Hot on the proverbial heels of last week's hugely popular Brexit-themed take on the Premier League, this week's blog turns its razor sharp witty focus to Japan and the 2019 Rugby World Cup. With the tournament drawing to an exciting, emphatic and nerve-shredding climax and Halloween (yes, already!) very shortly upon us, we review the two epic semi finals in a Halloween-inspired theme (don't worry, no mention of the B-word today).
A cold, grey and largely wet Saturday morning that only Autumn can bring. The early morning alarm clock chimes. Not because you’ve forgotten to turn it off from the working week but because you’re a trooper. A trooper determined to shake off those Friday night beers and early hour spirits (of a drinking kind), to watch England try and book their place in a World Cup Final.
As you flick the kettle on for the first of three coffees you plan to have during the first half alone, the hangover subsides and you rub the sleep out of your eyes, you could be forgiven for thinking you were either still drunk or still dreaming. Every player belts out the national anthem in unity, England appear to defy New Zealand’s famous Haka with a V-shaped stance of solidarity, and unbelievably, have scored a try before the kettle has even pinged to say that it’s ready.
Manu Tuilagi has indeed sliced open the Kiwi defence like an expert pumpkin carver before Owen Farrell kicked between the ghoulposts and the proverbial English stall is set. A display of energy, verve and disciplined defending by the 15 men dressed in a ghost-like all-white spooks The All-Blacks into a paralysis that’s not been seen since their last World Cup defeat to the French. There are a whole host of multi-billion pound businesses including the likes of Instagram, AirBnB and Play Away, Stay Away that weren’t even a thing the last time The Kiwis lost a World Cup game, way back in 2007.
Just as New Zealand were beginning to trick everyone into believing that they couldn’t be beaten in a World Cup match, England treated their supporters to a spirited performance that was up there with their best ever displays at a World Cup and united the country. In the land of the rising sun, the red rose had risen and in the second semi-final, the red dragon had its chance to once again split the Kingdom ahead of Saturday's final.
A cagey first half saw Wales leek one more penalty than their opponents and the scoreboard leant slightly in South Africa’s favour at the break. Wales temporarily drew level before a try from Damian De Allende seemed to spoil their party and give the South Africans a real cushion. Defiant and determined, Wales responded when The Addams Family (Josh to be precise) fittingly ghosted in on the left wing and brought the teams level. Unfortunately, just as the Welsh dream could really begin, a late penalty from Handre Pollard saw the Springboks surge into a19-16 lead that they held onto like a witch refusing to release her grip on her favourite broomstick.
A bit like that next-door neighbour who teases you with a pumpkin in the window, the lights on in the hall, and Halloween bunting on the door, then asks for a trick (sigh), Wales had flirted with what would have been a mouth-watering final but were unable to give their Head Coach, Warren Gatland, the sign off he so desperately wanted and, you could argue, deserved for the work he has done with for the game in Wales.
Gatland and his side will have to settle for the consolation of taking on the All-Blacks in Friday’s third-placed play off in a game about as desirable as the knock-off Lidl version of a Bounty bar that’s the last sweet standing in your trick-or-treat haul by the second week of November. We wouldn’t really be bothered if it wasn’t there but we’ll probably still watch it anyway.
In contrast, all eyes (bleary, weary and fresh alike) will be on Eddie Jones’s English chariot as it marches on to The International Stadium in Yokohama in search of sweet revenge for their 2007 final loss against the Springboks. So stick to only ‘one or two’ drinks on Friday night and no spirits (yes, I know you said that last week as well), get your trick-or-treat haul at the ready and strap yourself in for what promises to be a devilishly delightful final worth setting that early Saturday morning alarm for.