the pool stages which ended on Sunday.
Michael Leitch goes for broke and wins
Michael Leitch v Jean de Villiers in the captaincy stakes. Normally de Villiers, with over 100 caps for South Africa, would be odds on. But Leitch out-maneuvered the Springbok legend through the 80 pulsating minutes of the contest, capping it at the denouement. Instead of opting for a kick at goal by Ayumu Goromaru he went for broke with the Springboks down to 14 players.
“We had drawn enough matches in the past,” said Leitch, who ignored advice from the coaching staff. Their pressure paid off as the weary and shocked ‘Boks were stretched across the line and the ‘Brave Blossoms’ were not to be denied as Karne Hesketh went in in the left hand corner to secure a memorable win.
Chris Robshaw’s haunting decision
England have been awful at times but if Robshaw takes the 3 against Wales and draws, England probably qualify pic.twitter.com/KJHn6JYFIH
— Saad Sait (@saad_sait) October 10, 2015
England captain Chris Robshaw’s decision to go for a try against Wales may haunt him for the rest of his career. Critics say it showed why he should not be England’s leader. England were 28-25 down in the Pool A match and a kick at goal by Owen Farrell would have levelled the match. Instead he went for glory but Wales snuffed the move out. Farrell gamely said that it had been a collective decision but it is Robshaw who will be forever blamed. What is worse is that the draw would have been sufficient for the hosts to go through at Wales’s expense.
Jean De Villiers suffers cruelest break
Sad see Jean De Villiers retiring from International rugby @Springboks …someone I’ve watched and learnt a lot from for years..great career
— Jamie Roberts (@Jamiehuwroberts) September 28, 2015
Congrats Jean de Villiers on a great international career with @Springboks. Loved watching u play and the honour you had in the Boks jersey
— Tim Horan (@TimHoran12) September 28, 2015
Jean de Villiers fully expected to be dropped following South Africa’s 34-32 defeat by Japan but coach Heyneke Meyer stayed faithful to his skipper for the game against Samoa. The Springboks duly bounced back to thrash the Samoans 46-6 but de Villiers suffered a broken jaw. He had already fractured the other side of the jaw when South Africa suffered a historic defeat to Argentina in August. It maintained the curse that has afflicted him at World Cups, notably the 2007 one which the ‘Boks won but he suffered a tournament-ending injury in the first game.
“As I got replaced and I was running off, I knew it was my last,” he said of the Samoa injury. “I won’t get this opportunity again. Having played for the Springboks for 13 years now, you’ve been through so much, you’ve made so many good friends, you’ve seen so many good things, you never think that it would end like this.”
‘Gorgodzilla’s’ monster performance against All Blacks
Georgia captain Mamuka Gorgodze owed his side something after his yellow card in the game against Argentina saw the game slip away, having been in contention to cause an upset. He duly delivered against the champions in a massive performance that earned him the man of the match honours. The image of the 31-year-old Toulon back row forward sitting on the replacements bench – having exited to a standing ovation at the Millennium Stadium – taking in the news of the award is memorable in its own right as looking surprised he has to ask for confirmation from those around him.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 10, 2015
The Wallabies showed they are as tough in defence as they are full of flair in attack in a remarkable period in the seocnd-half against Wales. Reduced to 13 men – Dean Mumm following Will Genia to the sin bin – and outstanding No8 David Pocock having limped off, they withstood wave after wave of a Welsh onslaught when leading 12-6. It proved to be the turning point of the match as the Welsh came away with nothing to show for their efforts.
“If they say that behind every good man is a good woman, behind every attack is a great defence,” was Wallabies coach Michael Cheika’s typically colourful assessment of the 15-6 win that ensured the Wallabies finished unbeaten at the top of Pool A.
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Bryan Habana equalled Jonah Lomu’s World Cup try-scoring record as he led South Africa into the quarter-finals with a crushing victory over the United States at the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday night.
Former All Black Lomu stood three tries clear of Habana on 15 tries heading into the match but the winger ran over a hat-trick against a much-changed USA side as the Springboks recorded a convincing 64-0 victory to top Pool B and set up a meeting with either Wales or Australia in the last eight.
Having lost their opening fixture in a famous World Cup upset at the hands of Japan, Heyneke Meyer’s side have now truly recovered.
Damian de Allende opened the scoring before a penalty try pushed the two-time world champions further ahead before the break – with Habana’s three second-half tries added to by Bismarck Du Plessis, Jesse Kriel, Lwazi Mvovo and two from Francois Louw.
The Springboks stormed ahead after seven minutes as, either side of missed penalties from the United States, De Allende cantered through the USA defence before sprinting over for his first international try.
Handre Pollard converted before South Africa-born scrum-half Niku Kruger came close to pulling the United States to within four points – only to see his penalty come back off the post.
The Americans, with 12 changes from the defeat to Scotland, were dominating possession but could not make it count as Blaine Scully and Habana were both forced off for head injury assessments after the South Africa winger’s strong challenge.
Pollard broke free and aimed for the corner but the United States defence held firm as both Kruger and Zach Test did well to prevent Kriel scoring the second try – with the television match official ruling against the Springboks.
The USA were penalised after their scrum twice collapsed, with referee Pascal Gauzere awarding a penalty try to South Africa – with Pollard again converting.
Scully, back on having been cleared of any head injury, led a break-out close to half-time but opted to check inside rather than test his pace down the flank and he was soon swallowed up by the South Africans.
The third try came just a minute into the second half as Habana beat a marginal offside call to collect a pass from skipper Fourie du Preez for the 13th World Cup try of his career.
Hooker Du Plessis added the fourth as the USA began to toil, and Louw was next to go over to add to his try from the defeat against Japan.
The 32-year-old Habana ran over his second before matching Lomu’s haul of 15 World Cup tries with a simple hat-trick score moments later.
The record should have been in the bag with 13 minutes remaining but Habana fumbled when in behind – only for Louw to double up for the evening and Kriel to then push the score along even further.
Mvovo added the final try with Morne Steyn converting as the United States became the first side not to register a point in a match at this World Cup.
Australia assistant coach Stephen Larkham accepts that it will be hard to replace banned flanker Michael Hooper in Saturday’s World Cup Pool A decider against Wales.
Hooper must sit out the game after collecting a one-match suspension following his citing for a dangerous charge on England full-back Mike Brown at Twickenham three days ago.
Speaking before Hooper’s punishment was imposed, Larkham said: “We have a couple of excellent players waiting for their chance.
“Ben McCalman and Sean McMahon have both played really well in the tournament.
“In saying that, Michael has been tremendous so far, and in fact the games before the tournament he was the stand-out as well. It is hard to replace someone like that, but the guys are certainly ready to go.
“McMahon and McCalman have put their hands up in this tournament. Sean could slot in at seven, or Ben can go to eight and (David) Pocock at seven.”
The incident happened just before half-time, but Hooper avoided any punishment apart from conceding a penalty. Australia went on to win the game 33-13, a result that knocked England out.
Hooper must now sit out the Wales encounter, but he will be available for next week’s quarter-final, when Australia are set to face Scotland or Japan if they win the group.
In a statement, World Rugby said: “With respect to the sanction, the judicial officer determined that the offence was low-end, which has an entry point of two weeks.
“However, taking into account mitigating factors including his early admission, good conduct during the hearing and good character and the absence of any off-field aggravating factors, the player was suspended for a period of one week.”
Apart from Hooper, Australia could also be without full-back Israel Folau for the Wales Test.
Folau suffered an ankle injury during the England game. The 26-year-old did not train on Monday and Australia’s coaching staff are monitoring him closely. If Folau misses out, then Kurtley Beale would appear in the No15 shirt.
Wing Rob Horne, meanwhile, is likely to miss the Wales match due to a shoulder injury that forced him off early against England, with Drew Mitchell or Joe Tomane his likely deputy.
Larkham added: “I think it is a really big test for us on Saturday. The experience they have in the second-row and their forward pack as a whole is something we definitely respect, and we are going to have to prove on the field that we can match them.”