Leader sports journalist and rugby writer Samantha Newsam is fresh back from a trip to the UK where she went to Rugby World Cup games in Cardiff, Birmingham and London, including the Wallabies’ defeat of England at Twickenham in the pool stage. Here’s her take on the tournament and why she wishes she was still there.
THE Wallabies have emerged from the aptly-named “pool of death” to be just 80 minutes away from becoming the first side to win the World Cup three times.
I was in the UK 16 years ago when the John Eales-led side claimed rugby’s biggest prize for the second time.
Unfortunately I had to watch on from the boarding house at the school in Wales I was working at.
I’ll again be cheering them on through the medium of the television screen, only this time through bleary eyes and wishing I was still there after having a couple of weeks over there during the pool stages.
For the atmosphere as much as anything.
There’s nothing to stoke up the Aussie passion quite like a duel with our Trans-Tasman rivals, especially on the rugby pitch where they have, in recent years, held superiority.
I got to see the Wallabies play twice – in Birmingham where they expectedly carved up Uruguay and against England.
The hype leading into that game was immense, with the the weight of expectation on England huge following their loss to Wales the previous week.
It had – to much consternation after the Poms turned down a late shot at a penalty to level – made it do or die for the hosts, for whom it seemed the idea of missing out on the finals was unimaginable.
We had spent the few days before the game in Wales where we were constantly greeted by comments of “we hope you beat them”.
And we did, consigning England to the indignity of being the first host nation not to reach the finals.
That game will stick with me as a highlight and one of the best I’ve been lucky enough to see live.
The atmosphere was just electric. I can’t count how many times I heard Swing Low Sweet Chariot as the English fans tried to inspire their side.
The Aussies, while outnumbered, were just as fervent, and made their presence felt every turnover, scrum win, penalty and try.
It was a defining game for the Wallabies, with their performance stamping them as genuine contenders.
While there was still room for improvement, it felt like they’d finally put it together.
They showed some brilliance in attack, the backrow led by David Pocock were dominant, the scrum – much to the disbelief of many of the crowd – had it all over England’s, and they were stoic in defence.
It’s often said that big games are won on defence and that has been a hallmark of the Wallabies’ campaign, carrying them through against Wales the following week to top their pool and avoid a second successive quarter-final match-up with South Africa.
It was again a key part of their success in the semi-final against Argentina, and will need to be similarly impenetrable if they are to prevail in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
For their many battles over the years, it will be the first time the Wallabies have met the All Blacks in a World Cup final and, while they will go in as underdogs, there is rightly an air of confidence about the Wallabies’ chances.
They have, after all, already beaten the All Blacks this year and, on what they’ve shown against England, Wales and Argentina, have the arsenal to match it with them.
One of the keys will be whether they can shake the All Blacks out of their structure.
The Kiwis’ ability to control the game helped get them over the line in a tough semi-final against South Africa last week but the Wallabies will arguably ask more questions in attack than the Springboks did.