When Brodie Retallick watched the 2011 World Cup final at his local fire station, little did he realise that four years on he would ignite New Zealand’s title defence.
Retallick lit the fuse on the All Blacks’ march towards another World Cup final on Saturday night, steaming in for the first score in New Zealand’s 62-13 thrashing of France in Cardiff.
The 24-year-old’s charge-down finish was eclipsed by Julian Savea’s stunning hat-trick in the nine-try demolition of Les Bleus – but without his early strong-arm tactics, New Zealand may never have scaled such heights.
Now the All Blacks must face South Africa in the last four as they crank up their quest to make history by retaining the Webb Ellis Cup.
Fred Michalak’s kick is charged down by Brodie Retallick to score for the ABs. 10-3 https://t.co/ygQHK1Tyo0
— EatSleepRugby (@eatsleeprugby) October 17, 2015
“It’s pretty awesome to play in a quarter-final and earn the right to go and play in a semi-final,” said Retallick. “Hopefully we can push on from there but we need to get our game right and build well so we can be ready for next week.
“I never thought four years ago watching the 2011 final that I could be here at this point, not at all. I wasn’t even playing Super Rugby then so it hadn’t even crossed my mind.”
New Zealand saw off France 8-7 at Auckland’s Eden Park to claim their second World Cup title four years ago, with Retallick watching in front of a big screen at Havelock North Fire Station in Hawke’s Bay.
His transformation from rangy youngster to the world’s finest lock has been little short of remarkable. When not thundering into collisions, the Chiefs’ second row is standing flat at first-receiver, bossing phase play as a terrifying hybrid tight-five fly-half.
Retallick pulls off Steve Hansen’s master-stroke game-plan with worrying ease.
“It’s a semi-final of the World Cup, everyone’s going to turn up with their A-game, so I don’t think they’re vulnerable at all,” said Retallick.
“I like to get out there into the line when I can, but I also like to mix it with the big boys up close. It’s nice to get involved out there, getting your hands on the ball.
“It’s something we’ve been doing for a wee while, and you get more comfortable the longer you do it.”
South Africa forwards Bismarck du Plessis and Lood de Jager are injury doubts for the World Cup semi final against New Zealand.
Du Plessis sustained a wound to his right hand in the 23-19 victory over Wales on Saturday while De Jager, the 22-year-old lock who has emerged as a star of the tournament, has a foot problem.
The duo’s fitness will be monitored over the coming days, but the Springboks have been able to deliver a positive update on veteran second row Victor Matfield.
Thought our looseforwaeds plus DDA unbelievable olus I thought De Jager was brilliant tday
— Rob Louw (@roblouw6) October 17, 2015
“Bismarck has a nasty laceration to his right hand. Francois Louw accidently stood on his hand,” team doctor Craig Roberts said.
“Luckily no fracture but it is a bit sore and swollen for him, so we will keep an eye on him throughout the week.
“Lood has injured a tendon in his foot so we need to give him some time to see how that settles and we will make a decision later in the week on his availability for the All Blacks game.
“Victor has been doing really well with his rehab. He has been working really hard and progressing nicely but we will have to see nearer the end of the week.”
South Africa delivered the decisive moment against Wales five minutes from time when they wheeled a scrum to exploit a short blindside.
Number eight Duane Vermeulen broke, stood up in the tackle with Alex Cuthbert rushing in off his wing before flicking a pass to Fourie du Preez for the scrum-half to race in.
Victory continues the Springboks’ recovery from their stunning defeat by Japan on the opening weekend of England 2015 and Vermeulen insists the biggest upset in rugby history was a pivotal moment.
“We had a meeting on the Monday straight after the Japan game and that’s when the change in mentality happened. Everyone opened up and gave their bit. We moved on from there,” Vermeulen said.
“The other thing we did was go back to playing our game. Against Japan, we wanted to play a whole different type of gameplan and that’s not the way that South Africa and Springboks play.
“We made slight changes but slight changes make a massive impact throughout a whole game of 80 minutes. You can see the difference in a full 80 minutes coming back to the way we wanted to play and the coach wanted us to play.”
Scotland appeared to have been robbed of a place in the Wold Cup semi-finals by referee Craig Joubert after Australia were awarded an incorrect penalty that Bernard Foley kicked to clinch a last-gasp 35-34 victory.
Having seized a 34-32 lead in the 74th minute through a converted Mark Bennett try, Scotland were left shattered when Joubert penalised replacement prop Jon Welsh for offside and Foley obliged with the three points.
Joubert blew the final whistle at Twickenham and then sprinted from the pitch amid a crescendo of boos, knowing he had made a hugely unpopular decision which later proved to be erroneous.
Australia scrum-half Nick Phipps admitted after the match he had deliberately attempted to win the loose ball that then struck Scotland openside John Hardie, his intent clearing Hardie of any transgression.
“I think everyone was trying to win the ball. We were all going for it,” Phipps said.
Joubert’s judgement and rapid departure from the field provoked a furious response from former players.
Scotland great Gavin Hastings said: “If I see referee Craig Joubert again, I am going to tell him how disgusted I am. It was disgraceful that he ran straight off the pitch at the end like that.”
Also among the many outraged voices was former England scrumhalf Matt Dawson, who said on Twitter: “Craig Joubert you are a disgrace and should never referee again!! How dare you sprint off the pitch after that decision!!!”
Craig Joubert you are a disgrace and should never referee again!! How dare you sprint off the pitch after that decision!!! #RWC2015
— Matt Dawson (@matt9dawson) October 18, 2015
World Rugby responded by stating that TMO can only be used for the act of scoring a try or an act of foul play. Dejected Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw, who kicked 19 points, highlighted Joubert’s uncertainty when making the decision.
“I asked Joubert (about the penalty) on several occasions. I’m not sure what the protocols are,” Laidlaw said. “I think you can see from the way he was taking his time….he was certainly having a look at the big screen and wasn’t sure himself.
“And then he made a sharp exit at the end of the game, that’s for sure. I never got a chance to speak to him after the game, he was off that quick. It looked like to me that it hit Nick Phipps and it went back and then another player caught it. I’ve not had a chance to look at it on the TV, but at the time I thought there was an Aussie arm.”