The Rugby World Cup quarterfinals got underway today, and what an unbelievable way to do so.  Just days ago, there was even money at least on the Southern Hemisphere taking all four semifinal spots, with Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa favored to move on.  Today, at least half of that equation has changed, as England and France staged huge upsets to send Australia and New Zealand packing.

The English opened this insane day of world rugby with a gutsy win over Australia.  The Australians managed the only try of the match, but England replied with four penalties from the foot of Jonny Wilkinson, two in each half, for a 12-10 victory.  The really big news, though, was still to come.

There are few teams in any world sport as dominant as the New Zealand All-Blacks are in Rugby Union.  They are the favorite in any match they enter, but for some reason, they have choked time and time again in the World Cup.  Today would bring another disappointment for the Kiwis, as they crashed out of their national sport’s biggest stage once again.  In 1999, it was France who eliminated the All-Blacks from the Cup in the semifinals, and it was France who did it once again, winning out by the tiniest of margins, 20-18.  All Black head coach Graham Henry will have everything to answer for, as his side gave up several close chances at a drop goal in the final five minutes, only to try a Hail Mary drop from halfway that failed miserably.

The 6 Nations of England, Scotland, Italy, France, Ireland and Wales entered this round looking a bit sheepish. Ireland had crashed out in the group stages unexpectedly, after losses  to Argentina and France.  Italy fell to fellow Six Nations member Scotland, and it looked to be up to England, Scotland and France to hold up the honor of the entire Northern Hemisphere in the Cup. Two thirds of that group have certainly done their part, and now Europe will look to Scotland to achieve the improbable.  In one weekend, the fate of this World Cup could be turned completely on its head, from a Southern rout to a declaration that Europe will not be forgotten in world rugby.

Be Sociable, Share!