2007 Rugby World Cup
The 2007 World Cup was hosted in France, although 4 matches were played in Wales and 2 in Scotland, beating off a bid from England. The Scottish RFU had doubts about the viability of hosting 2 matches at Murrayfield. It transpired that the match between Scotland and New Zealand match failed to sellout, and the stadium was less than half-full for the Scotland versus Romania match.
This World Cup threw up some surprise results, especially in the quarter-finals, where 2 of the southern hemisphere giants were eliminated. South Africa won a tight final 15-6 over England; a repeat of an earlier pool match which South Africa had won 36-0.
What was going on in the world in 2007?
- South Korea's Ban Ki-moon becomes the new United Nations Secretary-General, replacing Kofi Annan
- French high speed passenger train, the TGV, reaches a top speed of 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph), breaking the record for the world's fastest conventional train
- British child Madeleine McCann disappears from an apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal
- Mauritania is the last country to criminalize slavery (officially "abolished" in 1981), making the practice illegal everywhere in the world
- Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, is announced as Time magazine's 2007 Person of the Year.
Daredevil Evel Knievel died in 2007, as did celebrity Anna-Nicole Smith and business woman, Anita Roddick. The music world lost Mstislav Rostropovich, Luciano Pavarotti and Oscar Peterson. Sport waved goodbye to Bob Woolmer, Alan Ball and Colin McRae, while the political world wrote obituaries for Boris Yeltsin and Ian Smith. Mime artist Marcel Marceau put on his final costume.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, and at least 20 others killed, by a bomb blast at an election rally in Rawalpindi.
World Cup format
The 8 quarter-finalists from 2003 qualified automatically, with the other 12 places coming through qualifying, including a repechage for the final two spots, which went to Tonga and Portugal, over Korea and Uruguay respectively. The sensible format of 2003 was retained.
Portugal were the only new boys, in place of Uruguay from 2003. They were the only wholly amateur team to take part. Despite being properly thrashed by New Zealand, Portugal put up a decent performance against Romania, losing by a mere 4 points.
Argentina, whilst not rookies, made it to a first semi-final, finishing in third place.
Tournament facts and records
- Top points scorer: Percy Montgomery (South Africa) 105 points
- Most tries: Brian Habana (South Africa) 8 tries, equaling the single tournament record of Jonah Lomu in 1999
Who should have won but didn’t?
South Africa were worthy winners. Both New Zealand and Australia crashed out in the quarter finals; Australia to a surprisingly re-energised England, after a supine performance in the pool stage; and a complaining New Zealand once again lost to France by 20 points to 18. Their ire was directed towards English referee who had failed to call a forward pass in the build-up to France’s winning try. The incident is at 2 min 20 sec into the following clip.
The pass does look marginally forward, but it is tough call for Barnes to make from about 10 metres behind play, but perhaps the touch judge could have made the call. What is undoubtedly true is that New Zealand had an off day. Luke McAlister was correctly shown a yellow card for a cynical foul, and the decision making on substitutions from Graham Henry was very questionable. Taking off both half-backs, Kelleher and Carter on 56 minutes followed by high-impact flanker, Jerry Collins, on 64 minutes, were strange moves to make in such a close game.
England were awful in the group and astonished almost everyone by seeing off Australia in the quarter-final, before raising their game again to beat France in Paris in the semi-final. Their loss to South Africa was a close game and with luck they could have been the undeserving winners. But South Africa was clearly the best team in the tournament.
- Samoa 15 Tonga 19 in pool A; the Tongans won despite a red card and 2 yellows.
- Samoa 25 USA 21 in pool A
- Japan 31 Fiji 35 in pool B
- Canada 12 Japan 12 in pool B
- Romania 14 Portugal 10 in pool C
- Scotland 18 Italy 16 in pool C
- Ireland 14 Georgia 10 in pool D
- Australia 10 England 12 in the quarter-final
- New Zealand 18 France 20 in the quarter-final
- Wales 34 Fiji 38 in pool B; Wales again showed their vulnerability to Pacific island nations. Despite outscoring Fiji 5 tries to 4, including scoring 2 tries while Fiji were down to 14 men with Akapusi Qera in the sin bin, Fiji came back to win with a 77th minute try. You have to wonder why Martyn Williams did not run around under the posts for the final Welsh score; the conversion was missed.
- New Zealand 108 Portugal 13 in pool C, with 16 tries, of which 14 were converted. This was always going to be an embarrassing mismatch
Heroes and Villains
Hero: Brian Lima
Brian Lima is one of the true legends of the Rugby World Cup. He was the youngest player n the 1991 tournament and he played in every game for Western Samoa, commencing with that famous win over Wales. He was nicknamed “The Chiropractor’, such was the ferocity of his tackling which was likened to re-arranging the bones of his tackle victims. He started out as a young winger and later switched to play at inside centre from 2003.
Amazingly, Lima started every World Cup match for Samoa in 4 World Cups from 1991 to 2003, and in 2007 became the only player to represent his country in 5 World Cups. He only played 2 games in 2007 coming off the bench for short cameo against South Africa, before starting in his final match against England.
Here is a hit the Chiropractor put in on South Africa’s Derick Hougaard in the pool match in 2003.
The last big hit was a high tackle on Jonny Wilkinson in 2007 for which Lima was cited and received a 3-week ban, meaning that he missed the final pool match, and this brought down the curtain on his Rugby World Cup career.
The Chiropractor is synonymous with heroic Samoan World Cup performances. His 18 appearances yielded a country record 10 tries, but he left his mark in other ways too, as can be seen from these clips.
Villain: Stuart Dickinson
We saw earlier how refereeing can unduly affect the outcome of close matches, with Wayne Barnes and his assistants failing to call a forward pass in the France versus New Zealand quarter-final. We had another case of rank officiating in the final, which denied this showcase a tense and close finish.
With South Africa leading by 6 points, England’s Mathew Tait broke through in midfield and was tackled a couple of metres from the try line. The ball was recycled and fed left to winger, Mark Cueto, who skipped down the touchline and went over in the corner. Was his left foot in touch? The question was referred to 4th official Stuart Dickinson, who unlike Wayne Barnes, had the opportunity to review the play from every angle and take as much time as he needed. It was mighty close, but as the commentators on this clip conclude, Cueto managed to raise his foot as it was about to touch the whitewash on the sideline. It seemed, close though it was, that a try should have been given. We would then have had a 1 point game in favour of one or other team, depending on whether or not Wilkinson kicked the conversion from the touchline.
But Dickinson said no, and a few minutes later a South Africa penalty took the lead to 9 points, and they proceeded to run the clock down. Thus we were denied a potentially fantastic end to the match, which the occasion of a World Cup final really deserves.
- Winners: South Africa
- Runners-up: England
- 3rd Place: Argentina
- 4th Place: France
- 5th-8th: Fiji, Australia, Scotland, New Zealand
- Others: Tonga, Wales, Italy, Ireland, Samoa, Japan, Romania, Georgia, USA, Canada, Portugal, Namibia
Verdict: good, bad or ugly?
On the positive side, the best team won, there were a lot more close matches, with less than a score between the sides, and we had the joy of Fiji upsetting Wales and reaching a deserved quarter-final. However, the other expected main contenders were all a bit under cooked and it is hard to say this was a good tournament as a result.
As a final gripe, we saw much more activity from the citing officer, with 13 cases to review from spear tackles and high tackles to general foul play and striking. Not only does this activity seem excessive but the punishments meted out lacked consistency. Of the 11 upheld cases, punishments ranged from a 1 week ban to a harsh 7 weeks.
So, on balance I would have 2007 marked as a bad World Cup.